One of the most anticipated anime epics of recent times, ‘Akira’ creator Katsuhiro Otomo’s lovingly detailed fantasia of Victorian England situates the technological dilemmas of our own times in a vividly imagined earlier age. Here the ‘steamball’ developed by pioneering English inventor Eddie Steam (voiced by Alfred Molina in this solid English dub) offers a potentially fearsome source of energy, but with its creator in the pay of powerful American arms manufacturers, concerned grandpa Steam (Patrick Stewart) smuggles the gizmo back to his grandson Ray (Anna Paquin). The final power struggle, however, takes place in London, where Eddie’s employers are planning a show of strength – at the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace.
With every piston and pane of glass painstakingly registered, Otomo’s film thrums with admiration for nineteenth-century Britain while creating a whole array of steam-powered weaponry and flying machines echoing the inventions of Hayao Miyazaki. Sadly though, one-note thematic repetition and scrappy, over-extended action sequences fail to translate the evident pictorial qualities into a satisfying storyline. An exasperatingly uneven affair.