Steamboy (スチームボーイ Suchimuboi) is a Japanese Anime
film, produced by Sunrise, and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, his second major anime release, following Akira. The film premiered across Japan on July 17, 2004. It was the 2004 recipient of Best Animated Feature Film at the Catalonian International Film Festival. With an initial production cost of $26,000,000, Steamboy is the most expensive full length Japanese anime movie made to date.
In keeping with the steampunk subgenre of science fiction, the movie employs alternative history: it is set in a 19th-century context, yet it features several geopolitical and industrial circumstances that developed differently or at a different pace, sometimes as a result of advanced technological paradigms that were accomplished via the science already present in the 19th century.
As evidenced by one of the early production sketches, Steamboy was envisioned as an amalgam between a Scientific Romance (à la Frank Reade and Tom Swift); a swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks cliffhanger (similar to The Rocketeer); and a Republic Pictures serial (similar to The Wild Wild West and Indiana Jones), in contrast to an earlier retro-futuristic dystopia anime, Osamu Tezuka's Fritz Lang-inspired Metropolis (2001).
The movie opens with scenes of Edward and Lloyd working to develop the Steam Ball. They obtain water of "exceptional purity" from a cave in Iceland and then transport it by means of a trans-arctic submarine to Russian Alaska. What is actually happening during this scene isn't explained until later in the movie. As the apparatus strains to perform its function, Edward demands that his father end the experiment. Recklessly, his father won't abort the experiment for fear of wasting the rare water they were using. The apparatus explodes, apparently killing Edward. The Steam Ball remains in the wreckage of the machine.
The brief title sequence rolls and the setting shifts to a textile mill in Manchester (1866). Ray is introduced in a sequence where he saves the mill's steam engine and the lives of its operators by heroically crawling into a service compartment below the boiler. Upon emerging, he and the engineer were blamed for the damage to the device by the mill's uncaring manager.
According to the English dub, he "pays himself" with a brass valve. On the way home he learns of the London Exhibition and is tormented by the other kids about his "crazy" father and grandfather. During the next scene, a major part of the movie's theme is revealed through a passage that is read by one of his mother's students whom she is tutoring (possibly a younger brother, it isn't clear). The passage is better understood in the subtitled version. It describes the motives of his grandfather and father (before the accident).
The plot resumes several scenes later with the arrival of a package, immediately followed by two men in black who introduce themselves as being from the O'Hara Foundation. They never actually say this but Ray's mother says they had come to claim the Steam Ball. Obeying his grandfather's instructions, he refuses and snatches it away from their grasp. Just then Lloyd (the aforementioned grandfather) shows up to help Ray defend the ball. He tells Ray that his father is dead and to flee the scene.
A struggle ensues and Ray makes it to his newly completed steam-monowheel. The chase is quickly joined by a huge "steam tractor" or "steam automotive" (depending on whether you are looking at the dub or subtitles). The huge contraption smashes the front of the house before continuing the chase.
Some miles later, the chase moves onto a railroad, immediately ahead of a train.
After some action, the O'Hara Foundation's "Plan B" is foiled. By coincidence, Mr. Stephenson, who was the intended recipient of the Steam Ball, was on his way to Manchester to meet with the elder Dr. Steam. They notice the man operating the Steam Tractor, setting off a flare but failed to realize he was signaling for the initiation of "Plan C."
While Ray and Dr. Stephenson discuss Edward and the ball, a zeppelin descends over the train and rips the roof off with a giant crane. Ray is kidnapped. During the struggle we get the first inkling of the power of the Steam Ball as a burst from it damages some nearby buildings.
Dr. Stephenson returns to Ray Steam's home and investigate his workshop. They don't learn much. They notice the apparatus in the shop is designed for extraordinarily high pressure and speculate that it was for a demonstration.
The next "Act" of the movie begins in London. The second most dynamic character in the movie (second to Edward), Scarlett arrives on a huge paddle steamer catamaran. The ship is far in advance of ships of the day and rivals the SS Great Eastern in size. She is carrying an odd looking dog which resembles a chihuahua named Columbus. Her character is revealed in how she mistreats the creature.
Ray finds himself in an ornate dining room with steel walls. He meets Scarlett and Archibald Simon (called by his last name for the remainder of the movie). He is shocked when, out of a swirl of steam, his father appears. His heavy footsteps suggest that his legs are mostly mechanical. He wears a mask over half his face and few strands of hair cling to his scarred scalp.
He takes Ray on a tour of the "Steam Castle" (or "Steam Tower"). Scarlett tags along. During this sequence there are some stunning visuals as Edward proclaims his vision for the Steam Tower. He claims that it will relieve man of his toils and bring about a new age of enlightenment.
There is a cut scene where Stephenson discusses issues with an Admiral of the Royal Navy. It is resolved that there will be a raid on the O'Hara pavilion and that they should be prepared for anything.
He recruits Ray to help him finish the project and announces that Ray would be its heir, to Scarlet's chagrin. While he is working, Scarlett comes to him and demands he fix Columbus's treadmill (or indoor walker) that his grandfather had built. This leads to them sneaking into the main pavilion at the exhibition to steal some parts. The scene primarily is a character development scene where the relationship between Ray and the still evil Scarlett begins to develop.
