Patlabor 2

By the year 2002, giant construction robots called labors have become commonplace, and the police have their own unit to counter labor-related crime – the Special Vehicles Section. Now though, a mysterious terrorist attack on Tokyo has the government worried, and Special Vehicles Section 2 has been drafted in to investigate. As the SVS commanders Gotoh and Nagumo look into the group behind the attack, one name keeps coming up; that of Nagumo’s former lover…

So far, Patlabor 2 sounds like a good excuse for an extra-large dollop of full-on action and intense mecha battles, with lots of impressive pyrotechnics. If that is indeed all you’re after, stop reading now – you won’t find it here. For the two of you left reading this, Patlabor 2 is a serious detective drama which happens to have mechs in it. And as an example of the diversity of anime, there are few better.

If you’ve seen any of Oshii’s stuff before (the Ghost in the Shell movies, the first Patlabor), then you’ll pretty much know what to expect – it’s his usual blend of drama, mystery and political intrigue, set in a believable futuristic world, with a large helping of philosophical musings on the side. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is down to you – you’ll either find it compelling and engaging, or tediously dull.

Time hasn’t stood still since the first movie, and people have since moved on from Section 2. Noa and Shinohara are helping with the development of new Labors, Ohta the gun-nut now teaches new cadets how to use labor firearms (although how he can keep his job is a real mystery), and even Sakaki, the trusted old chief mechanic, has finally retired. It’s interesting to see how the characters have changed over time; Noa in particular is far more mature and grown up, and a far cry from the Labor-obsessed girl from earlier adventures. It’s nice to see a noticeable evolution in people, instead of seeing characters with the same personality for years on end, unlike other anime franchises.

The biggest criticism I have of the film is the pacing – it’s not much of a mover, by any stretch of the imagination. Because there’s so much talking going on, there’s precious little in the way of action, with only a few sequences dotted sparsely throughout. Even the big climactic battle is a bit of a disappointment; even though Section 2’s patlabors get tooled up with shotguns and flak jackets (even mechs have to dress warmly in winter, it seems), they’re not seen in action for very long.

Admittedly, what action we do get is lovely to behold. Patlabor 2 has undergone a digital facelift, and the results speak for themselves – the animation hasn’t aged badly at all, and is just as smooth as it was almost fifteen years ago. The film has a dull, washed out palette that reflects its winter setting and sets a unique and almost surreal tone. The martial law sequence with the military occupying the city is brilliantly understated; although the soldiers aren’t the focus of the various shots, they always manage to stick out like a sore thumb, while the city continues its day-to-day business as usual around them.

This Honneamise release features an all-new English dub that is both faithfully scripted and competently performed, if not earthshatteringly so. Like the re-release of the first movie, it comes in two editions; the standalone version comes with a great 16-page booklet with notes, character and mecha designs, while the pricier deluxe version is packed to the gunnels with significantly more extras.

In Summary

Patlabor 2: The Movie certainly isn’t for everyone, but those patient enough to sit through it will find a complex and engaging tale of political hide-and-seek. This is a restrained an subtle film that is well worth a look not only for mecha fans, but for anyone that enjoys a finely-crafted story.

8 / 10