Reviews: Pat Labor

Fair for its day.

Patlabor was a pioneer in the thematic of realism and mundane utility in the Mecha Franchise. It was different, insightful, slow paced and more preocupied with a well thought introduction of Mechas than any sense of adventure or Drama.

But it hasn't aged well.

Patlabor is boring. After more than a decade of new works, alterations, deconstructions and reconstructions of not only the Mecha Franchise but the Slice of Life genre in the different mediums, Patlabor can come as a very slowpaced, Hype, too bland work. There is nothing new to see, what there is it has been done better (or more specifically, works created catter unique tastes) by other authors, mangakas and writters.

It was groundbreaking and a pioneer, but this doesn't mean it was superior or actually good.

It's a very especialized era type of work. Of the 90's and the new Millenium, the cynicism of the generation X, the estability in Japan after the Bubble burst, the terror of the new Millenium, the desire to create more "adult and serious" works and the introduction of the Anime to the New continent.

It can come as a slightly Values Dissonance and Seinfeld Is Unfunny. Is not a bad work by any stretch of the Imagination but remember, many of the people who would recommend this work (both in Tvtropes and elsewhere) grew up during this age, where there in the first wave of Anime exportation, where hit with its originality and its sense of deconsturction and innovation and truly suffer from Nostalgia Filter (also known as the Hardcore Original Fanbase) with this kind of works.

Give it a view and go with an open mind but don't let the reviews (including this one) to paint you an excesive nice or bleak view. You may enjoy it or consider it Torture but don't expect the Moon and the stars.

Its simply a Mecha Slice of Life with a taste of Police procedural

Patlabor 2: The Movie

Patlabor 2 is a pitch perfect political thriller and the masterpiece of the Patlabor series.

The plot: A few years after the first movie, the members of the Special Vehicles Unit have gone their separate ways—until a rogue fighter jet bombs the Tokyo Bay Bridge, sparking a state of paranoia and martial law in Japan's capital. The situation spirals out of control, with the Japan Self-Defense Force, Tokyo Metropolitan Police, and U.S. Military scrambling to make sense of the attack and eying each other for treachery. A JSDF investigator approaches the SVU's Captains Goto and Nagumo with the answer: The attacks were carried out by a rogue JSDF officer and a cabal of disaffected soldiers, politicians, and industrialists with intent to shock Japan out of its post-WWII "illusionary peace" and start another war. And said rogue officer just happens to be Captain Nagumo's former love interest.

Patlabor 2 is tense, complex, intelligent political drama at its finest. Part thriller, part social commentary, the plot rings true today more than ever—comparisons to allegations against the Bush administration are very easy to make with the film's message about commanders who romanticize war without consideration for the human lives it affects (the film was released in 1993). The movie examines Japan's situation after WWII, how it swore off direct military action but continued to provide support to other countries' militaries, buying its own peace at the expense of war elsewhere, and asks whether such a bloodstained "false peace" is better than a real war. And while the movie comes to an anti-war conclusion, it does so without demonizing the military—everyone involved is a human being.

The cherry on the sundae is Patlabor's trademark character-driven drama with a dash of subtle comedy. However, it didn't really need to be a Patlabor story—the only established characters who drive the plot are Captains Goto and Nagumo, and the series's sci-fi "hyper technology" is completely incidental to the plot. This is literally the only negative thing I can say about Patlabor 2, and it doesn't detract from the movie whatsoever.

In summary, Patlabor 2 is an outstanding piece of cinema. If you like political drama, you must see Patlabor 2.

Final grade: A+.

Patlabor: The Movie

This is what brought Patlabor into the mainstream. Directed by Mamoru Oshii of Ghost In The Shell fame, this 1989 film is a classic of sci-fi anime and a solid chapter in the Patlabor saga.

The plot: Labors (humanoid heavy industrial robots) across Tokyo are going berserk independent of their pilots. Piecing together the evidence, the police Special Vehicles Unit (users of the titular patrol labors) realize that the berserk labors have something in common: They were all upgraded to a new operating system designed by a reclusive programmer. The catch? Said programmer committed suicide in the opening scene of the movie. The heroes soon discover that if they don't get on top of things soon, every labor in Tokyo will run amok, causing massive destruction.

