Here’s what you need to know about Steamboy’s story: it has one. I think. Apparently, the movie was edited down for its U.S. release, but I’m not sure that including the cut-out bits would really help matters. The plot is riddled with holes, and the movie beats you over the head with muddled morals (“all adults are warmongering loonies” was the message I took away from the theater). You know what, though? That’s okay.

Steamboy isn’t really about narrative, it’s about technology. (Or perhaps “SCIENCE!”; shout it in your best Thomas Dolby voice.) The steampunk aesthetic is about granting technology a physicality that it lacks in its contemporary form. We carry lightweight, battery-powered devices connected to each other by wireless ethernet, creating home pages and living in virtual realities, tracking live news coverage from around the world. We live in every place and no place, simultaneously. Steamboy, on the other hand, presents an alternate reality in which technology is tangible, heavy, real. Wheels spin, gears grind, valves belch steam. People don’t mutter into invisible cell phone headsets and fiddle with tiny keypads, but holler down voicepipes and pull huge levers. Hot, grimy, and smoky, steampunk gives us technology we can wrap our hands and minds around.

The film’s main sequence is set at the London Exhibition, in and around the Crystal Palace (or maybe it’s just a striking resemblance; it’s so hard to tell with these alternate realities). The Crystal Palace was a place to which technology from around the world was brought for the benefit of the empire and its queen. As a symbol of the Industrial/Modern era in which Steamboy is set, it’s an entirely fitting setting. I’m still trying to figure out, though, what it says that the place gets completely torn apart during the climactic battle. Maybe it’s just because it looks really cool.