Adventures in Verisimilitude: the Robot Police Patrol, Patlabor OVA

(G_P) Patlabor OVA 02(x264 1080p)(FF1EEDC3).mkv_snapshot_17.14_[2010.11.26_19.39.37]
I’ve been referred to Patlabor several times when I was looking for the most ‘realistic’ among real robot shows.

If I were to draw a continuum of relative realism within the real robot tradition, I would place shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Mobile Report Gundam Wing at the extreme end, and shows like FLAG and Patlabor on the more realistic end.

It’s a pretty thorny topic that invites incredibly detailed quibbling. I’m all for it, but I want to focus on Patlabor here.

The premise of the show is that the increase of industrial humanoid robot use (labors) corresponds to an increase in labor-related crimes. Section 2 of the police force is the unit assigned to become an anti-labor crime force.

[click image for BIGGER picture]

Patlabor, being a robot anime (implying merchandising is part of its figurative genetics), makes it so that an anti-labor police force would feature labors primarily. The best way to fight labors used in an unlawful context is to use labors as well.

I think this is a conceit more than it it is a reasonable assumption. I obviously have no problem with such a conceit, because it means more robots hell yeah! But my objective here is to locate the show within a continuum of realism — at least when it comes to robot use and related science and tactics (Patlabor OVA indulges in comedic absurdities such as fast-evolving giant humanoid sea monsters, as well as ghosts).

To fulfill this objective, I must question the primary use of labors as a police element. I am not questioning their overall value, just the primary use. I argue that rogue labors are best dispatched by enhanced SWAT elements (relative to the science fiction setting) rather than insisting on a labor vs. labor engagement.

Considering that the environment is urban, infantry with anti-labor ordnance would easily set up in environments that the rogue labor cannot easily threaten. Remember that these rogue labors are industrial and/or construction models and not military weapons. If so, then a military response (not a police one) is appropriate.

[OZC]Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. 2nd GIG E24 'Nuclear Power'.mkv_snapshot_10.28_[2010.11.26_20.11.28][OZC]Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. 2nd GIG E24 'Nuclear Power'.mkv_snapshot_11.02_[2010.11.26_20.17.46]
In support of the infantry are fast-deployment vehicles, and at least one helicopter gunship; which is one weapon that industrial labors will have very little means to combat. The basic tactic will be to use the gunship to corral the target into the infantry “kill zone” where it can be dispatched, or be negotiated with from a position of power.

The choice of using labors as a primary anti-labor crime fighting element is what prevents me from outright referring to Patlabor as the ‘realest’ among real robot shows.

Remember, this is not a value judgment! I happen to be very fond of the Patlabor OVA and the two films (I <3 Kanuka).

(G_P) Patlabor OVA 02(x264 1080p)(FF1EEDC3).mkv_snapshot_06.12_[2010.11.26_19.22.50]

Now, let us look into one factor that makes me reconsider my take. The Patrol Labors of Section 2 look great. It is mentioned in the first episode that these models are also designed to deliver a strong psychological blow to a human criminal in control of a labor. It makes for an expensive psychological weapon given the risks it has to take (being in the line of fire), but it does make sense. It will be big enough to intimidate many labor models, and its police colors will communicate authority very well, and serve as a deterrent for an active criminal to maintain dangerous activity during direct confrontations.

(G_P) Patlabor OVA 01(x264 1080p)(21B8D08E).mkv_snapshot_18.49_[2010.11.26_19.18.30]
A labor that goes amok will be a danger to many civilian persons, property, and specifically vehicles if they are on the road. The Patrol Labors can serve as direct obstacles to control such a rogue labor. It focuses the attention of the rogue towards what hopefully seems an overwhelming threat, which would result in a non-violent resolution of the conflict.

Given the lighter tone of the OVA, I think I’ve no problem agreeing with the claim that it is one of the ‘realest,’ despite my bias for military applications such as in FLAG. I also can’t help but favor Patlabor for its giant humanoid designs over what I’d consider even more realistic portrayals of mechanized combat, specifically from the Ghost in the Shell franchise.

In the second Patlabor movie, there are obvious military labors; suggesting that robots are the frontier of warfare (as it is in franchises like Gundam and Macross). I do note that the most humanoid forms belong to the Police labors which tie in with one of the latter points I attempt to make above. I still think, despite Patlabor staying within itself, Macross has the least ludicrous justifications for the existence of giant robots as main fighting units of the military.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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27 Responses to Adventures in Verisimilitude: the Robot Police Patrol, Patlabor OVA

  1. JELEINEN says:

    I think the Ingrams disqualify Patlabor from the running for most realistic. The creators designed them to not fit in with the rest of the setting. And on top of that there are the giant revolvers and shotguns…

    Personally, they could completely remove the robots from the setting and I’d love the series just as much. It was the character driven commedy and drama that I enjoyed about Patlabor.