Patlabor: The Movie is a huge leap forward from the original OVA. The higher budget allows for breathtaking animation, helped along by the intricate robot designs, while the movie format allows the characters much more room to breathe and play off each other. The cast feels like organic, living and breathing people rather than stock anime archetypes. The plot is intricate but cleverly planned-out, playing like a classic whodunit mystery on a grand scale. The sci-fi aspect is about as hard as it gets - it may not be possible in real life, but it feels perfectly plausible; this is about as real as the Real Robot Genre gets.

However, the film is not without its negatives. Most frustratingly, we never learn the posthumous villain's motives, and his death in the opening scene robs the protagonists of a meaningful personal victory against him. While this is true to life—real-world crimes rarely tie up neatly—from a narrative standpoint the climax feels overly impersonal.

Regardless of such complaints, Patlabor: The Movie is an excellent piece of sci-fi cinema. Whether you like anime, science-fiction, cop movies, or mystery stories, give this movie a watch.

Final grade: A-.

Patlabor: The Mobile Police

Note: This review concerns the first Patlabor OVA, alternately titled The Early Days.

This is where it began. This seven-episode OVA introduced the world to the Patlabor franchise, later to be continued with a manga, a TV series, three theatrical movies, and another OVA. The movies follow the continuity of this first OVA, while the TV series and second OVA form a separate continuity.

These first seven episodes are a good microcosm of the Patlabor universe. They contain all the elements that made Patlabor great: A strong ensemble, a unique blend of genres, and grounded hard sci-fi* . Unfortunately, it suffers from its format. Without the TV series's length to develop the premise or the movies' budget, the OVA feels overly condensed. Most episodes are self-contained, leaving the impression of some great ideas that weren't explored to their fullest.

This problem is exemplified in the OVA's only two-part episode, "The SVU's Longest Day", in which the protagonists go up against a group of terrorists who lay siege to Tokyo. The episode has excellent direction and characterization, but the plot feels condensed and sketchy. The villain has a nebulous connection to Captain Goto that is never explored; the terrorists' motives and goals are never given; and the fallout from the heroes' maverick actions is never shown. There's a lot of wasted potential.

On the plus side, the animation is top-notch from start to finish, the voice acting* is perfect, and though self-contained, the individual episodes are highly entertaining and creative. It's not a bad anime! Recommended if you can find it, but ultimately, the movies and TV series are better introductions to the Patlabor universe.

Final grade: B.

Patlabor 2

Mamoru Oshii is a name best known in the "anime world" for his work as director in Ghost in the Shell. Patlabor 2 is a fabulous movie. It's beautifully animated. There are long, beautiful pans of demonic cityscapes set to the haunting score composed by Kenji Kawaii. There are complex, philosophical problems that trouble the two protagonists on a personal level, whom seem to have some sort of unresolved sexual tension going on. There is a heavy, intricate plot, that while puzzling at first, eventually is resolved through brilliant detective work. And the end, all the culminated tension violently explodes on-screen.

In other words, this film uses the exact same formula as Ghost in the Shell.

In fact, Patlabor 2 is pretty much the same as any Oshii film I've seen (other than the Sky Crawlers, which was atrocious). But I could also say Patlabor 2 is better than GITS... why is that? Because it is flawless. There is nothing wrong with this film. The characters are beautifully written, the plot is, though confusing, complex and laden with important social issues that were not only issues for Japan in the early 90s, but issues that people in the US today. I don't really want to give too much away, but you'll see what I mean. And then there's Arakawa, who is a brilliant character and fit right in with the atmosphere of the movie. If there is one word to describe this movie it is "atmospheric". You should expect no less from the guy who directed Ghost in the Shell, right?

Yet I feel in some ways this movie is superior to GITS. All the characters here are involving (I've only seen the first two Patlabor movies), whereas the characters in Ghost in the Shell are well-developed, but cold and stoic. In Patlabor 2, the characters are not warm or fuzzy, but are realistic realists. They're brilliant.

If there was any problem with this film its that it is very very dialog heavy. If you don't pay attention to what the characters are saying, you're left out of the loop. But you will pay attention, because what they say is just so engaging. Remember the old adage, 'show don't tell'? Well forget it. Go watch Patlabor 2.

Note: I wrote this review on imdb, but posted it here with some edits because of the limited word count on this site.