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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Birthday Post: Welcome To Second Special Vehicles Division!

Or: Why everyone reading this blog should watch the Patlabor TV series right now. Yes, even you!

Mobile Police Patlabor TV
Studio: Sunrise
Director: Naoyuki Yoshinaga
Network: NTV/ImaginAsian TV
Episode total: 47 episodes
Original broadcast dates: October 1989 - September 1990

In the future, advanced robotics has created heavy robots ("labors") for use in a variety of functions: construction, fire-fighting, military, and more. However, though the robots are only machines, their operators are also only human - and humans sometimes turn to crime. Since a heavy labor unit can be a dangerous weapon, the police of the future are set to fight fire with fire, using advanced patrol labor units, "patlabors". 

This is the story of the Second Special Vehicles Division, a motley crew of patlabor policemen and -women doing their best to fight crime and live a normal life. (Source: ANN)

It's my birthday and so I'm spending today blogging about my most favorite of all anime series, Mobile Police Patlabor. I fell in love with this series from the very first episode and I would like to share with all of my followers how much I really appreciate a series like Patlabor for being so dang amazing. Whether you are a fan of mecha series or not, I'm confident any viewer would find something to enjoy in the story of Second Division's everyday antics.

Read the rest of my thoughts on Patlabor TV after the jump!

My first exposure to Patlabor TV was through catching an episode here and there on television, back when there was an International Channel (which changed to AZN TV before becoming defunct). I didn't really understand what was going on - I'm pretty sure the first episode I saw one of the characters was involving himself in some arranged marriage-esque shenanigans - but I liked what I saw.

My first proper introduction to it was through a VHS tape containing the first five episodes subbed in English from a dollar store, bought on a random shopping trip (I'm pretty sure this is the same store I also found Lodoss War and the Dirty Pair film, ka-ching). And after five episodes, I was in love. Several months and a whole lot of Netflixin' later, I had watched the number one anime series in my heart.

What makes Patlabor so magnetic, so wonderful to me, is its characters. It's not even about the mecha if you were to boil it down to its basics. No, it's about the colorful, eccentric cast of Second Special Vehicles Division, the runt of the litter and usually the division that gets everyone else's hand-me-downs if they're even that lucky. It's a diverse group of folks with their various issues and idiosyncrasies that often clash with each other on a regular basis, usually to humorous effect.

Their head of command, Captain Goto, is their mysterious lazy-faced leader (no, he really has a lazy face) who somehow manages to keep his rag-tag bunch of officers together long enough to get the job done before shunting off to get some Chinese food from the only restaurant in the area who will deliver to their headquarters.

The real star of Patlabor, though, is their newest recruit, Noa Izumi. Izumi is the genki girl of mecha without all the irritating side-effects, the Second Division's rising star who puts 110% of her heart and energy into all of her assignments, no matter how big or how small. She rolls onto the scene and blows all the other officers away; they've never seen anyone like Izumi before!

Despite being a rookie, they end up taking her into the division with open arms and her training to become a proper member of Second Division begins right there, right then. It's not easy, it often lasts long into the night, but Izumi handles it with an amazing amount of strength and finesse, although the series also allows Izumi her own moments where she needs emotional support during the toughest moments - and finds it in her fellow police officers, who become a second family to a country girl so far from home. Did I mention I adore Izumi like no other? It's true!

And in case you think Patlabor can't pass the Bechdel Test, I present to you Kanuka Clancy, an import from the NYPD's Labor Force on assignment in Japan who joins Second Division temporarily. Her by-the-book ways and cold demeanor put her at odds with some, but her beauty and piloting skills intrigue Izumi - and the two young women soon become best friends, forming one of the most satisfying and entertaining friendships in the whole series, which is great in a show where camaraderie is a must. Believe me, you may not love Kanuka at first - but give her time, and you'll soon find her growing on you to the point that you'll become desperate for her to stay forever once her assignment ends.

Before you start thinking this is some slice-of-life mecha series, there are plots! Amazing plots! As the Second Division continues through the series, they must muddle through operating as officers for a populace that doesn't exactly appreciate what Labor Force does as well as the politics of operating Labors in a fast-changing technologically advanced Japan. And, of course, story arcs! Usually around crooked companies and dangerous rogue Labors and the like, which forces Izumi and her crew into action to protect Tokyo from the unscrupulous criminals piloting them. The story line surrounding Shaft Security and the Griffin Labor has always been my favorite.

So not only is there humor, but there is action - realistic action too, considering they pilot huge lumbering robots through heavily populated streets and subdivisions. Let's just say, there has been many a time a Labor turns the wrong way or takes a curve too fast while reaching for their gun and - well - Labor goes boom on the ground.

Honestly, I can't think of a single negative about the Patlabor TV series. Okay, one. It's only 47 episodes? I wanted to spend so much more time with the guys and gals of the Division; the final episode left me in an emotional mess, wondering when I'd ever see them again. Which, yes, there are movies and OVAs that follow suit story-wise . . . but it's not the same! I'd love an entire series where Izumi and Kanuka work together in New York, with occasional cameos by Captain Goto and the division's goofball, Ota (another favorite of the series).

Ready to jump into the world of Patlabor? You can watch all 47 episodes via Netflix; unfortunately, it's not available streaming, just disc-only. As far as I know, no other site is offering streaming of this series. You can buy the DVDs on Amazon . . . but you'd probably be better with Netflix if possible. You won't regret it one bit.