Patlabor was and is still an oddball. It is one of few series which I favor anime over manga. Therefore, I will be talking about the anime although I will show you a small collection I have for this at the end of this article.
I also consider both manga and anime canon, so I will mix events from both plots.
The series was not a huge hit, but I do believe it had and still has some sort of niche following. The reason for that is the uniqueness of the series. Additionally, this series has some similarities with Ozanari Dungeon.
Let me briefly explain what the series is about.
Patlabor is set in Japan. It says “future” but, in 2021, the time setting is now, ironically, the past. So, let’s just claim that the world of Patlabor exists in another dimension of some sort. The year for Patlabor is set in 1998. At the time, it was released, it was 10 years into the future.
In the world of Patlabor, man kind has robots working as giant laborers. Humans pilot those. The robot labors have become so common that crimes involving such machines begin to increase in numbers rapidly.
And inevitably police divisions specializing dealing with crimes involving the giant robots (labors) are created.
That is the very basic gist of what Patlabor is about. The main cast belongs to Patlabor division number 2 led by Goto Kiichi.
The main character is Izumi Noa, a young, petite woman who has just graduated from a police academy. She hails from Hokkaido.
Noa may be the main character but the anime is about the lives of all members from Patlabor division 1 and 2.
You see, when you watch anime that spans more than 45 episodes, there are bound to be what we now call “filler episodes”.
Anyone who have watched anime for any considerable amount of time is able to distinguish which are filler episodes.
Some avoid those because those have nothing to do with the plot or they avoid it because characters can act very out of character in such episodes.
In some anime, the plot simply restlessly moves on. (Hunter x Hunter comes to my mind.)
But, in the universe of Patlabor, filler episodes are what the main cast do when they have either day offs or when they have no work available.
In that sense, Patlabor’s filler episodes are not norm, at least not by today’s standards. In fact, in Patlabor, the story is required to have filler episodes. After all, they’ve got to have day offs and vacations, no? Policemen are not machines.
And that is what I like about Patlabor. It strikes a pretty good balance between work & play or plot versus off-plot. It is a slice of life genre at its finest quality where it makes me feel like I am watching over a group of people living lives instead of pursuing a great evil of some kind.
Well, indeed, there is no world-threatening evil. The biggest “evil” in Patlabor is just some guy in a suit from a mega corporation whose rank isn’t even that high.
Then, one must wonder: What is Patlabor about?
This is where similarities with Ozanari dungeon comes in. Both series began late 80s. (88 & 89), and both series have no plot goal of whatsoever in early stage of the series. Basically, both authors had absolutely no idea what they were doing early on.
What made Patlabor shine better than Ozanari dungeon is that Patlabor found its footing a lot faster than Ozanari dungeon did. Additionally, Patlabor was allowed to have plenty of filler episode by design whereas, in Ozanari dungeon, filler episodes were rather boring and had no purpose.
Even then, its first real, serious, episode begins at 10th episode (Anime only event). This won’t fly nowadays. I mean 12 episodes are “a season” in 2021. You can’t have a season where 10 out of 12 are filler episodes.
In my opinion, this current anime industry trend is deeply flawed and short-sighted. However, I am hearing frequently that newer generations have far shorter attention span in general.
Meaning, I guess it cannot be helped.
Well, now, Patlabor the manga and Patlabor the anime have very different plots. Again, I believe this is mostly due to a fact that manga took off a little too slowly. The author must have okay-ed plot deviations by the anime studio. He must have basically let its anime studio take over its plot of anime version.
Thankfully, this saved overall series. Those who watched anime liked it. And those who read its manga was content with what they were getting.
By 2021, basically you have two versions of Patlabor, the anime and the manga. They do have the same cast but quite different plots from each other, and honestly I favor the anime version.
At the same time, I do feel the differences in plots in anime & manga complement each other which is why I consider both of them canon.
What really makes me attracted to Patlabor is the flow of time. As with any technology, once it’s out, it’s already old. The same applies to Patlabor. Ingram 98, the Patlabor units they received at the start of the series swiftly gets old. By the end of the series, it is just an outdated unit.
Their units may be irrelevant by tech wise, but its pilots’ know-how, their experience of handling the machine for years daily, begin to shine over new labor machines.
Izumi Noa, who has handled her Ingram 98 (named Alfonse), had handled her machine almost daily for 2 years. With Division 1 getting Peacemaker 00 (short for year 2000), her unit becomes outdated.
