Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Dec 31st 2003
Steam City. It's a dank, dingy industrial metropolis, city of a thousand stories and a thousand criminals. A prodigy child anmed Narutaki, armed with his faithful nurse sidekick Ling-Ling and her megamaton Goriki, work tirelessly as private detectives, determined to bring the relentless criminal element of Steam City to justice!
Anime fans tend to be split down the middle when it comes to the detective genre. The list of series that follow a boy genius as he solves crimes with his spunky friends is endless; Detective Conan and Kindaichi Case Files are just two of the myriad examples found in the Japanese market. Basically, either you like that sort of thing, or you don't. If you found yourself on the edge of your seat watching Jessica Fletcher solve the mystery of the missing hip replacement on Murder She Wrote, or seeing Matlock put those blasted kids who kept stealing his newspaper behind bars, then chances are, you'll find something to like in Steam Detectives. Everyone else might want to find something a little less episodic.
This type of series follows a very basic and familiar formula. Kia Asamiya, while famous for his character designs, has never really been known for his outstanding storylines, and Steam Detectives suffers from a complete lack of creativity. Narutaki, his large-chested nurse and their big clunky robot fight crime, solve the mystery and uncover the mastermind behind it all in nearly every episode. Generally you can solve the mystery before they do, and aside from a few clumsy attempts to add human interest to the stories by involving children or old people, it's a mostly routine affair. It doesn't help that Narutaki is mostly charisma-free and his sidekicks aren't all that interesting either. It's really hard to care about the proceedings at all, especially since we know Narutaki will save the day and solve the crime. There's very little risk in Steam City, despite the fact that it's crawling with cartoonish supervillains.
That's not to say that the show is devoid of charm. The character designs are surprisingly pleasant. Kia Asamiya is something of an acquired taste, depending on how big you like your chins and how small you like your mouths. Here, he goes a little more shounen, and the result is an eye-catching and simple design that translates well in to animation. If their clothing didn't have so many gigantic yellow buttons, the show would really be something aesthetically special. The animation is very nicely handled, as well, coming across as being a little bit dated but still fluid and lovingly rendered. There are several moments where the mouth movements don't even try to match the words (even in Japanese they're just opening and closing their mouths at a steady pace with no variation), and a couple of awkward action scenes, but mostly the animation doesn't disappoint. The backgrounds are also detailed and convey the atmosphere of the show quite well. Visually, the show outpaces its unfortunately mediocre storylines.
The music is your average collection of cheap anime background music, pounded out on a low-end synthesizer and accompanied by several forgettable and generic J-pop tunes. The dub is serviceable, but it's hard to imagine the English version being outstanding when the source material they're working with is as lame as it is. Narutaki sounds a little old for his apparent age, Ling-Ling has the voice you'd expect her to have, and the villains are all overacting just enough to be slightly grating. One or two of the voices are clearly Australian (or New Zealand… it's so hard to tell, sometimes.), so that adds a unique touch to an otherwise by-the-numbers dub. Watch it in either English or Japanese, you'll be getting the same result.
Basically, if you dig the whole Detective genre and started a letter-writing campaign when Diagnosis Murder was cancelled, run to the store and buy Steam Detectives right now. There's plenty in here to keep any serious mystery junkie happy for a long time. Unfortunately, in these first five episodes, the stories have no meat, even less character development and a whole lot of repetitive, formulaic plot development. People looking for a solid, deep action series would do well to look elsewhere for their fix.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : C
+ Decent animation, good character designs.
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