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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Central Park Media
  • MSRP: 49.98
  • Running time: 210
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Patlabor

Patlabor: The Original Series Collection

By Chris Beveridge     September 19, 2005
Release Date: October 14, 2003


Patlabor: The Original Series Collection
© Central Park Media


What They Say
A timeless story of girl meets robot. Meet Noa Izumi. Cute and spunky, she could be the girl next door...except that she loves giant robots with a passion that's a little scary. Today's her big day, her chance to pilot a giant robot of her very own! Meet Alphonse. He's a giant robot. Meet the Patlabor police squad, Special Vehicles Section 2, a pack of lovable loose cannons with short fuses and really big guns. They fight crime.

Watch as they come together for the very first time in the groundbreaking series by Mamoru Oshii that introduced the beloved Patlabor universe and made animation history! Complete series: Episodes 1-7.

The Review!
The seven episode OVA series that started it all, Patlabor’s original storyline finally gets a release.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series has a decent sounding stereo mix though the bulk of it sounds more like a mono mix than anything else with it coming through the center channel. Dialogue is nice and clear on both tracks and we had no issues with dropouts or distortions.

Video:
Originally released to video back in 1988, the transfer here is decent but suffers from some of the problems inherent in many shows from that time. During the first couple of episodes it’s far more pronounced with the aliasing in a number of scenes as well as the cross coloration. As the episodes progress, the issue drops off considerably and is almost gone by the time the second volume rolls around. Some of the cross coloration comes from some of the detailed line work in various places such as newspapers, but there’s just some age related issues to it. Colors look good if a bit drab, though the orange in the uniforms continues to be a standout. Dark colors look good and maintain a solid feel to them. Some of the midrange shots in the show tend to become either somewhat blocky or soft and indistinct, mostly due to a low level of detail given to the animation. With the sharper image provided by current standards, it doesn’t help these areas too much. Overall, it feels smoother than the TV series since it has an OVA budget to it that allowed for more detail and richer colors.

Packaging:
Released in two clear keepcases inside a think cardboard sleeve box, the packaging for this release is definitely nice and eye-catching on the shelf. Each of the volumes has a shot of a labor on the front and uses the same style of logo as the TV series does. The back cover provides a bit more labor artwork and goes through the usual routine of a brief summary, a listing of the extras and basic technical information. With it being a clear keepcase, the reverse side lists the chapter stops for the episodes and a bilingual character list as well as the production credit information. Some good conceptual pieces of artwork are also present here. The box itself is what other CPM releases have been like so it’s not a solid thick box. It uses the same coloring and style as the keepcases with the police labor being prominent on the front of the box. The back cover provides the summary of the shows premise and lists the basic features of the set and the extras and technical information. The spine nicely just lists the series name and a small labor image. My only real dislike is that you had to go to the bottom of the box to find the total runtime.

Menu:
The menu layout is nicely done if a touch busy, where it has the labor image from the box cover lined along the left with its gun aiming at a block where animation from the show plays along with the vocal song. Along the bottom is a cast shot of the main leads while the top has the bar for the selections. Access times are nice and fast and without any transitional animations, something that lets things move quickly to submenus.

Extras:
There are some good extras to be found on this set to be sure. The big one for me is the commentary track provided by series director Mamoru Oshii. He’s been doing more and more of these lately and I’m very happy to have him talk about the creation and origins of the Patlabor series with Headgear during the first three episodes of this release. His comments and insights are illuminating in what they were trying to achieve at the time as well as the more comical moments, such as how the opening sequence wasn’t done when the first episode itself already was and that the person behind it wasn’t using the actual final anime designs in it. The first volume also features a few pages worth of conceptual designs for various labors and something of a filmography for Oshii.

The second volume provides potentially good extras depending on your exposure level to the franchise. There’s a segment of dub outtakes, only about 100 seconds worth, which is pretty minimal for seven episodes worth of recording. There’s also a trailer section for the US DVD releases. The big extra included here is the inclusion of the first episode of the TV series. My initial concern with this inclusion was dismissed quickly as it is indeed provided in bilingual format with soft subtitles. If you haven’t seen the TV series before, this is a great way to see how they sort of rebooted for that show and some of the differences between it and the OVA series that spawned it.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In some ways, it’s a shame that it’s taken fifteen years for Patlabor to finally get its due here in the US. Way back in the “old” days, it was one of the forerunners of what got people excited about anime with its mecha as well as its mix of comedy and drama. The first OVA series, with an impressive lineup of talent behind it, wanted to do the giant mech series but without the usual trappings that most had and have fallen into over time.

