Kidou Keisatsu Patlabor Review

Title: Kidou Keisatsu Patlabor
Length: 7 x 28 minute episodes
Genre: Mecha, drama, comedy, mystery, police
Year of release: 1988

“For pete’s sake,” Captain Gotoh chides after SV2 over-aggressively diffuse a hostage situation by blowing it up, “this isn’t some mecha anime.” That sums up the show pretty well – ridiculous, silly, deadpan, hearty when called for and cognisant of consequences and context. Patlabor throws its team at creative situations with a huge range of stakes, and simply lets them deal with it in the best way that they can. Thankfully, these idiots are so well-crafted with chemistry and sheer development that it works every single time.

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Make no mistake: SV2 is filled with idiots, but loveable ones that exhibit sensibility when called for, with a natural level of maturity. Even from their inception, the sarcastic bickering, sharp banter and arms-length friendships were clear to see, but it’s how SV2 ties these together with progression and their working environment that makes the series such a joy to watch. While there’s definitely a lot of quirkiness (such as Ota’s love of guns, particularly when his nose begins bleeding at the sight of supersized shotguns) the cast of Patlabor are not constrained with archetypes or even particularly respected for their traits; they lash out, they snap, they bark at one another, they joke around and it is clear that, more than anything else, they are well-rounded human people who will continue to fight bonkers crime long after the final credits roll.

I’ve got a hard time pinning down who the “protagonist” is within this show. It often feels like it would be Asuma, the wise-cracking cop who, by his own admission, doesn’t want to be a cop. The series often follows him around, which is particularly effective during the vacation period as his loneliness and family issues begin to paint a very sympathetic character. He also gets a good chunk of screen-time as he tracks down (often unintentionally) the major clues that solve the riddles. Asuma’s certainly a fantastic person to accept the series on his shoulders, but he seems to likewise share that responsibility with Noa, pilot of Alphonse who he forms a strong rapport with. Noa, being the best pilot of SV2, rightfully takes many of the series’ leading moments. Throw in Goto’s surprisingly excellent deduction skills (even if he’s more than willing to ask for help from Matsui, Nagumo and the rest of SV2), and the struggles of the series do not feel like any one person’s responsibility to take alone, and nor does it feel like the success is entirely on one person’s shoulders either. SV2 are a unit.

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Though one of them is perhaps a one-woman unit. Kanuka Clancy is an utter badass and dominates the screen every-time she is on it. It’s relatively ironic that she’s American, as the reaction she conjures is akin to those American sit-com characters that demand applause every time they enter the frame. She’s given just enough time to demonstrate her awe, while still maintaining that air of mystery to be fully awesome. It’s amusing to say that perhaps the most expendable member of the cast is one that brings the most joy, but that is no bad thing at all: the cast’s quality is so good, that honest signals make us want more from Clancy’s enigmatic persona. I’m waiting for the day that she gets a spinoff, fighting crime in New York and finally hanging out with her (equally badass) Grandma.

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A cast may only be as strong as the situation they’re in, as their strength must be demonstrated. The problems that SV2 face, as cops, vary, shifting through fore- and background of the episodics. Just seeing the cast have to get up and work is often the best part of the show, but the things they do are indeed exciting. The two episode arc of “The SV2’s Longest Day” is a strong political thriller with exquisite writing, but the group are also forced to solve small issues like ghost stories, sea monsters and chasing down opportunistic criminals. Every episode feels like a treat for you have no idea what intensity level it’ll be, but you know for sure it’ll be a doozy. Even the relative misstep of episode 3’s ending had some strong biological underpinning to its discussion. 

Mamoru Oshii’s artistic eye was extremely prominent on the movie that followed – somewhat to the film’s detriment. However, within Early Days, there’s enough of an artistic edge to become appreciable, but does not become overbearing. Catchy framing and excellent use of lighting, particularly with regards to silhouettes, make this series really visually stand out. Sadly, as are most pre-2000’s anime, the sound design leaves a lot to be desired, and the music is generally stuck within the period. However, the top notch voice performances make the soundscape a memorable one – every snap, bark or sigh bites with precision in comic timing and persona, though a couple of expositional monologues dragged a bit.

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The basics of making any series great really feel mastered on Patlabor – on every level. Take a great cast, give them something to do and present it well. While the audio is relatively average for its time, all the other aspects are nailed to the highest degree: Patlabor’s cast are an achievement, largely in the way they can so fluidly skip between comic and more serious sections with a human touch; the underpinning plots of Patlabor are powerful, nuanced and tremendous at exhibiting the charm of the cast; as a visual composition, Patlabor is really something special. I’m not one to lightly throw around words like “masterpiece”, but I believe Patlabor is in that ballpark.

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