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Beginner's Guide to Patlabor

The title, “Patlabor”, is a portmanteau of “Patrol” and “Labor”

22 years ago, an OVA series called Patlabor began, and solidified the reputation in Japan of the team of director Mamoru Oshii and writer Kazunori Ito. The series also was licensed for US release, and became one of several gateway series for a new wave of American Otaku. This guide is to help newer Otaku, who have never seen the series before, know the basics of the franchise. 

 They rarely carry (this many) guns.
 They rarely carry (this many) guns.

What You Need To Know

Patlabor was created as an OVA series in the 80s by the animation studio Headgear, consisting of director Mamoru Oshii, writer Kazunori Ito, character designer Akemi Takeda, mechanical designer Yutaka Izubuchi, and manga artist and writer Masami Yuki. Essentially, the purpose of creating Headgear was to form a creator-owned studio, so they would have more control over their work, and be able to promote it better then they felt they could in a more traditional production environment.

The title, “Patlabor”, is a portmanteau of “Patrol” and “Labor”, and describes the giant robots used by the main characters to stop crimes performed using construction labors – giant robots designed for construction work. Ultimately, Patlabor units are basically traffic cops with giant robots.

The Story

In the not-too-distant-future, the Japanese government undertakes an ambitious project to address overcrowding by reclaiming a massive portion of Tokyo Bay. This project, called the Babylon Project, requires a massive amount of manpower and heavy machinery. This leads to the development of the construction labor and its adoption in all sorts of projects aside from the Babylon Project, all across the world. Due to the availability of construction labors, this also leads to Labor crime. Thus, police departments form Patrol Labor (or Patlabor) units, to address this problem.

One such unit is the Tokyo Metropolitan Police's Special Vehicles, Second Section (or SV2 for short), which is stationed out in a very remote section of Tokyo. Because the section is so remote, the men and women of that section have very little to do between calls, except maintain the grounds and otherwise kill time. Consequently, if there's the vaguest hint that something interesting is happening somewhere in the building, everyone tries to spy on it.

The Characters

As with any ensemble cop show, we get a squad-room’s worth of characters to get to know, and they all need to be distinct and interesting. 

Captain Kiichi Goto: Head of SV2's Unit 2. At first glance he looks incredibly laid back and something of a slacker. This is actually an elaborate ruse. Goto is considerably more capable and savvy then he appears at first glance, and was nicknamed “The Razor” before he was assigned to SV2 as a punishment assignment. Has a soft spot for Captain Nagumo.




Noa Izumi: Spunky, perky girl from Hokkaido, who loves labors, and pilots the labor in Team 1. She names the Patrol Labor she pilots “Alphonse”, the same name she'd previously given her pet cat and her pet dog. Because her family runs a liquor store, she has been drinking for quite some time, having built up an incredible tolerance to alcohol – Izumi can drink every other member of Unit 2 under the table, and recover from a hangover sooner. Arguably the best pilot of SV2. Has a soft spot for Asuma. 



Asuma Shinohara: Son of the head of Shinohara Heavy Industries, one of the biggest labor manufacturers in Japan. Joined SV2 as a way of rebelling against his father. Is the Controller for Team 1, giving directions and advice to the team's pilot and carrier driver when on a call. Has a soft spot for Noa.





Hiromi Yamazaki: A large, gentle man from Okinawa. Too big to pilot a labor, he instead drives Team 1's labor carrier. Between calls he also tends SV2's garden and tends its chicken coop, and is considered to have a green thumb. Does possess immense strength, and is able of firing an anti-Labor rifle safely, and is able to fire a Labor Revolver with the assistance of Ota.





Isao Ota: Pilot for Team 2's labor. Brash, loud, aggressive, and trigger-happy. Loves firing his Labor's weapons. Expects military discipline from the rest of the team, even when its clear that they're not in the military. 

Kanuka Clancy: Controller for Team 2. Police officer from the NYPD, who is liaised with SV2 to learn how their Labor teams run, so she can organize building one in the US. Is by-the-book and maintains a business-like demeanor with the rest of the team, though she cares for them dearly.




Mikiyasu Shinshi: Driver for Team 2. The only married person in SV2, aside from some of the mechanics in the Motor Pool. Is generally meek, humble, quiet. However, he will become angry and violent if his wife is mocked, or he's mocked over his marital status. Also invariably becomes a mean drunk when drinking with SV2, and usually ends up beating up Ota.





