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Patlabor OVA Complete Collection Anime DVD Review

6 min read

Patlabor OVATerrific old-school action series that still holds up well

What They Say:
Drunk drivers are bad, but put a drunk driver in a giant robot called a Labor and you’ve got a disaster waiting to happen. And when REAL criminals get their hands on those same giant robots, the cops need giant robots of their own just to maintain the status quo, right? That’s the logic behind the development of the Patlabor program and special Labor Crime units like Japan’s Section 2, in any case. But what logic fails to take into account is where to find police officers who’re equally conversant with both robots and the regulations? That’s where the motley crew of Section 2, Division 2 comes in!

With ridiculously perky tomboy Noa Izumi and gun-happy madman Isao Ohta as primary Labor pilots and the impossibly laidback Captain Goto in what passes for command, SV2 is ready to hit the streets with their twenty-ton feet! But will they be taking a byte out of crime or have they bitten off more than they can chew? The law of the land and the laws of robotics are about to collide!

Contains episodes 1-7.

The Review:
For this viewing, I took in the English dub, which is offered in 2.0. The Japanese track is also 2.0. Maiden Japan opted to use the original US Manga Corps/Central Park Media dub, instead of recording a new one, which I assume is the reason we only have it in 2.0. With the action in it, a 5.1 mix might have been nice, but it’s not a killer. Being an older dub, it’s not as clean as newer dubs are, but it just added to the enjoyment for me. People who are picky about their dubs might grumble at it, though.

For its age (1988), this is a good looking anime. The transfer is clean, with no noticeable technical issues. The coloring is a little dull in places, but I think that’s more a reflection of the time it was made rather than a technical flaw. Like the sound, the artwork isn’t quite as clean as a modern show might be, but it looks really nice for an 80s anime.

The two discs on this release come in a single wide amaray case, with a center insert to hold one disc. The front cover has a nice sketch of Noa with Alphonse and Hirata, the latter an odd choice since he’s only in one episode. The back has the series summary and some screens. I particularly like the tag line at the top: LAW & ORDER + Giant Robots. The LAW & ORDER part is made to look like the logo of the TV show of the same name, with the + Giant Robots part added in after.

Pretty basic menu for this release. The episodes are lined up against the left hand side of the screen, with the submenus underneath. The series title is set off to the right. The colors are a fairly drab green scheme, but the selection is easy to see.

The case suggests there are clean versions of the OP/ED on this release, but if there are, they are well hidden. All I could find were trailers of other Maiden Japan releases.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Patlabor: The Mobile Police is a seven episode OVA series from 1988 based on the manga of the same name. In the near future, humanity has created a class of helper robots known as Labors to help with all manner of heavy industry. The police force has their own section of Labors (dubbed Patlabors, for Patrol Labors) to help them in cases where they a lot of muscle. Patlabor: The Mobile Police follows Section 2 Division 2 of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and their attempts to maintain peace in the city.

Like many series from the 1980s, this is designed more to act as an introduction/advertisement for the manga than exist as its own storyline. As such, there’s very little in the way of continuity from episode to episode (aside from the 2 part story in episodes 5 and 6), making it a little difficult to really get into the way you might a more modern series. But thanks to a good sense of humor and a wonderful cast of characters, it is still plenty of fun.

What surprised me the most about Patlabor, to be honest, was the actual lack of action in it. That’s not to say there isn’t action, because there is, but there’s a lot less than you might think, particularly for a series that sells itself on its mecha. Most of what happens involves detective work and random interaction between the members of Division 2. There’s even one episode where the unit is sent back to school for retraining, and there’s no Patlabor action at all. It’s a little baffling.

But again, it’s not a huge deal because of how good the characters are. I’m particularly a fan of Division 2 Captain Goto. On the surface, he’s very apathetic and withdrawn; he doesn’t seem to care very much about anything that is going on around him. And his lack of caring is often the source of much of the comedy in the scene. His general lack of reaction to the solutions to the dealing with the monster in Tokyo Bay are some of the funniest moments in the series if only for the dichotomy between his attitude and the boundless enthusiasm of the people suggesting the solutions. But in reality, his outward sullenness is just a façade that masks a trust in his team and a willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done. All together, it makes him a fantastic leader for the team.

If there’s any real issue with this series (aside from the lack of an overall plot, that—again—wouldn’t have been an issue in 1988) is the lack of an obvious main character. The way that it is setup, I feel like Noa is generally supposed to be the protagonist of the series, but where each episode goes in a different direction, she doesn’t really stand out any more than the rest. If anything, Goto is more a protagonist here, but even that’s more because of his role in the two part storyline.

If you have ever seen the original Dominion Tank Police OVA series, Patlabor: The Mobile Police reminded me a lot of that: a somewhat maligned police division filled with an eclectic cast of characters charged with maintaining the peace but never really trusted to do the job properly. They also have young, spunky female protagonists with unnatural attachments to their vehicles (Leona and Bonaparte in Dominion, Noa and Alphone here) partnered with a young man who seems to have an attachment to them. Much of the humor is similar too. Dominion has a bit more outlandish action than Patlabor does, but otherwise, they are very similar. I think I enjoyed Dominion a bit more, but that might also be because I saw Dominion when it was still relatively new. I’m willing to accept that nostalgia might have something to do with it. Either way, Patlabor was still a lot of fun.

In Summary:
Patlabor: The Mobile Police: The Original OVA Series is a really fun, old-school mecha series. Its lack of an overarching story might turn off modern viewers, but it didn’t bother me in any way. If anything, getting to watch a classic series for the first time was a real treat. It brought me back to the first time I watched things like Dominion Tank Police over 20 years ago. If you want to see some great 80s anime, look no further. I just hope that this sells well enough that companies will consider bringing more back. Highly recommended.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A

Released By: Maiden Japan
Release Date: April 30, 2013
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 210 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p
Aspect Ratio: 4:3

Review Equipment:
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony PS3 w/HDMI Connection, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System

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