Steamboy (also w/gift set) -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B-

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  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: C+
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • MSRP: 26.96/49.95
  • Running time: 126
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Steamboy

Steamboy (also w/gift set)

By Chris Beveridge     August 15, 2005
Release Date: July 26, 2005

Steamboy (also w/gift set)
© Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

What They Say
From acclaimed Akira director Katsuhiro Otomo comes this retro science-fiction epic starring the voice-acting talents of Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina, and Patrick Stewart!

Set in 19th Century Victorian England, Steamboy follows the harrowing exploits of young inventor prodigy Ray Steam, who’s swept up in a maelstrom of danger when he receives a mysterious package containing the enigmatic Steam Ball – a metal construct designed to contain a new form of energy capable of powering an entire nation! Now he must utilize the Steam Ball’s unique powers to contend wit the nefarious O’Hara Foundation seeking to use its power towards their own illicit ends, and save London from destruction in the process!

The Review!
Katsuhiro Otomo returns after a few years to bring another larger than life picture to the big screen.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese which also was done in a 5.1 mix. It and the English 5.1 mix are both well done pieces that don't overuse the rear speakers but have some very good key moments thrown there that really help the track excel. With the way the movie is filmed, a lot of the action and sound effects are placed along the forward soundstage and often taken from a distance so it doesn't allow for a lot of big moments with the rear speakers but it's used in a number of areas that helps to flesh out things such as aerial movement and occasional some dialogue and other ambient sounds. We had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally in theater during July of 2004, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Not unlike most other movies and projects that Otomo is involved in, the detail here is almost at a fascinating level where you can't help but to look at how lavish it is. From the costumes to the buildings and architecture to the fluidity of the movement of both characters and mechanical designs. The transfer for this release captures all of this and it looks fantastic – unless the screen is made up of a lot of black. From the opening screen through to the end, there was a lot of macroblocking going on during these full black sequences and especially when it started panning along it. Detail was pretty much lost here and the blocking was very distracting as it went along. Beyond this, the rest of the film looked near perfect with clean solid colors, no cross coloration or other issues that detracted from it.

The artwork for this release uses the promotional imagery that I've seen for just about everything in regards to its US release and it's a good looking action oriented cover which does fairly well give an idea as to what the series is like, though the aircraft pieces look a bit amusing. Giving Ray the center spot and looking like a mix between the Rocketeer and the Sky Captain movie characters it's something that will be an easy sell in that regard while the background is made up of the location and various mechanical designs that give it that science fiction feel. The back cover provides a few shots from the show and a clear listing of all the discs extras. The summary provides just the right amount of information about the show while the rest of the cover is made up of production information and the technical grid. There's no real insert with this release but it does have a postcard inside of an original drawing concept of one of the scenes.

The menu for this release, which comes after several frontloaded trailers for other shows but is skippable, is a nicely done presumably original CG design that rotates around the steam ball and flashes various images from the show in the valves as the light mechanical sounding music plays alongside. It's a good looking menu with easy access to the discs features and is easy to navigate. We had no problems moving about and were happy that the disc properly read our players language presets and played accordingly.

There's a good deal of extras included here with some very interesting pieces. There's a number of featurettes that cover the making of the film and an interview with Otomo as well as a piece that goes into the landscape design of the show. The one that fascinated me the most is the "Re-voicing Steamboy" feature since it's like the Disney ones that has the actors talking about coming into something that they either knew about previously or not. Those that were new to it have the usual comments and just really got into the differences. Those familiar with things were all the more eager to join in. The bits with Patrick Stewart in particular were fun since he went on to talk about being in Japan at one point prior to this and having known more about anime since his previous roles was just blown away by the true variety of it available there and how much of a character study a lot of these things are. His inclusion in these definitely helps to add some gravitas to things and his performances continue to be one of my favorites.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
For some reason I never ended up catching Steamboy in the theater since practically all the films that are released theatrically in regards to anime end up in the Boston area at some point. The film had gotten mixed reviews during that run and in general beforehand from its Japanese release but that's almost a given for an Otomo film, especially when it gets outside of the small world of hardcore fandom and scrutinized under a more traditional film view.

The world of Steamboy is an alternate style world of the 19th century where the steam powered designs are still very much the ruling design of the day and there are a few inventors and people that have pushed things a bit further into what you could call the infamous "steampunk" stuff or just science fiction mixed into the Victorian times. It's all done in such a manner that it fits the world without being all that out of place. When the unusual items do move into view, they do feel like they don't belong there and are new but they don't feel like a fantastical leap ahead of what's possible there. It's just enough instead of a huge leap.

