Steam Detectives Complete Collection (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Mike Dungan
Review Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, January 10, 2006



What They Say
Steam City is shrouded in a perpetual fog and, courtesy of the criminal element, a veil of terror to boot. Enter Narutaki, the young son of Steam City's greatest detective and the only person who can restore peace to the beleaguered city!

The Review!
Equal parts Holmsian mystery and Batman comic book, Kia Asamiya’s surprisingly dark tale finds its way into an ADV thinpak collection.

Audio:
For my primary viewing session, I listened to the show in my native language of English. The 5.1 mix is well used, with plenty of directionality across the sound stage. Vocal songs are used in most important scenes, and the English dialogue is well balanced against it, with one never overwhelming the other.

Video:
Airing originally in 1998, the mostly traditional cel-animation looks good. The character designs are simplified from Asamiya’s usual heavily detailed look, but it’s still unmistakably his work. There is some graininess, but that’s mostly due to the dark backgrounds and steam. I only noticed a bit of minor aliasing in some panning shots, but otherwise the transfer is clean.

Packaging:
The box is quite simple, with silver spots against a black background, and the Steam Detectives logo front and center on both the front and back of the box. The five discs follow the same cover art as the singles collection, but set against a black background instead of white. Disc 1 features Narutaki, Ling Ling, and Goriki. Disc 2 features Narutaki and the Phantom Knight. Disc 3 features the Machine Baron and Goriki, Disc 4 features the Crimson Scorpion, Onigawara and Yagami. Disc 5 features LeBled and Narutaki. The back covers are very simple, each using the colored spots against a black background and episode numbers and titles, as well as line art of one of the characters. The discs themselves are as equally simple, with a black background and episode numbers. I like simple designs, but I wonder if this is pushing things just a bit too far? With no character art on the box, I question its ability to grab the eye of the casual anime fan in a store.

Menus:
The menus are similar to the singles release, using the colored spots motif. The biggest difference is the elimination of extras featuring interviews with Japanese production staff that was rather interesting. The menus are easy to navigate and quick to load, with no transition animation.

Extras:
As with nearly all of ADV’s thinpak sets, the only extras are previews, available on the first disc only.

Content:
(Please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers) Narutaki is a young boy who runs the Narutaki Detective Agency in a coal-powered city, hence it’s name, Steam City. His staff consists of Kawakubo, and old gentleman who is Alfred to Narutaki’s Bruce Wayne; Goriki, a steam powered robot; and Ling Ling, a beautiful young nurse, who plays Dr. Watson to his Sherlock Holmes. He was orphaned at a young age, his parents killed by Steam City’s criminal element. He now fights to rid the city of crime, using his impressive deductive abilities and a slew of specially designed gadgets. On his side are two members of the Steam City police department, Detective Yagami, an older detective with plenty of experience, and Onigawara, a younger man who is a bit of a blowhard and who obviously has it bad for Ling Ling.

In the first volume, we meet the five villains who make up Narutaki’s rogues gallery. Dr. Guilty is a mad scientist who is a genius at designing megamatons, the giant robots that he believes will be mankind’s saviors. Unfortunately, he keeps using them for destructive purposes. The Machine Baron is the comedy relief, a masked collector of machinery who falls in love with Goriki and does everything in his power to steal him from Narutaki. The Crimson Scorpion is a sexy cat-burglar who is always coming up with clever ways to steal precious items. One of the most intriguing villains is LeBled, an urbane and sophisticated young man in a top hat and domino mask who finds in Narutaki a rival to challenge his own immense intellect. Assisting LeBled is Lang Lang who, much like Ling Ling, is a beautiful young nurse. More than that, she is Ling Ling’s older sister. Most sinister of Narutaki’s enemies is the Phantom Knight, an obvious homage to Batman. Dressed in a cape and cowl like a mad version of the Dark Knight, he has only one thing on his mind: killing Narutaki to avenge the deaths of his own father many years earlier.

The second volume is more of the same, but the third volume is when the series begins to make a change for the darker. First, though, a couple of comedic episodes take place, including Ling Ling trying to lose weight, and Ling Ling and Narutaki having a fight. The episode that introduces “King Steam” a vengeful killer that murders people exactly as written in a novel by popular writer Steam King, takes a surprising turn. It’s a heartbreaking episode, and one that deeply affects Ling Ling. A side story about the Crimson Scorpion trying to seduce Detective Onigawara to learn the secret combination to a lock is enjoyable as the two of them make a connection, much to their surprise.
Disc 4 gives much more depth to the characters of Lang Lang and the Crimson Scorpion. It also features a story about someone killing detectives, forcing Narutaki to accept a bodyguard from the police, a beautiful young woman, much to Ling Ling’s displeasure. Again, it’s a bittersweet episode.

The final volume gives us two main story arcs. First is LeBled’s final challenge to Narutaki. It’s a moving story of friendship of rivals, and the lengths people will go to, to feel truly alive. Finally, the Phantom Knight takes his final revenge against Narutaki, leaving him with a Hobbesian choice: to kill or not kill the Phantom, to save or not save the city?

Conclusion:
Steam Detectives is a story with one foot in the Edwardian world of Sherlock Holmes and the other in the golden age comic books of Detective Comics. Although obviously aimed at a younger male audience, the stories are far from simplistic. Endings are not cut-and-dried, and characters die and don’t come back. Even the ending of the series is open to interpretation. But it’s this very depth that makes it so fascinating. Most fans either love or hate Kia Asamiya’s character designs, and I’ll admit I fall firmly on the “love it” side. The use of vocal songs in nearly all action scenes is rather unusual, but also quite effective. The English dub by the now defunct Monster Island Studios in Austin Texas adds quite a bit of charm. Josh Meyers and Meg Bauman are both effective as Narutaki and Ling Ling, respectively. While the entire cast is enjoyable, the combination of Gray Haddock as LeBled and Larissa Wolcott as Lang Lang are the highlight of the dub for me. Haddock’s smooth, sophisticated yet intense delivery is perfect for LeBled, and Wolcott’s performance as the strong yet troubled Lang Lang is a rare but welcome dramatic turn for her. I enjoyed it immensely when it was first released in single volumes, and I’m glad it’s getting the thinpak treatment so it might find its way into the hands of more anime fans.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
NEC CT-2510A TV, Pioneer 440 codefree DVD player



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: C+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: TV PG
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 49.98
Running time: 650
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Steam Detectives