ADV Films // 1998 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // May 20th, 2004
Detectives Don't Get Hazard Pay.
While Steam Detectives might give the impression that it is a steampunk genre anime, it really isn't. Although Steam City is powered by coal, and all the machines run on steam, this is mostly window dressing for a film-noir type detective series with recurring characters and ongoing character arcs for both villains and heroes.
The steam powered city setting does have other advantages: it helps to hide crime, and it gives the city an ultra-new, old-fashioned look that could result from a society that evolved based on the technology of steam. Add to this mix the hulking Megamaton robots that look like large, walking steam locomotives and you have an interesting setting for a crime detective drama.
The hero of Steam City is Narutaki, a "child detective," (he's around 15 years old) who is calm, thoughtful, and very good at what he does. He has cat-like reflexes, is skilled with a gun, and his detective work is top-notch. The police in Steam City rely on him. With his assistant, Nurse Ling-Ling, faithful Megamaton robot Goriki, and aide Kawakubo, he runs a detective agency and tries his best to protect the city and the people he loves. He has attracted quite a rogues gallery of villains, including the masked collector of gadgetry Machine Baron, youthful dandy Le Bled, viciously lovely Crimson Scorpion, cunning Mr. Guilty, and ruthless, muscle-bound Phantom.
Volume Five features some of the best entries so far; especially episodes 21 and 22 that showcase a rather touching story with Le Bled and Narutaki that shouldn't be missed.
Episode 19: "Pale Crimson Memories"
The Crimson Scorpion has a heist in mind, but her ultimate goal is something other than material profit.
Episode 20: "Goodbye Young Detective"
While investigating a series of abductions involving prominent detectives in other cities, Narutaki gets to know the policewoman assigned to protect him when it is discovered that the criminal responsible for the abductions has come to Steam City.
Episode 21: "Le Bled's Invitation"
Part one of two. Le Bled invites Narutaki to an opera of his own design, promising Narutaki that he will find out everything he wants to know if he attends. Although it is surely a trap, Narutaki accepts his invitation.
Episode 22: "Rivals Eternally"
Part two of two. Narutaki accepts an invitation to see Le Bled's specially commissioned play.
Fans of Batman comics will note the similarity between the world of Steam Detectives and that of the Dark Knight. This is intentional, as creator Kia Asamiya wanted to do something that was like Gotham City, with a parallel to the villains and heroes in the Batman universe. Narutaki is like a teenage version of the Dark Knight. Having lost his father and not knowing much of his past, Narutaki is both bound to and haunted by the city. He loves it, but it represents his greatest fear.
Much of the value of this story is in the character design and the look of Steam City -- everything is outlined in chunky shadows and surrounded in mist. The clothing worn by the characters is distinctive and fresh, and although the colors fall squarely on the warm side of the palette, there is plenty of variety for the eye. Gentle, naïve Ling Ling is outfitted in bright white and pink, one of the few cool tones in the series, and she appropriately stands out from nearly everyone else. Narutaki's residence is well lit and comforting, in contrast to the outside. There are metaphors like this throughout the character designs, story, and look of the series that are endlessly fascinating to watch. The city itself is a character, an idea that is an important driving factor in many of the stories.
Visual presentation for Steam Detectives is excellent, with a clear, crisp picture and detailed, glossy animation. I saw almost no defects of note in the print. Sound is also a treat, with a robust Dolby Digital soundtrack; 2.0 in Japanese and 5.1 in English. The 5.1 track makes good use of front and back channels for ambient noise.
There are a bunch of extras with this release, as in the past, mostly featuring text interviews with the crew. In Volume 5 there is a foldout insert where an interview with director Yasushi Murayama is reprinted, and on the disc itself are notes from the screenwriter about the series. In addition are some production sketches and clean closing and opening credits, as well as a Steam Detectives trailer and ADV previews. Both the box and menu design are attractive and feature Crimson Scorpion and Justice (from Episode 20).
I really enjoyed the episodes in Case 5. Steam Detectives ventures into some emotional territory, rather than staying focused strictly on detective work and action-oriented crime thrillers. The series is steadily getting better, as we get to know the characters more. It's a good direction.
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)
* English (Dialogue)
* English (Songs and Signs)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Printed insert featuring interview with creator
* Onscreen text comments from screenwriter comments
* Production sketches
* Clean opening and ending animation
* ADV Previews
* Fan Site
* Review of Case 1
* Review of Case 4