Saturday, December 7, 2013

Anime Review no. 70-Patlabor OVA

Patlabor OVA
1988-89, 7 episodes
Studio: DEEN/HEADGEAR, Director-Mamoru Oshii, Writer-Kazunori Ito

patlabor-miina-tominaga-dvd-cover-art81c cLV3yOL._AA_

Hello there, well it is time for the final review for the blog this year. In case you didn’t get it by the preview trailer posted at the end of the previous review, I am going over the Patlabor OVA, the other release I got from Maiden Japan this year. This review will be more of an episode guide as this show is old enough to warrant it. Therefore, spoilers warning.
Episode 1: Second Unit, Move Out!

Notice anything off here? 

It’s the near future in Japan, where giant robots have been developed for wide use in society. However, crime rose as a result and in response the police develop the Patlabor, which unsurprisingly look like the robot from Appleseed. This information is dispensed through the pre-opening intro at the start of every episode.  Then the opening song (link to OP), which I have to say is one of the best from the old school anime I have looked at. It’s energetic and fun, and gives you enough clues about what this is about, namely giant robots.


Essentially, Patlabor is the chronicles of the Second Unit of the Tokyo Metro Police Security Division. This series came out at a time when giant robot shows were rather simplistic: Macross, Gundam, etc while entertaining and successful money makers. Patlabor added some depth and philosophy to the mix-years before Anno did the same thing with Evangelion, except this works out a bit better. I believe that is due to the director, Mamoru Oshii. He also is behind Ghost in the Shell, another sci-fi which deals with similar themes and ideas to Patlabor. It is very cautious optimistic: robots have done some good things for society and that all our problems have been solved with technological progress, but still some of the societal ills exist nonetheless.
Anyway, the SV2 is headed by Captain Goto, a deadpan snarker boss. Shinobu is the female captain for the first unit and double acts against Goto quite often, providing some nice comedic moments here and there, in small doses. Of course, our main characters are the squad members: Noa Izumi-plucky genki redhead girl, names her Patlabor 'Alphonse'; Asuma Shinohara-down to earth guy who’s son of the president to the company that made the Labors possible; a gun otaku named Ohta, a scrawny newly married man Mikiyasu and the gentle giant Hiromi.  

One things I have to give this series is that it has quite solid animation, both in mecha design and backgrounds

Basically the first episode serves as a standard first episode: introducing the world, the characters, the main draw (the Patlabors), and setting up the situation. I have to say they do a very good job at this task. It does take a bit for it get interesting but luckily once it picks up, it does with great speed. What happens is that the SV2 grab their Patlabors and go to deal with some criminals who have gotten hold of a Labor and a police chase ensues The fight and chase scenes is well done, quick and kinetic animation. I also like to point out that the animation is rather solid and consistent, with some great backdrops thrown in for good measure. The episode ends with them capture the bad guys yet the Patlabors need repairs; overall a decent first episode.  

Episode 2: Long Shot (aka ‘Dat Face!!’)
It starts off with something completely out of left field: Izumi getting to test out a new Patlabor-which looks like a Gundam knockoff. However it fails, but then it turns out that it was all a dream.

Oh, mai waifu! (No seriously Kanuka rules, screw you guys)

Anyway, new character introduced: Kanuka Clancy, aka my favorite character in this show and potential waifu. No, seriously. Despite being an American transfer, she is the most Japanese looking of the entire cast, which is very funny. It also doesn't hurt that she is voiced by Angora Deb, one of my favorite voice actresses from CPM dubs (others being Veronica Taylor, Rachel Lillis, Megan Hollingshead, Jessica Calvello). She is here to oversee a goodwill trip by the NYC mayor; acting as temporary Security advisor.
It is in this episode that the Babel project is first brought out: basically turn Tokyo Bay into a mini-version of the Netherlands, to solve land issues. There is lots of talk about this, but it isn't explored too much in the OVA at least that I am aware of, acting as something in the background. Opposition in the form of terrorists and other anti-govt people that don’t much care for the Babel Project for very vague reasons.

