Saturday, April 16, 2011

Review: Mobile Police Patlabor OVA

I love big robots. Giant Robot Anime is simply the best anime for watching with friends, with its high production standards, techno-drool mecha, and plain cool robot fights. But the my favourite part of the giant robot genre will always be the characters. Many can be bland blank-slate heroguys,  but for every Amuro Ray there is a Char the Red Comet. The reasons behind piloting the big robot are interesting, with range from military obsession (Char, Moblie Suit Gundam) to serious psychological turmoil (Shinji, Neon Genesis Evangelion). In Mobile Police Patlabor, a stellar 7-episode Original Video Anime from Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, Urusei Yatsura) and HEADGEAR, piloting robots is just a job, and the people take center stage.

In a near future where big robots called "Labors" are used by the government for public convenience, Labors are sometimes stolen and used for crime. To prevent such crime, a new police force armed with "Patrol" Labors (Pat-labors) is formed. However, within the show the Labors make few appearances; the focus is the new recruits: Noa Izumi, a tomboyish girl (note her character design; while not as convention killing as Motoko in Ghost in the Shell, she looks fairly un-girly) obsessed with Labors to the point that in the opening credits she sings a love song to her "Alphonse", Asuma Shinohara, who joined the group as a confused attempt to rebel against his family's Labor-producing company, the gentle giant Hiromi Yamazaki, the easily angered Isao Ohta, and the badass American chick Kanuka Clancy.
The show tends heavily towards humor, an not-quite-sophisticated mix of character comedy, political satire (emphasis on political- this is an Oshii production after all), and madness a la Rumiko Takahashi. And this is not to belittle the big robot action; while big fight scenes are rare, the ones that do appear are capital E epic. The mecha designs by Yutaka Izubuchi are super cool, and their movements are remarkably human. Benefiting from the lack of time constraints and spread-thin budgets of TV anime, Patlabor's animation is first rate, with fluid motion, bold camera angles, and nary a motionless sequence. This adds up to explosive humor and kinetic fight scenes unlike just about anything that predates it.

Despite this, there is a major flaw to Patlabor, though it is not the fault of the show itself. It was amateur hour at Central Park Media when they localized Patlabor, with a flat out ugly cover design, and a monotone train wreck of a dub. Were they even trying? Sources say no. The show is fine subbed though, and the DVD menu looks pretty good for the time it was released.

When Patlabor was originally released in Japan, it was popular enough to spawn two critically acclaimed movies (three, counting a side story movie), a TV series, and a two more OVA's, according to Wikipedia. However, it did not do so well here. It never really had a chance, due to the botched dub and lack of the hyper violence needed to do well here at the time. Despite this, the entire series is available on DVD, found easily online, and often seen at used and rental stores. If you see this OVA, buy it quick. You will not regret it.

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