Mar 22 2012

Anime You Should Watch – Patlabor: The Movie

This definitely isn't your typical mecha anime...

Patlabor: The Movie - Definitely not your typical mecha anime

I’ve had an idea kicking around for a little while now to write the occasional anime review for films and television series that I consider to be exceptional. Must see anime, basically.

I’ve decided to start with Patlabor: The Movie as a great example of the kinds of dramatic storytelling that you can find in anime when you look past the 900 episode fighting series (or high-school girl comedies) that often gain the most notoriety.

More after the jump…

Patlabor: The Movie is a film sequel to the 1980’s hit Original Video Animation (OVA: It means straight to video, but in anime this doesn’t carry the stigma it does in western film) called Patlabor: The Mobile Police. While the OVA was considered groundbreaking at the time, I don’t think it really stands up as anything I would consider a classic or a must watch. Thankfully watching it isn’t really necessary at all to enjoy the film.

In an alternate late 1990s – early 2000s Japan (the film was released in 1989), along with the rest of the developed world, has seen the development of construction mechs with arms and legs known as labors. These machines, while still in the comparatively early stages of their development, have revolutionized construction and assembly work as well as being heavily investigated for military applications.

With the rise of labor use in Japan comes the advent of the use of labors in criminal activities. With the police wholly unequipped to handle 20 foot tall walking machines rampaging through their cities, they are forced to develop police labors to patrol labor crime (thus Patlabor).

In response to this need, the Tokyo Police create two Special Vehicle units (SV1 and SV2) as small units with a couple of Patrol Labors each. On the other hand, they do put these units on a strip of reclamated waste land on the outskirts of Tokyo and take it as an opportunity to staff the Second Unit in particular with a bunch of misfits and political pariahs from the police force.

The SV2 is headed by Captain Goto, a man so cunning in his investigations as to be nicknamed “the razor” but who ran afoul of department politics as Police HQ for being a little too sharp, leading to his virtual exile to the SV2. Under him are a bunch of misfit labor mechanics, pilots, and labor field command officers who, notwithstanding their various quirks, ultimately excel in clutch situations.

Patlabor: The Movie kicks off with a man named Eiichi Hoba comitting suicide by jumping off a structure in Tokyo bay known as “the Ark” and Japanese Self Defence Forces having to chase down and destroy a labor tank, only to find the cockpit empty once they manage to stop it. The whispers around these incidents end up drawing Captain Goto’s interest and the SV2 begins investigating why an increasing number of labors have been going berserk by themselves in the Tokyo area, and what this has to do with the suicide of the brilliant labor OS programer (you guessed it) E. Hoba who almost single handedly wrote the new OS installed in most of Japan’s labors.

As you might have noticed already, this film centers far more on the SV2’s attempt to unravel what is going on than hot mecha-on-mecha action. This film typifies anime director Mamoru Oshii’s commitment to philosophical, minimalist storytelling which reached its zenith in the Ghost in the Shell films: He’s far more interested in delving into Eiichi Hoba’s psychology and motivations than in giant robot fights. Notwithstanding all of that, the climax of the film also happens to feature one of my favorite mech designs from any fictional setting: The Type Zero.

The Type Zero

The Type Zero: Pretty Goddamn Badass

To Summarize: If you’re interested excellent dramatic storytelling, a subtle examination of the psychology and motivations behind a conspiracy, beautiful animation, and a group of misfits coming through in the clutch (not to mention a few excellent action sequences) then I highly recommend this film. It also makes a pretty good introduction to high-quality anime for those who haven’t dabbled in the genre as well as a great starting point for the fascinating storytelling style of Mamoru Oshii.

That’s Yo “Mechanized Police” Garbage


About the author


Lorenzo tends to utterly emphatic opinions on the things that interest him: Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Video Games, Anime, Tabletop Games, Technology and Internet Spaceships.