Patlabor OVA Series 2 – The New Files Collection (Cert 15)
3 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 378 minutes approx.
The last release on these shores to carry the Patlabor name was over eighteen months ago, and normally the recommendation would be to revisit the previous outing in preparation for this new one. However this time around, at least in terms of continuity, all the content in this collection has in common with the first OVA collection are some of the cast members and the giant mecha of the Special Vehicles Division 2 (SV2).
While this wouldn’t usually be too much of a problem the caveat here is that this is no ordinary non-canon spin off; these episodes follow on from the timeline of a Patlabor TV series which hasn’t been released over here, so we are basically joining a story without any prior point of reference.
Fortunately, just the first four episodes and one later in the run are beholden to any continuity – the remaining eleven are standalone affairs, mostly comic yarns, so it is not all bad, just a tad confusing and often unfulfilling. Well, I say it isn’t all bad, not all the individual stories hit the mark or indeed have anything to do with the core Patlabor premise of law enforcement mecha.
Let’s start with that opening arc. As mentioned above it follows on from a story which began in the TV series involving a rival Labor called Griffin, a powerful beast of a machine – naturally all black to counter the white “good guy” Labors – created by a security systems organisation called SCHAFT. It is piloted by a young lad named Bud whose history with the team at SV2 began with a friendly Patlabor game at an arcade.
Bud is working in tandem with a man named Utsumi who is using the Griffin to advertise his company’s products. He is also a duplicitous man and the duo have returned to wreak havoc which SV2 are still finding themselves ill equipped to handle. To add a little intrigue, one member of SV2, Kumagami, a female introduced in the TV series, has a personal connection with the enemy which could compromise the mission for her team.
There is more action in these four episodes than in the rest of the collection combined, and while much of it is fairly one sided in favour of Griffin, we are required to make the most of it. Once again the Labors of SV2 are piloted by feisty young Nao Izumi and her burly but less competent comrade Isao Ohta and their personalities shine through in their fighting styles – Ohta is all brawn and lashes out at will, while Izumi is more tactical and chooses her moments unless a quick defence is needed.
Despite just being four episodes in length – equating to just under 90 minutes – the story builds up some nice drama and the third instalment ends on a heart stopping cliffhanger, but without prior knowledge of the original TV plot the sensation for new viewers is akin to walking in on a conversation midway through. We at least fare better than our Japanese friends as they are presented on this disc in order – in Japan they were released over alternate months with the stand-alone chapters in between.
With the Griffin arc being all business the rest of the content is much lighter, sometimes not even involving the key members of SV2, while the Labors are barely seen. The stories run the gamut of the inane – Izumi has a toothache – to the touching – shy co-workers Goto and Shinobu spend the night together at a love hotel – to the downright weird – Izumi ends up in a parody of the Ultraman TV series – and beyond.
Arguably the most interesting fact is that Patlabor alumni and Ghost In The Shell creator Mamoru Oshii wrote some of the whackier stories – quite a surprise when you consider the depth and intelligence of his GITS works. Then again this was presumably his way of letting off steam after mulling over the heavy stuff. They may not be great episodes but in comparison to some of the others they are genius.
One is a satire of sorts against the restriction of basic workers rights as the SV2 mechanics rebel against their tyrannical boss Sakaki when he confiscates their pornography! Another Oshii story involves Ohta suffering from amnesia and believing he had killed his teammates, while an albino alligator (from the first series) producing an expensive pearl leads to the greedy mechanics wanting to get a piece of the action. This episode in particular features a silly chase in sewer which is akin to a Hanna Barbera cartoon!
An episode featuring a stray kitten reveals just which of the burly males of SV2 are a softy touch, while pilot Asuma becomes embroiled in a ghostly fantasy in a yarn which had potential but cuts off too soon. The closing episode depicts the team on their day off and offers an insight into their lives away from their official duties, doing more for character in this one twenty minute chapter than in the previous fifteen combined.
Running from 1990-92 the animation is firmly rooted in the cell drawn style which adds something to its charm. The movements of the characters are noticeably more natural looking and nighttime scenes are rendered in a shade of grey (just the one) to depict the faint strains of visible moonlight on the objects or people in question. Its vintage isn’t a cause to be put off from watching this title, as its energy and vibrancy can match anything put out today.
For dedicated Patlabor fans this will be a long awaited release to further your collections but knowledge of the TV series that precedes it is a bonus regarding the Griffin Arc and in recognising some of the characters. For everyone else this is a rather disjointed collection that probably won’t excite or encourage you to investigate the Patlabor franchise further.
Japanese Language w/ English Subtitles
English Language (Episodes 1-4 only)
Rating – ** ½
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