Chief Seitaroh Sakaki: Head mechanic for SV2, and is also known, respectfully, as the Old Man. The oldest man in the unit, having not only children but grandchildren. Gruff, loud, curmudgeonly. Runs the mechanics strictly but firmly, and often threatens to throw the mechanics into the sea if they fail to live up to his standards. Also berates Unit 2 when they regularly bring their labors back in less than perfect condition.




Shigeo Shiba: Also called “Shige-San,” Shiba is the second in command to Sakaki. Is a little more laid back than Sakaki, though he can also be firm with the mechanics when necessary. A total gearhead. Is good friends with Asuma.






Captain Shinobu Nagumo: Head of Unit 1 of SV2, which has slightly older Patlabors than Unit 2, because Unit 2 got upgrades before she did. Consequently, she goes on call less often. She shares an office with Goto, which means she sees a lot of Goto's layabout act – and also is able to tell that Goto is a much more skilled police officer than he looks. Has a soft spot for Goto.




Detective Takahiro Matsui: Detective with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and friends with Goto. Whenever a case comes up that Goto needs assistance solving, Goto turns to Matsui. 





Takeo Kumagumi: Only appears in the TV series and its spinoff OVA. Police officer who used to be stationed in Hong Kong. After Kanuka Clancy returns to the United States, Takeo is transferred to SV2 to take over as Team 2's controller. Takeo is also by-the-book and blunt with Ota, and the best hand-to-hand combatant in SV2 aside from Goto. However, she has an irrational fear of the supernatural, to the point that it can cause her to faint. 


So, what order do I watch these in?

The Patlabor Franchise consists of two OVAs, a TV series, and three movies. Normally, this would be the kind of thing I'd recommend watching in order of airing – except it's in two continuities. So, here's a handy chart showing off what show is in what continuity and what order they fall in chronologically. I'll also put in some order of release information too, just to be safe. 

