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At the close of the 20th century, a rise in global sea levels forces a massive building program in Japan, causing the creation of new "labor" construction robots. In a series that effortlessly incorporates human drama and comedy with hard science fiction, the police set up a Pat[rol] Labor division to deal with the new crime that the new technology brings.

The team behind Patlabor is arguably the finest assembly of talents in modern anime, rivaled only by Hayao Miyazaki's cohorts at Studio Ghibli and the erratic Gainax collective. Written in direct opposition to the gung ho conflicts of Gundam and the postapocalyptic violence of The Road Warrior, Patlabor's creators posit a future world where humanity muddles through regardless, and being a giant-robot pilot is just another job-taken, as with the space-force in Wings of Honneamise, by misfits unable to secure work in more glamorous sectors. The tribulations of Special Vehicle Division 2 are consequently dogged by idle bureaucrats, budget cuts, interfering R&D; officers, and feuds within the group. Girlish rookie Noa Izumi, disaffected techno-millionaire's son Azuma Shinohara, and ultracool Captain Goto occupy central stage, though the other cast members are some of the most well-realized characters in anime. From bad-tempered gun-nut Ota to henpecked husband Shinshi, down to the gentle giant Hiromi and competent-but-snooty half-American visitor Kanuka Clancy (whose role was greatly expanded from the original manga), all contribute to a truly marvelous ensemble. The series is loaded with subplots that put many live-action shows to shame, including the unrequited love of Goto for his better-qualified opposite number Shinobu (hilariously telegraphed in a spoof episode that featured the pair forced to share a room in a love hotel), Ota's desperately lonely existence (in a Blade Runner pastiche scripted by Oshii), and Noa's deeply respectful love for her "pet" labor Alphonse. Made on video because sponsorship was initially unavailable to make it for TV, the show was soon heading for broadcast and movie success. Some of the TV and video stories are downright goofy, like the white-alligator-in-the-sewers urban myth and a ghost story with spirits that need to be appeased; but there's also a long and carefully evolved story line about industrial espionage between rival labor manufacturers, the exploitation of children, and the lengths people go to for money.

Theatrical outings extend this dark agenda further. Patlabor: The Movie (1990), directed by Oshii, uses a threat of destruction by a suicidal visionary terrorist to examine the extent to which man depends on technology and the dangers involved in that dependency. Noa and the returning American labor captain Kanuka have to overcome their antagonism to save Tokyo from flood and disaster. Patlabor 2 (1993) rounded off the series in a brilliantly contrived manner. Set in 2002, after the original team members have gone their separate ways, it features the attempt of a disaffected ex-soldier to orchestrate a military coup. The former members of the Patlabor team reunite one last time to stop him, and the film includes some real treats for long-term fans, including an explanation for Shinobu's eternal spinsterhood and the rare sight of Goto losing his temper. The second movie secured Oshii's chances of directing Ghost in the Shell and shares with its successor a similar mood, pace, and political cynicism. It also features chilling images of a Japan returning all too swiftly to martial law, a topic that Oshii would approach again in Jin-Roh, as well as "guest" designs from Shoji Kawamori and Hajime Katoki.

Christophe Gans, who directed the live-action movie of Crying Freeman, has reportedly optioned Patlabor 2 for a remake, impressed with its ability to involve its cast in action to which they always seem to arrive a minute too late. This marginalization of the "little people" is a motif that runs through the en-tire series and adds to the realism. It is also a fundamental feature of the third Patlabor movie WXIII (2002), in which Tokyo is threatened by a mutant monster. With Oshii conspicuously absent as director (as he was from the inferior Jin-Roh), WXIII re-tells an early story from Masami Yuki's Patlabor manga but concentrates on the "guest stars," relegating the central cast almost completely to cameo roles.

Sadly for Patlabor, accidents in rights acquisitions have had a similar effect on the series itself. The two movies were well dubbed and promoted by Man-ga Entertainment but reached a far larger audience than the video and TV incarnations, which were sold to the smaller distributor USMC. The series was also lampooned in the erotic pastiche Tokio Private Police.

Series Credits
Person Name Episode Count
Naoyuki Yoshinaga

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Original US Poster Art

General Information Edit
Name Patlabor
Name: 機動警察パトレイバ
Romaji: Kido Keisatsu Patlabor
Publisher Sunrise Inc.
Start Year 1989
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Aliases Mobile Police Patlabor
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