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Mobile Police Patlabor

Entry updated 5 July 2021. Tagged: TV.

Japanese Original Video Animation (OVA) (1988-1989; vt Mobile Police Patlabor: The Early Days). Original title Kidō Keisatsu Patoreibā. Studio Deen. Created by Headgear. Directed by Mamoru Oshii. Written by Kazunori Ito. Voice cast includes Toshio Furukawa, You Inoue, Ryunosuke Ohbayashi and Mina Tominaga. Seven 29-minute episodes. Colour.

Patlabor is set in 1998, when, in the wake of societal upheavals caused by Climate Change, giant Mecha called Labors perform most of society's heavy industrial work; since they are also liable to be employed for illegal purposes and terrorism, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police created Special Vehicles Section 2, who have giant mecha to combat the criminal use of labors (see Crime and Punishment). Mecha are too ungainly to travel long distances – low bridges are a problem – so often have to be carried in trailers to their destinations, with Tokyo's regular traffic jams causing difficulties.

The series focuses on the interactions of the members of the Section's Unit 2, seen as the poor cousins of Unit 1. They have faced budgeting and planning problems, only just having received three new police labors – previously relying on secondhand construction models painted black and white. The main characters are the newly graduated Noa Izumi (Tominaga), who loves mecha and calls hers Alphonse; and Asuma Shinohara (Furukawa), Noa's backup, whose industrial magnate father signed him up to the Unit without his knowledge. Most of the Unit are likeable idiots of various stripes, though the laid-back Captain, Kiichi Gotō (Ohbayashi), is astute and Sgt Kanuka Clancy (Inoue), seconded from the New York Police Force, is both skilled and a little scary.

Plots include Gotō using Unit 2 to foil an attempted military coup (see Politics) that threatens Tokyo with a stolen cruise missile; elsewhere he fakes a ghost (see Supernatural Creatures) to teach his team not to be too trigger-happy; eco-terrorism (see Ecology) forms a backdrop to some stories. One episode includes a discussion on the Panspermia theory: a Scientist's experiments on cells found in Suspended Animation inside a Cambrian-era meteorite leads to the speedy Evolution of an enormous humanoid sea-Monster. Bizarrely it looks like a member of Unit 2; they stare at each other, then the monster disappears back into the depths and a voiceover remarks "it was a dramatic and all too unsatisfying end to the story".

This influential Anime is an enjoyable, mainly humorous, series: unusually for the mecha genre it is character-driven, with the mecha usually playing only a minor role (episode 7 is an exception). The director and writer went on to work on the acclaimed and successful film Ghost in the Shell (1995), and Patlabor can be said to contain the kernels of many of their later achievements. Of particular note is a subplot featuring the discovery that a company hoping to develop fully autonomous Robots is harvesting the metrics of the mecha pilots' movements and reactions, prefiguring real-world twenty-first-century concerns about data theft.

A Manga by Masami Yuki was published 1988-1994. There was a 47-episode Anime Television series, Patlabor: The TV Series (1989-1990) and two further OVA series: the 16-episode Patlabor: The New Files (1990-1992) and the three-episode Mobile Police Patlabor Minimum: Minipato (2002). There were three animated movies: Patlabor: The Movie (1989); Patlabor 2: The Movie (1993) and WXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3 (2002). The manga, television and film version all follow separate timelines, with the OVA discussed in this entry being part of the film timeline. The New Files follows the television timeline, while Minipato was a one-off.

A live action film, The Next Generation: Patlabor (2015), had previously been serialized on television (2014-2015). An online short, Patlabor Reboot (2016), and the announcement of a new anime tv series to be called «Patlabor EZY», suggests that the franchise has more to give. There have also been related Light Novels and Videogames. [SP]


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