Katsuhiro Otomo’s next film after the monster that was Akira took ten years to produce and the staggering care and attention to detail clear in the Victorian-era settings and its marvellous machines is undeniable (along with a lot of the action sequences) but the film is not so beloved as Akira.
Obviously, different genres, different times – but I also think that there’s something missing from the storytelling in Steamboy and I wasn’t able to put my finger on it until all these years later.
In a way, the film really whips main character Ray from one calamity to another at a brisk pace.
It might sound like I’m claiming that there’s no time to catch your breath at all, and that’s not my intent, but what I think I wanted as a viewer was more time for reflection from Ray. On both his situation, and in terms of his confusion in dealing with the people surrounding him.
I found myself seeking that time for character development because Steamboy explores inter-generational conflict (in an action film, which feels somewhat rare) – and I was thrilled to see that.
All the way through, poor Ray is torn between trusting his grandfather and his father – both mechanical geniuses, and both seeming to have noble goals. Of course, there the audience faces similar doubts, but for such an important conflict, I wanted more of it on the screen.
Where I wanted more from that aspect, the film gave me a lot to enjoy when it came to the visuals and the animation itself. Even with a reasonably muted palette, the detail on the setting and machines was beautiful, and the large scale of the inventions are just as striking.
Steamboy really does feel like a triumph, visually and I don’t think I can do it justice in the review of course, since the stills can only tell so much.
But if you like classic steampunk (or have always wondered about Katsuhiro’s other major works) and haven’t seen this one yet, I think it’s worth finding for sure.