Robin Atkin Downes …. David (voice: English version)
Kiyoshi Kodama …. Robert Stephenson (voice)
Manami Konishi …. Scarlett O’Hara (voice)
David S. Lee …. Jason
Alfred Molina …. Dr. Eddie Steam (voice: English version)
Katsuo Nakamura …. Dr. Loyd Steam (voice)
Anna Paquin …. James Ray Steam (voice: English version)
Ikki Sawamura …. David (voice)
Patrick Stewart …. Dr. Loyd Steam (voice: English version)
Anne Suzuki …. James Ray Steam (voice)
Susumu Terajima …. Freddie (voice)
Masane Tsukayama …. Dr. Eddie Steam (voice)
Kari Wahlgren …. Scarlett O’Hara (voice: English version)
There’s an unwritten rule when it comes to Anime or any other foreign film. Normally when watching a foreign film on DVD you have two options. Your first is to watch the film with the original language track with subtitles. Your second option is to watch the film in an English dub over. This is where the “rule” comes in. Under normal circumstances, it is considered heresy in the fan boy community to watch the dubbed version of the film. Not listening to a movie’s original language robs the actor or actress of their most powerful weapon of displaying emotion, which is his or her voice. The same goes for animated films, as the voice work is often matched to the original language it was intended. Dubbing sometimes forces the animation to look funny or stilted. If the dubbing voice work is bad or lazy, then the film suffers greatly.
Saying that, it is extremely surprising when a film is able to be just as good when listening to a dubbed track as it is in its original language. Add to that, it is even more surprising when that film is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, the Director of the Citizen Kane of Anime, Akira. His new film is entitled Steamboy, and is the Director’s long awaited follow-up to his influential work. The good news is, is that Steamboy is a worthy addition to his surprisingly sparse filmography.
What makes the film so different is that nearly the entire film takes place in Great Britain. For a genre that hardly ever takes place anywhere but Japan (outer space has a better chance of being the setting of an Anime film), watching a Japanese animated film based in Victorian England is an odd experience. This is what makes watching the film dubbed feel more comfortable. Watching English characters speak in Japanese is too unsettling, but with the dubbed track, the film actually feels more natural.
The picture deals with the Steam family; three generations of inventors who use the power of steam to try and better mankind. Young James Ray Steam (Anna Paquin)is estranged from both his father and grandfather, Dr. Eddie Steam (Alfred Molina) and Dr. Loyd Steam (Patrick Stewart). After a small introduction, things get rolling when a mysterious ball shows up to Ray’s house where he and his mother live. It is addressed to Ray and seems to be from his grandfather.
Not a moment later, Ray is running for his life as several well dressed assailants assault his Manchester home. Using technologically advanced machinery, including a train that does not require a track, and a zeppelin with a huge hand-like crane, the men finally capture Ray while he attempts to make his escape. Ray is shocked to learn the men are actually in the employ of his father.
Ray learns that his estranged parent has fallen in with the O’Hara foundation, a greedy, warmongering company, using steam inventions for profit. The ball sent to Ray and desired by the foundation, is a steam-ball; a self sustaining device that has a powerful output of pressure. The ball is powered by a special fluid found by the father and grandfather Steams in Iceland.
After an industrial accident caused by the elder Steam, Dr. Eddie has transformed himself into a Victorian-era cyborg with several metal limbs. The accident changed Eddie mentally also. He is now a driven man who wants to give science to the world. Eddie uses the money given to him for his work by the foundation to build his dream invention, the Steam Castle.
A gigantic structure, the Steam Castle is a floating fortress, powered by several steam-balls. Eddie plans to reveal the fortress at Britain’s Great Exhibition to give the world his invention. Unfortunately, the O’Hara Foundation plans to use the event as a showcase for their new weaponry built by Eddie Steam, and basically declares war on England.
The final third of the film is basically one long running battle scene as the O’Hara Foundation troops, powered by Jules Verne-like steam powered devices, take on the forces of England, led by another inventor named Robert Stephenson, who has his own array of H.G. Welles-ish machinery. The battle is captivating as men in Victorian-era exo-suits, take on steam powered tanks man by the British Army. Eventually Ray joins the battle, trying to save his father from his own obsession, his grandfather, who has been captured by the Foundation, and even London, who is threatened by annihilation from the Steam Castle.
