Patlabor: The Movie (also LE w/books) -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B+

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  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: B-
  • Packaging Rating: N/A
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Bandai Visual USA, Inc.
  • MSRP: 29.98/89.99
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Patlabor

Patlabor: The Movie (also LE w/books)

By Chris Beveridge     March 24, 2006
Release Date: April 25, 2006

Patlabor: The Movie (also LE w/books)
© Bandai Visual USA, Inc.

What They Say
At the dawn of the millennium in Tokyo, advanced robotic vehicles called Labors are heavily relied upon to build fortifications to project Japan from global rising sea levels. A maverick team from the Metropolitan Police led by Noa Izumi and Azuma Shinohara uncover a devilish scheme to infect Tokyo's 8,000 Labors with the BABEL virus.

As a powerful typhoon approaches Tokyo and the apocalyptic vision of a dead man begins, the team must locate and destroy the source of the virus, the giant Babylon Project Tower in the heart of Tokyo Bay, before 8,000 Labors go berserk!

This Special Limited Edition is a numbered collector's edition with only 10,000 created! The cover art was especially illustrated for this release by Yutaka Izubuchi (creator and director of Rahxephon) and includes a 2-DVD set and 2 books never before available!

Book 1, Archives, is 184 pages long and contains exposition and criticism of the film (character, story background, artwork, etc.), interviews with director Mamoru Oshii, screenwriter Kazunori Ito, mecha designer Yutaka Izubuchi, character designer Akemi Takada and music composer Kenji Kawai, and Key animation drawing samples with explanatory notes.

The second book contains storyboards by Mamoru Oshii and is 300 pages with English translations.

The Review!
One of the stalwarts of many anime fans collections, the Patlabor movie returns once more under a new label, a new remaster and a new dub.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this film in both its Japanese language and English language mixes. We went back and forth pretty regularly with it to check out the dynamics of various scenes. The movie received a 5.1 upgrade in Japan several years ago and it changes the feel of many of the scenes drastically in my opinion. The opening battle which was decent in its original stereo mix now has much more overall interaction and a greater oomph to it as the heavy suits pound across the landscape. Dialogue is much sharper as well and more finely placed throughout. The English language mix is equally as good with the placement and both tracks satisfy quite a lot. During regular playback, we had no problems with dropouts or distortions.

Originally in theaters back in 1989, the movies received the DVD treatment in the late 90's and then a remaster in late 1999. The remastering done over time gave the show not only a bump in the audio department but a really nicely done anamorphic transfer as well, something the original US release was never able to acquire either. This release by Bandai Visual looks great overall but isn't free from problems. Well, one problem really and it's something that affects a lot of older animation like this in that the black levels are often simply awful. This is noticeable in a lot of areas. In the opening couple of minutes, the black background with the logo and the production credits you can see the blocking going on as the blacks and grays try to stabilize, often making it look alive. This creeps into the animation as well in the opening when the labors stomp about the forest. Once the film gets going, a great number of the scenes with the blacks look solid and sharp but the problem doesn't disappear. One key scene near the end when Noa's labor is dropping down after the main big battle, you just see it by silhouette. It's made up of black and gray blocks at this point instead of one smooth black silhouette. The film retains a good feel overall though with an otherwise clean print, the right level of grain and a very film like feel. But these problem areas are very noticeable to some people. I had people over while checking this out and none of them saw the issue so your mileage may vary.

Right from the start this release feels exactly like Japanese packaging just in how it's wrapped. Instead of the standard cellophane wrapping, it's almost like the bag material that Japanese releases used that has a sealing strip along the back. The box itself is a heavy chipboard type with silver foil style paper that makes the background really shine. The front panel has a good shot of the two Patlabors in a really nicely done illustration as opposed to just screenshot style images. The back cover looks good with the silver there as well as it provides a number of shots from the film and a brief but decent summary of the world-view premise of Patlabor. The box looks great and like most boxes it lists most of the technical information on the bottom panel. Inside the box there are three items:

Patlabor: The Movie Storyboards " The silver bound book is about three hundred pages and it's filled with the storyboards for the film with all the notes and dialogue sections translated. This is a big undertaking in itself and it looks like there were two translators on it in addition to someone just dealing with the glossary of terms. Books like these are rarely done and hard to do but this one is just fantastic as it looks like it covers just about everything you want to know in English.

Patlabor: The Movie Archives " Done with a matte finish, the front cover of the book uses one of the Patlabor images from the box cover. The book runs about 180 pages in length and is probably one of the best produced books made of its kind. It's a mix of full color and black and white pictures, promotional posters and sketches that cover everything you want to know about Patlabor. This book more than makes up for the lack of on-disc extras and exceeds all the expectations I had about the release.

The disc packaging is a black glossy mini hardcover book design that has the plastic disc holders inside that actually snap together a bit so that it doesn't flop open on its own. The exterior design is a simple outline version of the Patlabors in white which looks good as a technical piece with the glossy black. The text for the film name is small and well defined, giving it something of a bit of classiness to it instead of a big bold listing.

Overall, this is a fantastic release in terms of its packaging and one that in a lot of ways simply stands far above a lot of other releases. There have been some that have come close to this kind of release with the multiple books and packaging but this one just feels like it's standing up there above the others, particularly in the Archives books.

