PatLabor 1 & 2 : The Movies

Image of DVD cover (66k jpg)

Released by: Madman Entertainment.
Region: Four.
Aspect Ratio: 4:3 (letterboxed) on both discs.
Disc 1:

Disc 2:

When I first started to watch Anime the very first thing I saw was 'Akira'. As those who have seen that film can understand I was somewhat blown away with the complicated story, told in terse segments because there was so much to squeak in, and the intrieguing concept of primal life force or potential the film is based around. After such a heady first diet the next few selections were tame by comparison. It was some time before I stuck another film that had the philosophical depth I could actually get my teeth into and think about.

Pat Labor was the next film that I felt showed the potential Anime has for telling tales no other medium could. (Although with the increasing prevalence and cheapness of computer imagery my original reasons for thinking this are become steadily more outdated.) In it's universe mechnisation has reached the next level with labors being used for construction and military work. Naturally humanity being what it is police labors are needed as well for when people misuse these mechanised beasts large swaths of destruction are common.

Pat Labor concentrates on a particular Police Labor unit that has been dealing with a sudden up swing in the number of Labors malfunctioning and going beserk. Things have become sufficiently bad that the unit is being run ragged. Naturally the movie centres around the reasons for why this upswing is occuring and what can be done about it.

It is based off a TV series that I have never seen so I can quite happily say that familiarity with the universe isn't required to watch it. The film has a few, mercifully quick, exposition segments near the begining that bring newcomers up to speed with the minimum of pain. It draws off christian mythos - particularly the Tower of Babel and is interesting in that it came out around the sametime Neal Stephenson's 'Snowcrash' did, which is also derived from the Tower of Babel.

Characterisation and voice acting is almost uniformly excellent in the dubbed version. The one exception is Noah's voice who at times lapses into the overly giggly or cute mode but is otherwise spot on. And what characters we have too. Most impressive is Goto the seasoned commander who knows something is going on and has been quietly working on putting people in the right places at the right times to help sort this mess out. His is the most defined and well thought out character - acting as the piece's centre in unravelling the mystery.

Unusually the main villian of the piece is never really seen on screen, except for once at the begining. All of his motivations and deeds are relayed to us piece by piece as the team work it out. Combined with a canny sense of politics and you have a satisfying story that entertains whilst also musing on the price of change & alledged progress. It is lovely that a story sufficiently replete with action as Pat Labor is takes time out to contemplate the effects that progress has, exemplified through the labors and what they facilitate.

Frequently through the film a feeling of slight sadness is engendered as we contemplate what has been lost. Helped no end by a clever musical score that switches from deftly from being modern to quintessentially Japanese without being abrupt or unsettling.

Frankly it is hard to say anything bad about the film really. It's animation is a little dated by todays computer enhanced standards but does the job competantly and conveys a feeling of reality to the world well. Particularly impressive are the mecha who actually look plausibly functional in their respective roles. I rank this film as one of the defining films that pretty much any anime collector should have in their collection.

This is disc one of a two disc set Madman have put out. Disc two features the second PatLabor feature film. Here the tone of the film shifts from being a little more action driven to being almost completely political and character driven. Such that there are only two action pieces bookending the film. Like the first it is a contemplative tale which this time muses on the price of peace and especially the price Japan risks paying for the way it has kept peaceful. Don't mistake it for being a martial film - it is far from it.

It also capstones the development of the characters with the Special Vehicles Unit #2 having split up and mostly gone their various ways. The very first time I saw this film I must admit to being underwhelmed by it. I had been expecting more of the same mix that the first film had, instead this was a quieter affair that had world changing events going on but we were like the characters - always pheriperal to the events and wondering exactly what is going on. It is only towards the end of the film that both viewer and characters become fully informed and involved more viscerally. The rest of time is pensively spent reacting to what the central villians are doing or reasoning through why they are doing what they are.

As I have grown older and more accustomed to anime my opinion of the film changed. Possibly having seen more of Mamoru Oshii's work I have started to understand his style. That said this is a slower and much more talky film but it delivers in once again providing food for though over the price of peace and whether an unjust peace really is better than a quite possibly just war. That also marks the other change of the film, in many ways the central villian isn't clearly wrong and simply out for destruction as Eichi Hoba is in the first film. Here all the way through he remains an understandable and sympathetic character who may actually be right to make the stand he has.

The interveening years between the two films also shows in the improvement in animation quality. The first film, while still very watchable, makes do with animation around fifteen odd frames per second mark. Usually only the more dynamic combat scenes where rapid panning or motion occurs shows it up but the animation has aged a little. The second film has an integration of CG work to help and as such is a smoother affair.

Not that the animation quality does much more than inform the viewer as to the age of the story. Like any really good tale the story itself transcends the animation used to weave these two films musing on the price of change and societies ills. These are films that have aged well and still stand up as being well crafted and told tales. A worthy addition to any anime collection and this dual set is a great way to cheaply collect them. My one major gripe is that I would dearly love to see a version of these films correctly formatted for 16x9 display instead of these letterboxed 4x3 versions...

Philip R. Banks
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