What They Say:
Drunk drivers are bad, but put a drunk driver in a giant robot called a Labor and you’ve got a disaster waiting to happen. And when REAL criminals get their hands on those same giant robots, the cops need giant robots of their own just to maintain the status quo, right? Well, that’s the logic behind the development of the Patlabor program and special Labor Crime units like Japan’s Section 2 in any case. But what logic fails to take into account is where to find police officers who’re equally conversant with both robots and the regulations? And THAT’s where the motley crew of Section 2, Division 2 comes in! With ridiculously perky tomboy Noa Izumi and gun-happy madman Isao Ohta as primary Labor pilots and the impossibly laid back Captain Goto in what passes for command, SV2 is ready to hit the streets with their twenty ton feet! But will they be taking a byte out of crime or have they bitten off more than they can chew? The law of the land and the laws of robotics are about to collide in the first Earth shattering collection of MOBILE POLICE PATLABOR!
The audio presentation for this series is pretty good as we get the original Japanese language presented in stereo as well as the previously created English language dub, both of which are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The show is one that is definitely a product of its time, for both mixes, and it’s not one that really stands out all that much. The series is very much full feeling in how its presented with dialogue and the action not having a lot in terms of placement or depth. The structure of the mix is decent though and the action ramps things up a bit but the dialogue is well handled throughout since there are some lower moments along the way and a good mix of dialogue types. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally starting release back in 1988, the transfer for this seven episode OVA series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. All seven episodes are on one disc and there are no extras to be had with the release. Animated by Studio Deen, the source materials here look great throughout with some excellent detail to be had, especially since there are so many dark areas, and little to quibble with when you get down to it. There’s an obvious layer of film grain here but it’s minimal overall and adds to the nature of the traditional animation style. Some of the blues here and there are a bit noisier in some areas, but it’s never to a distracting level unless perhaps you’re freezing and stepping through the show. While I no longer have my original CPM release to compare against, I came away from this visual presentation really pleased by it.
The packaging for this release is straightforward and solid as we get a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the single disc. The front cover has a lot of white space to it as it lets the illustration of Alphonse and Noa take center stage where they’re the ones with the bit of color. We also get a nod towards the villain of the series, though it’s a relatively small role overall. With a simple approach and some good used of black and green for the borders, it’s an appealing cover that draws on the original source material in a good way while still feeling fresh and modern. The back cover works a gray background that works nicely to allow the variety of shots from the show, small that they may be, stand out well. The tagline along the top does a nice riff on the whole law and order gig and the premise is well covered and easy to read. I also like that there’s a timeline along the bottom that covers the movies, which is tide to these OVAs, and the TV timeline as well which makes me hope that Maiden Japan will acquire them all. The technical grid covers everything well and the production credits are clean and clear. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for the release is one that is rather simple but it modernizes the show nicely in a way while still feeling very connected to it. The main part of the menu uses the whole side panel of the labor kind of feeling to it where has a worn design to it. The series logo is through the middle with a few other pieces to flesh it out a bit that definitely sets the mood right. The left side has the navigation strip which uses a dark background with white episode titles and green episode numbers that has it feeling like a panel inside the labor. When you use it during regular playback as the pop-up menu, it just adds tot hat feeling. The navigation is quick and easy to use and with nothing here outside of the language submenu, everything loads fast and works flawlessly.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Patlabor is one of those properties that is a granddaddy when it comes to mecha world, but one that has had a hard time getting a lot of respect in North America. It’s release ended up across a couple of different companies early on and we had the movies long before any of the TV works or this OVA collection, which made getting into the whole thing kind of awkward since it wasn’t exactly a linear introduction. But the movies won me over with what they did, in story and technical excellence, and my introduction to the other properties years later juts reaffirmed it while also making it clear that there’s a great bit of humor and family mixed into all of it. So with Maiden Japan acquiring the release, we get to start at the beginning with the OVAs, the first weeks of the cadets entered Special Vehicles Unit 2 and more. .
As series director Oshii commented years ago, most mech series have the bright young youth, the female companion, the violent one and usually some secondary character or two plus an animal mascot. One of the goals behind Patlabor, in addition to telling good stories, was to show another side to the team concept and the way people are. This is where they managed to make the biggest impact I think, though sales of Patlabor model kits I’m sure have grown quite nicely over the years.
