Patlabor is the story of the human souls who make up Special Vehicle Section 2 of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Force.
Long a favorite show of mine, nostalgia awakened recently when I stumbled across random copies up at the jungle also known as Townhouse F1. Watching just a couple of episodes made me remember just how good it was. (And also just how poor the newer stuff today tends to be.) The story is tied together by the near-future Labor technology of 1999 (the title came out in 1989). Labors are advanced humanoid machines designed originally for manual and construction work; initial demand for these labors was closely related to a land-reclamation and large-scale urban construction scheme called the Babylon Project. Labors soon proved extremely efficient for other applications, from military and research to recreation. Along with the rise of such demand was the simultaneous rise in labor-related crimes. To counter these new social threats, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Force created Special Vehicle Section 2 -- a division comprised of Patrol Labors. (Youíve probably noticed by now that "Patlabor" is short for "Patrol Labor.")
For all its SF trappings -- and the mecha in this show are certainly some of my all-time faves (almost a decade old and still going strong!) -- Patlabor remains very much about its characters: a cast of misfits and losers stuck out in a remote reclaimed dump. (Meaning, in the middle of nowhere.) Youíll find no psychic kid pilot, no busty gun-slinging gals here... simply put, this just ainít your regular robot show. "What do you think this is? Great Mazinger? Dangaio?" (quote from Gotoh Kiichi, captain of SV2 Unit 2) Rather, what we get is the often hilarious, often touching antics and deeds of the Second Unit; this is one show where the characters really do grow on you, what with all their quirks. From perky officer Noa to gentle giant Yamazaki, from trigger-happy Ohta to razor-sharp Gotoh, they form an instinctive and tightly-knit group coming together equally through clashes with berserk terrorists and midnight pillow fights.
The original manga of the same name is by Yuuki Masami, who teamed up with longtime friends and collaborators Oshii Mamoru (direction), Kazunori Itoh (script), Izubuchi Yutaka (mecha design), and Takada Akemi (chara design) to form the group HEADGEAR for the production of the anime. (One can also say that the unofficial sixth member of HEADGEAR is Kawai Kenji, who was responsible for Patlaborís terrific soundtracks.) An OVA series came first, followed later by the movie weíre showing tonight. These were followed in succession by a popular TV series, a new OVA series, and a second movie.
The TV and OVA series are lighter in tone, with plenty of slapstick comedy (but thatís not to say that they are without depth). The two movies, however, are relatively serious (the second one especially is terrifically dark, claustrophobic, and powerful); they are laden with the symbolism and Biblical references that have become director Oshiiís trademarks. This author can also attest to the consistency and depth of both movies, having rewatched each of them at least a dozen times. (Yes, write to firstname.lastname@example.org to join the Faith. Just kidding.)
In any case, enjoy tonightís show. (Itís a swell way to close the regular season of CJAS, Fall í97.)