Ray Steam takes on baddies in Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy.
The name Katsuhiro Otomo is no doubt well-known to anime and manga fans, primarily for his post-apocalyptic opus, Akira- easily one of anime's landmark films (if not THE landmark anime film). It is a bit boggling though to realize that Otomo hasn't made another animated project since Akira- at least, not until his latest, Steamboy, But does the great director's latest top his greatest?
Sadly, no. A thousand times no.
Steamboy is an adventure-fantasy yarn set in an alternate reality steam-age England, in the turn of the century. Young Ray Steam is the product of genius- both his father and grandfather were geniuses and colleagues in the research and development of a device called the Steam Ball, an amazing power source that could revolutionize the world... or destroy it in a white puff of smoke. When Ray receives an actual working Steam Ball in the mail, he soon becomes embroiled in a battle between ideologies, steam-powered weapons and armies and unfortunately, my lagging attention span.
Again, this was a feature i almost was positive I'd love. I mean, what's not to love? There's a spunky kid hero, his dad-turned-Darth Vader figure, evil corporations and governments at war, steam-powered arsenals and big battle scenes, lots of carnage, flying and rolling machines, lovely animation and even more lovely animation.
So why, oh why did I find myself bored to tears?
Well, the pacing's off and the story was just uneven. Not even the coolest animations or the retro designs can make long scenes of scientific debate interesting. The characters aren't very compelling, not the least of which is Ray himself, who basically just drifts along without an opinion or even much to like about until the final stretch of the movie. Also, you really can't tell who's really good- I like grey areas and blurring between good and bad as much as the next open-minded watcher, but darn everyone seems bad in this movie at one point or another. Which would be fine if only Ray himself found a stand to believe in... but it all just seems weak with little great scenes to talk about or rave for. Spectacularly dragging and drawn out is what Steamboy turned out to be. Not as whimsical as Spirited Away, not as strong in action or characters as ANY of the other Miyazaki classics... not even as visually striking as, say, Innocence (Ghost in the Shell 2)... this is a big disappointment as a follow up to Akira.
Still, the sheer detail and animation is awesome, and the story would probably be better with better editing and about thirty or so minutes of baggage cut out (and the released theatrical cut is supposedly shorter than what Otomo wanted). The main trouble is that Steamboy just loses... well... steam... way too early and chugs for far too long till the end.
Still, it's something to see, and at least it's not as bad as Metropolis. Worth seeing one time for the animation, but I doubt anyone but a true fan or Otomo freak will last a second or third watch. Oh well. Moving on.