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Anime / Steamboy

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Young James Ray Steam is a maintenance boy in a Manchester mill and a Steampunk inventor in his own right. When his grandfather sends him a steam-producing ball, he is kidnapped by the O'Hara Foundation and taken to his cyborg father on the Steam Castle. The Castle seems innocuous, but it proves to be a huge weapons station, and a battle between the Foundation and the British army ensues.

Created and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, Steamboy held the distinction of being the highest-budget anime movie ever made up until the release of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya in 2013, and it shows in the beautiful animation and machine designs. As of 2020, this is the only major anime directed by Otomo outside of AKIRA.

Steamboy provides examples of:

  • 2D Visuals, 3D Effects: The film relies heavily on digital animation for vehicles, matte paintings, and complex action sequences.
  • Action Survivor: Ray.
  • All Part of the Show: The battle between the O'Hara Foundation and the British government is seen as just a demonstration of new marvels by most of the crowd in attendance... until the bombs carried by a crashed aerocorp trooper detonates inside the pavilion.
  • Alternate History: Becomes pretty obvious early on when locomotives that can drive on roads at speed (no Locomotive Acts, perhaps?) and zeppelins and pre-dreadnought battleships show up in 1866 (at least a good few decades before they would have otherwise). Also explains how the Great London Exhibition is now taking place in 1866 instead of 1851 (in a different part of the city), and how the Steam Castle can ram the Tower Bridge, which didn't even start construction for another 20 years in our universe.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: The Steamballs. Not only are three of them able to keep a giant castle floating in the air and provide almost unlimited quantities of steam at high pressure, they remain at room temperature the entire time. This has something to do with a mineral discovered in Iceland and dissolved in the water they're filled with. That's all they say about the matter.
  • Avoiding the Great War: Broadly invoked as the O'Hara Foundation tries to sell steam powered war machines to Europeans and other powers itching to try them out, with the real world consequences of applying progress to war looming over the whole affair. Their primary designer even says (in 1866) "Shoot me and you'll set science back fifty years. But you won't stop it!"
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The Aero Corps.
    • But really, pretty much any invention that the O'Hara Foundation was "showcasing" at the Exhibition. The submersible marines showcased this with one actually slipping on the steps getting out of the water, unceremoniously bonking his faceplate on each one as he fell back into the water.
  • Boring, but Practical: Robert Stephenson's inventions aren't nearly as outrageously advanced as those developed by the Steam family or used by the O'Hara Foundation. Nevertheless, the machines used by the British Army are easily 50 years ahead of their time, and even the locomotives that he employs to stop the Steam Castle are beyond what would have been considered state-of-the-art at the time.
  • Cool Boat: The first wave of bobbies sent against the Steam Castle cross the Thames on copies of the Turbinia (which showed up almost 30 years early). And then the pre-Dreadnought battleships get into the fight...
  • Contrived Coincidence: Stephenson and David travel to Manchester just as Ray flees the O'Hara Foundation mooks and runs smack dab into their train. It even gets lampshaded by David. It's initially justified in-story by Lloyd having written to Stephenson requesting a meeting. However, Ray realizes later during the Exhibition battle (and after Stephenson shows his true colors) that they were lying. Stephenson and David were really en route because they had the Foundation and the Steam Family under surveillance and were trying to get Lloyd and/or his inventions.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Scarlett rather quickly seems to move from thinking Ray an absolute idiot to becoming attracted to him.
  • Determinator:
    • Edward took a blast of steam to the face, disfiguring him, and he tries to make his dream of a steam castle come true, even losing the Steamball, workers, and various valves don't stop him.
    • Mr. Stephenson as well. He has his battle wagons sent out to stop the steam castle, then he's on board the royal navy vessel to stop it. When it's frozen, apparently he got out and ran across the ice to the train yard to try to slow the castle with trains. When under attack, he orders a rifle brought to him, and tries to defend the train yard.
  • Epic Movie: A classic example. Again, highest-budget anime movie ever made.
  • Evil All Along: Stephenson and David. Kinda.
  • Evil vs. Evil: The O'Hara Foundation vs. Stephenson, more or less.
  • Eternal Engine: The Steam Castle. Not only is it ridiculously complicated on the inside, with giant pistons and wheels, but also incredibly dangerous on the outside as it freezes whatever it flies over.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The Steam Castle after it takes flight.
