Posted by psgels on 31 July 2008 with categories: Anime Reviews


Time for another classic. If you’re one of those people who has only seen “modern” anime of the past decade, and are interested to see what the medium was like before the arrival of Evangelion, in the seventies and eighties (and perhaps the early nineties), then my top recommendation isn’t Gundam (at least, not until I’ve seen Zeta Gundam), but instead the very charming series of Mobile Police Patlabor.

The biggest reason for this is that while Mobile Suit Gundam caters for a specific audience, Mobile Police Patlabor seems to have something for nearly everyone: only if you need your series to have harems or slice of life (or gory horror, I guess), then you won’t find what you’re looking for. This series has mecha, it’s got drama, comedy, action, and a bit of romance and horror here and there, all packaged together quite neatly into 47 episodes.

It’s one of those very few series that tries to find a realistic use of mechas: in this series, they’re mostly used for construction and the police only use the mecha in order to solve conflicts for when these mechas go out of control. I’m surprised why I haven’t seen any newer mecha-series taking over the same idea, because it makes perfect sense. The main characters also aren’t anyone special: they’re no heroes whatsoever; they’re just a bunch of policemen who are in charge of these mechas. The epic “saving the country”-themes of the movies don’t return at all in the series, and everything is purposefully kept nice and down-to-earth.

But what really sells this series is its lovable cast of characters. Especially Captain Goto is an incredibly likable and unique character, but the rest of the crew also gets enough opportunities to shine throughout the series. The hot-headed Ota may be a strange character, but you’ll get used to him in no time. Noa, the most central character in this series, is quite likely the most stereotypical of the bunch, with her love for mechas (or labors, as they’re called in this series), great driving skills and naive nature, but she does end up being the most fleshed out and developed character of the entire cast, so she makes up for that.

Patlabor is an episodic series: every episode the crew handles a case (or does something other labor-related), where the focus is more on the characters than on the actual action, though the action itself is also very impressive. You won’t see any overpowered god-mode beams in this series, and fights are almost always based on strategies, rather than senseless bashing (although some characters in the series seem to forget this at times ^^;). The interesting thing is that this series joins Ooedo Rocket on the very short list of series whose dramatic climax isn’t at the end of the series. Instead, there’s just one arc in the series that takes up more than two episodes, with interesting villains and a tense atmosphere, and once that arc is done, the series just continues with episodic stories, and the final episodes instead go for some subtle character-development, instead of trying to end the series with a bang (but then again, with three movies and two OVAs, why should it?)

There aren’t much flaws in this series, but I’d love to have seen a bit more about division one (the division that works right next to the division of the main characters). We see hardly anything about them, with the result that the last episode hastily introduces a vital member of the division from out of nowhere, and acts like he’s been there all along. That was rather confusing.

Nevertheless, if you have the time to watch nearly fifty episodes, and have yet to see the Patlabor Movies and the television series, then I recommend going for the television-series first. The movies had their own excellent points, but it’s the series that brought the cast to life, and the movies clearly assumed that the viewer had already seen the television-series. The highlight of this series is definitely its cast of characters: it works great during the more serious moments of the series, but at the same time some the comedy-episodes are absolutely priceless. The comedy isn’t of the in-your-face type, like most slapsticks, but instead it requires proper build-up to work best. Patlabor may be nearly 20 year old, but it’s smart and it still packs a punch.

Storytelling: 9/10
Characters: 9/10
Production-Values: 8/10
Setting: 9/10

7 Responses

  1. mark says:

    Have you seen the movies yet ?

    One and two are pretty good.I recently picked them up at Right Stuf on sale for 12 bucks each.

  2. primeparadigm says:

    Are you talking about division 1’s Gomioka? He does make semi-frequent appearances throughout the television series, and even more in the sequel OVA, so I can’t say he came up out of nowhere.

  3. psgels psgels says:

    Mark: yup, I have. They were some great movies.

