Patlabor: Fighting Giant Robot Crime with a Personal Touch

When most people think of anime, they probably think of the high-energy battles from a series like Dragonball Z or perhaps of the mystical forces that can come into play with shows like Death Note or Naruto. The truth of the matter is that anime, like all media, serves as a home to all sorts of genres. Sure, the medium may most be known for action, sci-fi, or fantasy series, but the entire medium is not like that. One genre has that gained traction in the genre is the slice of life genre. Shows like Azumanga Daioh and Clannad use the medium to explore a normal day-to-day life, most frequently in looking at the lives on high school students. Sometimes, however, a series may inject a slight odd element to it that is still treated ultimately as part of the normal routine. In this case, I’m talking about a slice of life-style anime where its setting may be the very stuff of science fiction, but its heart is rooted in looking at the day-to-day. I am talking about the anime series known as Patlabor.

Set in the future, construction robots known as Labors are used to help advance construction projects like never before and bring Tokyo into this new age. However, as the presence of Labors have grown, so too have the amount of criminals who seek to use Labors in crimes or terrorist activities. To combat this, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police has Special Vehicle Divisions, each armed with their own Patrol Labors to help battle crime. However, the focus of this show is not on the top members of Division 1. Instead, the series focuses on Division 2, a Special Vehicles Division that has gained a reputation for their rather destructive methods when it comes to fighting crime. The series starts with a new addition to the team: Noa Izumi, a petite redhead with a fandom for robots who becomes a pilot for the Division and lovingly names her Patrol Labor Alphonse. Along with her, the division includes such characters as the honest and sometime hot-headed Asuma Shinohara, the gung-ho and order-demanding Isao Ohto, and the seemingly laid-back but cunning Captain Kiichi Goto. Such an odd assortment of characters helps to bring heart to this series, but they bring more to it than just colorful personalities.

Though the series is one about futuristic police using giant robots to fight crime, the focus is not on them fighting crime. Though it is their work, the series is truly focused on the day-to-day activities of the members of Division 2. Plots, though they may feature the investigations of crime, are most often about the team dynamic or of individual team members. In fact, action tends to be limited for brief spots of time. For example, one episode did feature the team having to deal with a Labor-piloting criminal who held a woman hostage within the tight grip of his robot. However, that was not the focus of the episode. Instead, the focus was on how Noa Izuma and Clancy Kanuka, an American officer on assignment from the NYPD, were clashing in methods and throwing off the cooperation of the team. To deal with this issue. Captain Goto decides on a rather unique team-building exercise: take the whole team out drinking. The result is that Noa and Clancy manage to air their issues and come to terms with each other, while the rest of the team vents with humorous arguments about each other’s methods and attitudes. It all comes together in a story that explores team dynamics and the impacts that team members have on each other, putting its characters first before the action. In fact, this even extends to how the show carries itself over the course of its run.

Though the cases may largely be stand-alone and the episodes work on individual levels, the series itself maintains an overarching plot. Starting from Noa Izumi joining the team, you watch as the team grows and changes in its dynamics. They adjust and welcome Noa as one of their own. They undergo staff changes as certain members leave with new characters joining the team. Noa Izumi and Asuma Shinohara even grow closer as friends over the course of the show. The members of Division 2, their lives, and all the personal joys and woes are the central focus and it is handled with a caring touch and a sense of humor. Action is well-handled, even if it is not a core part of the show. In fact, the story doesn’t even really get action-based until near the end, with a plot line concerning corporate espionage and a plan to claim Noa Izumi’s Patrol Labor. Even then, a lot of the story does concern the effect on Noa from battling a Labor pilot whose tech and skills seem to outshine her own. The show never loses sight of its characters, and the result is that the team feels like a natural roster of people, trying to do their best in fighting crime while enduring the curveballs and surprises of life. Thus, it’s a slice of life that may concern a different time and incredible field of work, but its people feel relatable and familiar.

The anime series Patlabor can be seen on Hulu. There is also an original OVA and a sequel OVA known as Patlabor: the New Files, along with full-length anime films. The OVAs and anime series lean more towards a lighter touch, while the movies are darker and more serious. Personally, I suggest giving the series a try first and seeing if you enjoy the lighter touch.

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