Ray Steam is a boy inventor who lives in Victorian Era England. His grandfather sends him a parcel containing a device called a Steam Ball, and instructions to keep it safe. The O’Hara Foundation sends two thugs to retrieve the Steam Ball, however Ray escapes with it, and the chase is on. Soon Ray is caught in a conflict between forces trying to gain control of the Steam Ball’s enormous power.
The story is formulatic, kid has something a powerful organization wants, he escapes with it, and they give chase... The action in the movie starts straight away, and it keeps a good pace except towards the end where it starts to drag. What’s different is the premise that the action takes place in Steampunk Victorian England.
The evil corporation isn’t well developed as a character, all we’re shown is that they’re stereotypical double dealing arms dealers. The conflicts between the three generations of the Steam family are explored, although these too are shallow and under developed. During the movie the main characters all change morals in the most unconvincing way, sometimes more than once. The villains are not funny or amusing, however I found it hard to sympathize with the good guys either. Ray’s grandfather, who’s supposed to be the voice of conscience in the movie, is annoying because he’s so self righteous. What I did like about the characters in general is that by the end of the movie, you find out everyone except for Ray is evil, or has some really bad traits. In my opinion this is very realistic, and much more interesting.
First thing I noticed when the movie starts is the text “A Steamboy Committee Production”. For me the word ‘Committee’ evokes images of communism and inefficiency. At university I was thought that when you want to delay a decision, create a committee. So was Steamboy created by idealist socialists? You get the answer in one of the first scenes, where we have a classic ‘worker trying to save lives vs capitalist trying to save his production machinery’ moment. When Ray saves the day, the capitalist is unhappy nonetheless, because he thinks the minimal damage which occurred should have been avoided by Ray and Pete. He tells Pete he’s going to deduct the cost of repairs from his wage. Ray is then shown triumphant because he stole something from the ungrateful capitalist.
The next scene has a cameo by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels... Later on in the movie Ray’s grandfather says “He’s a fool who sold himself to capitalists who care nothing about science, they worship money, don’t listen to him.” Generalization at it’s worse, and there is no explanation why profits are supposedly evil. The movie soon takes an anti-war tone in addition to the anti-capitalist tone. Ray’s grandfather tells him that science should be put at the service of man, not used to build weapons. Fair enough, war is bad, but should all weapons be banned? At least in this case another character makes a counter argument that countries should have weapons to defend their citizens from aggressors.
The movie is blatantly moralizing, and the viewer feels like he’s being preached a one sided argument.
At a cost of USD $20 million, Steamboy is the most expensive Japanese animated film ever, and it shows. It features 180,000 individual drawings and 400 3D cuts. The visuals are stunning, every machine and every gear is drawn in painstaking detail.
Steampunk Factor ★★★★★
This movie is as Steampunk as they get. It features steam powered submarines, trackless trains, suits of armour, steam powered everything!
Final Verdict ★★★★☆
The rich visuals and high steampunk factor make up for the unoriginal storyline and moralizing. I’d say every Steampunk fan should watch it at least once!