Written by Sadayuki Murai & Katsuhiro Ã”tomo
Directed by Katsuhiro Ã”tomo
Starring the Voices of Anne Suzuki, Masane Tsukayama, Katsuo Nakamura, Manami Konishi, Kiyoshi Kodama
My Advice: Rent it. Cheaply.
It’s Victorian London. In fact, it’s Great Exhibition time. Ray (Suzuki) is a young, precocious, bright-as-hell kid whose father and grandfather are off in America doing work with steam. This only makes sense, seeing as how their last name is Steam. Maybe they named it after them, I don’t know. Anyway, Ray gets picked on by his peers for being a whackjob prodigy-type. Then, one day a package shows up at their house, sent by their grandfather, with explicit instructions: don’t give the contents to anybody, including the folks Grandad works for–the O’Hara Foundation. And, what timing, they’re at the door. And they’re armed. And have a giant self-propelled tractor train thing to help get whatever’s in that package. So things just sort of snowball from there.
[ad#longpost]Well, the movie means well. From an action standpoint, it kicks major ass. From Ray fleeing from one train while trying to outrun another to the sequences of battle that happen later in the film, it has that going for it. It also has killer animation. So there’s that. But it takes forever to get started, which is okay, because when it kicks in it really starts to kick, and there’s the hope that it’s going to be a nice ride from then on out. But there’s a snag, you see.
The film wants to present a number of different takes on science and the responsbility of those who further it: who should control science? Can anyone control science? Who should reap the benefits? And so forth and so on. This is no surprise. Instead of just presenting a Message TM like American films, anime has no problem with presenting a bunch of different viewpoints and letting the viewer make up their mind what to think. Princess Mononoke, for example, had a lot to say about the environment and the responsibility of man on how to deal with it. The problem with this film is that I can’t even pick out the coherent differing philosophies, the end result being that the film seems like it wants to have a single message, but it can’t seem to decide what that is. As it stands, the only impression I got out of these muddied viewpoints is that self-interest is evil, capitalism is bad, and that scientists are all crackpots and/or greedy sonsabitches. Which is all well and good, but when you’re bogging me down in all of that hooey when you could be out destroying more of London…well, it’s a toss-up.
There’s something really cool about watching Victorian London get its ass handed to it. No contest. It’s kind of like what Wild, Wild West tried to do with their ridiculous robot spider, only this time done correctly. And then overdone correctly. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and you get it here in spades. If something is going to blow up, it takes forever for it too. If buildings are going to get trampled and blown to shit, it has to happen over and over and over again. When we were a half-hour from the end and my ass fell asleep, I just wanted all of England to sink into the sea, for God’s sake, if that’s what it took to get to the credits. Maybe if they had trimmed back a third of all the valve opening and closing and wheel turning sequences that might have helped. This tech is steam-driven. That takes pipes and shit. We get it. Now can we get back to some form of storyline, please?
The final mistake of the film is to continue the story in some vague fashion by showing stills under the credits. Sadly, apart from being very confusing (Granddad is suddenly Marley’s Ghost, WTF?), every one of them looks more interesting that the film I just sat through. I guess these are supposed to be Steamboy Against the World Crime League or something. Anyway, if you love anime, then rent this but have your finger ready on the fast forward button to do your own editing. I’m all for anime getting wider release here domestically, but not if it’s top heavy with the Explodo and half-baked philosophy.