Patlabor: The Mobile Police
The TV Series Volumes 9 – 11 (episodes 35 to 47)
Distributed by Central Park Media
Suitable for Ages 3 and up
Reviewed by Jon Minners
Let’s see what we got here in the television listings for anime. We’ve got Dragon Ball Z, Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, Gundam, Gungrave and a whole lot more. It seems like everything that was ever made could be found on Cartoon Network, Tech TV or some station looking to capitalize on the never ending stream of Japanese Anime imports. However, there are some notable exceptions. You cannot feel bad for hardcore anime fans who have most likely heard of Patlabor. It’s the casual fans who rely on the anime that is shown on their television that are missing out on one of the most creative, groundbreaking and entertaining anime titles ever not to appear on TV.
Patlabor was created in the late-80s, first as a manga and then as an anime, and was set in the not-too-distant future at a time when man used machine to help them with their labor, hence the term labor units that is used throughout the show. The labor units are not really robots, but more like computer-programmed machines that are usually created specifically for a certain user to do such work as farming, construction and so on. However, great power can lead to corruption and a giant machine can be used to rob banks or do any assortment of criminal activities. To combat this abuse of power, Japan’s police create a line of Patrol Labors or Patlabor.
The story focuses on Noa Izumi, a young police officer who joins a rag-tag group of officers that are not quite like the group from the Police Academy series, but have a mess of quirks between them. Izumi is a dedicated officer who cares about the job and the lives she protects. Her greatest friend and potential love interest is Asuma Shinohara who is the most logical character in the group and the guy who always lends a shoulder for Izumi to lean on. Isao Ohta is the impulsive police officer who will charge into a fight, shoot first and then think about his actions later. Captain Kiichi Goto leads Special Vehicles Division 2 and is the most laid back person in the group. Facing the greatest danger, Goto can remain calm and unnerved making him one of the funniest characters with the driest sense of humor. The group often has to prove itself when up against Division 1, but for a group of apparent misfits, Division 2 holds their own thanks to Noa’s dedication.
Noa and Ohta pilot two Patlabor Ingram models, which are very much unlike the Python models used by Division 1. Always faced with the possibility that their units will become obsolete, Noa continuously proves herself, acting as an extreme opposite of Ohta, who tends to cause more harm than good with his unit. To understand why, you need to know that Noa has a special love for her machine. Noa has named her labor unit Alphonse, which is the name she used for her long dead pet. Over time and much practice, Noa becomes connected emotionally with Alphonse, often worrying about its condition and doing her best to better herself as to not cause it any harm in battle. It is this dedication that enables her to out-produce some of the newer models that come out and are set to take the place of the Ingram, a fate Noa never wants to see occur. Alphonse has become a member of her family, as much a part of her inner circle as the officers she calls friends. Although the unit cannot talk to her, the trust Noa has that she will make it out alive in each of her missions makes the thought of losing Alphonse unbearable. It makes for some dramatic stories.
Although the animation could be better, the story and characters are what stands out, making this older anime title actually a whole lot better than some of the titles still coming out today, just because of the realistic nature of the tale. The idea of a machine so powerful helping us do our work is not that far fetched and the idea that someone would use it for wrong is very reasonable. It only makes further sense for the police to combat this problem with machines of their own. The best thing about it is that these are labor units. They are not these grandiose figures that can fly. They are not part of some crazy army of machines in war with the planet’s forces. Everything about these machines is grounded in a reality that makes the story believable.
The best parts of the series are the characters and the fact that they take precedent over the machines. For the machines to work, the people must pilot them and other people must help guide them, and others still must repair them. The people make the machines work and it only makes sense that they make the series work, too. In addition, it stands to reason that labor units are not always causing problems every day. You may get your drunk driving labor incident or a labor unit robbing a bank and even occasionally some more advanced units hunting down the Patlabor units, but there are so many instances where the gang must solve crimes without the need to use their machines and there are also so many tales that have nothing to do with crime, but are just geared toward showcasing the characters and their advancement in the story. Plain and simple; this is a cop show that happens to use mecha elements, so there are no over-the-top battles in every episode and despite this, no viewer should be bored, because the writing is so well done that it should keep the viewer’s attention before and after some of the mecha battles.
The final volumes of Patlabor prove this. In addition to the final part in the tale of the Griffin, a super labor unit that almost destroys the Ingrams, viewers will see Noa track down a dangerous criminal without Alphonse. Also, there is a hilarious tale that has the gang scouring the sewers for an intruder only to come up against rats and a crocodile leading to a chase scene right out of an old cartoon show like Scooby Doo. There is also a very realistic sounding tale about how the Ohta’s recklessness causes problems with the division’sinsurancee for the Ingram units. Just the ideas they have for stories fit so perfectly into what the show is about. There are also some funny tales about two bumbling environmentalists who plan to blow up a building to have their message heard and a tale of three strangely likeable thieves. The funniest tale may involve a news crew’s story of Noa, poking fun of reality television before reality television even really existed.
However, things always come about full-circle and the themes of earlier episodes find their way into the final episodes, as Noa must prove Alphonse’s worth in the face of new and improved technology. It all culminates in a final tale as the new model Zero and the Ingram units compete while working together to stop a terrorist that seems to have the upper hand on them all. The struggle to keep Alphonse changes Noa for the better, rounding out her character from the naïve, unsure former self in the first episodes to the strong woman she ends up being in the end. It was nice to have machines, explosions and conflict entertain me for 47 episodes, but the true story of Patlabor is Noa. What a great way to end a great series, but with Patlabor: The New Files now on DVD, there is still some great anime that, just like its predecessors, will stand the test of time for a new generation of fans to enjoy.