19 October 2010

Anime rec: Patlabor

Part two in a potentially-ongoing series.

Patlabor is a franchise about a misfit band of cops assigned to robot crimes. It's a giant robot show for people who hate giant robot shows.

In the vaguely near future (or recent past, as it's nominally set in 1998), giant robots (called "labors") are developed for use in construction. Naturally, people being people, criminals get the bright idea to use them to commit crimes. The Special Vehicles Units are born to fight these crimes, using patrol labors -- Patlabor.

Mamoru OSHII and Headgear have their fingerprints all over the series; if those names mean anything to you, you know they mean awesome.

There exist several series, from the original OVAs, to a TV show, to a second set of OVAs, and three movies. Sadly, they're mostly out of print in the US. (Right Stuf has the movies and TV series right now, but not OVA2.)

Of course the one I'm going to talk about is OVA2, aka The New Files. Wikipedia is utterly useless on this score (which goes to show just how underappreciated this series is), so this fan site will do. Warning, warning: there be episode summaries and, naturally, SPOILERS.

Our heroine, IZUMI Noa, is a new recruit to the SV2, who really digs giant robots. She nicknames her labor "Alphonse" and spends evenings polishing him. Her support driver, SHINOHARA Asuma, is a semi-outcast heir of a major labor manufacturing company.

There's also Captain GOTOH, whose dry, sardonic wit is unparalleled, OHTA, another labor driver, who prefers to shoot first and question witnesses later, Kanuka Clancy, on loan from the NYPD, and NAGUMO Shinobu, head of the SV1 and Gotoh's rival of sorts.

The SV2 is the red-headed stepchild of Tokyo PD, and brass think they're a waste of money.

Two episodes stand out in my mind: Episode 7, "Black Trinity," and 8, "Seven Days of Fire."

In "Black Trinity," our heroes have to find a yakuza (mobster) with three moles under his arm. Because of circumstances, they do this in a public bath, which happens to be frequented by yakuza. The scene in which they attempt to surreptitiously sneak peeks under yakuza armpits is comedy gold. Added bonuses for anime nerds include references to Golgo 13, Hokuto no Ken, and original Gundam.

In "Seven Days of Fire," we focus on the mechanics, who are stuck fixing the wrecked labors time and time again. Except they don't want so much with the fixing, because the chief mechanic found their porn stash and burned it, so they're on strike.

So why is this a mecha show for people who hate mecha shows? One of the things people hate about mecha shows is that they're basically ads for the robot model kits Bandai is putting out, with lots of flash and fighting and politicking, but not so much character development or interaction. [This applies to a lot of mecha shows, but more recent ones are better with the character thing. Thankfully.]

Patlabor isn't like that. There aren't epic space battles, double- or triple-crossing anti-heroes, or new robots introduced to sell more toys. It's about the people, the SV2, and how they interact. Yes, there are robot fight scenes; they're cops. They go hunting bad guys in their giant robots. But it's still, at root, about Noa and Asuma and Gotoh and Ohta and Clancy and how they deal with brass that wants to cut their entire unit.

It's a fun show, and one that too few people have seen on this side of the Pacific. Unfortunately, with it being out of print, I don't see that situation changing very soon.

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