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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:

  • 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 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.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: There actually is such a thing as a Steam ball, and they date all the way back to the first century, though they were nowhere near as powerful as the one shown in the movie.
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  • 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 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...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Monowheel Mayhem: Ray uses one early in the film during the chase scene.
  • 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.
  • Nice, Mean, and In-Between: With the three main protagonists: Ray (nice), Scarlett (mean) and Lloyd (in-between).
  • 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!"
  • 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.
  • 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: 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
  • 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.
  • Steampunk: Taken Up to Eleven.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?: What happened to Scarlett's dog?
    • He is shown next to Scarlett in front of her plane, implying he survived and she treats him better.
    • 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.
    • Pretty much any character introduced in the first act in Manchester, but particularly Pete the foreman, Mrs. Steam (who nary merits a mention from her husband), the bullies, Clifford the paper boy, and Ray's friend Emma and her brother who are staying over. Each has a scene devoted to them, then promptly vanishes from the plot.
      • At the very least, Mrs.Steam, Emma and her brother are shown in one of the Epilogue pics, welcoming Ray back home.
  • "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.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: Almost inevitable, given that this is a Steampunk movie.