The main menu is a quickly loaded piece with a brief bit of animation to it as a do not cross line banner stretches out as the city moves by before it settles on a really nice illustration of the two main patlabor's from the film while the sky changes behind it. There's no music to the menu which is a bit off-putting but it's laid out nicely, loops extremely smoothly and looks good. Access times are nice and fast and the disc picked up on our players' language presets perfectly with accurately labeled languages and subtitles.

The on-disc extras for this release are split in two ways. The movie only edition of the release contains a trio of trailers and teasers and that's all. The special edition release comes with a second disc of extras. Or, well, depending on how you look at it, an extra. The second disc has the Making Of feature that was produced way back when but was updated in the last couple of years with newer graphics and cleaned up for English language questions. It runs about thirty minutes and covers various areas of the films production, such as a special section from Yuuki Masami, how they went about looking ten years to the future for Tokyo's look, what they wanted to achieve with the labors and other areas such as visual design and the shows music and incidental score. It's an interesting piece that fleshes things out well enough and it's great that it's got soft subtitles for it, but for all of this to be the only thing on the extras disc I have to say I was expecting a bit more. Not that the Japanese release got more but for this to be on a second disc it just felt that way.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Bandai Visual's first direct US release is the kind of project that I'm glad that they've taken on. By working with a couple of standalone titles, they don't commit too heavily, they aren't knee deep in production of a TV series where bad choices would carry through to all volumes and the commitment level for the consumer is minimal as well. With a number of new companies starting up in the last couple of years, a lot of people are simply edgy about new releases from them since the chances of things going wrong seem to be so high.

With Bandai Visual's first release, I'm fairly confident that they're going to do decently here once it's figured out what they're really wanting to do. If their intent is to carry through with some OVA and theatrical releases, they can definitely carve out a very nice stable of titles from their library and reclaimed licenses that will be considered by many to be gems of any collection. Barring the actual issue with the video which may or may not be more source related than anything else, their first release is quite competent and they aligned themselves with some veterans of the industry on both sides of the Pacific.

The new English language dub is done out of California studio Elastic Media which isn't a surprising choice since split licenses don't always match up. Those who watched the TV and OVA releases of the franchise have already suffered heavily by how those have come out in the last few years so not having the same cast here I don't think is going to make much difference. The new dub is definitely several notches above what we got back in the mid 90's when Manga first did it as it's more accurate and the lip synch and flow is better. There are several name actors in this but they all fit their characters pretty well and as a standalone piece they breathe some nice new life into the property. It's rare for a release to be dubbed a second time so those with more of an interest in dubs will be able to have some fun in doing comparisons of translation and dialogue.

On the DVD production side, some interesting choices were made. While we know that Image Entertainment is handling the North American distribution, the actual disc work was unknown. Bandai Visual has gone with their longstanding working relationship with Memory Tech and their affiliate Q-Tec, Inc to do the authoring and mastering of this release. Overall it's a solid job, again with the nod to the video issues, but with some very minor nitpicking choices that merit mention. The chapter layout for the film is fairly standard with twenty-nine for the entire film but I dislike that the last chapter was not just the credits by themselves. It has about five minutes of the film's finale included in that. And you can't skip to the end since there isn't a blank post-film chapter included. The end credits are left in their original Japanese but there isn't a full translation list provided (on-disc; we don't have any packaging on hand yet) for the film. The only time the Japanese credits are translated are during the films opening sequence for the majors. All English language credits are presented in the menu.

The only other quirks worth mentioning that some will be interested in is that the subtitles are in white (but do not look like the promotional trailer on the Bandai Visual site) and that the names are for the most part what we're familiar with. Gotoh's first name gets a slight tweak with it going from Kiichi to Ki'ichi while Ohta now becomes Oota. Nothing else on first blush looks to be much different.

Watching the film has been interesting, particularly since I've seen it so many times over the last decade in different forms. Each of my original viewings of it prior to this one took place before the TV series or OVAs were available on DVD so I hadn't really known much about the main show itself other than it was more of a comedy than the movies. The movies always held a fascination in that they were very upscale and detailed looking "thinking mans" anime movies. 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.

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 there are a few minor issues with the release, Bandai Visual's first foray into US releases is pretty solid. It's hard to give an overall impression here because I'm quite positive that with the packaging and books, the release to me will have the oomph and "reality" of a release that's listing for $90 in its special edition form. As a movie only edition, the upgrade value to people is going to be really dependent on a lot of factors. Does the remastered video mean much? To me, it did since the previous was letterboxed and non-anamorphic. The new 5.1 mix was a significant upgrade in my opinion as well. The new dub will have its fans as will the previous dub. With the old Manga version out of print, those who never bought but were interested will be well served by this new version, especially if they just finished out the TV and OVA series.

I'm glad to have a copy that's closer to the Japanese release than what was here before though I wish the video issues weren't so apparent to my eyes. As a special edition release with the storyboard book and the other book, it's also one of the few that's really close to how the big limited edition Japanese releases are done and I'm excited by that but do wish it was cheaper. For the hardcore fan, getting those books translated, something that's very limited in its appeal, is certainly worth the increase in the price though. Patlabor, no matter how much Bandai Visual wants it to be, is not a huge show in the US and never anywhere near what it did in Japan. But it does deserve a solid release and to be available and this release gives it a new life. With just a few changes and hopefully some newer material to really show off, I'm very much looking forward to seeing what else Bandai Visual has in store.

Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Teaser, trailer and commercial,Special Edition: Making Of Featurette,Special Edition: Archives Book,Special Edition: Storyboards Book

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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