Now this is really why I love anime: it is really one of the very few animation styles that can get away with stuff that’s entirely meant for adults. I’ve seen quite a few comments that the Third Patlabor Movie (which was produced ten years after the second movie) didn’t live up to the standards that were set by the TV-series and the first two movies. Now let me say that I can understand why, but there’s enough that makes this movie worth watching.
Before I list the good points of this movie however, I do want to say a few things about something that probably turned off a lot of fans of the Patlabor franchise: the decision to swap main characters with two completely new characters. Let me say that I do like this idea a lot. It shows that Captain Goto and his team are mere cogs inside the Patlabor setting: they just do the job they’re supposed to do, while others do theirs. It’s a great way to flesh out the setting a bit more. However, when you make such a decision, you do need to take care to give these new characters a good personality and background, and that’s where this movie never really delivers. At the end of this movie, I still don’t have any clue who these people are. How did they become detectives, what drives them, what are their quirks? They’re huge mysteries. For a franchise that stood out with its rock-solid characters, it will be a bit difficult to get used to the two of them.
The good thing of course is that this is really the most accessible of the Patlabor movies: you can really watch this even if you haven’t watched anything of the Patlabor franchise before. The thing that I loved about it was how composed it was: it knew exactly what story it wanted to tell, and it does so with conviction. The pacing is really slow to really allow everything to fall in place, and the exposition is very well balanced so that it’s neither dull nor techno-babble.
The movie really excels in its smart and realistic build-up that really pays off in its climaxes, and while there are a few coincidences here and there, it doesn’t attempt to introduce cheap plot twists at the crucial plot points. While the two lead characters lack in strength, the two main villains do receive a lot of depth, which really culminates in a great ending.
Quiet movies like this one of course have their share of setbacks: if you’re not caught in by the build-up, you will be bored. But I really find that these movies have a unique charm in their maturity, where they show that you can also create a good and exciting stories without the over-the-topness that you usually see in anime aimed at teenagers. In fact, realized that the hit to miss ratio of adult movies for me is much higher than the stuff for teenagers. Out of the three Patlabor Movies, I still like the second one best, but WXIII comes in as a close second.