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Patlabor 2 The Movie Anime DVD Review

8 min read
Patlabor 2: The Movie Anime DVD Review
Patlabor 2: The Movie Anime DVD Review

In 2002, a horrifying attack on a major bridge near Tokyo drives Japan to the brink of civil war as the military and the police face off against each other. A shadowy man with important connections within the security forces is behind it all. Can Kiichi Goto and the members of the police Special Vehicles Division Unit 2 prevent utter catastrophe?

What They Say:
A rogue military jet bombs a Tokyo bridge. The city is in a panic. But is it a real terrorist attack, the first stage of a coup, or the opening gambit of an even more Machiavellian plot? As the military attempts to take control and Martial Law is declared, the task of untwisting the complex web of secrets, lies, and betrayals falls to the convoluted mind of Captain Kiichi Goto. But when the Defense Forces have been turned against each other and government itself may be suspect, who can he depend on as his ground troops in a bid to pull the country back from the brink of oblivion? The men and women of the SV2 and their mobile force of Ingram robots, of course. The grand climax of the Patlabor franchise is unleashed in the critically acclaimed second feature from director Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, Avalon)–Patlabor 2–The Movie!

Technical Review—
Audio: A-
For this review, I listened to the 48KHz 448kbps multi-channel Dolby Digital English track (the newer English dub originally released in 2006). In the early combat scene before the opening credits, we can hear the action from all directions, as a good surround mixture should sound. In later scenes, cavernous spaces properly have sounds coming out of front and rear speakers, while center speaker dialogue is loud and clear. There were no noticeable distortions or dropouts during playback.

Video: B
A decent enough transfer for an old movie. Initially released in 1993, the film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for anamorphic playback. While a blu-ray might have fairly clean video with good masters, this upscaled standard definition 480i MPEG-2 video, on the other hand, has quite a few noticeable compression artifacts visible. In the early bike riding scene featuring Asuma Shinohara and Noa Izumi, you can clearly see a good amount of noise all over his overalls (this is different from film grain, which is also present and was likely the nature of the film used). There is also noise on Noa’s skin in the heaviest movement sections of the scene. In addition, some things do not age well at all. During the attack by the fighter plane on the bridge (one of the show-stopping moments from the opening stages of the story), the early CGI generated water looks very much like a fuzzy, pixellated mess, contrasting strongly with the cel-based animation around it, which fares much much better in image quality.

Packaging and Presentation: B
They have used a simple single DVD keepcase for the disc (nothing more is needed). The coverart insert (which is not reversible) has an iconic image of an Ingram set before an early morning sky (though perhaps it could be sunset) with Asuma Shinohara and Shinobu Nagumo in front of it. The same image is reused for the disc art and the main menu image. The rear of the cover art insert features series of blurbs at the top, one slightly larger image and a selection of screen caps arrayed along both sides of the back, with the catalog copy centered inside of it. At the bottom is a franchise timeline (so that you can see where in the larger story this segment takes place), with production credits and the technical grid below.

The main menu features a static image (noted above) with the submenu choices on the left. A piece of film score music loops in the background of the menu. Access times for the submenus are fast. There are no extras on disc other than a selection of trailers for other Maiden Japan titles.

Content—(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
For those familiar with the work of Mamoru Oshii, especially the rather convoluted and, frankly, confusing muddle of a story that is Innocence (Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence), the complexity and lack of action that permeates the second feature film in the Patlabor franchise, if you did not see it before, easily shows itself as a forerunner, a precursor to the latter work. Conspiracies within plots within intrigues…but in this case, it’s much easier to follow what is actually going on (with credit obviously due as well to screenwriter Kazunori Itoh).

In 2002 Tokyo (how nostalgic now, but it was looking into the future when the film debuted in 1993), a frightening incident occurs: an attack on the Yokohama Bay Bridge by what appears to be a rogue military aircraft. Terrorism? Prelude to a military coup? Something even more sinister? Leave it to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police’s Special Vehicles Division Unit 2 and its commander, Capt. Kiichi Goto, to unravel the plot. With some hints from a mysterious informant from the Japanese Self-Defense Force’s Intelligence Division, Mr. Arakawa, Goto and his temporary boss, Shinobu Nagumo, try to discover who is behind the bombing, an incident that has led to a power struggle between the Public Security Bureau (which controls the national police forces) and the military, bringing Japan to the brink of civil war. When the government decides to declare martial law, bringing “loyal” military units into Tokyo, matters turn from bad to worse.

