Mobile Police Patlabor may seem like a big mecha show, but it's more than that. The story takes place in the near future (1998, in fact). The development of large humanoid robots called labors has been spurred by the Babylon Project, a massive terraforming project designed to drain Tokyo Bay for land. The proliferation of labors introduces the possibility of labor crimes. Nothing necessarily spectacular, mind you; crimes range from drunken labor-operating to labor brawls to hostage situations. To combat these crimes, the Tokyo Police Department creates the Special Vehicle Division with specially-designed, high-performance patrol labors.
Our "heroes" come from the second section, known as the SV2. They are not exactly model officers, and they have a bad reputation with the public. Nevertheless, they get the important jobs done. The one to pay attention to in particular is Noa Izumi, the redheaded pilot of Car 1, which she names Alphonse. Her dedication to Alphonse is a key aspect of her personality. The other members of SV2 are Asuma Shinohara (Noa's commander), Isao Ohta (the gun-crazy pilot of Car 2), Mikiyasu Shinshi (Ohta's commander), Hiromi Yamazaki (the driver of one of the labor carriers), and Kiichi Goto (the Chief of SV2).
The thing to keep in mind is that Patlabor isn't really about the labors or even the Ingram (the model name of SV2's labors). This isn't Voltron. The series really focuses on the personalities, interaction, and development of the characters. At times, the series becomes serious like in the two movies, but it is generally comical.
Patlabor was developed by the famous Team Headgear, which consisted of manga artist Masami Yuuki, director Mamoru Oshii (of Ghost in the Shell fame), character designer Akemi Takada (Maison Ikkoku, Kimagure Orange Road), mecha designer Yutaka Izubuchi (Macross, Gundam), and writer Kazunori Itoh. The story of Patlabor has been told multiple times in both manga and anime. The OAV series we are watching tonight was actually the first anime incarnation of Patlabor. This was followed by a TV series that retold the story in a slightly different manner with some more character development. That was followed by a second OAV series, along with two movies. It could be argued that Patlabor is one of the most shown anime at CJAS, having been shown in some form each year for the last four years. Even Ranma ½ can't claim that.
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