    • Truly it works best as an ‘everyman’ kind of drama, but it’s more than that (especially considering the movies). They could’ve removed the robots from the setting and I may have liked it even more… but I probably would never have discovered it.

  2. BenDTU says:

    You forgot DAI-Guard: “It’s possible to make a giant robot, but given technological limitations they’re way less awesome than you’d think”

    On that note, would you recommend the OVAs over the series or vice versa?

    • I think DAI-Guard is indeed notable, but very interestingly in that it’s a projection of the SUPER robot fantasy onto an everyman setting. I’ve yet to continue watching it, as all my backlog watching has ground to a halt thanks to my rediscovery of video games (well, Super Robot Wars).

      I have not seen the Patlabor TV series, but only the OVAs and the 2 films. I love all of it so far.

  3. Blackholeheart says:

    I’ve always thought the the Patlabors made more sense as first responders to fires/accidents or as SWAT units or riot control and I would’ve eaten those stories up as well.

    • They aren’t completely implausible, but I don’t find the labors themselves intrinsically superior to current-gen, or even 90s-generation technology, methods, and practices. The thing about robot anime is that if it gives us some level of plausibility, we eat it up and love it — because it is wonderful to watch the human form doing heroic things. The Patrol Labors are giant policemen doing idealized police work. It’s great.

  4. Jack says:

    While it would certainly make sense for the military type to deal with some of these problems, but considering the amount of Labor incidents that would raise questions about military encroachment into a civilian area. If there’s one thing that Patlabor is concerned with (okay, that Oshii is concerned with) it’s militaristic forces running amok. Of course, you could have police equipped with such weaponry. Or just call in Mellow from Armor Hunter Mellowlink, he wouldn’t need any back-up.

    In the main TV series they do show the police attempting to intervene with a Labor incident, to disastrous results. Of course, they weren’t properly equipped for anti-labor combat.

    Another problem with attempting to deal with Labors without using Labors is attempting to deal with irrational/inebriated peoples, or those not in control of their Labor. You can’t really blockade a street in such a way that a Labor can be stopped, as they can easily walk through walls. Threatening to shoot them isn’t very affective when someone isn’t in full control of their faculties, which is why physically restraining them via a grapple or baton is usually how Labors are dispatched. I suppose you could attempt to destroy their legs, which might well be effective, if dangerous to the pilot.

    Ultimately none of that happens because Patlabor (well, the first OVA and the TV series+OVA 2) is light-hearted and doesn’t really have an interest in such matters.

    • Perhaps I’ve very little concern about military encroachment in a civilian area because Metro Manila grew around the GHQ of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Quezon City. My wife and her mother are soldiers. We were married inside the Cathedral within Camp Aguinaldo, which holds within the GHQ AND the Department of National Defense. Not too far away is the Bonifacio Naval Station, and the Villamor Air Base. All of these are within the megalopolis of Metro Manila.

      As a kid I grew up around major coup ‘d etats that happened right in the middle of the city (late ’80s), as well as ‘bloodless/civilian’ coups early last decade.

      I only mention this, because I’m probably unusually used to such things.

      SWAT should be the civilian solution, and there should be the tactics and ordnance for them to take care of labors (including anti-tank weapons; which SHOULD be effective since industrial labors are NOT armored).

      But yes, the humanoid Police labor resplendent in its colors works that way in an “anti-labor pilot gone amok” fashion.

  5. megaroad1 says:

    Patlabor is one of my favourite anime ever, but let’s face that at some level the way “robots or -mecha” are deployed in most anime is a tad unrealistic or at best technically unfeasible (not to mention a monstrous consumption of energy). Having said that, Patlabor always managed to convey a certain sense of everyday normalcy to the issue: Labors required an enormous amount of maintenance and were pretty fragile (no unobtanium here); spare parts were a constant problem; the units had to be transported in flat trucks to conserve energy ,etc… And those issues just added to the humour prevalent in the story.

    By the way, I’m glad to see that I wasn’t the only one with a crush on Lieutenant Kanuka Clancy!

    • Everything you mention is commendable in the franchise, and are things I truly appreciate. It’s kind of like praising Evangelion units for not having internal power supplies and have to run around plugged into sockets. The effort for verisimilitude is there.

      COMBAT!

  6. schneider says:

    In the TV series, most SV2 dispatches are due to amok labors or the occasional building hazard. A lot of them don’t even involve the Ingrams using their giant revolvers (okay, Ota does fire his gun a lot, but it’s generally ineffective!), and the electromagnetic baton is mostly a shock weapon. I haven’t seen a robot show that has more grappling than this!

