The relatively novel practice of re-voicing Japanese animated features in English may strike some as impure, but in the case of Steamboy, the eagerly awaited second feature from Katsuhiro Otomo, whose 1988 Akira is one of the touchstones of anime, it’s nothing if not appropriate. The film takes place in a Jules Verne fantasy of Victorian London, a formal gray kingdom of bowler hats, muttonchop sideburns, and magic industrial inventions.
I can’t imagine what it would sound like in Japanese. Porn, cyberpunk, down-the-rabbit-hole reverie: It’s hard to think of a corridor of outlandish imagination through which anime hasn’t passed. Steamboy, by contrast, is a work of stodgy retro classicism. The hero, voiced by Anna Paquin (well, why not?), discovers that his father, a scarred megalomaniac, has built the Steam Castle — a gigantic fortress of pipes, levers, and pressure gauges that rises over London like a wrought-iron factory version of the mothership in Close Encounters. It’s nifty to behold, but about the only drama in Steamboy lies in waiting for this colossal hovering machine-monster to blow a gasket.