  • Expy: The bizarre part-fortress, part-carnival Steam Castle is suspiciously similar to the titular Eternal Engine of the Robot Carnival anthology film, whose short film featuring it was also made by Otomo. Both are heavily-armed moving fortresses that bring destruction to anywhere they go, while simultaneously delivering a spectacular, festive performance to onlookers.
  • Facial Horror:
    • After getting blasted by steam when he tries to shut the valves down during Lloyd's experiments, Edward's face has a noticeable scar on his right side and he has less hair than before.
    • And during the climax, David gets a similar burn to the left side of his face when he tries destroying the Steam Ball to prevent Ray from saving the day.
  • Failed a Spot Check: When the British Government approved the O'Hara Foundation's application for the Great Exhibition, they did not do a thorough background check. They were thus unaware that the Foundation had sold weapons to both the United States and Confederacy during the American Civil War (as well as their other international arms sales to Britain's enemies) until after the application had already been approved and they'd set up their pavilion. Dryly lampshaded by the Admiral, who admits it's a lamentable oversight and rather embarrassing.
  • Family Portrait of Characterization: A portrait of the Steam family is shown; Ray is shown hunched over in one corner looking unhappy and overshadowed by his father and grandfather.
  • Foreshadowing: Just before Lloyd shoots Eddy, his son makes a passing reference to a 'funfair' that his father wanted to build with their technology. This sets up the reveal of the carousel aspect of Steam Castle in the climax.
  • Faux Affably Evil: David. When he shows his true colors to Ray, he turns out to be a nasty piece of work.
  • For Science!: Edward Steam's motivation.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The movie carries a sense of regret that the Victorian sense of wonder towards the marvels of science had to end in the horrors of World War One, but also refuses to demonise George Stephenson or Edward Steam; James' idealistic view seems largely the result of his being a child.
  • Historical Domain Character: Robert Stephenson.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Happens to Edward when he helps the castle stir out of London in the climax, and is shown in the epilogue as well where he now runs a company.
  • Honest Johns Dealer Ship: Towards the end, when all starts to go hell in a steam-powered handbasket, Simon is still trying to sell the Steam Castle. The man could give CMOT Dibbler a run for his money.
  • Husky Russkie: The two henchmen. Oddly, Alfred and Jason (the Mooks in question) are Americans in the original Japanese version.
  • Impoverished Patrician: A variation. According to Lloyd, and despite appearances to the contrary, the O'Hara Foundation's completely broke; all the money they made during the American Civil War's been sunk into weapons research and development (and Steam Castle). They need the Exhibition and the chance to demonstrate their weapons to potential clients to recoup their costs, or else they're finished.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: David gets blasted by the steam ball when he is going to destroy it, leaving part of his face scarred. Ray calls him out for his actions soon after.
  • Lighter and Softer: Steamboy is somewhat tamer compared to the director's previous works. Tell me you weren't surprised at the lack of Your Head Asplode scenes...
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Exemplified by Scarlett near the end when talking to Ray in private - see Parental Neglect.
  • Made of Explodium: Steam can explode at any time.
  • Meaningful Name: The Steam Tower is not only named after Eddy Steam, but is also powered by steam.
  • Mecha-Mooks: The Steam Troopers look like this when they're deployed against the British Police, but it is subverted, to Scarlett's horror, when she finds them to be just men in Power Armor.
  • Metaphorically True: Lloyd's declaration upon his return to Manchester that Eddy's dead. Of course, Ray then later finds out his father's still alive (albeit injured and scarred). Naturally, Ray angrily calls out his grandfather for lying to him. Lloyd justifies his earlier words by saying that Eddy's crossed the line into pure evil and in his eyes, he's as good as dead to his own father.
  • Monumental Damage: The Tower Bridge takes quite a pummeling. Also, most of central London.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The Steam Castle would have been condemned by any safety agency on the face of the Earth. Even the Victorians (not exactly Safety Nazis) would have been appalled by the number of steam leaks and ruptures the steam castle develops as the movie progresses. Not to mention all of the giant gears and bottomless pits.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: While the three Steamballs are valuable, unique MacGuffins on their own, the Director's Cut expands more on the why. Eddy and Lloyd completely tapped out the pure mineral water from the Icelandic cavern and Lloyd estimated it would take at least a century to replenish. Thus, they were only able to build three Steamballs with the available collected mineral water (and hence why the O'Hara Foundation's so desperate to recover the one Lloyd stole after the prologue).
  • Nice Mean And In Between: With the three main protagonists: Ray (nice), Scarlett (mean) and Lloyd (in-between).
