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Patlabor WXIII Blu-ray Anime Review

9 min read

Patlabor WXIII Blu-ray CoverSomething dangerous lurks in Tokyo.

What They Say:
The SV2’s giant Ingram Patrol Labors may be the ultimate in crime-fighting technology, but there are never enough to tackle every pending case. So when a mysterious series of deadly attacks targets Labor operators across Tokyo’s harbor region, the job goes to “conventional” detectives Hata and Kusumi.

After all, just because it looks like a giant robot-created crime doesn’t mean that it is a giant robot-created crime, and deep inside a web of half-truths and government cover-ups, the detectives uncover a secret biological weapons project called WWXIII. But while this secret may have been buried, it’s still very much alive. And that’s when having the armored force of the SV2 as backup may become a literal lifesaver for 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 2002, 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. With this film compared to the first two it has a greater sense of design and detail to it, owing to the period and the competitive nature of bringing these films to life, and the result is something that’s far more visually striking but also subtle in how it goes about it. What we get is an immensely rich and detailed world that the transfer brings to life in a beautiful way. Colors are varied and well worn in so many places but pop with such vibrancy elsewhere. The end result is a transfer that most definitely pleases as it brings it all to life in a clean and problem free way, making for a very engaging visual experience.

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 background while Noa and Nagumo are in the foreground, but kept small in comparison, which is amusing since the trio as a whole is minimal in the feature. With the orange sunset of the sky here with the clouds, it has a good sense of twilight about it and the end of things, representing some of the theme of the film. 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. Where it works better here than the cover is that the color presentation is stronger and richer, making for a more engaging sunset but also clearer character designs along the bottom in the foreground. 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.

While we’re still not getting the extensive production material that was included in the original release years ago from Geneon – something that even Bandai Visual didn’t release with theirs, we do get the three MiniPato releases. These are adorable worldbuilding bits done with a smirk and lots of education for showing off how events are playing out and why. They run on average about eleven minutes or so and are one of my favorite things about the property.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When it comes to Patlabor movies, it’s usually no surprise by now that there’s usually very little Labor action in them, particularly from the TV/OVA series leads in the Special Vehicle Unit 2. While that’s not unusual, what’s set Patlabor WXIII even more apart from the others is that the SVU2 group has even less screen time here. The story here is more of a standard police detective piece, but it’s set in the world of Patlabor and deals with them, and uses the Patlabor name really as a reference point of what to expect. Instead of constructing a new world to tell a story, the kind that’s fairly timeless, it uses an already built one and tells its tale, but also fleshes out that world beyond what we already know.

That, to me, is one of the draws of anime. Side stories and tales such as this are often ignored in US television and movies, or just relegated to spin-off materials that most of the audience will never hear about. With this, it gets a large budget and a theatrical run in several countries.

The story here focuses primarily on two detectives that have been teamed together for a bit. There’s the older and more experienced Kusumi who is recovering from a wound and uses a brace to help him walk about. His partner is the young and eager Hata. Both have their pluses and minuses, the type of partnership where the two do complement each other nicely, but also provides some moments where they can rub up against each other. You have the moments where Hata utilizes the net to get information with ease, as well as being able to pick up on the smallest of details to realize something, but you also have Kusumi with all the experience and the knowledge of things that are no longer current that come back to play. When living in a digital world, it’s easy to forget that analog things can still affect it.

The two end up assigned to dealing with some mysterious goings-on in Tokyo Bay lately, which has resulted in some rather grisly deaths and disappearances. There’s talk among the fishing community about giant fish and other mysterious things, leading to some tall tales. The two go about their investigations both together and separately, each using their own natural skills to glean bits of information. For Hata, the story also touches upon a potential romance with a woman he gave a ride to, Saeko Misaki. Initially knowing her as a teacher at a local university, he ends up coming across her later on in a research company where he learns that she’s a rather involved scientist.

A good part of the early half of the movie is spent getting to know the characters, the budding subtle romance and the investigation itself, as well as the continuing missing people. Everything changes drastically though when the power goes out at one of the massive storage stations at the Babylon Project in the bay. Kusumi and Hata end up with a couple of uniformed officers at the scene and investigate what’s going on, trying to find out why the power went off. The entire situation goes to hell when the emergency power comes on and the red lights go up everywhere and ends up revealing a massive, well, monster that starts chasing anyone it comes across and outright eats them. The monster proceeds to go after the two detectives, and we get an engaging and thrilling chase sequence inside this structure as the beast thunders across hunting for them.

It’s from here that things get intriguing; as they try to discover what the creature was, where it came from and how to deal with it all while the higher-ups in the government are trying to cover it up. Probably one of the best aspects of this is that Goto from SVU2 gets involved in a few ways as he and Kusumi apparently know each other, which brings in a nice new level to things. Goto’s style and attitude is always welcome on screen and he fits perfectly into the tense situation with his laid back style.

Though it’s been a few years since I last saw this film, it’s not unlike the others in the franchise in that you keep noticing more and more details with each viewing. And with each viewing, I get even more impressed with just how gorgeous the visuals are. The characters themselves are what we’ve come to expect from Patlabor movies with their realistic look, but it’s the city itself that becomes a full character in this film. At times, it looks so completely realistic that it’s almost breathtaking. Some of my favorite sequences are the quietest ones, where it’s pouring hard outside and just seeing that rain come down, combined with the audio mix, it’s so close to being there.

To me, the Patlabor movies have always been a hard sell. In their own way, they irk hardcore Patlabor fans since the SVU2 cast isn’t huge in it, or it’s just one or two characters. The mecha fans don’t get too excited since they’re relegated to one or two key sequences. The ones who end up loving this stuff the most are the ones who come for the story. Patlabor: WXIII has a great detective story with an enjoyable and well rounded cast. The films kept me wrapped up in it for its entire length without checking the clock once during any of the three viewings. I’ve found this movie to be quite engaging and definitely high on the repeat viewing list. It’s an easy recommendation for those who enjoyed the first, as they’re definitely close in style.

In Summary:
Experiencing all three Patlabor films over the course of the past year has been a lot of fun. During previous viewings I had only so much context for them since the TV series and OVAs weren’t available. Going into it now with a different perspective has helped to flesh it out even more and I do find my appreciation of them only going up. Maiden Japan has put together a great looking and solid sounding release here and it’s definitely great to have it all back in the market again. Though it doesn’t have all of the extras that we’ve seen available before we get the film in a strong and great looking presentation here and in the end that’s what counts. Patlabor WXIII fans will likely enjoy this quite a lot, especially if their expectations are on par with the previous two films.

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

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

Released By: Maiden Japan
Release Date: September 8th, 2015
MSRP: $39.98
Running Time: 107 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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