What Is It?

Patlabor is a 47-episode mecha series by Headgear. The series was animated by Sunrise and directed by Naoyuki Yoshinaga (Maison Ikkoku, Irresponsible Captain Tylor OVA).

In the near future, humanity gains mastery of the robotic. Heavy manned robots known as “labors” are used to perform all manner of physical tasks, from construction to fighting fires. Unfortunately, since the labors are mere tools that exist to perform the whims of their owners, there is little recourse when a pilot decides to use his unit to commit crimes. To respond to the growing trend of labor-related crimes, local police have begun to integrate labors into their own arsenals. These patrol labors, or “Patlbors,” are paragons of weaponry, with capabilities that far exceed even many custom units. A skilled pilot is a must, though, as those who can effectively pilot a patlabor are few and far between.

Noa Izumi is the latest addition to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Special Vehicle Section 2, Division 2. Her skill in a labor is unmatched, which has earned her the right to pilot the division’s newest labor: the AV-98 Ingram, “Alphonse” for short. Together with the rest of Division 2, she must protect the city of Tokyo, while attempting to live a somewhat normal life at the same time.

Why Was It Passed Up?

Patlabor enjoyed a fairly dedicated cult following since 1995, when Manga began releasing the OVAs and films on VHS. Unfortunately, Central Park Media’s release of the TV series hit stores in 2001, roughly six years after the first VHS rolled out to stores. By this point, many of the original customers moved on or quit the hobby entirely. At the same time, the anime bubble was beginning to grow, and release calendars were getting increasingly crowded. By the time the Patlabor TV series hit the market, it had to contend with a never-ending parade of new programs, which included heavy hitters like Boogiepop Phantom, Martian Successor Nadesico, and Robotech: The Macross Saga. The series simply didn’t have a chance in the face of newer and more recognized properties.

Why This Show?

Much of Patlabor’s appeal rests in the world and the characters that inhabit it. Nobody in the cast is a superman: there are no dashing saviors or bombshell bombadiers. Instead, the members of Division 2 are a motley crew of misfits and failures. They’re barely competent at what they do, and often leave a path of destruction in their wake whenever Patlabors are required. They drink, they party, and they usually need to hide the evidence of their misdeeds from the top brass. Each member has his own motivations and aspirations. They have people they care for like family, and those that they’d rather leave half-dead in a ditch. They are, for lack of a better word, “human,” in many regards.

Likewise, the Labors aren’t magical mystery machines that can lay waste to small countries while saving countless small planetary systems. They’re glorified tools, born from an era of realism, rather than technical miracles. They wear, they break, and they require maintenance like any other machine. They’re a symbol of a realistic ideal for Japan, where technical advancements were small and sensible, and technological miracles still seem too good to be true in the eyes of the observant.

Closing Thoughts

Patlabor is the brainchild of the team of Mamoru Oshii, Kazunori Ito, Yutaka Izubuchi, Akemi Takada, and Masami Yuki. Rather than give their stake on a safe bet, this grouping of anime greats instead chose to look at a future that many could possibly see. The labors were merely window-dressing. They were a means to introduce this world and the characters, and to flavor the overall experience, though the hulking mechs occupy a miniscule part of the overall series. Instead, Patlabor serves as a charming slice of life though the eyes of the 2nd Division. Their triumphs and failures are bared for the viewer, as they deal with runaway Labors or late-night drinking parties. Even today, though the visual style reeks of ’80s sensibility, the show stands as an influence in the genre, and a truly enjoyable series to experience.


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