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Patlabor: The Movie Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read

Patlabor Movie CoverThe gateway to realistic mecha for many anime fans returns to the market.

What They Say:
Earth’s sea levels are slowly rising and coastal cities around the world have been forced to resort to drastic measures to keep floods of Biblical proportions at bay. Nowhere has the need been more desperate than in Japan, where the city of Tokyo has launched the massive Babylon project: a land reclamation undertaking so vast that it can only be completed with the aid of human-piloted construction robots called Labors.

Unfortunately, any invention can be used for good or for evil, so to keep the Labors from being misused the Tokyo police maintain their own units of Patrol Labors. Now the officers of the SV2 are about to receive their ultimate trial by fire as multiple waves of Labors begin to mysteriously go berserk all at once. As the armored blue line fights to maintain control of the resulting chaos, they must also solve the mystery behind the outbreaks. Are they random? Are they tied to the construction of Babylon itself? Or is there a human element secretly orchestrating the ultimate destruction of the entire city?

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is pretty simple compared to the last time it was on Blu-ray, which was with Bandai Visual USA as they mirrored the Japanese release to test and showcase what Blu-ray can do. Gone are all the mostly unnecessary tracks here with their varied encodings as we get just the original Japanese language track and the previously created English language mix using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. While I could see some case being made for the original theatrical stereo mix to be included, it’s a very small number that will actually listen to it – or even notice that it’s not here. The Patlabor lossless presentation is a significant upgrade over the previous incarnations that have been released on DVD. The standard 5.1 mixes do seem a bit louder in the forward soundstage, but the depth and clarity of the mix gives it a much richer and deeper feel. There is a good deal of surround effects during the busier action sequences and it has some solid placement and clarity to it that you don’t get to the same level on the 5.1 mix.

Originally in theaters back in 1989, this film is is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is encoded using AVC. The transfer looks to be working with the same materials as we saw with the previous Blu-ray edition and that’s largely a good thing. What is most apparent with this transfer is that the dust and dirt on the cels are all the more apparent. This is significantly more at times than we saw in other high definition remasters at the time and is evident throughout outside of a few scenes. Beyond digitally cleaning it up and removing it, which in a lot of ways I think is a travesty, I doubt this film could look much better. Colors are vibrant and bold when required and the detail is all the more apparent and rich here. Unlike the DVD release from 2006, the black levels on this are a world apart in how well they look. There is a strong uniform feeling to it and it avoids coming across as blocky. The first few minutes of the film were very bad looking on the DVD release but here it looks as pristine as it can be.

The packaging for this release is simple and straightforward but it also manages to evoke the right mood. With the cover artwork, we get the Ingram in the foreground with a great color tone used to it that gives it a moody and warm feeling, made all the stronger by the misty green background behind it with the clouds and hints of what could be beyond it. The logo is done in a solid metallic style that works well and it makes the expected plugs for Mamoru Oshii. The back cover works in the same design style as previous Patlabor releases with pictures slotted along the left and right while the premise is well covered in the center with black text on a white block background. THe timeline continues to be useful and solid to have here and we get it all rounded out with the production credits and technical grid.

Not surprising is that the menu design works off of what the packaging design is as it essentially zooms in on that same image and lets it dominate the static screen. It works well as it feels more overpowering here because of the zoom and because of the screen size. The logo is kept to the upper left while the lower left has the navigation menu which works in the same design as the TV/OVA series material did with its overall layout and approach. Since there’s not much here beyond the film itself, the chapter menu and the language selection is all we get otherwise and both load quickly and easily both as a top level menu and during playback as a pop-up menu.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The Patlabor movies, at least the first two, are becoming some of the most-watched films I have in my library. It seems like they’re being released rather frequently across multiple distributors and regions in the last few years that it’s becoming a yearly event. The last time I saw this as a US release was with one of Bandai Visual USA’s launch titles, and it certainly made sense for them to bring the film out for its launch of the Blu-ray format along with other classics. The film really lends itself to this kind of presentation with its traditional detailed animation and high cel counts in the big sequences. But now that Maiden Japan has spent the last couple of years pulling together all the various properties for it, they’re now focusing on on the movies.

Watching the film has been interesting, particularly since I’ve seen it so many times over the last twenty years in different forms. The movies always held a fascination in that they were very upscale and detailed looking “thinking mans” anime movies in comparison to the TV series incarnation. While the main cast of characters from the TV series move throughout it, including the lead in Noa Izumi, this first film and the two following it always played out a bit differently as anime movies are want to do. More like a police procedural than anything else, it’s a very slow paced affair as a mystery must be unraveled about how the labors in Japan are going on rampages. It comes at a time when the labors are critical now to the future of the country and several projects and a lot of companies and people have a lot vested in them.

With a very laid back pace to it, the mystery of what’s going on is slowly eked out across a few different fronts. There’s an arc with Asuma going into Shinohara Heavy Industries to put together exactly what’s tying all the labor incidents together and there’s an arc with a pair of detectives who are investigating the missing programmer who was apparently instrumental to what SHI has been doing all these years. Along the way there’s a number of small incidents that have the SVU2 getting out into the thick of things and handling another rogue labor, but for the most part it’s a very introspective piece that is typical of Mamoru Oshii’s films during this time. It’s heavy on dialogue, quiet pauses and the relationship between man and machine.

Revisiting this kind of storyline after the kinds of corporate corruption that have come out over the last few years only makes something like this ring a bit more true in how some of the executives act and their dedication to the projects. The kind of hushed up affairs do seem a bit quaint at times but a lot of the time the show feels like you’re watching Law & Order, almost to the point where you can hear the music cues that indicate big clues were just found and the plot is about to take a new twist. That’s not a bad thing either in my mind since the plot and the mystery behind it are still as engaging and interesting to watch play out seventeen years after its original release. Patlabor does transcend anime history nicely here and this film, while not as vibrant or chock full of CG work as new films are, stands the test of time.

In Summary:
While the film isn’t my favorite of the three Patlabor films, it’s one that I do think continues to need to be seen in order to understand how to present some good mystery style films while playing to the science fiction side without going into the absurd. There are obvious problems in the source itself with the dirt and scratches that are between the cels but that’s exactly what’s there in the master now. This presentation is considerably cleaned up in terms of artifacts and compression issues that plagued parts of the US DVD release and it’s received a solid lossless audio mix as well. Fans of the film will definitely love what’s been done here as this is as close to a definitive version of the film itself as we’re likely to see. It has a certain richness to it that was just never apparent in the previous releases nor possible with the way DVDs had to be encoded. Though not my favorite film, it was certainly engaging to watch it again and see it through a new presentation that highlights its strengths and weaknesses. Bring on the next two.

Japanese DTS-HD 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles

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

Released By: Maiden Japan
Release Date: May 5th, 2015
MSRP: $39.98
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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