The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Patlabor: The Movie

Title: Patlabor: The Movie aka Patlabor: The Mobile Police aka Kidou Keisatsu Patlabor Gekijouban
Genre: Drama/Action
Company: Studio DEEN/Madhouse
Format: Movie; 100 minutes.
Dates: 15 Jul 1989

Synopsis: In the year 1999, Japan goes forward with the ambitious Babylon Project. Where a construction project of this magnitude is underway, there will be industrial workers. Where there are industrial workers, there will Labors. And where there are Labors, there is bound to be Labor related crime. As a result, the police have deployed their Patlabor division to Babylon as a precautionary measure. But once there, the team finds themselves with the possibility of facing not one, but thousands of Labors. With this in mind, the only sensible response is to defeat a powerful virus before every machine in Babylon goes berserk.

The Highlights
Mystery: Low key and predictable, but overall sound.
Cast: Shine in comedic moments.
Infodumps: Really hamper the first quarter.

As a mecha fan and an anime fan, I am both embarrassed and ashamed that until this movie, I had not seen anything of Patlabor nor anything directed by Oshii Mamoru. The world of Patlabor is certainly an interesting, and rather fun one. As for Oshii at the helm, the results are mixed, but overall make for a worthwhile experience.

Even though the time the story takes place has passed the 10-year mark, the charm of Patlabor has been its well-grounded story lifted only by the existence of semi-functional robots. The character are charming, the issues are real world, and everything has a touch of familiarity that needs no introduction. Except of course, that there is. I’m not sure if this is related to Oshii’s directorial style, but it certainly doesn’t help when the viewers quickly find themselves being exposed to some of the most useless and poorly done infodumps I’ve seen in anime. There is no denying the inherent laziness in these expository speeches. And there is no justifying them when they are being “directed” toward people who should already know what is going on. Such moments persist throughout the first quarter, with little to no attempt at making hem sound at least halfway natural. But getting past that, there is actually a pretty fun story to be told.

Depending on the story, Patlabor is an anime that falls somewhere between cop drama and sitcom. This movie takes the more serious approach. The majority of time is spent on the whole mystery, a mixed blessing in and of itself. The cause, reasons, and motivation behind the berserk Labors manage to be sensible. As far as these mysteries go, it’s a pretty mature one, which never gets caught up in any sort of excessive drama, and is stronger because of it. The only real issue comes from there being no real mystery for the audience. The predictability and convenience of each clue always leaves the viewers one step ahead of Division 2, often without any sort of “aha!” moment. The simplicity and integrity does prevent it from becoming an exercise in stupidity. Unfortunately, it keeps things from getting truly exciting until the third act.

But what about Division 2 themselves? Aren’t they what make Patlabor so special? Well yes. Drama or not, it is still a sitcom, and it still knows it. No matter how intelligent it is, the crux of this anime lies in idiosyncrasies of Division 2’s members, particularly Noa and her robot obsession. In the end, it’s not genius or foresight that saves the day. It is the antics of people like Asuma. Great chemistry allows for excellent synergy, and that alone, makes Patlabor a good investment of one’s time.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Kavik Ryx

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