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.
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.
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).
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.
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.