Steampunk? Steamball? Steamboy!

Welcome back to Paradise my dear Island guests, I am dropping the steampunk greetings because I ran out!  So instead I will go with: “Good day dear guest, welcome to another beautiful day in Paradise, today we serve you this special blend of Anime-Spritz and the Movie-to.  Two parts Steampunk with a solid dash of Katsuhiro Otomo one part Star Wars and expectedly garnished with a bit of Akira.  This review will take you through my experience with Steamboy!

Akira but with Steam

Steamboy came out in 2004 and is directed by the man the legend Katsuhiro Otome himself. He is known as the man who revolutionised anime with his iconic flick.. Akira! This movie cost 20.2 million dollars and is one of the most expensive animated movies of all time. Certainly at that time. A Blueray these days costs you about 19,90 which I assume will be the dollar price as well as you guys tend to get that stuff cheaper than us. My version at least offered me the chance to choose between sub and dub and this had me pondering for a bit.  I am a sub girl.. very much but the dub cast consists of Alfred Molina, Patrick Stewart and Anna Panquin among others and it sounds absolutely phenomenal.  However the matching lip flaps stuff isn’t done as well.  As a sub-girl I watched the movie subbed. For two reasons. Anna who plays Ray, our main character fakes a british accent, and while she does it pretty good it is a fairly thick accent.. making it slightly harder for me as a non native english speaker to understand being the most important. The second the main characters being the Steam family. In Japanese their name is not translated.. so Steam and steam .. which both appear in this movie a lot.. are more separable.  Watching the dub however I think is completely justified!

The movie tells the story of James “Ray” Steam. Son of the great Dr Edward “Eddie” Steam and grandson of the legendary Lloyd Steam. Unbeknownst to Ray his father and grandfather make an invention that can propel the world into the next age of science. The mysterious Steamball. However after a workplace accident Eddie and Lloyed now follow very different beliefs. One seemingly took the side of the Americans and the O’Hara foundation.. led  by the Child-Ojousama Scarlett O’Hara St Jones and the weasley CEO Simon. The other takes the side of Robert Stepehnson, a british nationalist and fellow inventor.  When Lloyd mails Ray one of the three Steamballs, he quickly finds himself marooned between both sides and has to fight his way out of many dangerous situations so that the true philosophy of science can survive. In doing so however war between America and Britain almost seems unavoidable as Ray quickly finds out that power corrupts. It’s a fairly interesting story that does have its flaws. With the runtime of slightly over two hours this movie outstayed its welcome just a bit. For me one of those moments happened at the 45 minute mark and the second near the end. I never would have turned it off but there were points where I was like… hmmm we are treading water a bit.

America vs Great Britain

The set piece for this movie is great. An alternative take on Britain in 1866. The concept of steam having reached its limits and people trying to break it is intriguing. The quasi science behind is that people found a liquid water-like element or material that can both solidify and turn to steam within a small margin or something..with a denser base one can cram a lot more steam in small containers and make it more productive. The money hungry Americans want it to make MONEY and lots of it while the proud british want to use it for Queen and Country and to subject those who would oppose them. One of the scientists believes that we should explore all facets of science.. even the ones that can be used for nefarious gains, it is up to humans to handle them responsibly and the other beliefs mankind can not be trusted with power like  this. Science is meant to serve man not rule over them.  Ray works as a neutral perspective; he just loves gadgets and tech and thinks a tank is really cool when he sees one. He does however think a tractor is pretty dangerous because one nearly destroyed his house.  It’s where one of this movie’s greatest strengths yet also it’s weaknesses lie. It doesn’t really choose a side… until very very late in the movie. It does keep the plot exciting and shows us some amazing steampunk tech, pretty cool utilities and wonderful locales.. yet we also see a main character that doesn’t know very well what he is fighting for or who he is running from.

I do not mind this neutral approach but they back out of it hard, at one point one side is revealed to be pretty evil.. and then near the end they are not..or they regret it and flip.. I am not sure how to explain that. A lot of characters have ulterior motives, lie about their beliefs and or change them as the movie goes along  and a two hour movie is kind of too short  to tell that.  It results in a lot of idealistic speeching to get the point across the movie is trying to make but that sometimes doesn’t make sense.. like speaking about your ideals against what is essentially your boss. Or telling a kid waaaay more than you would tell a kid. As a result some of the speeches feel a bit forced. So Ray  talks to person A, maybe he can’t be trusted, Person B explains his side, Person C tells Ray to be careful and why science should be treated with more care.. but the person is confused.. so maybe it’s person D who has the right vision..who of course also speeches. In the end they are all kind of assholes..but also not?! It’s a tad much.

When action is happening however this movie is great!  The Steampunk inventions work in a really mechanical and realistic way and a slew of interesting gadgets is pulled in. Very early Ray for example has to flee from some bad guys on his steam cycle.  It as an invention that has not fully worked yet so before he can fire it up properly he has some issues and tumbles around in the wheel (it is basically one large steam propelled wheel )  .. in  trying to flee he tries to lose them by quickly hiding behind a Steam train that is coming their way..but the way rails are designed keeps the cycle locked on track. (He had a ramp to get in before)  every scene has tiers as it were. It is not just throwing punches… it is feeling out what the problem is, finding a solution and making it happen. All the fights and action scenes are conquered by clever thinking like how a scientist would.  Yes there is a powerful mcguffin but it doesnt give power as one would in Shonen.. people almost never overpowered…except for a war going on in the background..  but the action fits the tone of this movie so much. Then there are the more comedic scenes and discovery scenes that pack so much charm.. it only has too many speeches.