As series director Oshii comments early on, most mech series have the bright young youth, the female companion, the violent one and usually some secondary character or two plus an animal mascot. One of the goals behind Patlabor, in addition to telling good stories, was to show another side to the team concept and the way people are. This is where they managed to make the biggest impact I think, though sales of Patlabor model kits I’m sure have grown quite nicely over the years.

Taking place in the late 90’s, the series focuses on a group of police officers that are part of a new division called Special Vehicles Division 2, the division that will handle crimes related to labors. Labors are of course the giant sized robots that have been created that are either autonomous or piloted that handle the growing needs of a thriving near-future city. With the growth in the labor market, there are all sorts of crimes that can be committed with them as well as simple programming issues that can cause them to run amuck.

Tokyo is awash in these mechs due to something called the Babylon Project. This massive engineering plan is where they’re blocking off a huge segment of Tokyo bay in an effort to reclaim the land there over the next fifty years, thereby handling the growth issues of one of the worlds biggest cities. With such a massive project going on, there are going to be tons and tons of labors being brought into the city. And with any large engineering project, there’s going to be a number of people looking to take advantage of the situation in a number of ways. So the creation of a department to handle just these kinds of crimes is warranted.

Unfortunately, as we learn at the start of the series, three months into their realization and they’re only now getting the first real police designated labors. And the first batch of real police officer pilot/command recruits is arriving at the same time. Right from the start, as we’re introduced to the large group of mechanics that are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the labors, there is a strong sense of technical and mechanical wonder to them. The maintenance crew for the division is one that becomes the real heart of the show after awhile, as their love of their jobs and their passion for it helps drive the officers forward.

And with such a diverse group of officers, from the energetic Noa to the fairly lazy Asuma all the way to the gun happy Ota, each is definitely a personality of their own. For various reasons, each has ended up in the division and have to work with each other, but there isn’t the usual egging on of opposites you get in mech series over who has to work with who. They’re realistic in the sense that they’re there to do a job and sometimes the job can suck. They love getting some down time and they occasionally disagree with their boss.

Their boss, Captain Goto, is one of the more amusing and favorite characters of mine of many series. He is the classic deadpan commander that simply rattles off what must be done and often looks bored by what he’s been given to do. With there being several things continually working against him, including his own past, he’s the type that simply looks at things logically and lets them proceed as best as possible while trying to do the job. Goto is a character that is very memorable in a sea of very similar characters.

With the seven episode OVA series, we get to go pretty much from the start of the concept with the arrival of the pilots and their training on the final police labor product. Through their attempts to learn (with such amusing problems as there being only one time a year for live ammo target practice due to the course being taken by someone else) we see the interactions of the characters come to life as well as the bonding with the labors. The maintenance crew, particularly the energetic young Shige, bring so much life and heart to the OVA series that it makes me appreciate their role in the TV series all the more.

The OVA series moves along nicely, with the first volume providing three standalone stories that work to build the basic concept of the near-future Tokyo. The only part I didn’t care for out of the first three is the sea monster that gets brought into the show, since it takes away from some of the realism of the franchise. But then I simply have to remember how much I liked the WXIII movie and some of the more over the top elements of the other two films and it tends to fit a bit better. The second volume provides some more interesting concepts.

One of the best things about the second volume is how the show shifts from its light mix of drama and comedy set against a mech backdrop into something completely dramatic. There’s a fantastic two part storyline here about a group that’s trying to set things awry in Tokyo by getting various elements of the government and military under their control and then bringing in a nuclear capable cruise missile with the intent to get their demands met. The premise is simple and fairly common, but the execution is very smooth in how this team shifts from their somewhat incapable ways and uses it to their advantage. It’s also a set of episodes that highlights Goto beautifully since he’d been a friend with the main ‘villain’ in his younger years.

The Patlabor OVA series does a fantastic job of taking what was previously a fairly routine and almost standard form of mech anime and turning it on its side just enough to show how much further it could go. While shows like Gundam managed to change the perception of mech series from what they were in the 70’s, they set a standard that a decade later needed to be shattered once again so that the genre could move forward. Patlabor performs this feat beautifully.

In Summary:
My Patlabor viewing chronology has been all out of whack for years, so it’s been a real treat to finally see the original origins of the series and done up nicely. With the entire OVA series being self-contained in here, this is a really easy way to check out what’s definitely a large franchise and get a feel for various aspects of it. Elements from here are used in different ways in subsequent TV, OVA and film releases, but the core heart is the same in all of them, and that’s the cast. These characters really make the show what it is and that’s lasted for nearly fifteen years now. This is a great addition to my growing Patlabor library.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Director's Commentary with Mamoru Oshii (Episodes 1-3),Bonus Episode of the Patlabor TV Series,Art Gallery,Patlabor Trailer

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, 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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