    Primeparadigm: nope, I was talking about the second pilot of Division 1. For 46 episodes, Gimioka and the captain were the only ones of the division we ever saw, and then episode 47 suddenly comes and introduces a second pilot from out of nowhere.

  4. mampf says:

    I don’t know, a few episodes seemed pretty slice of life-ish to me… (not that that’s a bad thing)

  5. Hayama says:

    psgels like you said this series has a bit of everything…likable characters,good development and some great stories but for some strange reason i just din’t liked it that much.

  6. craig says:

    I love this anime. There’s even a stamp series from Japan post
    http://japansugoi.com/wordpress/patlabor-anime-stamps-from-japan/

  7. geh says:

    You call it “classic” and review the TV show?
    I don’t understand.
    Is the show really more well-known / popular than the original 1988 OVA?

    Also, I wouldn’t say it reflects the anime of the 70’s. I mean, the show’s from like ’89 or ’90.

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  • Bam
    (Saturday, Jan 31. 2015 11:14 PM)
    Synecdoche is incredibly rich in detail, and keen return viewers can find a lot of things they missed the first time thru. Kaufman didn’t have a single teacup in a shot that didn’t mean something. Pacing is a bit of an issue, but if you notice the passage of time you can see that was deliberate as well. The movie could’ve been livelier, but for a movie about death and decay that would’ve been a bit of a sell-out.
  • Bam
    (Saturday, Jan 31. 2015 11:01 PM)
    @Emma: Birdman and Synecdoche have a lot of thematic elements in common, and given that Synecdoche was released in 08 makes me realize that Alejandro González borrowed quite a bit from it; although in the end they are different enough to justify Birdman’s existence. Where Synecdiche was a better written movie, I feel that Birdman was the better directed one.
  • Emma
    (Saturday, Jan 31. 2015 04:15 PM)
    And I’d go as far to say this beats out birdman for me by miles.
  • Emma
    (Saturday, Jan 31. 2015 04:14 PM)
    The film is a solid mood piece thanks to the in tone cinematography, a great performance from Hoffman that along with his characters drama makes for an emotionally investing film. And before it gets TOO sad theres all those bits of dark humour fitted in there that work out pretty well. This is probably my favourite work by Kaufman currently.
  • Emma
    (Saturday, Jan 31. 2015 04:14 PM)
    Well Bam, I had a go of synecdoche there. A bit of a slow burner, near the end slightly drawn out, however that last stretch was forgiven by that bonkers ending.
  • Emma
    (Saturday, Jan 31. 2015 01:23 PM)
    The voice of the main character got kind of annoying though, the dub wasn’t all that good either.
  • Emma
    (Saturday, Jan 31. 2015 01:22 PM)
    This was based on/was a homage to a series by the Gigantor creator and having grown up with gigantors 90s reboot this felt like a nice throwback, plot is fairly simple but used effectively. It’s a shame that it feels like there was more to tell but at seven episodes I suppose it avoids outstaying its welcome.
  • Emma
    (Saturday, Jan 31. 2015 01:20 PM)
    Decided to marathon Giant Robo, I think this was mentioned by someone on here before. I guess it was fairly entertaining, great action direction, looked good for its time, you don’t notice the hour long episodes go by, adequate characters, nice retro artstyle also, not sure if I got excited over this as big O and Mazinger however but still fun enough nonetheless.
  • Emma
    (Saturday, Jan 31. 2015 07:10 AM)
    Seeing Hoffman in before the devil knows your dead and his character being dependent on drugs, that was another thing that hit me a bit knowing the circumstances of his death. Watching most wanted man I could also see that he was wearing out physically.
  • Bam
    (Saturday, Jan 31. 2015 07:00 AM)
    This is not Anno bitching about otakus jacking off to his characters and turning around and selling Rei panties, this isn’t the idiots at Shaft throwing around meaningless camera angles and the oh-so-symbolic teeth brushing scenes, this is a human being looking you in the eye with fear and telling you that he’s dying; morbid, honest, moving and remarkable.

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