Order of ReleaseOVA ContinuityTV Continuity
Mobile Police Patlabor - '88-'89Mobile Police Patlabor Patlabor TV
Patlabor: The Movie - '89Patlabor: The MoviePatlabor: New Files (Interspersed and following Patlabor TV)
Patlabor TV - '89-90WXIII: Patlabor 3 
Patlabor: New Files - '90-92Patlabor 2 
Patlabor 2 - '93  
WXIII: Patlabor 3 - '01   
Animevice member Count_Zero wrote the above Beginners Guide To Patlabor.  Whiskey Media also caught up with Count_Zero at San Diego Comic-Con last month at the after par-tay.  
JDon Aug. 6, 2010 at 3:14 p.m.
Does WXIII really take place before Patlabor 2?  I don't remember anything in either that would benefit from your suggested ordering.
Count_Zeroon Aug. 6, 2010 at 4:10 p.m.
@JD said:
" Does WXIII really take place before Patlabor 2?  I don't remember anything in either that would benefit from your suggested ordering. "
In the official continuity, it takes place between the two movies.. 
Also, remember, in Patlabor 2, the proverbial band has broken up - Asuma and Noa are now working at Shinohara Heavy Industries (and Noa hasn't driven Alphonse in several years) and Ota's a trainer at the police academy, Sakaki has retired, and I think that Shinshi's gone back into the private sector. Goto, Hiromi, and Nagumo are the only ones who stayed on at the start of Patlabor II. 
One more thing I didn't go into in the guide that probably bears mentioning - while Patlabor 1 & 2 would be a G or PG (though kids would find them kind of slow), WXIII is definitely a very hard R. Lots of death, much of it gruesome.
MiniPatoon Aug. 6, 2010 at 5:37 p.m.
Kudos for getting Patlabor in the spotlight. Very few people know about or have any interest in it, even among fans of old school mecha since it's dominated by Gundam and Macross. Doesn't mean it wasn't an immense success in Japan. It just never broke out in the west. Hell they still haven't sold out on the 10000 or so special edition DVDs of the first 2 movies which have been out for years. Shame Viz only translated 2 chapters of the manga too. It's one of my favorite animes. 
It should also be noted that Patlabor tries to tackle mecha from a realistic standpoint and as a result there is very little action in this show and the movies.  The show deals more with their daily lives than big mecha drama. And I think most people that enjoy Patlabor enjoy the episodes with the least mecha action because the cast of characters are really memorable and fun.
Ragnaron Aug. 6, 2010 at 7:44 p.m.
This was a great article, and I am glad to see an into for others to a series I enjoy quite thoroughly. I feel that you left out one important aspect, though -- the work of Kenji Kawai, without whose music the show would have been somewhat lacking. His swinging marches compliment the spirit of the show perfectly.
CapeBarneson Aug. 6, 2010 at 10:17 p.m.
Patlabor is one my personal favorites. Note to self: I really need to rewatch every single part. 
Anyway, I'm liking all these old school anime articles lately. Keep them up, I say.
MrDirector786on Aug. 6, 2010 at 10:45 p.m.
Thanks for the intro. I'll check it out. I'm a huge fan of things with robots.
Count_Zeroon Aug. 7, 2010 at 12:32 a.m.
As an added little thing I didn't mention - the OVAs and TV series were licensed by Central Park Media, which would normally mean finding them would be tricky, except fortunately, last time I checked, Netflix had all of it.
roujuon Aug. 8, 2010 at 7:19 a.m.
Jeez guys, an anime with one of the most beautiful mecha design (Grifone, Zero & Alphonse is marvelous, hell even the German army mecha is awesome!) is not well known in USA? 
Wow, maybe cuz the pace is kinda slow and most of anime series is a filler (but important chara development) in daily life of Unit 2 eh? Give it a chance & U will hooked up with this series
ps: Did Goto and Shinobu ever did "it"? I mean there's a scene (spoiler warning) where they spend a night in the hotel right?
Count_Zeroon Aug. 8, 2010 at 11:09 a.m.
@rouju said:
"ps: Did Goto and Shinobu ever did "it"? I mean there's a scene (spoiler warning) where they spend a night in the hotel right? "
I don't think they did it.
roujuon Aug. 8, 2010 at 5:44 p.m.
@Count_Zero:  Thnx dude, yep they didn't (only talk and sleep) if my memory serves me right (I wish they did, they would made such a great couple)
Longevitouson Aug. 8, 2010 at 11:27 p.m.
ive always wondered what that name meant
TekuTekuon Aug. 9, 2010 at 9:39 a.m.
To people watching Patlabor for the first time, I would strongly advise against watching WXIII as the last series in Patlabor , unless you wants to leave the series with a sense of being seriously underwhelmed. Watch WXIII fairly early on, don't save it for last. 
WXIII is incredibly SV2-lite, even more so than the investigation-driven Patlabor manga chapters the movie was based on. There might be something like 4 minutes worth of SV2 in all of WXIII, making them guest stars in their own supposed movie. While it's not a 'bad' movie per say, it almost certainly should not cap off the Patlabor franchise for you.  
Finally, was Mini Pato intentionally omitted from the list? I know it's not really a formal "series", closer to being extras really, but they really should be mentioned. They are quite delightful, and more charming an end to the series (being actually about our beloved SV2) as opposed to WXIII. 
Gozertcon Aug. 9, 2010 at 7:03 p.m.

Patlabor is one of my all time favorite animes in general, not just under the mecha heading. (I'm pretty sure it's number one on my Mecha list. ;) ) Good to see it listed.  It is deffenitly more of a cop show that just happens to have Mecha then a Mecha show that just happens to be based around cops.  The distinction is worth making.  
zaldaron Aug. 24, 2010 at 10 a.m.

so if three comes after two why did they call it three???  Thats really odd....but then that is japan for you I suppose..
Seancar2010on Sept. 7, 2010 at 10:44 p.m.
Dude, the first ova is totally awesome! 
Lemegeton300on Sept. 8, 2010 at 1:15 a.m.

i watched the first 2 movies many many years ago and was not really blown away. i liked the first one but did not really get much out of the second one. never saw the tv series. i might check it out now
LPon Sept. 14, 2010 at 2:17 p.m.
I saw this back On Demand with Comcast years ago, I tell ya there's nothing like the CLASSIC ANIMES! I had to keep explaining the story to my brother though he kept complaining about how "boring" he thought the show was, haha good times. =]
TobyD81on Dec. 19, 2010 at 4:57 a.m.
I love Patlabor. Glad to see it's getting some attention here.

Dig Deeper into Patlabor

A popular 1980s franchise featuring a police force that uses robots known as Labors to combat crime involving the same robots, often used in construction.

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