Preparing for the Worst: Patlabor and the Rationale of Training


The “job” is to prepare for the improbable, but the worst-case scenario in the greater scheme of things,  meant (civil) war (and perhaps the unwelcome intervention of the United States military in Japanese domestic affairs). But even in the fundamental activities of rendering service (in this case, the police force), the trainees work to deal with scenarios where things go wrong.

Let us take Oota’s diatribe aimed at the “kids these days” breed of Labor Pilot Trainees in the firing range.

Trainee: Question, Sir!
Oota: What?
T: Um, why are you making us do this using only manual controls? I understand there’s a 98% hit ratio using the Fire Control System.
O: And what if your FCS is malfunctioning?
T: Sir? Police Labor activities are normally done in pairs.
O: And what if your partner’s Labor is disabled?
T: But the odds against that are a million to one…
O: Training to prepare for that one in a million is our jobs as cops you moron!


I’m tempted to relate the idea of this with Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s theory of The Black Swan, wherein the highly improbable causes the most impact. In the case of the FCS malfunctioning, the risk isn’t the probability of it happening, but rather the cost of the consequences: failed mission, loss of fighting capacity, and ultimately loss of human life.

In the greater scheme of things, Tsuge Yukihito’s irrational acts of terrorism is something the totality of the Japanese government isn’t prepared for. They were acting with the assumption of a coup d’état but Tsuge isn’t even quite interested in redistributing power. In some ways, he is closer in the spectrum of antagonists to the Batman franchise’s  The Joker, who, as Alfred explains to Bruce Wayne in The Dark Night film, is “someone who just wants to watch the world burn.”


The probability that someone with supreme military capability and organizational skill to not want what other intelligent and powerful people want (more power), is beyond the imagination of the government. Thus their countermeasures, organization, and plans all fail. It took the Police Section 2, who as Oota demonstrates, is an organization that is devoted in preparing to deal with worst-case scenarios.

A particular telling scene is when Tsuge’s operation included an attack on Section 2’s Labor hangar, destroying all their current generation equipment. I was shocked and impressed with how this film did this, considering how it makes more sense to have these new models play the leading part of saving the day.


Instead, the obsolete Labors from the first film get to take the field. They were maintained and kept in fighting shape under the auspices of research and development, but Gohto apparently always kept them in mind as an auxiliary mechanized combat unit.

Patlabor The Movie 2 is more than a meditation on preparedness. I just thought it would be interesting to account for this idea that would be easy enough to overlook among the many things to appreciate here in this Oshii Mamoru film.

To take this step further I’ve invited Kaioshin to further explore this idea and bring real world parallels to the discussion:

Even with the relative preparedness of Special Division 2 Oshii presents another challenge to us.  What if it still wasn’t enough?  Patlabor 2 ends on a note no less pensive and uncertain as when it began.  Nagumo has succeeded in apprehending Tsuge but the city is still under martial law and Tsuge says almost teasingly to Nagumo and by proxy the viewer that he wants to see the cities future.  Cut to black and roll credits.  SD-2 has done their job and ended the source of the crisis, but the rest of the work which is arguably even harder lies in the hands of the politicians and military officials who Goto dismissed in disgust before he and Nagumo decided to take matters into their own hands.  In the end they hold the key to the future of the city, not SD-2.  How do you go back from a state of martial law in a Western democracy in what is supposed to be a peace time?  Patlabor 2 doesn’t seek to answer this question.  Nonetheless the fear of reprisal by Tsuge’s cell who could very well still be hidden amongst sectors of the military or copycat tactics by other terrorists looking to take advantage of the confusion surely hangs in the air as it did in our own world following the September 11th 2001 attacks on the United States.

The United States escaped martial law, but changes still happened that have yet to be repealed such as tougher border laws and internal spying programs that straddle the border between lawful and unconstitutional.  Perhaps Canada comes closer to answering the question of how to go back that Patlabor 2 escapes with it’s credit role.  In 1970 Prime Minister Trudeau took it one step further than President Bush during the October crisis when the War Measures Act was put into force and effect in Quebec in order to deal with the kidnapping of government officials and mail box bombings attributed to a  group with separatist goals calling themselves the Front de libération du Québec.  Tanks could be seen in the streets and near government buildings much like what was depicted in Patlabor 2; albeit acting in supporting role to police who were given broad and seemingly limitless powers to arrest suspected FLQ members and cells and to put an end to the crisis as quickly and swiftly as possible.  When the crisis was over civil liberties, curfews and rights of the accused were restored and the military withdrew, but in reality there was never a true state of martial law so it can’t be argued that it was ever lifted.

In Patlabor 2 however the entire situation was different.  The police were taken off the case entirely and power was invested in the military to resolve the crisis, ultimately proving to be ineffective but nonetheless in charge of all affairs within the city.  Now that the line is crossed what is to stop the fictional Japanese government from crossing it again or even returning to the status quo in the first place?  Unfortunately much like Oshii I can offer no answer that question.

