Looking back at my Patlabor: The Early Days, it was sort of unfortunate for me to watch it after seeing the Patlabor TV series first. Even years before it, you know? I am a major fan of this TV series. Even if I know the ova series came out first, I didn’t watch it first so a lot of my perspectives on the lack of characterization isn’t completely fair given the time frame the ova series had. Still, I am a little upset about the fact that a police unit that handles crime on the streets suddenly has to do political intrigue things because one of their leaders used to be a part of some revolution back in college. That’s way out of the bounds a police unit should handle something when you have a military voice available. Still, I do like Oshii’s work and will be doing a month on his stuff soon. A lot of what he does doesn’t fit my perspective of what the Patlabor voice is. So spoilers, talking about more Patlabor. Guess you all expected that from the title of this post.
With that said, let’s jump into Patlabor on TV. The background story is the same as the one present in the ova series. You can read about that here if you want, but if you don’t, I guess I can do a quick rundown on it. For all of those lazy people out there. Patlabor takes place in the close future of 1999 (cough) where larger robots called labors are used in standard construction and other practices. Sometimes those robots can go on a rampage, so that’s where the Special Vehicles unit comes in. With their patrol labors, known as Patlabors, they handle day to day crimes and whatever is given to them by the police department to handle. So there you are, that’s the anime’s plot. Daily adventures with some small crime developing too.
Also like the OVA series, Patlabor TV also focuses on the Special Vehicles Section 2 Unit 2 as the main characters. The main difference is the OVA budget and resources are switched for the TV budget and resources and the anime series having 47 episodes instead of 7. That does mean a lot more time for episodic adventures and some great characterization for everybody. Other than that, everything about the Special Vehicles Section 2 Unit 2 is the same like the characters are the same, and their reputation for causing a massive disaster on the streets is the same as well. Yeah, that just goes along with them wherever they go and whenever they just try to hang around or something. A gold mine for publicity.
That’s about where the comparisons stop, because the anime series does its own thing from here on out. Well, for the most part besides some episodes that do similar things in different ways as The Early DAys. For instance, the mecha were lost in traffic in The Early Days and then each character was assigned a position randomly. In this one, Noa rescues a new Patlabor that was being stolen in the first episode and an eventual tournament happens to see how everyone will be ranked and/or tasked in the end. It’s one of those tournaments where you can see how the competitors act with each other so you can get an early feel of who they are and what issues they have.
I suppose I should talk about the cast now. We have seven characters in this main protagonist unit with a lot of good support characters. Noa Izumi who is deeply infatuated with the AV-98 Ingrams which she named Alphonse is the lead pilot in unit one. She obsesses over the unit itself which is why she pilots it so well. Asuma Shinohara is the son of the Shinohara organization and is here in rebellion against his father and runs the lead car. He makes sure Noa knows what is up. The driver of the trailer is the gentle giant Hiromi Yamazaki. He didn’t fit in the cockpit of the tournament to begin with. If it was up to them. Section 2 Unit 2 would have a good reputation. Unfortunately, there is one man piloting the second mecha which causes chaos.
The second AV-98 Ingram is piloted by the crazy Isao Ohta. He is a very rule forward person, but also is more than obsessed with guns. Like, the first thing that he will ever do is shoot at the opposing mecha causing untold amounts of damage to the surroundings when he inevitably misses. Ohta is the reason why Section 2 Unit 2 has its bad reputation and would be fired in real life. In an attempt to rail him in is intelligent and wonderful Kanuka Clancy on loan from the New York police department for six months why is why she isn’t the pilot. Kanuka is hyper competent in everything she does. I feel like she has tried many times to reign Ohta in, but has failed. She does get replaced later though. Lastly is Shinshi Mikiyasu who is a nice, unassuming family man until he goes wild and out of rampage. Kanuka trying to be the only adult over here.
To round off this cast is the Captain of Section 2 Unit 2, Captain Kiichi Goto. A seemingly lazy and very mysterious man who can be characterized by carrying and trusting his unit for the decisions they make and not trying to tell his police unit anything about him at all. He’s a mystery and it’s fascinating. Seriously, there was an episode about Unit 2 trying to get him to do things and he did his best to just run away any chance he could. Still, he is much smarter than anyone would ever mention and believes in his unit and what they can do. When people question why he’s sending out a woman into the field during a dangerous situation, he just simply says that’s her job and that’s why I respect him so much despite his lazy exterior. He’s so fascinating to me. Some quick side characters are Captain Shinobu Nagumo from Section 2 Unit 1 who has an interesting dynamic with Goto. A bit of partnership and friendship at the same time which is hard to do in a police office setting. Also, we have the Section 2 Mechanics with the oldman Chief Sakaki and his younger protégé Chief Shiba.
The cast is full of interesting dynamics from almost every angle. We can talk about the direct competition put on display between Noa Izumi’s piloting skill and adaptation vs Ohta’s stronger techniques and gun happy nature. The show sides with Izumi because Ohta has caused how much damage by firing a large caliber gun on city streets while Izumi has all the cool actions scenes even if she is afraid.? We can also talk about Shinohara vs Izumi’s supportive relationship with whoever is in the command car for Unit 2 telling Ohta what to do and him not generally listening. What about Kanuka and Izumi where Kanuka is put into a teaching role. Plus, there is the Shinshi vs Ohta one where Shinshi is happily married and Ohta isn’t at all. A lot of episodes work just by something setting these characters off and then seeing them interact with one another.
