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Back to the Past Anime Destroys London

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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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