Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 29th 2006
Patlabor 2: The Movie
DVD: Collector's Limited Edition Set + Books
Three years have passed since the incident with the Babylon Project [as seen in the first movie], and many of the members of SV2 have gone their separate ways: Oota's a pilot trainer, Noa and Asuma test new Labors, and others have retired or been promoted. Gotoh still remains, though, as does Shinobu Nagumo as the acting section chief. New trouble arises when seeming terrorist strikes wreak havoc and confusion among the government, military, and public, and a former lover and commander of Nagumo, Yukihito Tsuge, seems to be at the center of it. With his superiors either compromised or unable to see the big picture it falls to Gotoh, with the help of regular police ally Matsui and new-found intelligence officer contact Shigeki Arakawa, to sort out what the apparent terrorists are up to and why. When the situation turns really ugly, the old team is reassembled to deal with the perpetrators.
First released in 1993 but set in the year 2002, Patlabor 2 is a direct sequel to the original Patlabor movie. Its composition marks a distinct departure for the franchise from its TV series content and that of the first movie, which were relatively balanced mixes of humor, action, and police drama. Mecha action takes a back seat and light-hearted moments are almost non-existent as the story develops a serious, complex, and philosophical drama borne of disillusionment, one where confusion and chaos are the expected outcomes rather than the tools of the enemy. Even the extreme personalities one would normally expect to see in a (nominal) mecha title are kept to a minimum. While not at all graphic and only occasionally violent, this is a movie clearly intended for mature audiences.
That Mamoru Oshii, who directed the Patlabor OVAs and first movie and did screenplay work on the TV series, also directed this one should be obvious to anyone who's familiar with his work. The way he frames scenes and injects long-winded philosophizing into the story is very similar to what was seen a couple of years later in his iconic Ghost in the Shell. This time around his philosophy of choice is an ongoing debate between Gotoh and Arakawa about the nature and relationship of war and peace, a topic which has a direct bearing on the plot. His tendency to get carried away with such dialogues pops up several times, which heavily contributes to the movie's one significant flaw: it drags at times, especially in its first half. The general intensity and urgency begin to build when the wide-spread military deployment starts at the halfway point and kicks into high gear when the terrorists make their big move, but even when the major action scenes come the story never loses sight of being, first and foremost, a drama. The climax may not be the slam-bang affair otaku are used to, but it is consistent with the structure of the movie and feels both appropriate and satisfying.
It's also important to note that Patlabor 2 was, for its time, a rare case of an anime tackling modern-day social issues in Japan. It very squarely looks at early-'90s Japanese discomfort with, and disdain for, the status of their Self-Defense Forces; the conflicts that arise between the SDF and police in the movie are partly an extrapolation of real-life tensions. It also speaks strongly to the nature of the peace Japan had experienced for decades since World War 2 and the effect Japan's insulation from warfare has had on the public mindset. Some of the problems which arise in the movie were later seen as foreshadowing of problems Japan faced in the mid-90s. Thus, moreso than most anime titles, Patlabor 2's content can be seen as indicative of the time of its creation.
Whereas the TV and OVA series centered on Noa, and Asuma was the star of the first movie, both are only supporting players this time around despite having several minutes of early scenes. Gotoh is the real star here, although the story actually centers more on Nagumo. Most of the classic supporting cast members make at least brief appearances, down even to the lowliest peon technician, with Kanuka Clancy being the only notable absentee. Because of that, the last third of the movie has the classic “bringing the old gang back together one last time” feel to it.
The character designs, once again done primarily by Akemi Takeda, noticeably age many of the characters (especially Noa, who looks more masculine than ever), but given the three-year time lapse this isn't unusual or unexpected. Most favor realistic looks, with only Arakawa's wide-mouth, big-nosed, and appropriately reptilian visage qualifying as a caricature. The Labor designs, spider-like tank, and mobile gun platforms are all ordinary designs by mecha standards but are still drawn well. In fact, nearly all of the cel artistry is drawn and integrated well with effectively-rendered backgrounds, and even the small amounts of CG used were designed to integrate seamlessly with the cel art. There's nothing bright or cheery about the color scheme, but this isn't a bright or cheery series to begin with, and the animation is very good when present. Visually and technically speaking, it's one of the better anime titles of the early '90s, and its heavy production emphasis on layouts vs. storyboards not only shows in its scene selections but had a distinct influence on the anime industry in the years that followed its release. Among those working on the layouts was prominent future director Satoshi Kon.
Background music is used sparingly throughout the movie, but when it is present it favors heavy, pulsing techno beats backed by airy, haunting vocals for the intense scenes and soaring synthesized scores in other places. Though orchestrated, the opening and closing themes have much the same sound. The 5.1 audio tracks, which are present for both the English and Japanese dubs, beautifully bring out the crisp sound effects.
As with Bandai's recent release of the first movie under its Honneamise label, its production of Patlabor 2 has replaced the original Manga Entertainment dub with a completely new cast and script. The updated script is much more faithful than that of the original Manga Entertainment dub, while the English cast returns from Bandai's dub for the first movie. The English VAs have clearly settled into their roles better since the first movie, creating a dub that, this time, is about on par with the original Japanese. Performances in key roles are also about even with the ME dub, while a distinct improvement can be heard in minor supporting roles. Improvements in audio and recording technology over the years have also eliminated the sometimes-shrill sound of the voices in the original English dub. The new version does suffer a bit from a lack of expressiveness, but that's a fault of the original writing, as the Japanese dub has the same issue. (According to some of the Extras, though, this was partly intentional.)
Casual Patlabor fans can probably content themselves with the regular version of the movie, which includes trailers and TV commercials for the movie as its extras. It also retains the original Japanese closer, with the English credits only found in the DVD Credits menu. The true collector or Patlabor fanboy/girl who's willing to shell out triple the normal price can instead get the fully-loaded Limited Collector's Edition, which includes artwork and extras never before available for American release. Among its content are:
• A very sharp gold-foil slipcase.
• A 295-page book with a gold foil cover, which contains the complete original storyboards by Mamoru Oshii. It includes translated plot notes and accompanying dialogue for each scene and a substantial glossary of animation terminology at the end.
• A 144-page Movie Archives book with a wealth of extra information, including key animation scenes, staff profiles, the original movie brochure, a production log, 1993 and 1996 interviews with Oshii, character and mecha profiles, pictures of location scouting, and notes on the production, history, and social relevance of the title, the last of which is especially interesting reading.
• A second DVD, which contains the 42-minute Making File Remix, a collection of video interviews from two previous video and laser disk releases in Japan which concern all aspects of the movie's production.
Does all of this make it worth the almost $90 MSRP? If you're willing to blow that much money on a Special/Limited edition of an anime movie, you could do much worse.
Patlabor 2 was originally intended to be the final chapter in the Patlabor franchise, an intention later proved false by the creation of a third movie and a later parody spin-off called “Mini Pato.”
Its franchise has always distinguished itself from other mecha titles by the real-world feel it gives to its content and its concentration on adults rather than teenagers, and in this the second movie certainly holds true to its origins. If you're looking for typical action-oriented mecha fare than this is the wrong place to be, but if you're looking for something wholly dramatic, insightful, and mature then you've come to the right place.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Strong artistic and technical merits, serious and mature storytelling, superior extras with the Limited Collector's Edition.
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