The shadowy man behind everything is a former military officer named Tsuge who had a bad experience in the past with those in charge not backing up his plans for the increased use of labors in military roles. It’s not entirely clear what his motive is, but one of his past associations connects him directly with the Patlabor squad members as Shinobu was once romantically tied to Tsuge. The action finally hits as Tsuge launches his attack, but it’s followed with more plotting and more maneuvering. In the end, Goto risks everything on a desperate plan to capture Tsuge in his secret base. There are various loose ends by the finale, but that’s trademark Oshii, who is never one to spoon-feed answers to the audience.

In addition to the fairly well-planned out narrative (to not have things wrap up more or less would be bad as this film serves as the conclusion to the Patlabor franchise), there is a lot of visual joy to be gotten out of this film. Oshii excels in quiet moments, such as the long montage showing the Japanese military taking up its posts in Tokyo, which is largely free of spoken words. We have panning shots of military vehicles on civilian roads, quietly surveying the scene for enemies…who are not really there. The effective use of a somewhat dreamlike piece of music (the score is by Kenji Kawai) helps as well to highlight the unreality of the situation. The surreal nature of this turn of events is capped by a dusting of snow which ends the montage, stressing the bleakness of things.

Yes, there’s a basset hound too.

If you are looking for work of high-powered mechanized action, this is not going to do too much for you. This is a think piece, a philosophical pondering of the situation in Japan as it began to lose confidence in itself with the onset of the “Lost Decade,” the bust and gloom that followed the fall of Japan Inc. at the end of the 1980s. While set in a fictional 2002, the mood and feel is very much the early 1990s as the economy did not bounce back (and it still hasn’t bounced back in Japan). It is also a valedictory look at the characters we have come to know and respect (and maybe even like) charging to the defense of the public one last time, even with a symbolic destruction of Unit 2 punctuating the “final” nature of this outing.

If there are faults, they are owing to the deliberately equivocal nature of Oshii message conveyed in the film. While Goto stands for defending the peace of common people, even if the peace is merely a mirage, we never get the other side’s motives fully articulated. Not that there is anything Tsuge could say that would justify the actions he took, but without any clearly expressed rationale behind his terrible plot, it makes it all the more unsettling at some level. If it is without reason, without any understandable motive behind it, it becomes all the more difficult to prevent similar events from happening in future. Perhaps this was deliberate, of course, on Oshii and Itoh’s part, to leave things murky on that front. That may well be the underlying goal: to leave the viewer feeling uneasy even with the apparent victory of “good” over “evil.”

As for the dub, the one included here is the one originally commissioned by Bandai Visual USA, the short-lived Bandai (Japan) subsidiary (separate from Bandai Entertainment Incorporated, a subsidiary of Bandai America, which operated for several years in the North American market before suspending all new releasing activity in early 2012) which reissued the movie in 2006 in a lavish limited edition (that sold rather poorly). Directed by Wendee Lee over at Elastic Media, it is a very restrained and toned down affair. There is very little in the way of histrionics or high drama in the performances, which may well be fitting with the serious tone of the events and the the gloomy nature of the setting. It serves the purposes of the film well enough, though it might seem “lifeless” to some listeners.

In Summary:
When a horrific terrorist act hits Tokyo, with indications that a rogue military faction may be behind it, the country is driven to the brink of civil war when the police and military face off against each other. After the declaration of martial law and use of “loyal” military units by the government to keep the peace in Tokyo, it’s left to Kiichi Goto and his subordinates to track down the man manipulating things behind the scenes and put a stop to things before the country falls apart. This is not an action piece, more a thoughtful reflection on Japan at a time of uncertainty and worry in both the imaginary world of Patlabor and in the real world when the movie was made.

Content Grade: B+

Released By: Maiden Japan
Release Date: July 21st 2015
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 107 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, English subtitles, Maiden Japan trailers.

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL-32S5100 32-Inch 1080p LCD HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Sony Bravia DAV-HDX589W 5.1-Channel Theater System connected via digital optical cable.

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