Anime Review: Patlabor the Movie 2

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Everyone knows that I’m fully against direct adaptations. More often that not, I want to see the director’s vision of what he sees the source material as and bring us something you can’t get through reading. Of course, that’s only true provided he has a reason for doing so. Because whilst I’m sure that the source material is a load of shit by itself, I fail to see why Shin Oonuma is adding Jojo references to Nourin when there’s no context for why that particular anime is being referenced in a show about farming other than “it looks cool”. Yes, I know there’s farming in the first few episodes of Jojo too, but that connection is so loose that you’d have better luck trying to find similarities between the sport of Nascar and a safari ranger.

Patlabor 2: The Movie is one such adaptation. It was the final installment of the Patlabor franchise – minus Patlabor 3, but nobody cares about Patlabor 3 – to come out after everything else from either the movie or the TV timeline and just like the first film, it’s directed by Mamoru Oshii, king of the philosophical adaptations that either get me excited or give me a 104-degree headache. With this installment, he basically went the same path as the second Urusei Yatsura movie in that he decided to fuck canon and put his own spin on the thing. This time, with his tackling of the Japanese government and how he basically critiques the prosperity and turmoil it’s gone over ever since we tried to kill them in the 40s.

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Don’t go into this expecting a revisit to an old franchise favorite or anything. In fact, you could jump into this film with as much knowledge about the franchise as men know about women and you’d still be just as lost or intrigued or whatever. Three years after the first movie, the Labor team have split apart and moved on to bigger and better things and life is all moody for them in that “I wish we could go back to the good old days, but we have to move on” mode. However, when a bunch of terrorist attacks occur and a military takeover is imminent, pardon my bluntness, but “shit bigger than anything the characters have ever faced before happens and now they’ve got to do something about it”.

The movie is centered on Captain Goto and Nagumo, the more serious members of the Patlabor cast, with the mecha and the other characters from the previous installments having less screenplay and importance than Tom and Jerry had in their own movie. This is most likely because a mecha otaku like Noa would be miscast in a story that attempts to take on something as serious as war and whether the peace brought from it is worth it. It’d be like making Larry the Cable Guy, the protagonist of a film that tackled the evils of the oil industry…oh wait. But it’s also effective because they’re the two characters who have had a lot of potential for fleshing out in the past, and yet they never got it before now. Although keep in mind, I didn’t see the TV series, so they might have gotten it in that.

Not that the movie really fleshes them out beyond what’s required for the plot or anything. Goto is mostly just there to move the plot along whilst Nagumo’s story for the movie is less about her and more about her relationship with the main bad guy, a dude who holds a grudge against Japan after an operation in Cambodia went south mostly because Schniezel Vi Britannia wasn’t in the country at the time to have his genius tactics in government and war exploited. Still the increased importance on them allows us to see sides of them that we haven’t seen before, and that’s a hell of a lot more characterization than most other anime partake in these days.

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As you probably guessed from a Mamoru Oshii anime with a political agenda, it’s less character-focused and more story-focused. A ton of the movie is basically exposition that whilst interesting because it covers serious issues cleverly and is supported by really beautiful atmospheric shots, it requires you to not be drunk in order to understand what’s going on. It’s intermixed of course with missiles being dropped, guns being fired, and the robots being utilized at times, but even those scenes are heavy with political strife. You guys know I’m not all that big into politics and shit beyond the basics as is, so when I have to sit through what’s basically a five-minute long car scene of nothing but talking heads, followed by gunfights against terrorists with a mission on their mind, you can bet that I’d need a really open mind to digest that “war has casualties in more ways than one”.

You might have figured out by now that whilst I like the movie, I’m in no way as big a fan of it as other people are because of personal biases, and as such don’t feel qualified to analyze its themes more clearly like some hardcore fans do. If anything, I probably respect the film more for what it represents than what it actually is. But in terms of 1993 movies, I’d probably watch either Iron Monkey or Batman: Mask of the Phantasm over this.

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That of course doesn’t change the fact that I’d recommend Patlabor 2 if asked. In addition to the fact that most of my readers are probably more politically inclined than I am, the visuals are great, the action is cool, the characters are engaging, the government issues – whilst not exactly subtle – are cleverly weaved into the narrative and still relevant as of today. However, my biggest compliment to the film is that it stands on its own as a complete story, Patlabor-connection or not. And really, that’s the best kind of film adaptation, anime or otherwise. If only the K-On! Movie went a similar path. Oh well!

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