Even so, even with an outdated machine, she manages to defeat a far superior enemy in Griffin which managed to defeat two Peacemaker 00s.
How? Rather simple. Having literally lived inside of her Ingram 98 for years, Noa was able to manipulate her machine as if it were her body. Basically, she was able to dodge attacks by a hair of difference. It would have not been possible if someone was new to a labor.
Such is also not possible with Peacemaker 00 as well because the new machine relies more on sensors and automated response by its software to make quick calls.
Basically, we are talking about cars with manual and automatic transmission. Shinohara industries, the maker of both Ingram and Peacemaker, vows to improve their software after seeing Ingram defeats Griffin that defeated two Peacemakers.
The company’s response eerily mirrors today’s PR responses.
Her efforts were not in vain though. Much later, on a TV, a labor expert praises Noa, saying that Ingram 98 was able to defeat Griffin only because she was so much used to handling the unit. It was a hair of difference, a small gap but big enough of a gap to be able to defeat a vastly superior machine. (The TV analysis is in manga only.)
The symbolism is clear to me. It is elites versus hardworkers. And hardworkers won.
Now, allow me to show you a small collection I have for Patlabor.
First of all, the manga. There are 22 volumes, and I have the Korean version. I never bothered to collect Japanese version because I wasn’t overly invested in manga plot.
The Korean version is heavily censored. What I mean by that, anything Japanese has been replaced with Korean stuff.
Japanese names are replaced with awkward Korean names (Who came up with such names? My God). Names of Japanese places got replaced. Any signs of Japanese words were simply erased. The censorship efforts are so blatant that it’s easy to see this manga is censored.
Still, since I was mostly watching the anime version, I never cared too much.
Now, the artbooks.
I will make it clear: Patlabor is the only anime series that I’ve purchased artbooks from. So, these two are the only anime artbooks I have. I purchased these in 1994 or something, so these are over 25 years old.
While they look okay on surface because I’ve kept them in dark, the books themselves are falling apart, especially the blue one because that’s the one I’ve opened far more frequently.
I absolutely love how Patlabor focuses on mundane life activities in their artbooks. And that is what Patlabor is basically about. It is a slice of life genre. Therefore, it should show life.
Well, if you haven’t caught on already, Noa and Asuma are pretty close. Well, they are similar ages to begin with, but it seems clear to me that Asuma finds great comfort in Noa.
Now, Asuma holds a not-so-secretive secret. His full name is Shinohara Asuma, Shinohara.
Shinohara industries – a mega corporation that has manufactured both Ingram and Peacemaker, and he is the only son. Asuma had an elder brother who committed suicide in protest to his father.
Interestingly, a fact that he is the only son of Shinohara industries is revealed in anime episode 2 or 3. However, a fact that he had an elder brother who committed suicide is revealed in the last episode of OVA, basically about 53 episodes later. And this is only for anime plot.
The blue artbook reveals Noa’s early life. She hails from a humble liquor shop. Really, there is nothing extraordinary about her early life.
She is the only child and has played basketball. It is indicated more than once that she wanted to turn pro but she was too small. In a dream she had when she passed out during a certain labor fist fight, she keeps mumbling “only if 5cm taller….”
She is quite athletic which is why she enlisted for the police academy in the first place. I do not know how tall she exactly is, but I believe her height is about 150cm.
Ironically, her small physique is how she got selected for the labor division because labor cockpit is pretty small. There were more qualified people but none could fit in the cockpit.
Well, I will say this. If she turned pro at basketball, she wouldn’t have met Asuma. In the end, I am pretty sure they will get married eventually.
Reason being is that, in the last few pages of the manga, Asuma makes it clear that he will take care of her when Noa jokingly complains that she may not be able to marry due to a rather long scar on her cheek that she earned during the final battle with Griffin. There is also another fact that he has shown Noa his elder brother’s tomb as well as telling her his story.
At the same time, I am absolutely positive that Asuma’s father would initially oppose since he’d want a political marriage for his son. However, having already lost his first son, I am also absolutely positive that he will let Asuma have his own way.
Shinohara Noa, the madam of Shinohara industries, the largest corporation in Japan in the world of Patlabor. Quite a promotion indeed.
I dare say, though, that Asuma needs Noa more than she needs him. He is somewhat unstable emotionally when it comes to family matters which points back to –
I will say no more on the matter.
In the end, Patlabor is one of a kind. There is nothing like this. Actually, as I’ve continued to review retro anime stuff, I begin to see how “plastic” modern anime feels and looks.
Well, that topic requires its own space.