  • Noodle Incident: Stephenson and Eddy spent time abroad in America in 1839.
  • Oh, Crap!: Lloyd's reaction when Eddie tells him the Steam Castle isn't over the Thames (as Lloyd intended with its original flight plan), but went off course thanks to Eddy and Stephenson. It's now grounded in the heart of London, meaning Lloyd can't implement his original plan to crash it into the River (and the clock is ticking before it goes boom, which will take half of London with it).
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Anna Paquin does a frankly superb job of a Manchester accent as Ray in the dub, but her Canadian accent comes across at times.
  • One Family Industrial Revolution: The Steam family seem to be single-handedly responsible for a lot of technological wonders in the film. That being said, they're probably not responsible for all of them.
  • Oop North: The Steam family all hail from Manchester; noticeable in the dub.
  • Parental Neglect: Scarlett's servants are closer to her than her parents.
    Scarlett: I have five mothers, did you know that? The one who cooks my food for me. The one who goes shopping with me to buy clothes. The one who teaches me and helps me with my lessons.
    Ray: Those aren't mothers. They're just, you know-
    Scarlett: (Ignoring Ray) The one who takes me horseback riding, and the one who tells me bedtime stories at night. So what?! You don't see me writing to my mothers saying it's so wretched I want to come home, do you?!
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: Delivered by the man himself. Responded to with an excellent retort:
    "Shoot me and you'll set science back fifty years. But you won't stop it!"
  • Playing Both Sides: Exposition states the O'Hara Foundation built its fortune and reputation during the American Civil War. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they sold weapons to both North and South.
  • Power Armor: The O'Hara Foundation's Steam Troopers.
  • Red Shirt Army: Defied by Mr. Stephenson. The police are incredibly inefficient against the Foundations technology and troopers, so the army engages with Stephenson's battle wagons and even the playing field.
  • The Rival: Edward and Stephenson were ostensibly 'colleagues' for 20 years prior to the events of the film, though Stephenson openly admits it would be more accurate to call them rivals. The feeling's mutual, as Eddy's certainly carrying a grudge during the Battle of the Exhibition.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Louis and Eddy Steam's viewpoints, respectively, as summarized on the Awesome page.
  • Say My Name: Scarlett. Not in a romantic sense, but, say it with me now: SIIIMOOOOOOON.
    • MISS!
      • or in the English dub: MISS SCARLETT!
  • Science Is Bad: Starts to slide towards this after Ray is captured by the O'Hara Foundation and is introduced to the Steam Castle. Towards the end of the movie, we finally see what the good elder Steam's original intention for the Steam Castle was. How in the hell does someone get the idea to make a weapon out of a children's carnival!?
    • But, ultimately, the trope is subverted. The whole point of Lloyd's view is that Science Is not Bad. It's the People that are the problem. No matter what wonders science can make, if you put it in the hands of a bunch of Gun merchants who sold weapons to both sides of the American Civil War, nothing good will come out of it.
  • Ship Tease: Ray and Scarlett, most prominently when sneaking into the main pavilion and posing in front of a row of mirrors.
    Scarlett: So which me do you like the best when you look in there?
    (Ray looks to all the mirrors before his gaze settles on Scarlett, whose eyes reflect his face, and his reflect hers)
    Ray: Uh, yes, it's truly astonishing, if only my mother could see all of this!
  • Shout-Out: Scarlett's character was based on the same named character from Gone with the Wind. Possibly the credits give a nod to Hayao Miyazaki's Porco Rosso. Watch for it at Scarlet's plane scene where off to the right on his own is a strikingly familiar character (in human form) complete with tan trench coat, sunglasses, and mustache.
    • Ray carrying Scarlett while flying through London felt Superman-esque.
    • When Ray's out walking through Manchester, he passes by a pub called the Rover's Return.
    • Eddy Steam's post-accident look is at least slightly reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera.
    • Ray in the pilot suit and eventually a jetpack brings to mind The Rocketeer (minus the helmet).
    • A factory is owned by a Hyde.
  • Sky Heist: Ray is riding in a railroad car when Elite Mooks attempt to kidnap him using a giant claw lowered from a dirigible. It succeeds in crushing the middle of the car, and almost derails the entire train. The mooks use a Net Gun on the boy, capturing him and the steam ball before being lifted along with the claw aboard the dirigible.
  • Spider Tank: Part of the O'Hara Foundation's Steam Army package.
