Steam Detectives Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, October 17, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, October 21, 2003



What They Say
In a sprawling metropolis powered by steam, villains take advantage of the omnipresent fog to commit countless crimes and baffle the police. Only a boy genius can unravel each mysterious caper and bring the evildoers to justice!

Aided by nurse Ling-Ling and her megamaton Goriki, Narutaki has sworn to defend the city from the outlaws that terrorize it with their mischief and mayhem. The orphaned son of a revered detective, Narutaki must use all of his wits to combat the plague of crime that sweeps Steam City.

A sophisticated marriage of the lush darkness of film noir with the gritty storytelling of classic detective novels, Steam Detectives is a stylish steampunk adventure that you won't want to miss!



The Review!
Kia Asamiya’s one of the more visible names when it comes to shows and manga coming to the US, so it’s little surprise that his Batman-lite series Steam Detectives has made its way over here.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series is done in a pretty basic stereo mix that’s fairly center channel based but has a number of stereo moments of directionality that come across nicely. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 1998, Steam Detectives comes across decently in this print but suffers from some intentional issues. With it being part of the traditional animation time, we get some good colors throughout and some of them are very vibrant, but most lack much in the way of depth but avoid being over saturated. Cross coloration is minimal while there is a bit more aliasing going on, mostly during panning sequences. With the show having a heavy design on steam and clouds, there’s a grainy feel to the print that’s accentuated due to the way the backgrounds are. With the darker scenes and some of the blue skies, it becomes even more apparent.

Packaging:
Released in white keepcase, it helps accentuate the white background used in the cover art that gives a stronger focus to the three characters shown on it. With two of them dark and one of them done up in pinks and whites, it’s a striking cover at first with the varying colors. The logo is a bit difficult to read at first, but the cover does get props for listing the volume number on the front and the spine. The back cover provides a few shots from the show and a character design piece for Narutaki alongside the story summary paragraphs. The back cover is a mix of reds and whites with the discs features and production information listed (but no episode numbers or titles). The insert is a great little paper piece that folds open to three panels that shows various pre-production sketches that Asamiya did for the animation team to help them get familiarized with the show.

Menu:
The menu is a simple piece with a bit of somber instrumental music playing over it where the central image is of Narutaki in his traditional outfit with gun in hand set against a red cityscape backdrop and some black circles bubbling up over it that turn into the selections. It’s an interesting looking menu with good access times and quick submenu loads with no transitional animations.

Extras:
The only extras included in this first volume is the original Japanese opening sequence (which is what’s in the show itself, but with the addition of English translated credits around them) as well as just about three minutes worth of production sketches that showcase the various characters and equipment of the series.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Having enjoyed the manga series for this for a few years, I’ve been curious to see how the anime differs from it as well as what they kept the same. The premise of the show is one that I’ve enjoyed, particularly as it’s a welcome break from the shows with long running plots.

The story takes place in a place called Steam City, a city where the only fuel that can be produced is coal. Due to this, technology has definitely moved into the steam direction, and this has caused varying results. The city itself has an itntriguing array of technology to it, but it’s also a haven for those wishing to commit crimes. With steam clouds produced so frequently, not only is it easy to sneak about at night but it’s fairly easy to move around in the daytime as well. As the steam technology continues, so does crime in this otherwise lovely little city.

To help combat this, we’re introduced to “child” detective Narutaki, a young man with great analytical skills and a real connection to the ways of steam. The closest fictional analogue to Narutaki comes in the form of Sherlock Holmes, but in reading about his adventures and the dark night time nature of them in the manga, I’ve come to visualize him more as the detective side of Batman without the mask. Narutaki’s outfit, his great deep black coat with the huge yellow buttons that are strong symbols of Steam City, just mentally make that connection for me.

To aid Narutaki in his work (since he doesn’t go to school thankfully and have that as a secondary track to deal with), there’s his able butler Kawakubo who has that entire “Alfred” feel to him as he manages both the household and in with various aspects of Narutaki’s career. There’s Ling Ling, the beautiful nurse who aids him in his work and finally there’s Goriki, a Megamaton that does what Narutaki asks of it. In a lot of series where you have a cast like that, the police would tend to be adversarial at times if not constantly, but in Steam Detectives it works differently, as Narutaki and the police have a good working relationship for the most part.

While Narutaki doesn’t really wear a costume nor a mask, that’s not to say some of his opponents don’t. It’s their arrival that starts bringing more of a Batman feel to the show, such as the Knight Phantom and his array of weapons and gear that he uses when he lands into the show. Or, more to my own liking, is the Crimson Scorpion, a female thief who uses her sexuality to get what she wants but not overtly. Both of them come across well in this kind of show even though they’re in costumes and the leads aren’t (again, unless you count Ling Ling’s nurses uniform as a costume).

The stories so far are all standalone ones and are variations on the typical mystery. The opening one deals with a rampaging Megamaton that actually seems to have the ability to teleport while a later episode has a scientist that’s researching a possible energy alternative ends up becoming the target of the Crimson Scorpion that also deals with the alienation of a daughter. My favorite episode out of the first five involves the villainous Machine Baron character. In his goal to have all sorts of machines, from vintage steam powered vacuums to the latest craze, he’s set his mad sights on Goriki.

To figure out how to defeat him, he takes off his comical suit and helmet mask to take on the role of a reporter doing a story on Narutaki. This lets him get into the Narutaki household to learn some of their secrets and to formulate his plan. Things do not go according to plan though as he becomes more and more enamored by Goriki and ends up doing all kinds of things with him, from shopping for the evening meal to giving him the best washdown any Megamaton ever got. It gets so bad in fact that Narutaki starts getting envious of all the attention Goriki is getting. Watching the Baron pine for his time with Goriki after he’s told the Megamaton is down for maintenance for a week is priceless as he crosses off the days on the calendar.

Depending on your point of view, there’s some mixed in the presentation of the show. It looks as if no textless opening version is available due to the way the introduction carries into the opening. The original Japanese credits are retained and the translated English version are placed around them. While not the best solution since it gets a bit crowded, it’s not as bad as some other ways of dealing with it. The original logo is also fully retained and simply subtitled with the English translation whereas other shows with similar problems have had the logo used and a new English logo dropped over it such as Saint Seiya. The one thing I outright did not like with this release is that songs during the show itself were not subtitled.

Steam Detectives is something of a guilty pleasure for me since I’ve become attached to the manga over the years. I’m fully aware of what to expect for stories and characters as well as the few basic surprises that come from it. The anime version is essentially the same but misses the boat by starting further in than the manga by having Narutaki with Ling Ling and Goriki already whereas the manga brought them on a touch later. Losing that means we’re meeting everyone for the first time as opposed to being introduced to Narutaki and his world through Ling Ling’s eyes initially.

Asamiya’s works aren’t always able to make the transition from manga to anime easily or without change. So far, I’m enjoying what I’m seeing here and am looking forward to seeing more.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Tri-fold insert with pre-production materials from creator Kia Asamiya,Production sketches,Clean opening and closing animation

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.




Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 15 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Steam Detectives