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Mecha are a heavily, and quite possibly over, used trope in anime. Therefore there are generally two things I’m going to look for in a mecha show before I fully approve of it:
1) The mecha make logical sense within the universe; and
2) The show is about the characters using the mecha, rather than about the mecha.

This is one of the minor reasons that Neon Genesis Evangelion fails as a series (I’ve spoken ranted about other aspects before). Conversely an earlier Gainax offering Gunbuster gets away with being completely over the top because the focus is more on the impact on time dilation on the characters.

A more recent series, Rideback, has motorcycle based semi mecha that fit neatly into the social matrix presented and also fit the main character perfectly.

Conversely, despite the fact that I adore almost everything else about it, Escaflowne is just a touch too much about the guymelefs to meet my criteria for a favourite mecha series.

So where does that leave us? With Patlabor: The Mobile Police of course.

Do the MechaLabors make logical sense within the universe?

Once you get over the initial suspension of disbelief (face it: humanoid mecha on that scale don’t really make a lot of sense), you find that the science part of the “science fiction” is quite rigorous in Patlabor.

With the possible exception of the battery life there is very little in the way of unobtainium in the extrapolations made. As a result the in-universe designers are forced to make some painful trade-offs when designing labors (the in universe term for the mecha). 

You want endurance and power. Fine, we’ll give you a diesel power plant…but the resulting mecha will be heavy, slow, and not really good for much else beyond construction. Oh, and the occasional crime like, say, ripping ATMS out of a wall. 🙂

You want speed and agility. Fine, we’ll use high capacity batteries…but the resulting mecha will have a limited run time. Great for short combats, not so much for extended engagements. If you need to travel some distance better use a truck to carry the thing. And you might want  a source of external support/tactical advice for a pilot relying on monitors etc. to react to the outside world.

You want articulated armour for the joints? Sorry, no material capable of that is available. You’ll have to get by with canvas that stretches over the joints. Try not to get hit there (too often).

You want sophisticated software to control movements? Well, we can kinda deliver a basic set with an expert network, but the pilot will have to develop her own movement data over time to really get the most out of that. Don’t forget regular back ups (plot point) and to secure them – movement data from a good pilot is valuable (also a plot point). [Aside: A friend of mine has a PhD in cybernetics and tells me that this was a reasonable approach to this sort of thing in the early 90s when Patlabor was made, I’m not sure if it is still valid).

As I’ve hinted at above once the labors exist they get put to logical uses both lawful (construction) and criminal (ripping ATMs out of a wall , drunk driving in a labor, etc.).

Once you have criminal usage, the obvious counter is to have police units with fast agile labors that can put the (usually) heavier but slower construction labors down fast.

But then you need crew for the police labors. Which leads us to:

Is Patlabor about the labors, or about the police using the labors?

Oh yes. Despite the name, in Patlabor the labors are just props. Rigorously logical and well thought out props granted.

But ultimately just props for the the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Special Vehicle Section 2, Division 2.

And what a fabulous bunch of characters they are. There are a lot of subtleties built into these characters and their relationships with each other.

I won’t go into details here but things to watch out for are some occasionally not-so-subtle comments about class and gender (a working class girl from Hokkaido partnered with a scion of a major industrial firm?). The tentative relationship between Captain Gotoh and the much higher class (but slightly disgraced) Captain Nagumo of Division 1 is possibly too subtle.

The main thing to watch out for is that the logic applied to designing the labors carries over into the characters needed to deploy the labors…that you might only see in action for a minute each episode. Sometimes they don’t power up at all.

First up: Maintenance, The patrol labors, particularly Division 2’s Ingrams, are hangar queens. They need a lot of maintenance. So there’s about 50+ members of the maintenance team way out in the reclaimed land of Tokyo Bay. Classic fodder for an anime loon squad, and this is one of the best particularly when episodes focus on them.

Second: Deployment. Powered by batteries with limited run time and somewhat limited tactical awareness, deploying a patlabor requires some effort. A largish truck with a raiseable deck to carry it, as well a lightly armoured command car to zip around behind it providing tactical advice means at least three personnel are required for each patlabor. [Aside: there is a minor fault here, logically the command car should have a separate driver]. Plus the Division Captain in his own ordinary police car.

That’s quite an investment in machinery and personnel so the Police only maintain a few Divisions and have them alternate 24 hour on call. So Division 1 is also on site, and the relationships there can get…interesting.

For the most part though the show focuses on the 7 characters who are members of SV2 and the hijinks they get up to, and generally does it brilliantly throughout all of the franchises incarnations (with one major exception).

And that is what, ultimately, makes Patlabor my favourite mecha series.

Day 1 – Very first anime: Robotech, Gall Force, Vampire Princess Miyu
Day 2 – Favourite TV series: Card Captor Sakura
Day 3 – Your anime crush: Oh grow UP already.
Day 4 – Favourite Film: My Neighbour Totoro
Day 5 – Anime character you feel you are most like (or wish you were): Kinoshita (Rocket Girls)
Day 6 – Most annoying anime character: Lynn Minmei
Day 7 – Character you’d most like to slap: Hiyama Hikaru
Day 8 – Most epic scene ever: Launch day – Wings of Honneamise
Day 9 – Saddest anime scene: The passing of the Fortune Twins – Nariya and Eriya
Day 10 – Favourite slice of life anime: ARIA
Day 11 – Favourite mecha series: Patlabor: The Mobile Police
Day 12 – Best instalment of a franchise you don’t like
Day 13 – Worst instalment of a franchise you do like.
Day 14 – Current (or most recent) anime wallpaper
Day 15 – A reality check for a genre you like
Day 16 – An anime classic that simply doesn’t work for you.
Day 17 – Best Background Music
Day 18 – Best Five-team (?)
Day 19 – Change you’d like to make to any one anime
Day 20 – Most ambiguous anime character
Day 21 – Favourite OAV Series
Day 22 – Animation studio you’d most like to slap.
Day 23 – Anime you think had the best, or most intriguing art
Day 24 – Favorite anime hero or heroine
Day 25 – Best anime villain
Day 26 – Your favorite harem anime
Day 27 – Favorite anime opening theme song
Day 28 – Favorite anime companion/summoned creature
Day 29 – Best Anime Music Video
Day 30 – Favorite anime ending theme