For the last few years I have been writing reviews (mostly anime, some live-action) for U.K. print mag MYM Magzine. What follows is the text of the submitted draft reviewing MVM's U.K. blu-ray release of classic SF cop/mech show Patlabor. To read the final version as edited by David Axbey please buy back issue #20 of the magazine.
Title: Patlabor: OVA Series 1 The Early Days Collection
Out: 18th November 2013
On: DVD; also on Blu-ray
Price: £24.99 (Blu-ray also £24.99)
Stars Out of Five: Four
Standfirst: The classic 1989 mecha cop franchise debuts as it means to go on, with character comedy, philosophy, action and realistic mechs.
Another 80s classic makes its way to remastered high definition ahead of a live-action version. Less well known today, its reputation amongst older fans is at least as high as 90s gateway shows like Trigun, Bebop and Evangelion. If you’ve only ever seen the bigger-budget features, then these OVA episodes might come as something of a shock; for fans, however, this has been high on shopping lists for a while. How does it measure up?
It may seem weird to modern mech fans, but for all the love of technology and the attention paid to designing mechs possessed of a significant degree of realism, Patlabor is not a mech show first. It’s a cop show, or to be more precise, it’s a workplace sitcom that also happens to be a cop show, set in a world where mech tech has become everyday. Think Hill Street Blues with mechs, or for a 2013 reference, Brooklyn Nine Nine plus mechs. The title derives from the phrase “patrol labours,” as standard mechs are named “labours” given they’re labour-saving devices. This means they’re not capable of martial arts or anti-gravity feats; the wrong height bridge can be a serious obstacle to overcome, while using them as police units has all sorts of potential for collateral damage, something that is explored to frequent comic effect through this 7-part OVA series.
Creative collective HEADGEAR, who came together for this and the other entries in the franchise, knew what they wanted to get on screen here, and went about doing it in a way that suggests a creative freedom hard to find in the modern anime business. Director Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, Sky Crawlers), script writer Kazunori Ito (.hack, Dirty Pair), mecha designer Yutaka Izubuchi (Eureka Seven, Mobile Suit Gundam franchise), character designer Akemi Takada (Kimagure Orange Road, Urusei Yatsura), and manga creator Masami Yuuki (Birdy the Mighty) have all done great work since, but deserve a place in the all-time Hall of Fame for going their own way with mecha anime to such gloriously entertaining effect. Characterisation is crucial, and one gets to know the team with all their quirks before putting them in real danger, raising the stakes. The OVA series climaxes with the sort of big plot, political discussion and action that would characterise future outings in both the franchise and Oshii’s own features.
The DVD screeners MVM supplied look superb upscaled; if this is a downconvert from the new high definition master, then the blu-ray must be simply spectacular. The OVAs have never looked this good, with crisp lines, clear colours, and well-defined movement. This was a time when an OVA meant a reasonable budget to play with, as opposed to the more limited weekly TV budgets, and the quality of the animation is done full justice here. We get the original Japanese track and the 90s U.S. dub; the former has the better performances, but the latter occasionally nails the comedy dead on. The only extras are three Madman trailers for recent shows; compare with the OVAs to see how different modern anime series are, not always for the better.