Judge Sandra Dozier is thrilled by the blowout conclusion to this comic book-influenced anime series.
Crime and punishment
Steam Detectives concludes in this volume of four episodes, and what a conclusion! It's the sort of thing one always wants to see in comic books but can't because they never really "end."
Steam City is powered by coal and runs on steam. It is constantly shrouded in mist and darkness, a perfect place for those inclined toward crime. Far from being exclusively a steam punk genre anime (although the look and feel of the town and the fashion of its residents are certainly influenced by the steam culture), film noir and gritty detective drama influence the story just as heavily.
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 catlike reflexes, he 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 people he loves. He has attracted quite a rogues' gallery of villains, including masked collector of gadgetry Machine Baron, youthful dandy Le Bled, viciously lovely Crimson Scorpion, cunning Mr. Guilty, and ruthless, muscle-bound Phantom.
This should sound somewhat familiar—creator Kia Asamiya wanted to create a world like Gotham City in the Batman comics. He gets the mood just right, which is not a surprise after seeing his excellent "Batman: Child of Dreams" manga, but he also adds an important emotional element to the characters that I find compelling. For instance, in a twist on the typical superhero comic, the Knight Phantom in Steam Detectives looks like your typical hero, but he is a vicious psychopath bent on destroying Narutaki or Steam City, whichever comes first. This dichotomy is unnerving enough to keep the viewer off balance whenever he is onscreen. In the English dub, he was given a heroic, deep voice as well, to heighten that tension.
Narutaki is like a teenage Dark Knight. He lost his parents under mysterious circumstances when he was younger, a loss that comes to haunt him in this final arc of episodes. He is troubled and driven, and he adores his city to the point that he will gladly sacrifice his life to save it. In these final four episodes, he may have to do just that. Phantom has finally harnessed the properties of the demon water, and he sets a trap for Narutaki. We finally learn why he hates Narutaki so much. Narutaki has to face a dark secret from his past, a final loss of innocence that plays itself out over four episodes, with the truth slowly unraveling until it reaches its inevitable end. Each member of the rogues' gallery makes an appearance to do their part, with an especially touching final meeting between Narutaki and LeBled.
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 aren't as many extras this time as in previous volumes, but there is a very nice fold-out map of Steam City with locations from each of the episodes highlighted and briefly summarized—a nice final piece for anyone collecting the set. There are also some notes from the crew and clean opening and closing animation, as well as production sketches.
Now that this final volume of episodes is out, those who have previous volumes may want to review the printed insert notes that talk about these later installments. In a way, I'm sad to see Steam Detectives come to a close, but it does a great job of finishing an intense, thoughtful series, and although the end is heartbreaking on a couple of different levels, it's also very satisfying. I, for one, appreciate a bittersweet end, and Steam Detectives delivers.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
• Fold-Out Insert: "Map to Steam City"
• Fan Site
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