It’s a Fair Cop, Guvnor…
The principle of Mobile Police Patlabor is simple, and deceptively so.
In the ‘near future’ of 1998 (well, the series was begun as an OAV in the late ’80s), technology has advanced to the point that we all take as the ‘norm’ for mech series: giant humanoid machines are being used across the globe to help improve the industrial landscape.
It’s logical when you think about it, and surprising that it took someone so long to ‘get it.’ The ‘it’ was a thought that bounced back and forth between Ito Kazunori, and Oshii Mamoru about the series Mobile Suit Gundam — specifically, the opening narration in which it implies that the Mobile Suit project came about as an engineering answer to building huge colonies in space.
Just a moment.
A few words, thrown in it seems, to bridge the gap between a world with no ‘giant robots’ to the state of war we have at the opening of the series.
The question that Ito and Oshii had was, how would civil society be changed by the development of such devices, outside of the military context? Surely every walk of life that needed heavy lifting would benefit from what Oshii called the ‘Archimedes Process’ (based on one of of that ancient inventor’s supposed sayings*) which takes note of how humanity has always looked for mechanical advantages to supplement the physical obliquities in the ‘generalist’ nature of our makeup.
From the Atlatl, to the powered exoframe, we have always sought for that extra reach, extra strength, and that extra power. The ‘mecha’ serves as both an example of our own pursuit of that desire and also, rather conversely, as a way of demonstrating how we increasingly dehumanize ourselves as we become dependent on such technology.
Where Tomino and his kin used heavily mechanized war to express such a dichotomy, Oshii and Ito saw that this was far too complex an issue to simply throw a war scenario into the mix – as the natural order of such narratives is to take sides and make the weapons almost immaterial in the questions which best the combatants.
It worked well for Gundam, in that Tomino’s aim was to make the conflict morally ambiguous and disturbing, but it still left something of an odd taste in Ito’s mouth particularly.
Something was missing.
However, no matter how he and Oshii turned the idea, they could not hit on an angle which did not involve warfare, until one day the thought came… “what if criminals got hold of a mecha?” Mecha Police would be needed…
I addressed this in a previous review thus:
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.
Stop! Police! I think!
The secret to making Patlabor (the name coming from パトレーバー, the contraction of ‘patrol labor’, which itself is a take on パトカー, ‘patrol car’ – the common term for police cars in Japan) work was comedy; parody, even.
First of all, the Unit focused on is the Tokyo Labor Police Division 2 – the runner up unit.
Then… The characters are all comically twisted in some way…
- Noa Izumi, the main protagonist of the series, is so deeply devoted to her Labor ‘Alphonse III’ that it is rather creepy.
- Captain Goto is a seeming slacker who secretly seems to have everyone and everything under his control.
- Shinohara Asuma is the tech head (and scion of the family which makes most of the labors used in Japan), and an obvious cypher for one type of mech anime fan.
- Ohta Isao, on the other hand is a semi-psychotic, gun-happy, Harry Calahan clone, who stays out of jail himself only thanks to the general success of the unit and Captain Goto’s cunning.
The list goes on, but this makes the point.
With a tongue-in-cheek attitude to technology, morality, and humanity, Patlabor is one of those very few stories which redefines anime, even though all it really did was take established tropes and twist their context slightly.
Today, we are attending to one of the primary mechs in the series… The AV-98 Ingram Unit 1. The classic version of the series’ mech.
Even considering the age of this kit (in MG terms), this has worn the years very well, and there is no doubt as to why Bandai keeps it in production.
However… This time there is not going to be a direct build.
Time for the Redcaps to get their dander up and get on the road block!