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Review: Is ‘Patlabor: The TV Series’ Still Watchable?

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With a planned remake in the works, the question will be “Is the original ‘Patlabor: The TV Series’ Still Watchable?” Yes. It is still watchable, and it’s still good. In the 26 years since it ended, technology has changed dramatically, but that change is not too jarring or noticeable within the series. We no longer think of advanced computers running on disks or about elite police carrying revolvers, but the rest lines up with today’s technology and culture. There’s no cliché 80’s pop or retro-looking character designs. Even the art style doesn’t have an outdated feel to it. The jokes, as well, hold up to a scrutinizing modern audience. The series has multiple strong women. ‘Patlabor: The TV Series’ feels like it could have been made ten years ago then almost 30.

Special Vehicles 2

There are other good reasons to give it a try:

First of all ‘Patlabor’ is hilarious. It’s filled with traditional slapstick comedy and the genuinely funny antics of its characters, without feeling too stupid or silly. It has very little sex humor or fanservice, which is refreshing. ‘Patlabor’ also has a lot of action. It has visually and technically impressive fight scenes throughout series. Some of the fights actually do leave you in suspense about who is going to win, and many make you wonder how the heroes are going to survive. ‘Patlabor’ can also transition very quickly into a serious drama. Several episodes in Part 1 feature recurring corporate villains and all of those episodes are dark and suspenseful without upsetting tempo or flow.

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‘Patlabor’ is a character-centric show. The eccentricities and relationships of the main cast drive the story and the plot. Even the supporting characters feel organic given well-developed backstories. The main characters are complex, and they are just plain interesting. You’ve got: Noa, the weird eccentric girl; Asuma, the scrappy rich kid at odds with his parents; Kanuka, the seemingly perfect American; and Goto, the almost all-knowing Commander. These are compelling characters who are easy to get attached to. The characters are not unique archetypes, but neither are they ones usually found in police procedurals. They are also not retro archetypes. The personnel of Special Vehicles Unit 2 are firmly believable as an elite unit.

The ‘Patlabor’ universe not only makes logical sense, but it’s also big enough to give a sense of reality. While implausible, the origin of the labor mechs as construction equipment is continually restated and reinforced, becoming an accepted part of the background. Other background entities, such as a military labor unit and a fictitious high-tech terrorist organization, also make enough appearances to quickly become realistic groups who exist in the periphery of the story. That is good writing.

Labor Mech

Finally, ‘Patlabor’ is well formatted. While the show is usually listed as one season, it’s divided into three parts. The first part, covering episodes 1-24, was the original length planned for the show. Episodes 25-36 comprise a long follow-up arc, using villains from part 1. And episodes 37-47 neatly tie up the series. Enough is resolved at the end of each part you could stop watching and feel satisfied with what you had seen.

‘Patlabor’ is not outdated. It’s still compelling, and you should watch it.

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Conlan Murphy
A semi-existant Scotts-American weeb and sci-fi fanboy living in Kansas, I’m capable of both random and complicated thoughts about the world and it’s people, mostly uselessly random. Hoping to provide an interesting progressive perspective. An avid rare pair shipper and Shinji Ikari Defense Squad commando in training.
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