Taking place in the late 90’s, the series focuses on a group of police officers that are part of a new division called Special Vehicles Division 2, the division that will handle crimes related to labors. Labors are of course the giant sized robots that have been created that are either autonomous or piloted that handle the growing needs of a thriving near-future city. With the growth in the labor market, there are all sorts of crimes that can be committed with them as well as simple programming issues that can cause them to run amuck.
Tokyo is awash in these mechs due to something called the Babylon Project. This massive engineering plan is where they’re blocking off a huge segment of Tokyo bay in an effort to reclaim the land there over the next fifty years, thereby handling the growth issues of one of the worlds biggest cities. With such a massive project going on, there are going to be tons and tons of labors being brought into the city. And with any large engineering project, there’s going to be a number of people looking to take advantage of the situation in a number of ways. So the creation of a department to handle just these kinds of crimes is warranted.
Unfortunately, as we learn at the start of the series, three months into their realization and they’re only now getting the first real police designated labors. And the first batch of real police officer pilot/command recruits is arriving at the same time. Right from the start, as we’re introduced to the large group of mechanics that are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the labors, there is a strong sense of technical and mechanical wonder to them. The maintenance crew for the division is one that becomes the real heart of the show after awhile, as their love of their jobs and their passion for it helps drive the officers forward.
And with such a diverse group of officers, from the energetic Noa to the fairly lazy Asuma all the way to the gun happy Ota, each is definitely a personality of their own. For various reasons, each has ended up in the division and have to work with each other, but there isn’t the usual egging on of opposites you get in mech series over who has to work with who. They’re realistic in the sense that they’re there to do a job and sometimes the job can suck. They love getting some down time and they occasionally disagree with their boss.
Their boss, Captain Goto, is one of the more amusing and favorite characters of mine of many series. He is the classic deadpan commander that simply rattles off what must be done and often looks bored by what he’s been given to do. With there being several things continually working against him, including his own past, he’s the type that simply looks at things logically and lets them proceed as best as possible while trying to do the job. Goto is a character that is very memorable in a sea of very similar characters.
With the seven episode OVA series, we get to go pretty much from the start of the concept with the arrival of the pilots and their training on the final police labor product. Through their attempts to learn (with such amusing problems as there being only one time a year for live ammo target practice due to the course being taken by someone else) we see the interactions of the characters come to life as well as the bonding with the labors. The maintenance crew, particularly the energetic young Shige, bring so much life and heart to the OVA series that it makes me appreciate their role in the TV series all the more.
The OVA series moves along nicely, with the first volume providing three standalone stories that work to build the basic concept of the near-future Tokyo. The only part I didn’t care for out of the first three is the sea monster that gets brought into the show, since it takes away from some of the realism of the franchise. But then I simply have to remember how much I liked the WXIII movie and some of the more over the top elements of the other two films and it tends to fit a bit better. The second volume provides some more interesting concepts.
One of the best things about the series is how the show shifts from its light mix of drama and comedy set against a mech backdrop into something completely dramatic. There’s a fantastic two part storyline here about a group that’s trying to set things awry in Tokyo by getting various elements of the government and military under their control and then bringing in a nuclear capable cruise missile with the intent to get their demands met. The premise is simple and fairly common, but the execution is very smooth in how this team shifts from their somewhat incapable ways and uses it to their advantage. It’s also a set of episodes that highlights Goto beautifully since he’d been a friend with the main ‘villain’ in his younger years.
The Patlabor OVA series does a fantastic job of taking what was previously a fairly routine and almost standard form of mech anime and turning it on its side just enough to show how much further it could go. While shows like Gundam managed to change the perception of mech series from what they were in the 70’s, they set a standard that a decade later needed to be shattered once again so that the genre could move forward. Patlabor performs this feat beautifully.
My Patlabor viewing chronology has been all out of whack for years, so it’s been a real treat to see this property licensed again and to see the original origins of the property done up in high definition. With the entire OVA series being self-contained in here, this is a really easy way to check out what’s definitely a large franchise and get a feel for various aspects of it. Elements from here are used in different ways in subsequent TV, OVA and film releases, but the core heart is the same in all of them, and that’s the cast. These characters really make the show what it is and that’s lasted for nearly fifteen years now. This is a great addition to my growing Patlabor library.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Maiden Japan
Release Date: April 30th, 2013
Running Time: 210 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.