Yes, Patlabor movies 1 and 2 are both way better in quality and storyline then this, the original OVA series. However, much like Cowboy Bebop, Patlabor was obviously a fan-driven experiment. Like Bebop, the stories are interesting because the characters are, and there is also a shared abuse of ‘over-the-top’ comedy at times, the inexplicably goofy sea-monster episode being the worst ‘offender’ (yes, I loved it). What started out as a Gundam parody bait-and-switch for mecha fans (for a show featuring such cool and detailed mecha designs, the action scenes are very few and far between) mutates into a frighteningly realistic portrait of near-future Japan, filled with social unrest and political intrigue.
In an alternate world, technology has advanced further to the point of the creation of giant robots called Labors. The Labors were designed to help mankind build a better future. However, there are many criminals and terrorists who use labors for their misconduct and tyranny. That’s where the Special Vehicles Unit comes in. Formed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, the SV Unit consists of two divisions. Their mission is to stop and arrest people who misuse Labors, using their own Labors called Patlabors (or Patrol Labors). This story chronicles the lives of squad known as Division 2 (or SV2), led by Captain Kiichi Goto, who is laid-back, yet manipulative. Our protagonists are seven officers in SV2. There’s the spunky red-head Noa Izumi, Smart and hot-head Asuma Shinohara, gung-ho Isao Ota, the gentle giant Hiromi Yamazaki and the meek and married member of the squad, Mikiyasu Shinshi. Later, they are joined by the cool and by-the-book Kanuka Clancy, who used to be from the NYPD. There’s also Captain Shinobu Nagumo of SV1, who acts as Goto’s foil, Chief Sakaki, head of mechanics that serve SV2 and the second-in command to Sakaki and Labor nut Chief Shigeo Shiba.
In 1988, the artist group Headgear (consisting of director Mamoru Oshii, screenplay writer Kazunori Ito, manga artist Masami Yuki, character designer Akemi Takeda and mecha designer Yutaka Izubuchi) all formed to what is now known as Patlabor. This seven-episode OVA was the first of their endeavors. The show was animated by Studio DEEN (Urusei Yatsura, Ramna 1/2). It episodes vary in the sense of comedy and drama, set up against a police mecha background. All of the character are unique and their chemistry and dynamic are what makes the show interesting. My favorite character is Captain Goto. He is a very mysterious and complex man, willing to do whatever he can all while keeping a cool head. His relationship of Captain Nagumo is very different and not very seen much in anime that much. Story overall is good. Comedy is funny and the mecha action are very exciting. I think my favorite episodes would be The 450 Million Year-Old-Trap and the Tragedy of L.
As an Anime fan, I love the big spectacles like the massive Gundam franchise, Evangelion, Gurren Lagaan and Big O, but this show really brought me down to earth. This OVA (original video animation) is a lead into the three films that followed, along with a massive 50 episode spin off series that came along later. Central Park Media had released the series before and from what I’ve heard did not do well here. Thankfully, Maiden Japan has brought the OVA (and will bring over the TV series in July) on Blu-ray and DVD. The video quality is excellent, and looks great on my HDTV. Audio quality is as equally good, although personally could’ve benefited from a 5.1 mix. The CPM English dub is on here, which is a bit disappointing as it’s adaptation is horrible and some of the voices don’t fit well with the characters.
Overall, if you like mecha anime or a cop show, pick this up. While many may give Robotech or older Anime (pre-Akira) props for making them anime fans, this series was the one that had me hooked. The characters were just like people you knew or have known, and the storylines were well written. If you like Anime with good doses of humor (and there’s an abundance, yet it’s not overbearing and does not detract from the stories), then give this one a try. Equal time is spent on getting to know the crazy team of pilots, mechanics and the chief’s. It also takes a a few political stabs at red tape of Japanese government and the running joke of them never having a budget. The show excels in every department, humor (both slapstick and political), office romance, drama and action.