Jul 17, 2008
Beatnik (All reviews)
This is the weirdest anime I've ever seen.

It's not 'weird' as in something ridiculously abstract or disturbing, but weird in other ways.

The alternate-history setting is a visual feast for the eyes via Production I.G's commitment to detail and quality animation. The dub is actually really good, and this is coming from a guy who hates dubs. But in a story like this where its set completely in 19th century England, it would be too strange to hear Japanese voices, so the heavy Manchester and cockney London accents fit very well with what's going on. Yeah, an anime set entirely in 19th century England, with no Japanese characters, weird already.

And damn if what's going on isn’t bloody amazing. I actually think this is a two act story which is very interesting and unconventional. For any laymen to cinema theory reading this, most common films have three act structures, but Steamboy is basically Setup and then Resolution. Maybe a bit of an act 2 is floating around somewhere in this strange anime, but you'd be hard pressed to find it, as it moves so quickly from a beginning that feels deceivingly generic: a regular boy-receives-package-and-goes-on-run-with-it scenario that doesn’t follow all the clichés of the past thankfully, but instead saves us the trouble of watching the story lull then pick up then lull over and over again. No, Steamboy just keeps going from the first chase scene and doesn’t let up until the destructive climax.

But what a climax. There are images in this anime that are purely breathtaking. Images you've never seen before. Katsuhiro Otomo's eye for apocalyptic action is second-to-none; no one can do it better than him. Seeing it in action in London is a treat. His direction, especially in action sequences, gives you scope to all the mayhem, his pans and tracking shots are perfect.

Its all complemented by humour in the form of a bunch of weapons buyers on a tour of a gigantic weapon of mass destruction, unwittingly being involved in the 'demonstration', to sly observations of Londoners’ reactions to horrific disasters unfolding in front of them, it's never forced but very quirky and funny.

Steamboy can be criticised for its two act structure and may lead people to believe it's all style and no substance, and I wont even try to defend it's attempts at philosophising on the purpose of science and technology, as the two characters that keep spouting their speeches gets old very quickly, but this anime is simply unlike any other out there and for that reason alone it deserves your full attention.

There are so many things going on in Steamboy, from the surface narrative of a boy being dragged into an ideological quarrel between his father and grandfather, to the philosophical implications of steam technology on the 19th and 20th century, and most interestingly of all: that this was actually the origin of a superhero which just made me grin big time.