Review for Patlabor Mobile Police: OVA Series 2 Collection
This is frustrating. 18 months ago, MVM brought us the first OVA series of Patlabor on DVD and Blu-ray, and they then made it clear that they had the second OVA series as well. And now that we finally get that second OVA series, it’s on DVD only. That’s down to the economics of the thing. MVM usually share the PAL DVD masters with Australia, and they also source the Blu-ray discs from Down Under as well, which is why MVM’s Blu-rays usually have Australian ratings logos on them. And Madman Entertainment, who authored the Patlabor OVA S1 Blu-ray for Region B (Maiden Japan’s US Blu-rays are locked to Region A), found that they sold badly, badly enough that it was unviable for them to release the second OVA series in HD. That’s why we only get the DVD this time around. Of course if the S1 OVA Blu-ray had sold like hotcakes in the UK, hot enough for MVM to go to Madman asking for some more discs, we might not be having this discussion.
It’s doubly frustrating as the OVA series bookend the TV series. OVA series 1 is perfectly fine to watch, as it’s the start of the whole franchise. You’re not missing out on anything. OVA Series 2 on the other hand follows 47 episodes of television, and you’re expected to be familiar with the characters that have been introduced in the interim, the storylines of the series, some of which actually get codas in this collection. We haven’t got those 47 episodes of anime to refer to, as while Maiden Japan in the US released them on DVD and Blu-ray, and Madman Entertainment released them on DVD in Australia, MVM chose not to license the show, having been burned on occasion by long running titles failing to hit the projected numbers. You can’t blame them for that, but I do wonder just how much of the second OVA series will go over my head. Then again, I’ve been able to enjoy the first two Patlabor movies on repeat occasions without having watched any of the series at all.
In an alternate Tokyo (it was the future Tokyo when this show was originally made though), all of the city's energy is invested in Project Babylon, the creation of artificial islands and dams, and the reclamation of thousands of square hectares of habitable land area, to allow for the expansion of the city. Such a monumental undertaking would have been impossible, were it not for the Labors. Giant humanoid robots now do much of the heavy lifting in the city, 8000 of them piloted by trained professionals now do the work of what would have taken many times that number in manpower alone. The output of these powerful machines ensures that Project Babylon runs to schedule.
Of course not every Labor is used responsibly; some people use them for criminal activities, which is where the Patrol Labors come in, the so-called Patlabors. The Special Vehicle Section of the Tokyo Police force come equipped with Labors of their own, with which they detect and combat Labor crime in the city. The 2nd Unit is the unconventional department, whose methods leave much to be desired, and is seen as a dumping ground for those officers who don't quite fit in elsewhere. Among them is one Noa Izumi, a total robot geek who has already picked out a name for her would-be Labor, Alphonse, and there’s Asuma Shinohara, who got volunteered by his father for the police, and would much rather be anywhere else.
The sixteen OVA episodes of Patlabor’s final series are presented across 3 DVD discs by MVM.
1. Griffon Resurrected
2. Schaft’s Counterattack
3. The Greatest Showdown in History!
4. Game Over
5. One of Those Days
6. Viewer Rate 90%
7. Black Trinary
8. The Seven Days of Fire
10. It’s Called Amnesia
11. Goma who Came with the Rain
12. Our Karuizawa
13. The Dungeon Again
14. Snow Rondo
15. Woman Who Came From the Stars
16. All Quiet in the Second Unit
The Patlabor OVAs get a 4:3 regular native PAL transfer across these three dual layer DVDs. Something that causes me the slightest annoyance is that it’s a better transfer than on those movie special editions from Beez. Those after all were standards converted efforts, soft of resolution and with the usual problems with judder and ghosting. There’s none of that here, as it appears that Madman Entertainment sourced the HD masters for their DVD release, and the show makes full use of the extra resolution afforded by PAL.
The image is clear and sharp throughout, and the animation is smooth and crisp. It looks as if some restoration has been applied, as the image is free of artefacts or print damage, and there are no signs of age such as faded colours or the like. The copy looks fantastic. The animation is OVA quality of course, in that respect it cannot match up to the feature films, but the character designs are consistent throughout, the Labors look fantastic, and the futuristic alternate Tokyo is detailed and vibrant. I really do like the way the characters come across, and how the anime marries slapstick comic reaction with subtle changes of mood to create engaging character studies.
You have the choice between DD 2.0 English and Japanese, with translated subtitles and a signs only track to go with the English audio on the four episodes of the first disc. Thereafter it’s Japanese only with English subtitles. I listened to the Japanese audio as always, and there were no technical issues to worry about, other than the occasional bit of tape hum and hiss. The dialogue is clear throughout, the action comes across well, as does the show’s music, and any pitch correction that may have been applied due to PAL speedup is unnoticeable. I gave the dub a try and found it to be of its age, and it will do until something better comes along. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of error.