Steamboy is a film that has been in production for nearly a decade. While the movie does not have the overpowering scope of Otomo’s Masterwork, Akira, the picture still has some nice themes of science run amok. The animation is awesome as the action never lets up in the last third of the film. The interior of the Steam Castle is an awe-inspiring sight as the internal steam works of the structure is both futuristic and retro.
Victorian England is such a ripe period for exploration and adventure. The period seems like the meeting place where Classical and Industrial Western Civilization come together. The entire look of the film is a beautiful example of the time period as the villains where bowler hats and all inventions feature thousands of gears instead of computer chips.
The voice work done by all three leads is done well. Molina leads the group as he really brings across Eddie’s obsession without making him evil at all. Eddie is such an interesting character. After he is transformed due to the industrial accident early in the film, his half mechanical body makes his look like a retro-Terminator. A moment where Eddie removes a glove to reveal a mass of gears is a real stunner.
Patrick Stewart and Anna Paquin also do good work in the other leads. Stewart’s Dr. Loyd Steam is a loud and boisterous man that knows his son has gone too far, but expecting a good performance out of Patrick Stewart is like expecting a pot of water to boil if you put in on a lit stove. Paquin is surprisingly good as the main character Ray. Seeing as how Paquin is neither British nor a boy, this is even more unexpected, but she pulls it out quite well.
Overall, Steamboy is a satisfying experience if it isn’t a classic. Welles never made another Citizen Kane in his life and no one begrudges him. Katsuhiro Otomo has perhaps already made the greatest film of its genre, and if films of Steamboy’s quality are in his future, his reputation will remain intact.
The DVD transfer here is beautiful. The colors pop and the action looks fantastic. The CGI for the film comes across and blends in well with the hand drawn animation. The film is presented in an Anamorphic Widescreen – 1.85:1.
All of the audio tracks here are beautifully detailed whether you’re listening to Japanese (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 2.0), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0), or Portuguese (Dolby Digital 2.0). The amazing thing here is that there is very little degradation when switching to the dubbed track. Normally a dubbed film with have to diminish other elements of its soundtrack in order to make the audio track’s voice work more audible. This does not seem to be the case with Steamboy.
SPECIAL FEATURES:Director’s Cut of the feature film, “Re-Voicing Steamboy” Featurette, Interview with Katsuhiro Otomo, Multi-screen Landscape study, Ending Montage, Production Drawings, Animation Onion Skins, 10 Steamboy Collectible Postcards, 22 Page Manga, 166 Page Booklet containing character designs, mecha designs, and selected storyboard sequences.
Director’s Cut of the feature film: The cuts here is 20 mins longer than the theatrical cut of the film.
“Re-Voicing Steamboy” Featurette: This is a nice featurette with interviews with the three leads. Listening to Patrick Stewart is always a joy and this is no exception. The old pro admits here he had only began to discover Anime in the last few years and goes into how difficult it was to do voice work for a film where the work had already been done in another language. Alfred Molina also has quite a bit of screen time here, as he goes into the intricacies of his craft. It’s hard for Anna Paquin to not come off as kind of bumbling after these two thespians speak before her. She does good work in the film, but here she just comes off as empty-headed.
Interview with Katsuhiro Otomo: This is a detailed account of the eight years that went into the film’s production. The animation master goes into how his work had to integrate CGI into the film and how proud he was after its completion. He also discusses the possibility of a sequel.
Multi-screen Landscape study: This feature is a montage of different images from the film superimposed with images of film makers and other Victorian era images. This is kind of a neat feature, but gets a little tiresome.
Ending Montage: This is the end credits sequences without the credits overtop the backgrounds. The montage is actually a pseudo sequel, where Steamboy goes to America and foils the plans of an evildoer.
Production Drawings: Production paintings from the film’s pre-production. Some are actually quite beautiful.
Animation Onion Skins: These are animatics from the film. Its shows the complexity of the action sequences.
10 Steamboy Collectible Postcards: These are original Postcard designed from Katsuhiro Otomo drawings.
22 Page Manga: This would be really great if I could read from right to left and understood Japanese, but the artwork is beautiful.
166 Page Booklet containing character designs, mecha designs, and selected storyboard sequences: This is the best feature of the Giftset. This is a sketchbook of hundreds of Director Katsuhiro Otomo’s drawings. This really makes the set worth the $30 price tag.