Further Reading

Other thoughts on The Black Swan in anime (mechafetish 11/35/2008)
A preferential question re Patlabor TV (schneider 08/15/2010)

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.
This entry was posted in analysis and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Preparing for the Worst: Patlabor and the Rationale of Training

  1. kluxorious says:

    Never heard of this but the art and animation made me intrigued. I want to check this out

    • Kaioshin Sama says:

      The whole art and animation package is excellent, but it’s the background art that stole the show IMO. Once you see it you’ll know what I mean. 🙂

    • fathomlessblue says:

      It’s probably best to look for the original, 8 episode ova series before delving into the two movies. The animation’s pretty low budget and dated, plus most of the stories are light-hearted and a bit silly but it’s the best introduction for the characters. The movies, although completely different in tone, assume you already know who everyone is, so it can be a bit confusing figuring out who’s who.

  2. Shance says:

    And yet another reason for me to start watching Patlabor surfaces.

  3. fathomlessblue says:

    Great article, it sums up the vibe of the movie; many difficult questions, few, if any answers.

    The film, while a work of near genius (and I try not to use that phrase lightly) always leaves me a bit dispondent due to the fact that the one man, Goto, who refuses to stick his head in the sand is pretty much treated as a pariah, mistrusted and pushed out of sight by his superiors. That he manages to escape his escort and successfully pull off his counter-attack is achieved through luck as much as skill. What exactly would the future of Japan be like without his machinations?

    Perhaps this is a tad dramatic in a real world context, but it’s a sad thought to think of our societies Goto’s, the modest guys trying to make a difference on their own terms, as being treated in a similar way.

    On an unrelated note I just have to mention my love for the original ‘manga entertainment’ dub (one of the few I like), particularly Gotoh’s superb VA, Peter Marinker. It’s a shame the recent and superior quality ‘Bandai visual’ dub isn’t of the same standard, even if the translation is more accurate.

    • Thanks. The story of Goto is part of what gives the film its emotive weight. To me it brings forward the contradictions of conformity and individualism in the Japanese warrior tradition.

      The fighter (samurai) fights in terms of duels and not as a unit with other fighters. Despite this, what is expected of him is obedience in its most absolute form, conformity to the expressed and implied wishes of his lord.

      What to do when the lord is without wisdom? Countless vassals must have agonized over this. Goto’s story is a great case.

  4. Kuro says:

    Patlabor is awesomeness physicalized. I still remember wathcing and musing to myself This is the type of anime self declaredotaku of today will only see for its action and mechs, not for the implications and rationale that it imparts.

    I really like your article sir. It was a very well written article. I support of this article.

    • Thank you, credit goes to Kaioshin for the (geo)political content.

      I think at any given time, different people will have different levels of appreciation for a work. Myself for example:

      16 years ago I did not, and could not, have had a philosophical appreciation for Ghost in the Shell. I may have pretended that I did, but it would be shallow and every bit the equivalent of a university freshman (which I was at the time). I certainly would not be able to write a post like this back then.

      What did I love about GitS? Incredibly stylish and “realistic” action, a high degree of graphic violence, and Motoko Kusanagi naked. Over the years, rewatching it and learning what I learned at university increased both the level of my appreciation, as well as provided me with various approaches of appreciating it.

      Political and especially geopolitical awareness and appreciation isn’t something I expect younger viewers to have, nor do I expect them to have the critical tools afforded to unwise students who choose to major in the humanities.

      Therefore, I wouldn’t get so worked up at how “the self-proclaimed otaku of today” seeing certain works using the only lenses and filters provided by their experience and education.

  5. megaroad1 says:

    The Patlabor films are absolutely amazing and a prime example of why I became interested in anime in the first place. And I can really see much of what Oshii would later use to make Ghost in the Shell.

    I do have to say though, that I missed some of the humour present in the Patlabor TV series and OVA’s. I know well it would have taken some of the edge of this grim and very serious movie.

    • I have the OVAs somewhere, but I haven’t seen it yet. I’ll have to make time for them soon, maybe after I follow the completion devil and watch Gundam SeeD and SeeD Destiny (no, I’m serious… I may watch these shows).

  6. Main R.U.D says:

    The movie has everything done so well, It put standards on how a Movie should differ from it TV series,
    I watch the series and get culture shock when watching the movie, It make me see who the director is, the drama of Goto and Nagumo was the center of everything while everyone else is busy preparing what Goto might plan was is the only relation to the TV series.
    The movie had the best story ever, sometime I think it was too realistic after what happen Sept 11, It had the best director; he spins the plot so beautifully that it makes us watching a non SI-FI anime (reducing the attention to all the use of mechas) and the political thriller issue was even among Hollywood’s motion picture, the best animation crew HEADGEAR, they put everything as realistic as possible, and the best soundtrack, they put Kenji Kawaii in charge of it probably because of Oshii’s intention making it as big as Ghost In The Shell movie.
    The third movie was rather off than it suppose to, it more than a cameo of PATLABOR rather than it’s PATLABOR’s 3rd movie. Which makes the 2nd movie more appealing than the new one,

    • Pardon the late reply.

      You really like Oshii don’t you? I’ll look into watching the rest of the Patlabor franchise maybe next year.

      Have you seen the Sky Crawlers? If so you may be interested in what I have to say about it (post is in the archives).

  7. Pingback: Moments of 2010 in Anime & Manga: The Stuff From Another Time (Other Years) | We Remember Love

  8. Pingback: Adventures in Verisimilitude: the Robot Police Patrol, Patlabor OVA | We Remember Love

  9. Pingback: The Relevant Brilliance of Broken Blade (Finale) | We Remember Love

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s