This is a bit of an odd duck. The episodes are presented with static menus on these discs. Disc 1 alone offers the option of an English dub, but here you have to choose which episode you’re going to watch, and then choose which language you watch it in before the disc starts to play. If you choose episode 1, you can watch all four in a row without having to go back to the main menu, and so on from the later episodes. The audio is locked throughout, but the subtitles are a little weird. I could flick the signs only track with the English audio on and off via my remote with no problem, but when it came to the subtitles with the Japanese audio, while I could toggle them on my Sony DVD player, they were locked on my Panasonic Blu-ray player. It goes without saying that this is one disc where you can’t watch the dub with full subtitles.
The only real difference between the two language versions is that the English language version drops out at the end of each episode to run a translated English language credit reel. You don’t get that with the Japanese version. Again it’s a pain, suggesting that those who watch the Japanese version with subtitles don’t need to know who made and starred in the show. And that’s just disc 1.
Discs 2 and 3 have it easy; they just list the episodes on static menu screens, with no need for language options, and no extras either, not even textless credits.
There are a couple of new characters in the Patlabor Second Unit that I don’t recall from the first OVA series, most notably Kumagami, who has apparently achieved a position of responsibility here during the TV series. While knowing their back-story would no doubt give a greater understanding and appreciation of their characters, the episodes aren’t harmed by this. When it comes to the stories though, there are a couple here that do rely a little more on the television series. The Dungeon Again is very much a sequel to a story that took place during the series, while the opening four episode arc is obviously a coda to a television storyline. They are complete and satisfying stories in their own right, but it’s obvious that you can’t appreciate them fully without knowing who the characters are, and what previously happened when they appeared. They are entertaining stories that leave lingering what-ifs. Fortunately the rest of the collection can be enjoyed more fully without having seen the television series.
It’s a typical collection of OVAs in many respects, mostly standalone stories that celebrate the characters without indulging in long arcs of narrative. They’re short, twenty minute reminders of why you might have fallen in love with the series in the first place. That’s with the exception of the opening four episode arc, which very much feels like it’s dealing with unfinished business left over from the series, with the Second Unit having to deal with an unscrupulous businessman who’s been engineering Labor attacks on the police, with the aid of a wunderkind games player at the helm of his Griffon Labor, all to sell technology to the highest bidder. He’ll set up a battle near a hotel somewhere, where all his potential clients are gathered to watch the demonstration live. The businessman, Utsumi obviously has a past with Kumagami, while Noa and the gamer, Bud, also have history. This arc works as a story, but you very much want to know what happened with these characters previously in the TV series, which puts a bit of a damper on things.
The rest of the episodes are stand-alones, not so heavy with the Labor action, and offering more in the way of character studies of the Special Unit 2 staff. We get an episode of Noa suffering from toothache, a daft hostage crisis in a children’s TV show studio that offers a hike in ratings, searching for a terrorist in a public bath, a labour dispute in the maintenance section, rivalry between Kanuka and Kumagami during an R&R break, Ota getting amnesia after a guys night out, the Second Unit adopting a cat, a night in a love hotel for Goto and Shinobu, pearl diving in the sewers (this sequel to a TV story is less reliant on prior knowledge), Asuma’s supernatural date, the truth behind the Second Unit and its defence of the Earth from aliens, and a rare day off for the Second Unit.
The episodes run the gamut from out and out comedy, to romance, the odd bit of drama, a bit of mystery, but generally they’re always aimed at the chuckle muscle. I have to admit that this is just the kind of comedy that I like, a little bit goofy, but generally witty and smart, and based on character interactions. It’s very much the sort of comedy that you don’t see in anime anymore. What helps of course are the characterisations. I said it before for the first lot of OVAs, and it’s just as true here. The Patlabor cast are the most realistic characters that I can think of in anime, they can be zany and over the top for the comedy, but are also capable of subtlety and understatement when it comes to more meaningful moments. You can forget that you’re watching an animation, and just look at them as people.
I’ve not gone into as much detail about the stories here as I did for the opening set of OVAs. That was more about setting up a universe, introducing characters, and exploring some of the possibilities that the premise had. That first OVA series was a little hit and miss in that regard, some stories not as strong as others. This concluding OVA series doesn’t have that same task. It’s really about providing the characters and the audience with a degree of closure. The universe has been figured out, so have the characters, and the storytelling style, which is why most of these episodes play it completely for laughs, and on some occasions subvert the characters too. Most episodes here are entertaining, one or two might be a little daft, but generally they are all very well made.
While a little prior knowledge might help for this collection’s opening arc, it still manages to be very entertaining, and on balance offers better quality storytelling than the first collection, with scripts that by now know the characters inside and out. There’s a more accomplished feel here. This is very much my kind of anime, the sort of animation, aimed at broader audiences, with realistic character designs and writing, that got me into anime in the first place. I was enchanted and entertained by the second set of Patlabor OVAs, and I now find myself wanting to fill in the gap. I’ll have to find time in my schedule for the 47-episode television series, and quite naturally import it as well.