This Week: Mobile Police Patlabor: Early Days, Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie, Mobile Police Patlabor: WXIII, and Mobile Police Patlabor 2: The Movie.
It was Labor Day weekend in the USA, so… I had a Patlabor marathon.
…Don’t forget to tip your waiters, folks!
I went with the movie timeline, since it’s more narrative driven than the TV timeline.
Mobile Police Patlabor: Early Days (Patlabor The Mobile Police: The Original Series)
The Starting Point. Pretty much as close to “slice of life” as Mamoru Oshii gets. If we apply the concept to a police team with giant robots. As not every part of the workday is High Stakes Action, a lot of its strength comes in how it handles quiet and other details. The handling of a sigh, a motion a character may have reacting to something at the edges of the frame, or the little verbal jabs and jousts one gives to coworkers. Individually it all may mean only a little, but adds up quite a bit in developing and characterizing our team.
It transitions from humor to Serious Business effortlessly, which is what one would hope from a genuine group of police officers. And while everyone has different quirks and hang-ups, and they have fun sometimes, nobody needs to be overly strong-armed into doing their jobs. It’s amazing how refreshing something like that can feel. There are great characters throughout, from Captain Goto to the technical staff to Kanuka’s NYPD support. Seeing the team come together before the more serious films is swell both in its own right and setting characters up for those later entries.
Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie
The First Movie. A theme that is laced throughout the franchise is that of advancement and obsolescence, and it’s quite in focus here given the attention on upgrades and operating systems as well as the idea of being left behind by such movements. We also have Oshii being more prominent with his love of biblical imagery.
While everyone is very much present and a part of the events, a lot of this movie tends to focus on following Asuma around, which I find kind of unfortunate. I personally just happen to find him the least interesting member of the team, but that in turn also likely makes him easy to try and anchor a screenplay around from a production standpoint. Interesting things happen around him, and it keeps that premium on the other characters without us getting sick of someone’s more extreme quirks.
It’s a solid film regardless though, and it shows off its ‘80’s cel animation with great detail and excellent flourish from start to finish.
Mobile Police Patlabor: WXIII (Patlabor the Movie 3)
The Contentious Entry. A lot of longtime Patlabor fans hated this thing when it came out, and to this day I still see it get ragged on quite a bit. I can’t necessarily blame them, as it is the “weakest” of the timeline, but I do think there’s a lot of hyperbolizing about it. A lot of that comes from how one likes their fiction, I feel.
It takes place between the first and second film, but came out almost a decade later. In that respect, deciding to go with a story that focuses on the Patlabor universe rather than the exact cast of Patlabor characters we’ve had before is an understandable choice. Things just aren’t going to look the same going from high level cel animation to digital, especially in regards to the hyper detailed machine animations the other entries in the timeline are so good at. So it sidesteps the issue by focusing on different detectives who don’t have direct access to Labors.
And it’s not like our old favorites (and Labors) aren’t here, they just aren’t in the spotlight, as they play supporting roles. And I think that’s OK. It’s a big world out there, with a lot going on it in. It’s also tonally different, which again I think is OK given its middle place in the timeline and different focus; Patlabor 2 and 3 are each “quiet” films for instance, but the former is the kind of tense quiet you stew in while this entry is the kind “quiet” that is more melancholic and reflective, the kind of movie that puts its big climax sequence to Beethoven.
The plot deals more with mad science genetics than robot mechanics or politics, which some balk at, but a lone entry of the OVA series deals with mad science genetics as well. Bringing that aspect back better defines it in the Patlabor universe, and makes that one episode not seem as kooky and out of place in retrospect. So it’s not like it came out of nowhere.
I think it’s a “good” movie, it just isn’t as “great” as the rest of the timeline.
Mobile Police Patlabor 2: The Movie
The Big One. Likely among the most powerful anime films Oshii has directed. While the series has always had subtle headnods to world events and Japan’s place in an evolving international climate, it’s much more forward here.
It functions as a narrative entirely well without using history dumps as a blunt object. If the viewer is aware of things like the very complex political climate around things like Japan’s international relations (like the very specific kinds of hoops it needs to jump through to actually aid international military operations, the frustrations that causes internally and among allies, the debate over how Japan has been able to achieve its prosperous economic peace, among others), there are whole oceans of extra value to be had. But the audience won’t be lost if they don’t have such a knowledge background either, as it is still an entirely compelling drama. It’s a very smartly written film, with single lines of dialogue with dozens of years of international relations behind them that won’t leave others out in the cold.
Parts like the Wyvern sequence are strongly applied movie making techniques in general, and seeing the various members of our SV2 team have evolving positions and sensibilities (and ones which have remained concrete no matter what) from where they started out in the timeline has resonance. Noa’s character alone has fascinating and understandable perspective changes from where she was in the OVA, and she doesn’t have anywhere near as much screentime as others.
It’s a strong film on its own, while being an utterly fantastic way to finish the timeline when combined with its other parts.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime series I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.