Katsuhiro Otomo, the man behind standout anime films such as Akira and Metropolis, is one of those staple names in the anime director world. So, I was keen to check out Steamboy, a 2004 film re-released by MangaUK. This retro steampunk-esque story, set in Victorian England, is a great watch for the family and therefore a good choice to crack out on Christmas Day.
Steamboy starts off in Manchester (woo!), where we meet inventor child prodigy Ray Steam. When he receives a mysterious metal ball in the post from his grandfather, he is whisked away to London and caught up in a fight against an evil corporation and between brilliant minds.
Steamboy took ten years to make with a total budget of $22 million, making it the most expensive Japanese anime production ever. And you can see why. Considering how the film was made in 2004, the level of detail and animation is impressive. The Victorian London is just as you would imagine it – sprawling, dirty and smoggy. Of course, steam is the obvious theme here, so the setting is perfect. The more rustic Manchester is slightly more charming and fairly unrecognisable from the modern city, although I was surprised to see a pub in the background called Rover’s Return (the fictional pub in Coronation Street). You really get the sense of a world that has been constructed with a lot of attention and love.
Unusually for me, I watched Steamboy with the English dub and found it no less enjoyable. Patrick Stewart voices Lloyd Steam, Ray’s idealistic (and anti-capitalist) grandfather; and Anna Paquin voices a convincing young Ray (Rogue, Xmen). There were one or two points where I couldn’t hear the dialogue over all that steam but I otherwise can’t fault what was a very enjoyable dub.
I was surprised by how long Steamboy was. It clocks in at 126 minutes, over two hours, which feels quite long for a family film. That said, if you have the time to sit down uninterrupted (I’m thinking if parents need to get the children out of the way while cooking Christmas dinner) it probably isn’t a problem.
Overall, Steamboy is a really enjoyable watch for young and old alike. It’s a brilliantly-crafted world and has enough twists and turns to keep the more mature viewer engaged. If you’re not familiar with Katushiro Otomo’s work, this isn’t a bad place to start.