The Patlabor series has always struck a chord with me… Police mecha, dishing out tickets to speeding (jogging?) robots, mediating complaints between road-raging industrial mech pilots and getting pet cats out of trees… with robots. By the time I came across the first OAV series in the 1990s, I had been knee-deep in mecha (Super and Real) for years and was thrown for a bit of a loop by the story of the 2nd Unit of Tokyo’s Mobile Police.
On one level, Mamaru Omshii and Kazunori Itō’s iconoclastic story came in like thunder, seemingly swinging a heat hawk against all the sacred cows of the mecha genre.
No super-power allegories, no humanity defining philosophy, no robot-arms-race and absolutely no ‘Shining Fingers’ anywhere to be seen….. Indeed, when the series was announced in Newtype in 1987 the very concept was felt by the editorial staff to be unworkable; It was as if the very notion of mecha had become so wedded to the military action storyline that any departure from the norm could only be parody at best, or intentionally derisive at worst.
Yet, on another level, as was ultimately proven once the OAV and manga hit shelves Patlabor was actually a true paean to the very core concepts of the mecha genre, and whilst it certainly had parody elements about it, the series consistently paid homage to series such as Testujin 28, Giant Robo, Mazinger and, of course Gundam in the warmest ways possible.
Where these series all – to one degree or another – questioned the nature of progress, and the boundary between humanity and that technology, Patlabor explores what falls through the cracks in such narratives – technology on the brink, if you will.
Indeed, Oshii’s original concept was simply along the lines of “what would a society which had developed mecha be like? How would military technology filter into normal society, as it inevitably does, and who would misuse it?”
A simple, yet comfortable idea to be sure and one to which fans have flocked since 1988, with its warm characters, recognizable settings and its very, very stylish mechanical designs.
Small in scale, and very ‘human’ in identity (using scaled up human guns on them was a master stroke), the labors have been fan favorites with model makers for a good long while. Sleek yet practical, the mechanical designs of Yutaka Izubuchi have always had a wonderful mixture of futurist style and practical authority about them; in Patlabor this is true not only of the police labors which dominate the series, but also with the industrial mecha which populate the landscapes of a rebuilding Tokyo, and also with the non-mech vehicles which populate the World – especially with regard to the kit under discussion here…
When Patlabor: The Movie premiered in 1989 it caused series fan-modelers to go into meltdown.
Bandai – who held the main model licence for the series at the outset – had little early interest in producing background kits from the film (not unreasonably, as the costs of tooling for an injection molded kit have always been high)*. Of all the copters, trucks, ships, and industrial labors which caught the eyes of the modeler, it was the little Type 98 command car which caused the most desire. This little buggy (half dune-buggy and half humvee) was difficult to find as a kit for a long time and the version that we have here today is in an interesting scale, in that although it is a kit, it seems to have been made with an eye to the 1/24 scale DX toy produced by Yamato for the release of the movie (which is as rare as they come today).
* It must be said though that with the release of the Master Grade 1/35 scale Patlabor series Bandai did started producing supporting vehicles for the series, and good ones, too.
The heritage of the kit – being a companion to Yamato’s toy – can be seen straight off the bat, in that the model comes with pre-painted figures made in the same vein as those supplied with the toy labor. An interesting touch to be sure, as it must have been more cost effective to make the crew as models, but one which works to keep the aesthetic of the kit close to the toy. As you will see from the build, they work very well indeed.
Another element which attracts straight out of the box is that the kit seems well supplied with internal details, working doors, steerable wheels and so on. Again, to me this hints at a close association with the Yamato toy and adds to the charm of the whole.
The crew in more detail. Cast in hard plastic and pad-printed with detail these figures are, for the size, very well detailed and surprisingly well finished (even to the translucent lenses to be seen on them). They can certainly be ‘detailed’, but I have determined to leave them be, as I like what has been done with them.
The main body of the kit. Molded in very heavy-grade styrene and supplied with touch rubber tyres, which again lends the feel of a toy to the whole.
All told, an interesting half-kit/half-toy, and from a series which I have always loved.
Let’s see if I can’t mucky this thing up properly!
On to the build!
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