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Back to the Past Anime Destroys London

The most eagerly anticipated anime of the 21st century, Katsuhiro Otomo's big-budget Steamboy could probably never satisfy hardcore fans of his 1988 Akira—the movie that established an American audience for Japanimation. Still, Otomo eludes the legacy of his cult classic with a deftly sidelong knight's move . . . into the past. In the opening sequence, the movie feasts on the vista of mid-19th-century Manchester, surrounded by satanic mills and wreathed in the smoke of an encroaching industrial landscape. Steamboy's narrative, such as it is, has something to do with the O'Haras, a gang of WMD-building, war-profiteering capitalists, but the story ceases to matter once events come to a head with maximum pomp and ceremony at the Great Exhibition of All Nations, here transformed by the unscrupulous O'Hara gang into an international arms bazaar. Destruction of the famous Crystal Palace, the 19th-century acme of British modernity, is only part of the collateral damage that's inflicted on London once war breaks out between the local bobbies and the rampaging steam troopers unleashed by the O'Hara mob. Consistent in its graphic invention from first to last, Steamboy glosses the most resilient scenario in Japanese pop culture. The movie may be set in the world of David Copperfield and Little Nell, but it conjures a spectacle of urban destruction worthy of Godzilla.

 
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