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The original PATLABOR series - still a masterwork of anime
Fans of the Japanese anime movies, PATLABOR 1 (1989) and PATLABOR 2 (1993), will enjoy the 1988 seven-part original animated video (OAV) series, PATLABOR MOBILE POLICE, that spawned the movies (and a subsequent TV series). Like the movies, the series was directed by Mamoru Oshii, written by Kazunori Ito and designed by the same crew of character and mechanical designers. (All were also responsible for the 1995 anime classic GHOST IN THE SHELL.)
PATLABOR takes place in a future Tokyo (the late 1990s!) where giant, pilot-operated construction machines called Labors do all the work but are increasingly employed by criminals, requiring a police force of Patrol Labors, dubbed 'Patlabors,' to combat them. The series focuses on a remote, underfunded Patlabor Special Vehicles unit (SV2), based on the outskirts of Tokyo, and its rookie pilots and their sometimes harrowing, sometimes hilarious baptism by fire. All the characters from the PATLABOR movies are introduced in the OAV series, with five of them first seen as rookie Patlabor pilots. The series also looks forward to the movies' respective themes of the massive Babylon Project (designed to forestall the effects of global warming) and the growing threat of domestic terrorism in Japan. (Some plot lines in the PATLABOR series offer an eerie prescience of the events of September 11th.)
Episode 1 introduces the rookies and puts them in the awkward position of having to pursue a rampaging rogue labor while first having to retrieve their new Patlabors from a delivery truck stuck in traffic. Episode 2 sees the introduction of Sgt. Kanuka Clancy, a beautiful female cop from the New York Police Department who is described as a third generation Hawaiian emigrant and speaks both English and Japanese. Episode 3 pays homage to Japanese monster movies by featuring a mad scientist who creates a life form in his lab which then grows into a giant humanoid resembling one of the title creatures in Ishiro Honda's WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1968). The mad biotechnologist is named Dr. Hirata, after actor Akihiko Hirata, who played Serizawa, the scientist who created the lethal Oxygen Destroyer in the original GODZILLA (1954). Both characters sport an eye patch.
Episodes 5 & 6 comprise a two parter, "SV2's Longest Day," in which a rebel faction from JSDF (Japan Self-Defense Force) tries to take over Tokyo in a confrontation with the Metropolitan Police that could lead to civil war. Only SV2 is in a position to combat the well-armed rebels. These episodes offer a blueprint for director Oshii's later Patlabor movie, PATLABOR 2 (1993), which tells a more complex version of the same story, with many individual scenes recreated from the OAV version.
While the series' animation is somewhat less detailed than the spectacular theatrical quality animation of the two movies, it's still impressive work and represents some of the finest made-for-video animation in anime history, with each member of the design team making important contributions. The depiction of a sprawling, modern Japanese metropolis and the intrusion of often bumbling high-tech police operations boasts a mixture of brilliant graphic design and superb action animation. One of the notable aspects of director Oshii's approach is his use of frequent pauses in the action and attention to the characters' downtime between jobs.
While other anime series focus on the collision of high technology with chaotic human society, few of them developed along true science fiction lines the way PATLABOR did, depicting the effects on society of a new technological form and how public servants respond to these effects. The interference of assorted bureaucrats and political in-fighting among various government ministries and law enforcement agencies would prove to be a recurring theme in Oshii's work.
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