By Shamus Posted Wednesday Apr 19, 2006

Filed under: Anime 18 comments

I watched Steamboy last night. Tremendous visuals. It’s a period piece set in Victorian times, but where steam technology has been taken a little further then we did. (And later, further than we have gone with combustion or even nuke power. More on that in a sec.) The scenery, clothing styles, buildings, and furniture are wonderfully rendered and show a great attention to the style of the time.

The main character, Ray Steam, encounters one group after another who are after the mighty super-steam technology he has in his posession. There were several factions, and they all seemed like bad guys to me, even the ones who were members of Ray’s family. Everyone is a madman or a jerk. Even the female lead is a snooty, hateful brat who has a screechy voice and beats her dog.

As the move drags on I begin to wonder if they will have a single empathetic character in the story besides Ray. (And even Ray isn’t THAT likeable. Most of the time he’s standing around with his mouth open gawking at the amazing machines or the absurd things people are saying to him. He doesn’t really get his act together until pretty late in the game.)

I think the problem is that Ray isn’t really the main character, the machines are. We spend way more time looking at fantastic machinery than at any of the characters. Did I mention the visuals are tremendous? They are. Just incredible.

Some machines are impressive. Some are whimsical. Others are preposterous…

…such as men flying around in heavy armor with steam-powered planes on their backs. Sigh.

Like I said, everyone is a bad guy and I didn’t feel particularly attached to any of the characters. I didn’t care who got the steam technology. Towards the end, I thought of Akira. This movie had the same feel for me. Like Akira, this is a story about a bunch of hateful, self-interested idiots and some sort of uber-technology. Like Akira, by the end I was watching just to see who won, but not because I was particularly interested in any of the characters. The characters made passionate philosophical speaches to which I was indifferent. Like Akira, the story seemed to really go off the rails at the end and things stopped making sense. Like Akira, the final scenes end in a confrontation that can only be resolved by animating lots of steam, smoke, vapor, mist, dust clouds, and explosions.

After it was over I looked it up, and found that Akira and Steamboy have the same writer / director. So that explains that.

All the amazing effects and eye candy got to be tiresome after a while. Each time I thought the movie had finally peaked, it went even further and came up with even more amazing (yet ridiculous) machines for us to gawk at. Yeah, I get it already. Your artists are really good.

Now get a writer and you’ll have something.


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18 thoughts on “Steamboy

  1. That’s why “Gizmo obsession” is one of my prime reasons for not buying a title. Too often when the gizmos are cool, the story and characters get neglected in favor of nifty visuals.

    “Akira” was definitely like that. So was the “Sakura Wars” movie (though the OVA and TV series were not). And that was the problem with the worst of the Miyazaki movies I’ve seen, “Castle in the Sky”.

    It’s the main reason I tend to steer clear of the entire steampunk genre.

  2. Pete Zaitcev says:

    So, you’re ready for Last Exile now.

  3. Shamus says:

    That's why “Gizmo obsession” is one of my prime reasons for not buying a title.

    I agree, although it’s a shame. I LIKE cool gizmos. I just wish the gizmophiles would combine their talents with even a half-decent story. It seems like such a waste of beautiful images and talent.

  4. Once in a while they do. “Sakura Wars TV” breaks all the rules: it’s a video-game conversion (a dating sim, at that) and it is steampunk and has a lot of strange gizmos in it. It ought to be complete crap.

    But it isn’t. They also included memorable characters and a good story, and that’s why I liked it so much. It’s the only mecha series I’ve ever seen that I really liked a lot.

  5. Eric says:

    How was akira gizmo obsessive. As I recall, it was more for lack of a better term spiritual. I agree though usually when they make cool gizmo’s they usally take away from the characters, but in most cases the gizmos are the stars of the show, or series. That’s why Gundam(even though it sucks)is so popular, it’s about the machines, not the people… you know what let me rephrase that it’s more what the capabilities are of said machines or gizmos which keep people tuning in, or whatever.

  6. god, I’m a newbie – but I have to mention Robotech in this context. (there goes my painstakingly built-up cred).

    But RObotech really had strong characters and that was its primary appeal. I mean, the mecha were cool, but they were always something the characters reactedd off of – it was setting, not plot. The fundamental love triangle Rick/Lisa/Minmei was a peronality-driven one, and the fundamental conflict was driven by broader themes than just “cool tech stuff”.

