When I first ran across a description for a manga Steampunk movie I admit that I was skeptical. But, I am so glad that I got it through Netflix and gave it a shot because it was incredible!
The director, Katsuhiro Otomo, is best known for his cyberpunk directorial debut Akira in 1988. I have a great respect for graphic artists and animators, and the creators of this film lend all of the attention to detail and breath-taking beauty to the Victorian era as you could hope for. The settings are primarily the Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition in London and inside an enormous “steam castle” and they have been rendered with incredible detail.
Otomo takes a few liberties with those pesky historical facts, but you can’t go letting the facts get in the way of a good story 🙂 For instance, Steamboy takes place in 1866, but the Great Exhibition took place in 1851. Likewise you get to see the Tower Bridge totally destroyed, but it was not built until 1894. I recommend you just chalk it up to being an alternative Victorian era and enjoy the ride.
The story centers around a young boy named Ray Steam. He comes from family of talented inventors and has inherited their knack for tinkering. His father, Edward Steam and Grandfather, Lloyd Steam, have been gone for some time working on their inventions, but Ray’s world is turned upside down when his Grandfather sends him a mysterious package with instructions to protect the contents at all costs. Soon after it arrives, representatives of O’Hara Foundation (the wealthy and powerful company that sponsors his family’s work) appear and try to steal it from him. Grandpa Steam gets to Ray in time to tell him of his father’s death and to help him escape the clutches of the O’Hara cronies.
The letter from Grandpa Steam tells Ray to get the steam ball to another inventor, Robert Stephenson. By happy coincidence, Stephenson was on his way to see Ray’s grandfather so he was on the train Ray uses to escape the agents of the O’Hara Foundation. Or, at least that is what they think. But, as the train pulls into the station in London a zeppelin descends and the henchmen use a huge metal arm to capture Ray and take the steam ball to their headquarters at the Crystal Palace. When Ray arrives he finds out that his grandfather lied and his father is still alive and the steam ball is an integral part of a colossal steam-powered castle that is hidden within the walls of the Palace itself.
For a while, Ray works side by side with his father and meets Scarlett, the incredibly spoiled granddaughter of the O’Hara Foundation’s found. Unbeknownst to Ray, his grandfather is being held prisoner inside the steam castle, but he manages to escape. Ray finds him attempting to sabotage the steam castle because he knows its true and nefarious purpose. Ray has to decide where his loyalties lie and whether he is will to be just another cog in his father’s machine.
In case you couldn’t tell, I loved this movie. And don’t give me any of that “I don’t DO anime” or “cartoons are for kids,” because this film can totally stand up against any Hollywood blockbuster simply because it is animated. Illustrators and animators have the freedom to make anything they can imagine actually appear, and the massive scale of this movie would hardly be possible any other way. And never fear, just because it is a Japanese movie doesn’t mean you are doomed to subtitles. Just make sure to change the language setting on the DVD and you can watch the whole thing dubbed in English.