"Captain, don't encourage them. These people already have a loose grip on reality!"—Ohta
There is probably a little room in the Tokyo Police Department of the near future, where some bureaucrat shuffles budget requests and other paperwork. If your house gets damaged during an arrest, he gets the report ordering the police to pay for it. If police equipment gets wrecked, he signs the order to replace it. This little man is frightened and sad. Every day, he gets paperwork from Special Vehicles Unit Section 2, the notorious Patlabor Unit. "Who ever gave these misfits giant robots?" he thinks to himself. "Who gave them giant robots with guns?" Then he softly weeps to himself…
But nobody listens. Nobody pays him any attention. Meanwhile, we can enjoy the property wrecking antics of Section 2 as Central Park Media continues Patlabor: The Television Series.
Is it a sitcom? Is it an action show? Yes. I have spent a good deal of time here at DVD Verdict extolling the delights of one of the most entertaining animated series to come out of Japan, Mobile Police Patlabor. You can wander back over to my review of the first 18 episodes of the series (and the first feature film) for the details. But in short, Patlabor chronicles the misadventures—and occasional acts of heroism—of a squad of cops in the early years of mecha technology. Giant robots, or "labors," are not fast and sleek, but everyday working gadgets. Imagine the early days of the automobile: how long were these new machines on the streets before the police needed to use cars to stop car-related crime? And how much did those cops have to struggle with technical malfunctions, hotheaded drivers, competitive car companies, and all the other realistic drawbacks to any new technology?
Patlabor mines both comedy and suspense from the impact of new technology on Japanese culture. Of course, it helps that the show keeps itself fresh with a winning ensemble of characters, from the perky pilot Noa to the impulsive Ohta to the brilliant slob Captain Gotoh. Thus, the series can deftly switch moods from episode to episode.
For example, Volume 5 of the series (episodes 19-22) begins with a parody of kaiju movies, as the crew of Section 2 battles a subterranean dragon while trying to defuse a cluster of terrorist bombs targeting the massive Babylon Project to reclaim land from Tokyo Bay. Action and comedy, right? Try following that with a two-parter in which the squad tangles again with a dangerous combat labor, the Phantom, whose sinister corporate owners have plans for a future rematch. Wind it up with a pair of nutty Yakuza bosses who ask Section 2 for help with their new labors.
Volume 6 (episodes 23-26) marks a transition for the series. Kanuka Clancy returns to New York after her tenure with Section 2, but not without writing a rather unflattering review of the team—and foiling a hijacking on her homebound flight. In the search for her replacement as backup for Ohta, twitchy Shinji finds himself unable to control the man Kanuka once called "a psycho cop." Enter Takeo Kumagami, a talented and poised police lieutenant who—wait a minute, what is somebody so together doing joining Section 2?
In any case, the team shortly finds themselves in deep trouble in Volume 7 (episodes 27-30). First, Patlabor meets Scooby Doo, as Captain Gotoh's squad investigates a haunted building. There is more droll comedy as Section 2 does battle with a local restaurant that refuses to deliver lunch on time. But the real centerpiece of Volume 7 is the arrival of Noa's deadliest foe: the Griffin. We do not get to see much of this dangerous new combat labor or its masters—just a cliffhanger that will lead into fireworks in the forthcoming Volume 8.
As Patlabor hits its stride in these entertaining episodes, I must note that Central Park Media's handling of the series is actually backsliding somewhat. By Volume 7, the subtitles no longer offer an actual translation from the Japanese, but simply repeat the English script. Of course, the English dub is as bad as ever, so stick with the Japanese original. Image resolution seems to be getting progressively less sharp with each passing volume. And extras are also getting thinner: a bit of text on one of the screenwriters on Volume 5 and a useless "tribute" to Kanuka on Volume 7, plus some sketches and "art" (really just stills from the episodes) on each disc. Again, much of the extra material (scripts and such) is in DVD-ROM format.
If you are already following the escapades of Noa, her pet labor Alphonse, and the rest of the gang of Special Vehicles Unit Section 2, you will certainly enjoy the progress of the series through these next dozen episodes. If you are unfamiliar with the show, you can certainly pick it up from any point: it is not so continuity-laden as many Japanese television shows, and you will easily get into the rhythms of this delightful show. It is a pity that Central Park Media has really not put more effort into the DVD release of Patlabor, but they probably figure it is too old and only appeals to a narrow market niche. Not so. Mobile Police Patlabor has always been quite accessible to mainstream audiences and would likely do quite well even on American television, with its clever blend of memorable characters, sitcom antics, and deft action.
Central Park Media is ordered by this court to step up the release timetable on future volumes (six months is far too long), increase the quality of these DVDs, and lower the price to something more reasonable for fans. Or we will send Sergeant Ohta to your house with a big stick. Court is adjourned.
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