Well put Together

What stood out to me most is how absolutely stunning this movie is! It looks gorgeous! This is a 2004 movie so it’s 16 years old but it looks so clean!  Yes it is really brown and grey like all steampunk movies and most period pieces, yet the movie knows when it is enough and treats you to a beautiful coloured scene as well.  The details look amazing and this might be the only movie where I do not mind that they used 3d graphics in a 2d movie. It blands in so well and gives everything “mass” Wind effects, steam effects they all look SOOOO great in this movie. I am not a big visual type of person but this , this wowed me! It looks 80’s in design , quite close to Akira but  with all the commodities of modern animation. I would not describe it as realistic.. but just by looking at it you can add adjectives to every item. The heavy lever, the creaky crank. Just by looking at some parts you know how much force you would have to use to  pull it down or make it move. Pipes twist shapes from having too much pressure little glass cracks from shockwaves nearby. Ray’s aviator goggles shatter after his first crash landing.. there are so many small details

The characters are also great. Scarlett O’Hara St Johnson, who is indeed based on the character from Gone with the Wind for example seems like your typical Oujousama , she feels too good for everything.. she is super shallow but rather than having her completely overcome this it is because of said shallowness she discovers some of her beliefs or some stuff her company does doesn’t work for her.  Per example.. she talks to a person she has warm sentiments for seeming worried.. however once she founds out it will give her less money .. she thinks of him as a bad element.. influencing something else she likes..  She really wants to keep that..so her mind finds a way to explain how she can have her way.  Later on however she sees one of her machines is causing destruction.. the CEO spins it to her as a marketing tool.. so people can see what they will buy! She is against this however because she doesn’t want the “pretty things” to be broken. We see growth, as in the person learns what they want and do not want and what is more important for them.. but they do not morph into a great hero who learned their lesson.

Ray and both Lloyd and Eddie get plenty of similar obstacles in their way. Ray wants to do right.. but he is very idealistic.. he isn’t in this to do right by some or to do right by the good side.. he wants to do right for all. He also believes man is good.. and those traits get him in trouble.. but he doesn’t give up on that. He stays who he is and sticks with his choices, even if that choice is not making a choice. Eddie and Lloyd also make decisions based on this and even Simon who is but a minor character can’t help but showcase his dominant character trait .. being Greed even when it endangers his life. Yes he is weasley, yes he is your typical  “snake man” archetype..  he doesn’t do the whole chickening out thing , not really at least, however he is not stupid enough to die for his greed either. Characters stay themselves rather than being a stereotypical movie role. That can lead to a few eyeroll moments, as “in other movies, the hero would have learned by now” .. but that is just the point.. these situations happen because it just so happens to be these characters that were put in this situation and I love that so much!

Soaring to the Skies

The movie does fall in the pitfall of having too many finales, the final encounter has so many tiers that it stops being interesting in the final step or so. It’s still amusing but I reached a point where I would be fine with any outcome as long as it would end.  It’s not quite “you haven’t even seen my final form” levels.. but there are definitely too many elements in the end. Reason is once again those shifting alliances and believes. What starts as Small guy versus big corporate evildoers ends up as England versus America and that ends up in..  about 8 subgroups or so each doing their own things. It makes sense.. but it all is a bit convoluted and it means some plottreats do not go anywhere. There is a big thing about scuba divers in steampunk suits but one falls off the stairs because he trips and that ends the entire thing with the Scuba divers.. We see a character be built up as super important in the conflict and at one point he just stands there and watches.. while he technically was still doing things… and of course for some reason each side has the perfect counter for the other teams surprises packed and loaded on their ships.  Air Travel is still unheard of yet  when America shows something in those veins. and Brittain goes.. what the F is that thing.. they also go like “Hey now we can test out that weapon we made in case people made such a thing we were just so utterly surprised by”  It dulls the background conflict significantly.

The action with Ray and Scarlett amidst that war is finger licking good!  The story is descent with flaws, the action only has that one bigger setback. Critics rate this movie with about a 6,6 out of 10 and a 6,9 on IMDB. However I do feel those scores are way too low.  On Metacritic this movie scores an 8.7 out of 10  from the audience and that I find is a much fairer score. I would put it slightly lower due to it’s chunky runtime and excessive speeches, which I could forgive if the finale was a BIT more on point but for a movie about the glory of science, for a movie about steampunk I could not wish for much more than what I have got.  Even after finding this movie too long I kind of want  to rewatch it dubbed sometime.. not right now , not even this year anymore but I really want to watch the dub as well at some point and that has to be a seal of approval right there. A sub-girl who liked this movie so much that she would like to see if the dub would make her appreciate it even more!

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3 thoughts

    1. It really did, it kind of reminded me of the game Hot Potato.. if it was an anime.. but instead of wanting to give it away they want to keep it.. still my analogy stands though :p

      Liked by 1 person

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