Not long ago I was able to watch the first Patlabor OAV series subtitled. It first came out in April 1988. I’m now starting to watch through the Patlabor TV series. I’ve been looking at Patlabor art books ever since I was a teenager so getting a chance to watch the anime was a big deal for me.
Watching the first OAV series was an experience I find difficult to describe. I would have to say it was like sitting down to a rare and sumptuous feast – and then standing up with a begging bowl like Oliver Twist and asking, “Please, sir. Can I have some more?” The seven episodes of the first OAV series were amazing. Interesting and likable characters, excellent animation, great mecha designs, surprisingly intelligent stories and a well thought-out setting. I was transported to the realm of mecha and science-fiction fan Nirvana. Wait. Scratch that. I wasn’t extinguished so I’ll say it was the mecha/sci-fi fan’s province of the Western Paradise so often mentioned in Pure Land Buddhism. Anyways, I was transported. However, when the experience was finished I realized I hadn’t seen the black Griffin and many other mecha from the art books. There was a lot more to Patlabor and I was suddenly hungrier than ever to see it.
I tried to rent or buy the Patlabor TV series but it is now quite difficult to buy and Netflix took volumes 1 and 3 out of circulation. Box Torrents (now www.bakabt.com) rescued me with a BitTorrent download. Now I’m supplementing the volumes I can’t rent from Netflix. I’ll soon watch episode 6 but I just had to blog about it even though I’m not yet finished with the show.
Some people hold up Votoms as the high water mark of realistic robot shows. There are good reasons for that with which I will certainly not argue. However, to see Votoms and miss Patlabor would lead to a very incomplete education in mecha anime. Rather than allow my readers to become incomplete anime/science-fiction fans I’ll tell you why Patlabor should be added to your list of “must see TV”. The realistic robots genre of mecha anime brings mecha closer to our world with more believable mechanical designs and situations. Votoms offers us smaller, no-frills military mecha mass-produced on a large scale. The battles in which they engage are far more realistic than what you’ll find in super robots shows. However, Votoms only gives the viewer a part of the realistic robots genre. Patlabor shows us our modern world with mecha in it. Although the mecha designs of Patlabor are closer to Gundam or Macross than to Votoms, the setting of the story and the situations in which those mecha designs operate are well thought-out and highly plausible.
We see not only mecha battles but bureaucratic funding battles within the metropolitan police department. Characters not only worry about stopping the forces of evil but also about hiding mistakes from their supervisors and courteously serving the public. Giant robots are worked into our world so seamlessly that a viewer couldn’t be faulted for walking away from his screen and expecting to see one out the window of his home. The day-to-day world of people using mecha in Japan was covered in Dai-Guard but that was overdone. It was parody. Patlabor doesn’t go over the top. It presents its episodes with such an artful mix of action and drama that the sizable science-fiction aspect of the show almost goes unnoticed. It is the other side of the realistic robots coin from Votoms and similar shows.
If you haven’t seen Patlabor yet you really should. It’s top notch anime.