Since science fiction can push the boundaries of what is considered possible and probable, there is a noticeable desire in classical science fiction to make this future especially tangible. The ways to achieve this vary, but for Hoshi Mamoru, it was a reminder to the audience that a sci-fi future can be just as boring as real life.
Mobile Police Patlabor is an anime franchise that began as an OVA in the late 80s, and then spawned a television series and several movie sequels. It tells of a future in which furs are commonplace, but are accepted in the civil sector for construction as “workers”, which leads to cases of “labor crimes” and, consequently, to police units using labor. Calling the world boring sounds rude, but it shouldn’t detract from this series and just give context to its narrative and humor. So much science fiction about how to create the future with technology and talk: “Look how cool it is!” But the world of Patlabor doesn’t inspire the same passion for travel, mostly by design.
The whole appeal of Patlabor stems from the fact that this is a series about furs, completely dedicated to why the invention of fur would not make the world suddenly insanely cool and amazing. In fact, it would just be another technology assimilated into the very complex world in which we now live. And this is more obvious now than in the first episode of the OVA.
Isao Ohta, one of the members of the squad and an unprofessional fool with a trigger, asks to practice shooting from giant revolvers used by Labor. But Goto, the captain, explains in excruciating detail why they can’t. Firstly, they don’t even have enough labor for a unit at the beginning.
Even if they did, the guns could only be tested at the range that the JSDF (Japan Self-Defense Forces) have reserved for the foreseeable future. Even obtaining ammunition will require an application and a waiting period. It goes on, but the fantasy that can be expected from a typical mech action and even just a police story is shattered.
Everyday life of the mechanical police
Of course, the action is still ongoing, as the push to create the Patlabor unit is based on the rise in fur-related crime. The officers of this unit work together to stop the fur rampage, bomb threats, fraudulent software spoiling machines, and other threats. But it is the attitude and carefree nature in which this series tells these stories that make it special.
After all, Japan is very different from America, so its idea of police, crime, law and order is different. Japan is a country with a completely different terrain in terms of crime, which creates the feeling that the main characters are bored civil servants on call if and when something unusual happens.
When something goes wrong, they engage and react with the help of a motley crew with different skill sets, as befits any police ensemble. However, characters like Asuma have a sharp eye and tend to look for a lead by uncovering larger and more complex threats. In the first film, this threat was an artificial mistake, because of which the Labor Party was enraged.
A future inspired by the present
Something in common between Patlabor and Hosea’s other work on The Ghost in the Shell series is how threats to the future stem from fears in the present. This is a factor that has contributed to many great works of science fiction, but in the case of Hosea’s work, only half of the appeal is due to technological advances that can happen. It’s about politics or philosophy, which are completely unrelated to science fiction.
Patlabor 2 is widely considered the best film and probably the best part of the series, in which a terrorist group organizes a coup in the armed forces among other plays about civil unrest. It has been well documented and analyzed in the essay how the story of this film is largely inspired by the political history of Japan, especially its post-war politics and the anxiety that permeated the country.
There are few science fiction stories that tie themselves to reality in the same way that Patlabor does, almost to the point that they limit their appeal to the audience. This is not the most usual spectacular sight, and for those who are not interested in the historical context or political drama, the nuances may be useless. However, to say that this is intentionally “uninteresting” would be a disservice.
Patlabor has a lot that attracts attention, especially in its artwork, which is one of the best mechanical animations and Production IG designs ever, courtesy of Yutaka Izubuchi. The art direction of Patlabor 2 is a special case, especially in how the film is illuminated much more realistically. The light hits the characters more dramatically, almost blurring them, giving the film such a creepy look.