Gah, what a face >.< 

It turns out some mad scientist has set up a bomb right near the hotel building where the NYC mayor will be at; the episode turns into a ticking clock type situation-real tense. She pretty much saves the day as she is like the expert on explosives and helps Shinohara with 'which wire is cut?' scenario then ends up cutting the wire herself just in the nick of time. 

Bwahahahahahaha Dat Face (twice in the same scene)

Shinohara wants to quit, yet stays when its announced that Kanuka Clancy is staying for a year with SV2. Possibly due to him gaining a crush on Kanuka, I don’t know it isn’t explained clearly at this point. Despite that, I quite like this episode: great action and suspense, and an introduction to one of my favorite female characters in anime.  

Episode 3: The 450 Million Year Old Trap
Ok, right off the bat, this whole episode is practically a dead straight parody of the 1954 Godzilla film. I say dead straight parody because as ridiculous as the premise is, it is played completely serious. It has all the elements of a monster flick: Mysterious sea creature, mad scientist who created it, various schemes to deal with the creature (ranging to scientific to practical to just plain silly), scientific psychobabble (panspermia theory and ruminations on evolution).

Oh you knew I had include another Kanuka screencap in here somewhere

The scene in Hirata's lab is really the one highlight: the writing, animation, lighting, direction-its all impeccable.Kanuka Clancy is really the sane one of the group but then is quickly involved, but more in the ‘oh let’s just kill the sucker’ which is rather disheartening. Unfortunately, it is very anti-climatic. 

Yeah, this makes even less sense in context. 

I see why most people don't like this episode, as it is rather unlike anything else in the OVA series. It turns the show from a police procedural with giant robots and blending in elements from B-movie monster flicks. On the other hand, I can also see shy Mamoru Oshii says that this is his favorite. He seems to be very much a Godzilla fan and wanted to pay homage to it in this project. Personally, I find this episode to be more an interesting experiment that fails in execution rather than planning. Sure, the plot is nearly beat for beat Godzilla, the fact that they play it straight makes its more entertaining, at least in my eyes.

Episode 4: The Tragedy of L
It opens with the SV2 squad brought into deal with a hostage situation at a VHS store. Yet, they manage to botch that up and Capt. Goto decides that they need some retraining. So, they go back to their former training school. They still get some R&R (nice bath scenes with a bit of male and female fanservice, at least by late 80s standards).

Dat Face strikes again 

But, some strange things occur: Someone put red paint in the bath, Ohta finds hair in the sink and spots a ghostly girl, A mossy overgrown Patlabor emerges from the mist with a skeleton inside, and some other coincidental events relating to a tragic past incident at the training school. Shinohara and the others are piecing together the puzzle in order to solve the mystery. Shinohara comes in and basically shows that all isn't what it seems.

However, he is upstaged by Kanuka who very much steals the scene and goes further than Shinohara could: its takes more to put the pieces together-one must analyze and synthesize the whole situation and all the information presented to you must be taken into consideration: to sift out the truth from the lies.  
The only thing I really like about this episode is that it offers some interesting commentary on the structure of mystery tale. Otherwise, an OK episode.  

Episode 5/6: The SV2's Longest Day, Parts I-II Pinnacle of the whole OVA series
In Winter (February to be precise), Shinohara finds out that his father's company is developing a new Labor for military use. It is also around Holiday season, and so the SV2 squad are all off on vacation. Meanwhile, a widespread criminal conspiracy is afoot with a past friend of Capt. Goto's, named Kai, at its helm-mysterious men in black scouting out the SV2….for nefarious purposes mwahahaha.  

