003797Reviews & Counting
Steamboy: CE
DVD disk
08.02.2005 By: Adam J. Hakari
Steamboy: CE order
Katsuhiro Otomo

Anna Paquin
Patrick Stewart
Alfred Molina


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Ray Steam (voice of Anna Paquin) is a bright, 13-year-old inventor living with his mom in 1866 England. One day, a package containing a mysterious metal ball arrives in the mail, which turns out to be a highly-advanced, steam-derived power source. From that point on, Ray is plunged into the middle of a battle over the ball, waged between Ray’s scientist grandfather (voice of Patrick Stewart) and the shady O’Hara Foundation, which, with the help of Ray’s cuckoo dad (voice of Alfred Molina), wishes to use the power of the steam ball for more deadly purposes.
I’m no expert on anime by any means (my exposure to the genre hasn’t strayed much further beyond Miyazaki’s works and the YU-GI-OH movie…cripes, what was I smoking that day…), but I can understand why for some fans, STEAMBOY is a big deal. The film was directed and co-written by Katsuhiro Otomo, the man behind AKIRA (the flick that helped anime really make the jump over to the mainstream in the U.S.), and production had been taking place for ten years before the completed product was finally delivered. In the end, STEAMBOY proves to be ambitious, grand in scale, and visually stunning…not to mention often tiring, too long, and just a tad overblown.

On the upswing, Otomo’s visual sense is as sharp as can be, as the viewer becomes truly immersed in the astounding recreation of 19th Century England. There’s great attention paid to scenery and period details, and it shows in a fully-realized environment that hooks you right from the start. The mechanical aspect of the plot allows for a treasure trove of detailed inventions, hulking machines, and set pieces; for some odd reason, I really dug these elements of the film, as I found myself intrigued by the trackless steam engines, Ray’s half-machine father, and the enormous Steam Castle that serves as the O’Hara Foundation’s headquarters. As far as visual imagination goes, STEAMBOY never dried up and never once made what I was looking at onscreen boring. Throw in the great, booming voices of Molina and Stewart, and you also have yourself from strong support from the cast (Stewart, in particular, shows how distinctive he makes animated characters…how awesome would “Pokemon” be if Picard were the voice of that damned Pikachu?).

Unfortunately, some parts of STEAMBOY falter as much as others soar. Much like the current Michael Bay dud THE ISLAND, STEAMBOY’s plot boils down to a head-on collision between an excitingly retro sci-fi tale and a chunk of film determined to be the world’s longest action sequence. Pacing is key in a film like STEAMBOY, which wants to deal on both a semi-intellectual level and on a pure, action movie mindset as well, but it fails to dish out both elements in the right doses. Some sequences are pretty exciting, such as a scene where Ray flees the bad guys in a vehicle that looks like a bike crossed with a giant gear and ends up caught between two trains. But the film’s last hour, which mostly depicts the Steam Castle’s assault on the London Exhibition, just goes on and on and on for what seems like forever, until you look at the clock and realize it’s only been 20 minutes…and the movie’s still friggin’ going! Plus, Paquin’s vocal performance helped distract from becoming engaged with the character of Ray, who’s meant to be a plucky preteen boy but has the voice of a girl trying to fake a cold so she can get out of school. And what story there is ultimately boils down to a decent family drama wrapped inside a “world domination” premise that’s a little vague to begin with and ends up sounding like something out of a particularly complex episode of “Pinky and the Brain.”

‘Tis an uneven film that excels visually as much as it disappoints storywise, but due to the imagination displayed by the animators and the few moments of pure excitement and awe that the film generates, the scales of criticism are tipped ever-so-slightly in favor of STEAMBOY. There’s no doubting that many more anime films have made better use of time and celluloid, but at least STEAMBOY succeeds in giving the audience, even if by a small margin, more to admire about it than to dislike.
Re-Voicing Steamboy: A pretty insightful, 19-minute featurette in which the three vocal leads (Paquin, Stewart, and Molina) and a couple of the filmmakers discuss casting STEAMBOY and making sure the actors’ voices fit the characters.

Interview with Katsuhiro Otomo: A five-minute interview with the director of STEAMBOY himself, although he surprisingly hasn’t anything really in-depth to say about the production itself. For the most part, Otomo wears an expression that says, “Just leave me alone, please.”

Multi-Screen Landscape Study: A 20-minute, three-screen presentation comprised of clips from STEAMBOY and interviews with crew members about working on the film.

The Adventure Continues: Simply the end title sequence, minus the text so viewers can admire the drawings depicting what happens to Ray and some of the film’s other characters after the main story.

Animation Onion Skins: Clips from five scenes, each depicted in various stages of development from first draft to finished projects.

Production Drawings: ‘Nuff said here; this feature is a five-minute montage of settings and characters, set to a rousing score.

The Collector’s Gift Set of STEAMBOY also comes with a few extra goodies: an Otomo illustration postcard, a 166-page booklet of character and machine designs, a handful of collectible cards, and a 22-page STEAMBOY manga.
STEAMBOY has a lot in common with another high-profile anime release from this year, Hayao Miyazaki’s HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE. Both have a reputation to live up to, both are visually perfect while lacking in other departments, and both are arriving at a time when the future of animation is turning further and further away from hand-drawn features and more towards computer-animated fare. But also like HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, STEAMBOY manages to rise above its faults and deliver an exciting and intricately-designed animated picture. And just think…it still beats the hell outta “Yu-Gi-Oh,” doesn’t it?
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