Sunday, October 4, 2009

it's the steampunkyist

My friend suggested we rent Steamboy on Friday night for the purposes of this blog- apparently he's familiar with the steampunk genre. Who knew?

It took us two nights to watch, not because it's really long (just a little over two hours) or boring (on the contrary, it's pretty action-packed), but because yours truly was practically falling asleep 45 minutes into the thing due to lack of sleep the rest and the general workload and running around of the past week. Gotta love one midterm, two papers and a career fair and two networking events all in one week.

Steamboy is a 2005 Japanese animation film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo (ask me whatever else he's directed and you're going to get a blank stare.) This alternate history science-fiction film, based in 1866 Victorian England, is literally about a family called Steam whose crazy, steam-powered machines and devices revolutionize science and endanger humanity. If you still don't get what I meant when I explained steampunk, this movie will give you an excellent idea of what I meant.

 image source: New Earth Online
The movie begins in 1863 with inventor Dr. Lloyd Steam and his son, Dr. Edward, who discover a pure mineral water that can be used as an apparently limitless power source for machines. Edward, however, is injured in a boiler incident at a research facility in Russian Alaska.

Fast forward three years. Edward's young son, Ray, who is an inventor like his father and grandfather. He receives a package from his grandfather that contains a steam ball, which holds the mineral water that generates an unlimited supply of powerful steam. The capitalistic O'Hara Foundation, the group who funded the steam-powered experiments of the Drs. Steam, soon come after Ray and the steam ball. Hilarity ensues in the form of high-speed chases on steam-powered war tractors, flying machines, dirigibles, armor-plated knights with guns and a huge steam rocket thing called the Steam Tower. Ray is increasingly pulled into a rivalry between his father and grandfather while demonstrating his genius to not only build amazing steam-powered jet packs but also to do what he thinks is right.

It's a good movie if you love action flicks. Buildings and machines are blown up and destroyed on a regular basis, several people are injured by boiling hot steam, and others are killed by a British/American war at the London Exhibition, to which Queen Victoria seems completely undeterred.

I like action flicks, especially in the form of warfare, which this movie was full of. But I also like a strong storyline to justify the action, as well as characters' motivations, and better explanations for the science and presence of other characters than this movie had to offer. The storyline was simple, which is fine, but left out some key explanations for why Dr. Edward changes his motivations at the point when you least expect him to.

Two characters at the beginning, Emma and Thomas, are introduced, but fail to contribute anything of worth to the actual story. The heir to the O'Hara Foundation, Scarlett (it took dumb blonde me too long to make the connection between her first and last name) is an annoying Paris Hilton prototype who constantly hits or hurts her little dog, but eventually demonstrates that she's smarter than you want to give her credit for. Her presence in the story was probably entirely unnecessary, however- I think the writers added her in to create a gentle nudge at a cutesy non-sexual, albeit stupid, adolescent love interest for Ray, when you think at first that Emma is going to serve that function. Scarlett is otherwise generally useless. She is one of the more interesting characters, if not the most interesting, because she can be a total selfish spoiled brat one minute and then be caring, but only caring for her own selfish purposes, which is a good combination.   Her motivations change throughout the movie too, although I'm not entirely sure how either.

The major downside to this movie was seeing the grandfather, Dr. Lloyd, shirtless.   Ew.

Here's the trailer:


  1. I don't know a whole lot about Japanese animation, but I suppose I know more than your average cookie. That said, I know of a fair number of animated Japanese movies that are steampunk-esque. Actually, that's not true at all. I know of like, two. Both are created by Hayao Miyazaki. I'm thinking of Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Howl's Moving Castle, both of which are incredibly similar to one another. Porco Rosso may also be steampunk-esque, but I'm not entirely certain what is insinuated by Victorian. I just think older. And Anglo-Saxon. Anyway, check out some Miyazakis if you enjoyed Steamboy. Very playful movies.

  2. I remember a show that used to be on cartoon network's adult swim--this was several years ago. Anyway I think it was a Japanese anime called Trigun. Not only was it a mix of Victorian and American West genres, but it was also incredibly scifi, taking place on various planets throughout the galaxy or some ficitonal galaxy (I don't remember really).

    It was actually really well done and made good use of iconic characteristics of these genres to keep it from getting to fantasy-based. It's worth looking into if that is even possible anymore, but the big question on my mind is "Why are the Japanese so prolific in this genre?"

    Among the last things I think of when I think Victorian culture is Japan, yet there seems to be a whole lot of Victorian influnce there (at least on Japanese anime). Does anyone have any idea why?

    It might be an interesting thing to look into, especially because in my experience Japanese anime does a pretty good job of exploring things like this.