    I shoudl just post about Robotech and get it off my chest…

  7. Eric says:

    There’s nothing wrong with Robotech, It’s freakin’ AWESOME!!! I own the first season on dvd. Anyways, good point, robotech did have strong characters. The veritechs, even though the show was based of this alien technology, were cool but not as cool as rick, roy, lisa, etc… . The only shows that I know of that are about the gizmos are as follows: Gundam, Big O, and I can’t remember what else because it sucks.

  8. Shamus says:

    Several notes here:

    Robotech was my first exposure to Anime, way back in the primordial ooze of the 1980’s. I liked it at the time. A lot. Although I revisited it recently and found it didn’t hold up well. Production values are higher today, and stories & dialog are more sophisticated.

    I still remember it fondly, though. The guy who did the voice of Rick hunter is still doing Anime dubs today, and since I listen to a lot of dubs I notice him all over the place. His voice is _unchanged_. Most recently he did the voice of Vincent in Sugar. He was also Shinbo from Chobits. I don’t know HOW that guy has retained the voice of a teenager for 20 years.

    Also: Your comment was nabbed by my spam filters. That means one or more of the words set off the spam detectors. For the life of me I can’t figure out which ones.

    Very odd.

    Dangit, now I need to do some Robotechblogging as well. :)

    One final, final note is that Anime Pilgrimage has several posts on Robotech series 2, which I’ve since learned is really named “Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross”.

  9. Eric says:

    Another good example is Cowboy Bebop. in the sense that they did a great job of mixing. I loved watching the space battles, their take on hyperspace travel, and colonization of other planets. That and spike is the schizz

  10. Eric says:

    Robotech was my first to. back when toonami first started,(when i was in 6th grade) they played the afforementioned title, as well as G-force(Gatchaman or something in japanese) and sumthin’ else.

  11. Eric says:

    I have to disagree with you shamus. I might be a little prjudiced here, but I feel that the plot, and character interactions make it a contender today. Yes production values and everything are better, but all that means is it’s easier to make garbage then quality.

  12. Shamus says:

    “Yes production values and everything are better, but all that means is it's easier to make garbage than quality. “

    Ok, you got me there.

    There are a few moments in Robotech that sort of irritated the 15-year-old shamus. Right about the time you were born, I might add. I’ll probably elaborate on that later in a full post. It’s still a classic, at any rate.

  13. Eric, “gizmo obsession” is a mnemonic not intended to be taken literally. It refers to cases where the directors are more interested in a thing or an idea than in characters and stories about characters.

    Akira actually has quite distinctive characters. The only problem is that all of them are lowlife scum. There isn’t a sympathetic character in the entire movie.

  14. Eric says:

    Good point, Steven, but at the same time you have to feel sympathetic towards the characters for the fact that they grew up in practically hell’s kitchen. They had to fight for everything they ever had, all they’ve really had was each other. Aparently even their own parents did’nt give a damn about them, their teachers and principal always told them that their going to amount to nothing and physicaly abused them. Now tell me, how is anyone not going to turn into a scumbag, living in such an enviroment.

  15. Most recently he did the voice of Vincent in Sugar.

    WHAT? dub, or sub? I have to go back and listen to that again…

  16. Shamus says:

    WHAT? dub, or sub? I have to go back and listen to that again…

    Dub. English dub.

    This guy is prolific, if you listen to a lot of dubs you’ll hear him everywhere. Much like Steven Jay Blum, he seems to pop up all over the place.

  17. Greyed says:

    I know this is probably late but I have to since none of the other commenters did.

    The problem with Akira isn’t that it’s characters are unsympathetic or that Otomo is obsessed with technology it is the fact that it is a 2 hour movie drawing on a several hundred page long manga series. Back in 2000 through 2002(?) Dark Horse released Akira in large graphic novels. There were 6 total. The movie sparingly covered the events of 4/5ths of the first book and then skipped way far ahead to what I presume was about the middle mashed with the end. I only got up to book 4 before several moves threw me off from purchasing more.

    I don’t think any story which is stripped of about 80% of its content is going to come through without some problems. In all honesty Akira was ground breaking in the 80s but it should have been committed to at least 3 features. That might have retained at least 45-50% of the source story which would be enough to tell at least the primary plot and maybe one of the multitude of secondary plots. But back then there wasn’t the penchant for trilogies as there are now.

  18. Gargron says:

    Really good movie. Next I will watch Akira.

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