    • Carnival!Steam Castle
  • Spanner in the Works: Lloyd's plan to crash the Steam Castle into the Thames to deny it to both the O'Hara Foundation and the British Government. While it eventually works, the original plan fails because Lloyd didn't anticipate the Castle might end up flying off course into the heart of London (thanks to Eddy and Stephenson's efforts).
  • Spoiled Brat: Scarlett O'Hara. She's insufferably spoiled for a 14-year-old, which is the result of having five "mothers" (aka servants) who go through the "motherly" motions for her. She matures quite a bit during the movie and the ending credits implies she stopped being a spoiled girl and became an independent (but still haughty) woman.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: A rare example in a Steampunk work: Steamboy shows what happens when futuristic inventions such as flying Power Armor and complex diving suits are prematurely brought into the 19th century with little to no refinement to those concepts. During the battle between the Foundation and the British government, we see a Foundation soldier plummet to his death trying to fly with his Power Suit with little to no experience, diving suit soldiers trip over each other trying to climb up stairs, etc.
  • Taking You with Me: Subverted. Lloyd tries to do this with Eddy during the final destruction of Steam Castle. It fails, as Eddy's submersible still manages to escape. Lloyd himself too somehow survives the castle's implosion, as shown by the end credits montage.
  • Technology Porn: Naturally, since this is a Steampunk movie.
  • Title Drop: Ray's grandfather calls him Steamboy.
  • Theme Naming: Steam
  • Too Dumb to Live: The O'Hara foundation courtyard has turned into a battle round with explosions and smashed steam soldiers. Scarlett walks out into the middle of it with a parasol, oblivious to the carnage. Only a dead soldier finally reminds her that, explosions and gunfire are going up all around, and she could die.
    • Nearly becomes a case of Shoot the Messenger, when Stevenson's troops fire at (or past) her on her way to negotiate with Queen Victoria to try and stop the fighting
  • Took a Level in Badass: Ray goes from being a scared kid running away from mooks to in the beginning to taking out said mooks in the end of the film.
  • Underestimating Badassery: During his first meeting with the Admiral (which is right after the Manchester incident), Stephenson grudgingly concedes he underestimated the O'Hara Foundation. While Stephenson knew Lloyd and Eddie were developing new technologies and weapons for the Foundation, the train chase irrevocably demonstrated said developments are much more advanced than what Stephenson had thought they would be based on their previous intel.
  • Unrobotic Reveal: Scarlett thought the company made Mecha-Mooks, she was wrong.
  • Villain Ball: Firmly grasped by a pair of henchmen at the end - while the actions of the one going after Ray outside is fairly reasonable, the one that tried crushing him with the crane only to be a victim of Deadly Dodging (also a case of this) was staying inside an unstable, steam-driven castle that everyone else had abandoned by that point. Must have been holding a grudge from the opening scene.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • There were 4 O'Hara Gentlemen chasing after Ray in the beginning, the two operating the Black Devastation are absent after they fail to catch Ray.
    • This is the ultimate fates of Stephenson and David: while we see their mutual awed and horrified reactions to the final collapse of Steam Castle, they're absent from the epilogue montage. During his final scene with Ray, David confidently predicts that the Exhibition fiasco will leave Stephenson shunned and disgraced (and tank the careers of everyone associated with him). So, odds are good that very prediction came to pass.
  • We Can Rule Together: David tries a variation of this during his last-ditch appeal to Ray.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Combined with And the Adventure Continues. The epilogue shows the Steamboy Alternate Timeline in clips where Lloyd Steam continues his pontificating to Ray, and bequeathing a final discovery (possibly electricity or light bulbs) to Ray before he dies and is buried, followed by a WWI style conflict with dirigibles burning to the ground and Tommy paratroopers, a new villain, Ray picking up a partner/sidekick, and Scarlett (having dyed her hair to match her name) standing proudly in front of a plane she flies.
  • You Cannot Kill An Idea: Eddy's stance in the climax. Even if the Steam Castle explodes and he dies, Eddy's still won because the castle's very liftoff and existence was seen by tens of thousands of people: Commoners, monarchs, foreigners, etc. Knowing that such a feat of engineering and science is now possible, the seed of knowledge has been planted and can't be stamped out. Even if it takes years or decades, someone else will inevitably rediscover and reproduce their steam technology. Even Lloyd has to grudgingly concede Eddy's argument isn't wrong (though he naturally feels mankind's heart isn't ready.)
  • Zeppelins from Another World: Almost inevitable, given that this is a Steampunk movie.