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Steamboy (2004)
Director: Katsuhiro Ôtomo

review by Jo Johnson-Smith

Having loved Akira for many years, I was expecting something wonderfully bright, imaginative and totally enrapturing. What we have when we put this into the machine is something that should be a ground-breaker for years to come. Currently the science fiction underground has revisited the past of an alternate world, giving us the steampunk revolution that we see here in front of us. The 'what if' brought into brilliant colour and life, using the considerable talents of Katsuhiro Ôtomo leading us through this pseudo-Victorian world where everything is filled with detail and life.

The premise of Steamboy (aka: Such´┐Żmubôi) is easily grasped by the youngest of watchers, a new source of power is discovered; one that could rule an entire nation or power the most destructive machines man could ever create. We go from the simple dreams of a boy who just wants to follow his father into the practical uses of his inventions; to the life and death struggle of the powers in the world to control the source of all this power, the 'steamball'.

Visually we get the ride of our lives, the soaring heights of the air above Victorian London in all its finery (including a beautiful view of Crystal Palace), the detail of the animation enough to watch the carriages and trains pass below 'Steamboy' as he flies around. In its steampunk premise the science is easily understood (even for someone who's never seen a steam train before), the world easily recognisable as our own history but with a twist. How it 'could' have been, if science had had its head and the church had been a little more in the background.

steam-powered chase

The talent on the disc is all vocal and we have Anna Paquin (Almost Famous, X-Men), Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: TNG, X-Men), Alfred Molina (Identity, Spider-Man 2). The funny thing is this, when you're watching the film you don't really put the faces to the voices, but the depth of the storytelling just drags you along until you get to the end of it. The vision that's laid out for us seems perfectly plausible, the way the world is so finely detailed, the language, the science, the social hierarchy, everything fits and nothing jars the mind out of the vision you're participating in. It's something that doesn't happen very often to me when I'm watching anime. Usually I'm trying to work out who's speaking and how they got the job, but here it was enough to suspend the disbelief and quieten the mind.

A world of opportunities unseen, a branch reality laid out for us to see in all its glory, its detail and its injustices, the destruction of London isn't hidden, neither are the deaths because of the powers fighting over the 'steamball'. Moralistic without being overbearing, this is one movie that will get its fans later when its worth is realised, just like Akira did.
Steamboy DVD



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