Wednesday: Steampunk World And Anime

I could’ve sworn I had covered this topic before, but since I can’t find the post in my archives, we’ll revisit. Since it’s September 11 and the country is likely to be rife with mournful posts about something that happened many years ago, I’ll revisit even older times–the world that Never Was.

Since Hayao Miyazaki has finally chosen to retire, and Nan Desu Kan (Denver’s major anime convention) starts here on Thursday, I’ve been spending time contemplating how I went from an anime enthusiast to a Steampunk enthusiast. The leap is easier than you might think, especially inj Miyazaki’s realm of “what ifs.”

Take Princess Mononoke, one of Miyazaki’s premier works. The biggest message from this film is the battle between advancing technology and the magic and simplicity of the forest. The message pervades in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind as well, and where the former focuses on interesting weapons, the latter surrounds forms of transportation as well.  In both of these films (although I am listing them in reverse chronological order), the most important thing is for people to flex their ingenuity and discover new and better ways to make their lives work through technology–but they most also learn how to live with the world they have, and not destroy the earth with their hunger for progress.

If we move on, Miyazaki’s film Porco Rosso came sandwiched between the other two, and is really more Dieselpunk than Steampunk–but with an anime about goggles, flying machines and battles in the sky, who can argue the appeal? His film Castle in the Sky came right after Nausicaa, and is really a legendary search for ancient advanced technology–a Steampunk Atlantis (speaking of which, the Disney movie Atlantis is certainly Steampunk as well). Howl’s Moving Castle is also technology-laden and anti-war, but with the idea that technology and magic are inexplicably intertwined. I love this take on things because the Victorians were weirdly obsessed with the unexplained–and for them, science WAS magic.

Miyazaki had this to say:
“To be born means being compelled to choose an era, a place, a life. To exist here, now, means to lost the possibility of being countless other potential selves.. Yet once being born there is no turning back. And I think that’s exactly why the fantasy worlds of cartoon movies so strongly represent our hopes and yearnings. They illustrate a world of lost possibilities for us.”
― Hayao MiyazakiStarting Point: 1979-1996

But Miyazaki isn’t the only anime director to obsess over concepts embodied by much of Steampunk. Another great series to look into is called Last Exile. It is best characterized by the fact that warfare in this series involves two propeller-driven airships lining up side by side, the hatches being opened, and men in 19th century uniforms firing at each other from steam-powered rifles. As if that’s not enough, almost the entire series occurs in the air.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is another great tale, based very loosely off of the Jules Verne novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. VERY loosely. The premise is that a girl born of Atlanteans–who were really aliens with superior technology–is running from villains who want to capture her and her blue water pendant, which allows her to enter Atlantis–assuming she could remember why she was being chased, of course. She is accompanied by a young French lad who is bound and determined to invent a real flying machine, and his ingenuity often gets them into trouble.  The costumes are great, some of the series is very entertaining, and it’s a fresh perspective on 20,000 Leagues.

No list of Steampunk animes is complete without Steamboy, although it’s not my favorite film. The movie was basically Steampunk encapsulated, but I felt the plot was stiff and anticlimactic until the very end. However, the animation is beautiful, and certainly worth watching once.

Lastly, Fullmetal Alchemist has robots, alchemists, the personification of the 7 Deadly Sins, and a fine line between science and magic that makes it a great choice–not to mention awesome costumes and a few episodes that conveniently slip into the “alternate dimension” of Victorian Earth. Yes, this is a Steampunk series worth watching from start to finish.

With so many series personifying Steampunk, I’m surprised the obsession in Japan has not been more complete. Groups like Strange Artifact and the Tokyo Inventors Society are looking to change that.

If you are planning to attend NDK, remember that the Colorado Steampunks have a Steampunk Photo Shoot scheduled at 1pm at the flagpole. They’ll also be playing Emma: A Victorian Romance and it looks like an interesting series. Don’t miss it!

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