And another Kanuka screencap added in (also, the action scene she's in is fantastic)

Quick paced action and drama rolled in one; great character moments-everyone in the main cast have their moment to shine (Shinobu's defiance against the authorities who'd prefer to turn tail and run, Goto dealing with stopping Kai's plan, Kanuka and her crazy driving scene, Shinohara and Noa's buddy comedy scene as they make their way to help). Another thing I like about this show is that any sort of romance is rather subdued: Goto x Shinobu, Shinohara x Kanuka is more implicit in nature, and that it doesn’t detract at all from the main story.

Yeah, this is how the 2 parter ends....on a still frame for reasons that forever baffle me

Some other things of note: real nice cliffhanger between the parts as the squad gets together to do battle. Part I is all establishment and build-up, then Part II is big bang action and quick payoff. It is a nail-biting, down to the wire scenario. Finally, if properly edited, this could have been a good standalone movie for the series (oh wait...).  

Episode 7: SV2 to the North!
We sort of go full circle with the seventh and final episode, as the SV2 squad deal with a stolen prototype Labor, which got stolen twice. The unfortunate thing is that it isn't connected to anyway to the events of the last 2 episodes which were great-no sense of any time lapse or skip, even a basic mention.  

The Patlabor rolling out and the ensuing robot fight is really the only highlight of this episode

Gosh I love Kanuka Clancy-only one not arguing/bickering and just wanting to get the job done. Noa’s and her team-up with the prototype Labor against the company’s own Labors which turn on them near end of the episode is the highlight. It ends on a definite high note: Promise of good stuff to come….
That being said, it is a good episode overall, but it feels like the ending for this particular OVA, and not for a series: Not surprising, as by the time this episode was released in Japan a TV Series and Movie was being made.  

Misc observations:
I love how this series explores the impact that the advancement of technology has on society. It offers an interesting look into society of the future, that even with the giant robots, the police will still have to deal with criminal activity regardless.

The English dub: quite good, certainly one of the better NY/CPM dubs I've listened. For all the flack i give CPM when it comes to their releases, they did do quite a number of good dubs: this one, Slayers, Utena, etc. Dan Green is in this dub, and yes kiddies before Yu-Gi-Oh! He was in quite a lot of these CPM dubs. Everyone else is rather good, though a few slip-ups and hammy acting occur as well. Once again, Angora Deb is another standout performer as Kanuka, and certainly some of the others (Michael Schwartz as Capt. Goto) give some really great performances.

Overall, Patlabor OVA is a very good old school giant robot show. It is certainly one of the best old school (80s and 90s) anime that I have looked at. And I am glad that Maiden Japan has taken an interest in licensing and releasing this as it had been out of print for at least a decade. If you’re a fan of old school anime or giant robots, then I definitely recommend checking this out. Also, Maiden Japan has been releasing the TV Series which is based off of this OVA (4 sets in total) primarily because they did a license rescue of the stuff that US Manga Corps released back in the day. The movies in this franchise are still in the hands of Bandai, though been out of print for some time but can be found if you're willing to do some digging. I hope to get my hands on at least the first movie and go from there. This OVA, more than anything, has served as a great introduction for the Patlabor universe.

Well, that covers 2013 for me. I will be posting an update on the Anime Favorites page on my blog Sunday with Entries #4 and #3 for that list.


OverlordG said...

Not much of a mecha fan (Blame Gundam wing for that) but this one sounds pretty neat. I'll put it on my to-do list along with Gunbuster.

t3ht4ilzd0ll said...

Oh man, if you're a big Kanuka fan, the first Patlabor movie is a must see. She kicks some serious ass in its last stretch.

That movie in general is a fun and intriguing techno-sleuth story with some sick animation. Between the first two movies I'd say it's the more approachable one for sure.

Definitely see the second one at some point though - I've seen some disputes over how plausible its series of events are, but the way it examines the politics of post-WWII Japan is pretty unique.
Great animation work once again, and it has to be mentioned - Kenji Kawai's soundtrack here, while moody, is powerfully haunting.