It's been a long time since I last watched Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira, and so many years later that I finally picked up Steamboy, his follow up production which took years from conception to fruition. Set in 19th Century, alternate history of Victorian England, Steamboy boasts some fantastic looking action visuals, but got bogged down by a very clunky narrative that deals with three generations of steampunks with the erm, Steam family.
Grandad Llyod and dad Eddie Steam collaborated in the building of what would be the next technological marvel at the cusp of the Industrial Revolution, but a difference in philosophy led to catastrophe, that will put their grandchild/child Ray in harm's way when their "steamball", a device with infinitesimal steam power, gets sent in a package to their family home, plunging the tech-mechanical whizz into an adventure that's way beyond his diminutive age, in a crossroads between the O'Hara Foundation, and the might of the British Empire, both wanting his family's device to achieve their own ends.
For an anime film, the story's rich with themes such as the abuse of technology, and man's propensity to weaponize almost everything in order to gain an upper hand on our enemies, but just who this enemy is, be it real or imagined, is something explored in depth in the film. From Ray's perspective of a peace-loving nature, it's also quite true that we're usually swayed by beautiful ideals and wonderfully inspiring phrases, often used to mask true intentions, that we find our loyalties flip-flopping from one to another, until of course a ground must be found upon which to stand upon, and it is this growth that we witness in the protagonist. Worst still of course is that these differences in philosophies stem from the same family tree, making it a lot harder for rational decisions to be made.
But the story did feel bloated especially in the third act, where it seemed to drag on perpetually without an end in sight, which of course gave opportunities for the animators to showcase their intricate designs, from little trinkets to large moving gears, and plenty of out of this world concepts of early gliders, one man submarines, and the one that takes the cake will be Steam Tower, like a Transformers fortress such as Metroplex. Watching this film is like witnessing how the animators can take a simple Lego brick, here made up of valves, pipes and steam, and put them all together to become weapons of mass destruction, all steam powered. Even Steamboy's own creation later on, as seen in trailers and movie stills, seem like a hark back to The Rocketeer.
With characters created that you'll clearly love or hate - Scarlett comes to mind for being extremely pompous, whiny and absolutely clueless as the heiress of the O'Hara Foundation, Steamboy did have its moments that will thrill during its action sequences, but everything outside of that seemed one really round robin way to get from start to end. Enjoyable nonetheless, as it kept its best moments during the end credit roll, with a poignant and fitting end in its epilogue of an alternate history.
The Code 1 DVD by Sony PIctures Home Entertainment of the Director's Cut of Steamboy comes presented in an anamorphic widescreen format, with audio available in English and Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1, and the Spanish, Portuguese and French tracks in Dolby Surround. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French. Scene selection is spread over 28 chapters.
Special Features include a host of Featurette such as Re-Voicing Steamboy (18:36, letterbox) which has the voice actors in the English dubbed version, like Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina and Patrick Stewart talk about their experience in voice acting in the film, as well as their awe at the difference with anime and other western animated films.
There's also a 5:12 Interview with Katsuhiro Otomo the writer-director of Steamboy, which is in Japanese and comes with an English voiceover translation of how the project was conceived and the challenges faced in recreating 19th century England.
Multi-Screen Landscape Study (19:10) seemed more like a museum installation piece on the art of Steamboy fused with concurrent clips of the London landscape, sights and sounds, and having different angles shown for the same series of events in the film. Also contains more nuggets of wisdom from Otomo himself, as well as the crew involved in making the film enhanced by computer generated graphics.
The Adventure Continues (End Credits Without Text) (3:08) presents the end credit sequence which tells of the aftermath of Steamboy, but without the credit scroll interfering so that you can have a better look at the visuals and narrative contained within. Animation Onion Skins (4:24) provides that glimpse for that animator in you to appreciate just how 5 different sequences get painstakingly put together through different layers of development. No audio though. Production Drawings (5:40) are just that, a series of stills that autoplays against the soundtrack.
Rounding off the extras is the Previews section, where Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2:26), The Cave (2:31) and Metropolis (1:40) autoplays when the DVD is popped into the player, and others which are Astro Boy (0:45), Cyborg 009 (1:13), D.E.B.S (1:55), Katsuhiro Otomo's Memories (0:57), and Mirrormask (1:08)