Lloyd, who had been captured and placed in a cell, escaped by improvising an explosive and set about to sabotage the Tower/castle. Several scenes later, Ray encounters Lloyd and there is another brilliant scene where they pass through the Castle's arsenal and Lloyd explains the folly of war. Ray also struggles with the question of what exactly has become of his father and which side (Lloyd's or Edward's) is correct. This is the major conflict of the movie.
Being enlightened to the importance of the social aspects of technology, Ray challenges Stephenson, when he meets him on the deck of the battleship, "What is the purpose of Science, Technology, all of it?" Stephenson answers "Science exists to make people happy." Ray was satisfied with this answer and hands over the ball. To his horror, the Admiral immediately orders the first wave of attack against the Steam Tower.
The first line of defense is a class of "steam troopers" who are assisted by powered exoskeletons. Simon begins his sales spiel to his potential customers, which include representatives from France, the German Empire and the Middle East (presumably the Ottoman Empire).
Meanwhile, the battleship travels to Stephenson's workshop to deliver the Steam Ball. Stephenson installs the ball into his own device which, presumably, will be used to charge the pressure cylinders of his own tanks. Regardless of the actual function of that machine, its dramatic role is to highlight the similarity between Stephenson and the O'Hara foundation, that they're exactly the same, just not as prosperous.
With this in place, the second attack is launched against the O'Hara "Pavilion." The foundation releases its own tanks and battle is joined, the two sides reaching something of a stalemate. Scarlett, who is trying to figure out why Ray was being attacked, notices that there's fighting going on around the pavilion. Simon explains "It's just a little war with Great Britain, coupled with a product demonstration", to which Scarlet replies "Don't lose."
Scarlett, not understanding the gravity of the situation, goes out to meet the Queen. She steps right into the middle of the conflict. She is shaken to her senses as a shell rips past her, nearly knocking her down. Then, in one flash as a shell hits the main pavilion, shattering the glass, she comes to her senses and reaches a moment of epiphany and, in that instant, is transformed from villainess to heroine, remarking (according to English subtitles in the Japanese version), "That's horrible..." She goes back into the castle in attempt to find Simon and to get control of the situation.
The battle intensifies and Simon unleashes his "Aero Corps." They use powered gliders. They are fairly effective but lack control and several pilots died, one crashing into the exposition, one of his bombs exploding, another crashing into Stephensons workshop a little later. When David
goes out to watch this new spectacle, Ray seizes the opportunity to retrieve his Steam Ball.
The laboratory comes under attack from the Aero corps and is mostly destroyed, the attacking glider crashed nearby, injuring David who cares more about the ball than himself. Ray recovers the wreckage of the glider and builds a rocket from it, David makes a last-ditch effort to procure the ball, hitting it with his cane. This causes steam to spout out from it, hitting David in the face, further injuring him. Despite this damage Ray decides to fly it anyway.
The battle at the pavilion continues as Simon unleashes the "Aqua Corps". These are even less effective than the aero corps, due to their (even comical) inability to climb stairs.
The admiral has had enough, he orders a bombardment of the pavilion. The outer shell of the building crumbles revealing the castle's true form.
Edward retorts his father's line to him and orders the building to launch... Scarlet finds him in the control room and is confused because Edward has placed his mechanical arm within a control panel.
The castle itself is revealed as a colossal steam-powered rocket. It takes to the sky and begins its pre-programmed journey down the Thames. The jets of the rocket are freezing cold and freeze the Thames solid, neutralizing the battleships and the Aqua Corps.
The navy continues to bombard it. Ray becomes worried that the thing could explode. Ray takes to the air with his rocket and engages in a battle with an O'Hara airplane. Stephenson musters a few dozen railroad engines and attempts to use chains to pull Steam Tower Down. This is somewhat successful, as the remaining steam balls are weakened and the Tower crashes into Central London
Simon, his customers, and the crew of the tower, escape in one of the tower's zeppelins, but only after fighting off numerous workers desperate to escape as well.
Lloyd confronts Edward and tells him that his dream is over. Edward retorts that he succeeded the moment the tower took off. Ray manages to reach the control room only in time to see Lloyd try to shoot Edward. Edward escapes into the tower's depths. Lloyd is ready to die with his son when the tower explodes, as he believes, over the Thames. When he learned that wasn't the case, they set about a desperate plan to repair the tower with the third Steam Ball.
Strangely, one of the O'Hara goons attempts to kill Ray with one of the old construction cranes. When the ball is installed, Eddy appears in the auxiliary control room to help Lloyd work the machinery.
With all this catastrophe unfolding around them, Lloyd's vision for the tower is revealed. The tower's amusement park ferris wheel and carousel horses appear from the mechanism. The tower transforms into a walker and extends feet so huge that they crush several buildings.
It staggers back to the Thames and collapses into the river. As it begins to break apart, Ray makes it back to the main control room so that he can rescue Scarlett and escape. He takes Edward's rocket suit. The final scene in the movie is a scene of the tower's destruction and the hero and heroine's escape, and the start of the 'Age of Science' in Ray's words.