I should also mention the next car driver for Unit 2 after Kanuka. Lt. Takaeo Kumagami who is intelligent and thoughtful, but she doesn’t have an impact to the story. Yes, she learns really fast and is a great person for Noa to learn from too and has a distinct hate for the super natural. It’s just that she spends a lot of time either passed out after facing the many super natural things that happen, gets injured and put into a hospital bed, or is there just to make some quick notes on what is going on or some quick police work and that’s it. She’s a great cast member to have around on an intellectual level, but the shadow of Kanuka Clancy is too great for her to become a fully realized character.
Patlabor’s story structure is pretty standard for an older anime series. For the most part, Patlabor TV is a very episodic series with all sorts of different adventures each week. Sometimes, the mecha aren’t even important and we just get a lot of goofy fun which is great. Other episodes are character vignettes that explore someone from Section 2 Unit 2’s characters. Noa’s love of Alphonse vs developing mecha for the future, Shinohara’s problems with his father, Ohta’s intimacy issues around women, and Kanuka’s great sendoff spy adventure on an airplane before going to New York. Also, there are episodes about ordering food, interpersonal adventures, and other things. There is a plot line though. The development of the Griffin and a company trying to sell it off to people by fighting the Ingram happens again and again from failed attempt to another is one of them. They are the symbolizing of advancing times of labor units and S2U2 fighting against it along with S2U1’s patlabor problems when they make an appearance again and again.
Patlabor TV has a very fun recurring cast that helps develop its world too in these episodes. For instance, military labors make an appearance and have some good character we see every so often piloting them. Also, the attempted hijacker of Kanuka’s airplane who is the kindest hijacker I’ve ever seen has a massive appearance another episode doing more crimes. Somehow, he made it out of prison pretty fast. Also, the attractive news reporter Momoka Sakurayama who makes a wide variety of appearances in the anime in a lot of ways, so we get to know her a lot in different capacities. Sometimes as a reporter on the streets who gets in the way, sometimes she is there to set the scene, and sometimes she interviews one of our main characters (Noa Izumi) for a tv special. I’m just glad she exists because she’s just so much fun to have around no matter what she does.
On a visual level, Patlabor TV looks great for a TV show from the late 80’s and early 90’s. I dare say, possibly even better than most of the Gundam TV shows, not ovas, that made an appearance in the 90’s. Except for Turn A Gundam perhaps. I say this because Patlabor is very grounded and units don’t fly most of the time. Because of the lack of extraneous and super movement to animate, the product is much more consistent and easier to anime. The weird thing is that all of this is from Sunrise which says something else about it. Headgear, the joint brain trust behind it, must have had the best animators behind it to make this show work as well as it did. The show is filled with all sorts of cool and varied locations to have fights in, great character animation from a facial and movement perspective, and just general insanity of the show doing alright visually with whatever it wants to do. There are some still frames and stock footage here and there for the characters, but those were put in moments you don’t notice them or don’t character about them. Character sitting down at their desks, having a meeting a strategy meeting with Goto, and such.
Then we can talk about Mecha and Mechanical Animation too and this is definitely where a lot of the resources for this series went into. You know, when they were used. You know, despite not being as good as the OVA series at all. There is stock footage for moments like the Patlabor moving or getting up from its trailer, and some attack animations have missing backgrounds/speed lines, but in general there isn’t as much weakness as you would think. There is some real-world physics put in display even if they aren’t as explode friendly or as sakuga forward as one would think. Gun shots from the Labor gun do cause buildings to fall apart or cause trees to fall down. Same with shells falling to the ground crushing cars or people almost. They try their best to make the show feel realistic even if robots can’t actually exist.
Plus, the designs of the Patlabor and Labor units are simple and great. The AV-98 had a wonderful design that is simple and looks like something a police unit would have. It’s white, sleek, has some police sirens on it, and is just sexy as all hell. Other Patlabor units, even the peace maker later on, don’t hold a candle to it. In general, The Labor units people use for construction look like units that would be used for construction. They are big, have multiple legs on wheels, and have some strong arms to lift steel beams. I do have some complaints though. Like, the evil unit the Griffin looks like way too cartoony for Patlabor. You are selling this unit to people in universe. I don’t know if they would take “I am a bad guy” the unit. That and and it can fly which shouldn’t happen in this universe. I am ok with the super lazer, but not flying.
So yes, Patlabor on TV is one of my favorite anime series and I generally don’t have that much to say against it. In my eyes, it’s almost perfect in what it goes out to achieve and does. Possibly one of those series which shaped how I perceive character writing in anime series. I honestly don’t have that much criticism for it besides how uneven the show can be at times in what it executes. For example, the show’s episode quality can change from episode to episode. Plus, the Griffin really does feel out of place no matter how hard they try to jam its plot line into the show. Still, I do like the Griffin arc and the character stories in general because of how well thought out and entertaining they are. I do think that Patlabor: The Early Days is a great entry way into the anime series itself, but Patlabor on TV is great and should be checked out at some point by people interested in it too.
You will see more Patlabor when I discuss Patlabor: The New Files and Mamoru Oshii events later this year. Those might happen possibly earlier then October? All of those will happen sometime in the future. Just not sure when yet so key
Got any advice for one wanting to give the series a shot? Is it still advisable to start with the OVA even if its a bit dated?
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Yeah, I think the early days ova still a great way to start to start out. It’s like a 7 episode starter pack 😁.
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I wish someone would get the license for this series in the UK. After watching the movies and the early days ova series I really want to watch it.
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We are lucky to have a cheap release of the whole series here. Like everything.
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