Your name is Katsuhiro Otomo. You have just released what will later become regarded as the watershed of Japanese animation. Whilst not a smash at the picture house, Akira would storm it on home video. It would become less of a fleeting influence on future fare such as The Matrix and more a stylistic slap across Neo’s kisser. Manga artists would look to it for inspiration. Your name is Katsuhiro Otomo. What do you do next?
You switch your punk from cyber to the steam-powered variety and spend the next decade working on Steamboy. Oh, and you set most of it in this mags’ very own hometown of Manchester.
Let’s start with the visuals. With a budget that would moisten the eyes as though kicked in the naughty place, Steamboy is gorgeous. It looks like a ‘80s Saturday morning cartoon with a shed load of cash (and passion) thrown at it. ‘Ulysses’ a la the House of Mouse, if you will. The rendering of the characters and backgrounds is so rich and precise, that at times, it skirts into the third dimension.
The plot itself is a simple chase the McGuffin, in this case, a metal ball and the secrets held therein, and ably walks the fine line of twists and turns without ever confuzzling the viewer. The story weaves in that age-old ‘family’ element by having our hero tested by his Fathers and Grandfathers influences on him. Young James Steam (yep, ‘ol Steamboy) himself and the wonderfully named Scarlett O’Hara St. Jones are presented with all the charm and none of the churlishness that young leads can fall in to.
Both the subtitled and English dubbed versions are equally as good as each other, so let your own preference make the choice. But be warned, take the subtitle route and you’ll miss out on the always exceptional and rather fruity voiced Sir Patrick Stewart, Alfred Molina and Anna Paquin as our lead. Neither, of course, affect the soundtrack which dances from melancholy to danger to fun without ever ladling on the honey or ramping up the strings. The composer is Steve Jablonsky, who would go on to score a great many Transformers movies, but don’t let that put you off.
Much like Akira, Steamboy made but a dint in the box office but also went on to find notoriety amongst the fans. Sadly, it remains on the fringes of what the ‘not we’ regard as classic animation. That needs to change. Steamboy should be up there amongst the greats- the Aladdin’s, the Ponyo’s and He-man. Steamboy has everything they have got and perhaps a little more.
Struggling to find a gift this year for little Alan or hard-to-please Nancy? Give them the gift of Steam. Boy.
STEAMBOY (2004) / DIRECTOR: KATSUHIRO ÔTOMO / SCREENPLAY: KATSUHIRO ÔTOMO, SADAYUKI MURAI / STARRING: ANNE SUZUKI, MASANE TSUKAYAMA, KATSUO NAKAMURA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW