After the wild success of the comedy sci-fi romps of Urusei Yatsura director Mamoru Oshii tackled an OAV projected called Angel’s Egg. Viewers found it too esoteric and odd. The series was considered a failure. It took a few years, but Oshii was eventually brought on to helm another science fiction series with a healthy dose of comedy. But in this case it was set in the near future and involved giant robots. Would a director known for his wacky comedies be able to handle something that had serious and satirical edge?
In the near future giant robotic suits are used for construction and dangerous situations where mechanical muscle is needed. These suits are called Labors. Of course some enterprising folks figure out how to used Labors for criminal activities. This leads to the creation of a special unit of the police force: the Patrol Labors or Patlabors.
Our story begins as we meet the new second unit Patlabor unit in Tokyo. There is the huge Labor fan Noa (Miina Tominaga) who names her Patlabor Alphonse, because that is just what you do in situations like this. Her driver is Asuma (Yoshiko Sakakibara) a young man who was forced into joining by his rich father. Piloting the other unit is the gun crazy Ohta (Michihiro Ikemizu), and his driver Shinshi (Issei Futamata) who is constantly calling his wife. On back up is the huge and hulking Hiromi (Daisuke Gouri) who is really as gentle as they come. Leading the team is the sardonic Goto (Ryunosuke Ohbayashi) who’s laid back manner hides his strategic skills. The team will face rampaging Labors, giant sea monsters, ghosts and terrorist plots. Will they be up for the challenge, or will this Patlabor squad end up laid off because of the bad economy.
- Impressive mecha and futuristic design
- Some amusing satirical moments around cumbersome rules and annoying bureaucracy
- Has a sense of fun that keeps things from getting too dark
- Focuses more on parody and satire than mecha action
- Animation looks a little rough in places
- All the characters tend to be pretty stereotypical
An interesting intersection of Oshii comedic projects with the science fiction path he would chart going forward. The first four episodes focus on humor and tackling various anime and film tropes. But the final three episodes tone down the humor and go for some solid detective work and thrills. It is a mixed bag in the end. Some of the humor doesn’t quite hit and some of the thrills feel a little tame. An entertaining series, but it needed a bit more consistency.
Scores (out of 5)
In Depth Review
|Putting the "patrol" back in Patlabor!|
From a visual perspective the series looks pretty good for a late 80s OAV series. There’s some great detail in the mecha and futuristic design of the vehicles. But most of the outfits and settings tend to look pretty contemporary. This isn’t a big surprise since it is supposed to be in the near future. Character design is simple, but pleasing. It isn’t the AIC look, but it doesn’t have some of the flair we’d see from Kenichi Sonoda who worked on Bubblegum Crisis around the same time.
|Noa at the controls of Alphonse.|
Sound effects are pretty standard stuff for anime of this era. Most of it is typical sound effect work for a city: traffic, background chatter, sirens, etc. The mecha and weapons have some specialized sound effects, but nothing as unique as the work used in Neon Genesis Evangelion or Gundam Wing. When it comes to music, Oshii began his fruitful relationship with composer Kenji Kawai on Patlabor. This is a collaboration that would continue for decades, with Kawai working on nearly every one of Oshii’s projects (live action and animated) from this point on. Kawaii had worked on the martial arts comedy series Ranma ½ and so was well versed on comedic score writing. His music for Patlabor has a bit of that style, but also uses his more action oriented style. It’s a bit frantic and intense, something very different from what we end up hearing in Ghost in the Shell and Avalon. It’s neat to hear this initial collaboration and how different both men approached projects this early in their careers.
|Goto doesn't know what to make of his new team.|
As for the scripts themselves, well that is where it gets a bit tougher to judge. Patlabor doesn’t really take itself seriously, but then it does. The show is at once a parody, then a satire, then a thriller and then a buddy cop series. Now this isn’t anything new to anime, and in fact it is something that makes anime fun to watch. But sometimes this wild and wacky nature can create an odd sense of pacing. So while I had some fun with the first four episodes, I also found that they were a bit on the slow side.
|Mad bombers don't phase Clancy in the slightest.|
Episodes three and four of Patlabor turn out to be the most silly of the series. The first deals with a gigantic creature living in Tokyo Bay and creating all kinds of havoc. There are several nods to the kaiju classic Godzilla, as well as other giant monster films and anime. The ending is basically a ridiculous joke, one that wouldn’t be out of place in Urusei Yatsura. I thought it was funny that the narrator even says that it is a disappointing ending. The next episode plays with the haunted hot springs tropes that occur in lots of anime series (TenchiMuyo had an episode just like this, but with a less satirical ending). Essentially the characters are sent to a training camp, but discover a girl and a Labor haunt it. Yeah, you read that right: a haunted suit of robo-armor. The episode turns into a detective show as the characters try to piece together why the ghosts are haunting the camp. This whole episode plays so light and silly that you begin to wonder if the series is really just going to go completely wacky going forward.
|Hijinks ensue when the team gets some time off.|
Oshii did not direct the final episode, and it feels a bit different from the others. Like the previous two episodes, it is more of a thriller than a parody. But the final episode does inject a bit more humor into the script. In this story a stolen truck is hijacked. The poor dope who stole the stolen truck doesn’t realize it has a military grade patlabor on it, and a terrorist at the controls. What follows is a chase into northern Japan, and ends with Patlabors engaging in the best mecha combat in the OAV series (even if it does include some wrestling moves for laughs).
|Budget cuts cause cramped situations.|