This may fly in the face of anime buffs around the world but I just don’t care for Akira. Conversely I am just so enamored with Katsuhiro Ôtomo‘s other famous property Steamboy that I am nearly at a loss for words to describe it. Sure it is not as iconic as Akira but to me, this is the superior effort. Aside from the work of Studio Ghibli, this is probably the most gorgeous animated film I’ve ever seen. Steamboy really delivers the goods and ends on such a high note that any minor issues are all but forgotten in the awe of the finale. Masterpieces don’t come along very often (hence the name) but this is one in nearly every sense of the word.
Lacking minor amounts of exposition is probably the thing I would have to cite Steamboy in doing. Although if they had spelled everything out they would have taken a longer road and it would have slowed things down quite a bit. Though the movie already had some trouble getting to the point of it all, perhaps skimping on details was the right move as far a pacing…but still, I’m curious. For one, what was so special about Icelandic mineral water that makes it produce incalculably powerful amounts of steam? I also have some problems with the story: family issues, the apparent arms race for some unknown war and the lack of clarity between those whose motives are altruistic and others who are egotistic. But this is a fun movie and what really makes up for what’s not explained (aside from the jaw dropping detail and visuals) is the slide-show that happens through the credits. This isn’t a spoiler but when the film ends (quite brilliantly I must say), the credits hint at a continuation of the “Further Adventures of Steamboy” and that really kicked the film up a notch by seeing what might have happened to Ray, Scarlett and Grandpa.
I don’t find myself cheering for an adolescent character (let alone an animated one) lest the movie is aimed at an audience of similar age. Yet Ray is definitely one protagonist that I found myself excited to watch progress. I think it’s the aim of many anime films to chronicle a seemingly diminutive hero through a large than life series of events. I for one want to see more of him as he and the characters here are so much more appealing than Shotaro Kaneda and the creepy looking kids in Akira. On the other hand for how likable Ray is, Scarlett is the polar opposite; over-privileged, cranky, spoiled, she’s essentially a 12 year old version of Scarlett O’Hara…right down to the name. They, despite their differences, play off each other as well and really get you into the film. They’re no Wall-E or Eve but like any story worth telling they both have decent character arcs. But again they are showcased as amounting to simply fantastic things in their later years as the credits roll.
This film takes CGI integrated 2D animation to stunning new levels. While it blends pretty seamlessly, some of the elements do stand out as they are able to do things nearly impossible with traditional animation. Still, it’s just fantastic to look at and makes the story that much more amazing to see. As the animators really produced their fantastic work, the music was just as top-notch and then some. Steve Jablonsky was all over the map with this one and created a beautiful auditory tapestry. It ran the gamut from touching to intense but gave it all a cheerful childlike playfulness that had a lighter than air quality to it…almost like steam. It was tailored to the film and as this is pretty much Ray’s origin story it fit him perfectly. Really there wasn’t a weak element in this film.
Coming from the mind of Katsuhiro Ôtomo how could this not be anything but spectacular? Even in scenes where nothing was happening, the level of detail was beyond astonishing; it was immaculate. As this does take place in around the industrial revolution a large majority of the color palette were grays, browns and reds. While it may have seemed drab and depressing the locales depicted (English country side and London) were crisp, bright and beautiful. Each background cell and painting had a level of detail I’ve rarely seen that and nearly every scene was one you could freeze-frame and hang on your wall as art. Astoundingly gorgeous and man the action was totally adrenaline fueled. Also the intricacy to the nearly all the steam powered vehicles (both hand drawn and CG) was mind-blowing as were the never ending amounts of detail down to the tiniest cogs, nuts and bolts.
Now I love this movie dearly and as I have nothing to complain about, I will go for an out of the box approach to find one. Ahem…As a purist I never listen to the English dub on this or any animated film (or live action for that matter) but I broke my own rules for 5 minutes just to see what, if anything Molina, Stewart and Paquin did for the story. I have to say this gets the award for worst casting. I know that in Japan female voice actors do voice work for young male characters. In America that method just doesn’t translate here and while I won’t go into detail, it is almost painful to hear. Anna Paquin doing the voice work should have certainly received a Razzie.