With steam still being a primary source of energy, new ways of manipulating it are sought out. During a round of experiments we see early on in Russian America under the auspices of Lloyd Steam and his adult son Edward. They'd left Manchester, England some years before to work on this project of using a specialized mineral water to create a high pressure steam system for the O'Hara Foundation. Their first big test run to prove it works ends up being a test of wills between father and son and goes so badly awry that the son comes across as getting killed during a valve explosion.

The tragedy is given some time to sink in as the focus shifts back to Manchester where we get to know the Steam family there a bit more with young Ray living with his mother. Ray's definitely the heir to the family with his ability to understand machines and to manipulate them to his needs as we see during his work on one of the fabrication plants that he does some work on when things go badly with it. He's got all sorts of projects he works on himself and things around the house that helps things move smoothly but for the most part he's just a regular kid that's really smart. His life gets thrown for a change though when a package arrives from the US from his grandfather and inside is a strange metal container and some blueprints along with a note to not let it fall into the hands of the O'Hara Foundation.

Naturally, they show up at the same time only to have Lloyd follow right after, sending the whole house into confusion. Ray's grandfather is somewhat mean in his motivations as he tells him his father is dead and that he must return that steam ball to a Dr. Stephenson before it's too late. This sets Ray out on a journey not only to find Dr. Stephenson, something he does easily, but to find out the truth about what happened to his father and how different the ideology of the two men is. Steam Boy at its core is a very straightforward movie with its idea of a new technology pushing progress ahead and that often this progress comes when war is applied to it. It's something that can be traced throughout history and it's no surprise to see it tackled here as we find the O'Hara Foundation using the highly powered steam ball to produce new kinds of weapons of destruction, from aerial units to ground vehicles to fully functional armored suits.

Where the film surprised me is how it placed Ray between the two men of his life. He obviously loves both of them and they're a tight family when together prior to the accident in Alaska, but both men ask so much of Ray when they fear what they've invented will be used the wrong way. Ray's grandfather asks him to go against his own father, something that will be difficult for any son to do in most normal situations especially without much explanation. When Ray starts to learn more of what his father has become and the changes he's undergone, he shifts from being blindly faithful to him to questioning his motives and trying to reason with him. But it's the way both men put Ray in the middle that made it stand out for me since it's not a common device. Having the difficulties and differences eventually come down to the two men themselves only helped to reinforce how rare it was.

With a running time of just over two hours, Otomo ends up with something that falls into the Hollywood trap all too easily. The first half of the film does a good job of building up the world and its differences and pushes Ray through the series of challenges, from escape to capture and to trying to understand his elders in what they're both trying to accomplish. Once the film moves into its action phase, it essentially runs that next hour non stop. It hits its Hollywood moments where just when you think the film has ended, it finds another reason to keep running. Sort of like the end of the first Terminator movie where you just go, "Oh come on already." That's where the last twenty minutes or so of this feels like.

Visually, there's nothing to be said that hasn't other than it's a lavish and breathtaking piece if you really look at the amount of detail given to it. The CG blending is mixed throughout but so much of it is so skillfully done and integrated that it blends better than you'd expect. The epic scale of things is given plenty of time to bear out on the screen and the devastation and destruction during the war period of the film showcases the light side of Otomo's views where he always seems to sneak some comedic or telling moments into the technology at hand. It's the detail to the designs that keeps my attention on the screen though, from the backgrounds to the mechanical. This is just a richly animated piece that keeps to its steam nature but doesn't really overdo for the most part.

In Summary:
Steamboy is a film that runs just a bit too long for my tastes but has some really nice ideas inside of it but at the end really doesn't present anything new to the table. It's great to see something less futuristic and more of a non-Japanese period piece since it only helps to expand the range of which anime does things, but the film is somewhat flawed in how it tries to promote the two ideologies of the men that are really behind everything. It comes down to such simple things and the "bad" guy of the father ends up seeming far too kooky or disconnected at times to be taken all too seriously. I mean, you go through an experience like that, why keep a couple of strands of hair? His face isn't even all that disfigured compared to other things that he needs to wear a mask. It's little things like this plus the very Hollywood style ending that made this a film that during the second half had me watching the countdown clock and checking the back of the case for the running time more than once. It's beautiful to look at and is definitely much more adult oriented than most western animated films, but it retains some very childish features that keep it from being more.

Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language,French 2.0 Language,Spanish 2.0 Language,Portugues 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Spanish Subtitles,Portugese Subtitles,Re-Voicing Steamboy,Interview with Otomo,Multi-screen landscape study,The Adventure Continues,Production Drawings,Animation Onion Skins

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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