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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Release||OVA Continuity||TV Continuity|
|Mobile Police Patlabor - '88-'89||Mobile Police Patlabor||Patlabor TV|
|Patlabor: The Movie - '89||Patlabor: The Movie||Patlabor: New Files (Interspersed and following Patlabor TV)|
|Patlabor TV - '89-90||WXIII: Patlabor 3|
|Patlabor: New Files - '90-92||Patlabor 2|
|Patlabor 2 - '93|
|WXIII: Patlabor 3 - '01|