    Plus they also try to achieve verisimilitude in more indirect, non-robot ways. In one episode, the SV2′s insurance company sends an inspector in the field in order to verify insurance claims, because they’ve been filing too many of them! There’s also a mini-arc devoted to Shinohara Heavy Industries trying to produce a cheaper version of the Ingram for mass production, which really does outline the difference between prototypes and production units.

    But yes, Oshii’s films are pretty unflattering for the Patlabors, while the TV series is more of a celebration of the Patlabor concept.

  7. Reid says:

    Ghostlightning,
    Having never seen “FLAG” myself, would you say its approach to mecha combat is similar to that portrayed in “Gasaraki”? That is to say, very realistically depecticed (read, boring) combat with a full support/command staff and lots of static images/news broadcast footage of said military engagements? My only hope is that the “cool” military versimilitude you mentioned in your continuum of the real robot tradition is not wasted on a pretty insipid and impenetrable plot (the kugai/demon thingies AND the extreme anti-American bias really ruined it for me).

    • I on the other hand, haven’t seen Gasaraki. However, FLAG’s battles are anything but boring. It takes on the feel of Ghost in the Shell, though perhaps even more detached. I never found the show to be particularly anti-American. This, from a non-American who has quite a few reasons to dislike the nation. But I don’t hate America and FLAG never gave me reason to.

    • schneider says:

      I’ve seen both.

      Gasaraki has a fixation on command staff, but FLAG doesn’t. The HAVWC mecha operate much more independently, and the direction relies on HUD shots to save the trouble of animating robots fully (it’s still very good, you could see how rebel troops are dispatched with gas grenades in cockpit view!).

      As for the show itself, FLAG is much less obtuse and boring, but be informed that the main character is a journalist covering the UN Peacekeeping force in control of the mechs. I guess it does embellish war journalism a bit, but it’s still the superior watch.

  8. Reid says:

    Thanks, ghostlightning and schneider. I’ve wanted to check “FLAG” out for a while now but just haven’t gotten around to it. I will definitely move it to the top of my anime list after I get done with “Bokurano”.

    My main qualm with “Gasaraki” (other than, as I’ve said, the almost childishly simplistic America-bashing) was that, as a mecha fan, it completely wasted the opportunity to show some decidedly believable mecha action (it’s a Ryosuke Takahashi project, after all, and he brought us “VOTOMS”) in favor of pandering to the then-vogue Evangelion-ish end-of-the-world-metaphysical-freudian-wangsty blahblahblah bullcrap. I’m encouraged to hear that “FLAG” doesn’t have this kind of stuff. Also, as a reporter, I think it’s high time a journo got the lead role in a mecha war story! Sounds like a great new series to start. Thanks again, everyone.

  9. Flaser says:

    I’m sure the army or any *properly* *armed* force would totally stomp labors…
    …but think of the costs people!

    A labor is a *very* expensive piece of construction equipment. You want it more or less *intact*, and *returned* to its proper owner… so restraining the machine then dispatching the illegal operator is the way to go.

    Sure it will cost more to operate and maintain a dedicated labor police force then just a squad of anti-armor infantry, but if you figure in the *total* cost of equipment that’d be destroyed that way the labor force more than pays for itself… in fact make labor operating companies pay for it! Part of their insurance would go toward the labor police.

    • Great point! However, it just shifts the conversation whether only other giant labors are the best non-lethal solution against non-armed rogue labors. In a robot show, it can’t be anything else hehe.

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  12. Chris says:

    Sorry to respond to an old post of yours. I came across when it looking for the most plausible mecha anime, at least the most plausible a mecha anime can get, and I have to say that I absolutely love Patlabor, especially the first two films. However, I was wondering if there are any interviews or quotes for Mamoru Oshii himself in regards to his feelings on mecha? Is he a fan of the concept, or does he use it to exploit its impracticality?

    • Thank you for commenting on an old post. There’s a reason why I don’t close comments on old discussions: I kind of want to remember love.

      Unfortunately, I’ve no resourcefulness when it comes to obtaining interviews, as I’m less interested in creators and more interested in the fictional end work. Good luck in your search and may you find other things to enjoy in our archives.

  13. Greyfalke says:

    So Dragonar would land in the middle of the chart?

    • I can’t confirm because I haven’t watched Dragonar. Someday I will though!

    • Reid says:

      Yeah, I’d put Dragonar right there with Macross and Gundam and all that in the middle of the chart, especially seeing as Dragonar was supposed to be the spiritual successor to Gundam. Hahaha those fools. Gundam weighs our spirits down with its gravity and we love it. However, Dragonar did do a lot of cool things with mecha design that makes some of the junk from Gundam look, well, like junk. Also, Dragonar has a really good OP.

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