What’s the first series that comes to mind when you think of the word “Mecha”?
For me the word “mecha” conjures up only one series – Mobile Police Patlabor, written, drawn and (in part) created by Masami Yuki, and released by Viz Entertainment.
Originally published in Shounen Sunday in 1988 as a manga adaptation of the original OVA anime series, and released in English by Viz ten years later, Patlabor tells of an alternate future, where the Cold War never ended, and where mankind has created “labors” – mechanised machines – to assist in construction and military work. However with labors came labor crime, as criminals and terrorists stole these machines for acts of crime and destruction.
The series follows the lives of the Japanese police force’s answer to labor crime, the SVD (Special Vehicle Division) – and in particular division 2’s – exploits both on and off duty. Division 2’s personnel, though, are hardly what you’d call your regular police officers.
There’s officers Noa Izumi (a newly commissioned Labor pilot and self confessed Mecha-phile) and Isao Ota (think Kamina from Gurren laggan but with less self restraint and you’ll get the gist of his personality) working as labor pilots. There’s Asuma Shinohara (who chose the police force over working for his father, whose company make the labor units) and Mikiyasu Shinshi offering backup.
Finally there’s Captain Goto, the commanding officer of the unit, whose laid-back, anarchic mannerisms and scruffy looking appearance hide both a razor-sharp intelligence and uncanny powers of observation, which always keeps him two steps ahead of every situation, much to the consternation of both his subordinates and Captain Shinobu, head of division 1 and at times the long-suffering Dr Watson to Goto’s Holmes.
However, the real stars of Patlabor are the labors themselves – marvels not only in their combat ability, and their simplicity (no spikes or unnecessary flashy bits), but also in their realism – the writers “Headgear”, the creative group behind the original anime series, having long researched the mechanics and designs that lead to the creation of the labors – that makes you believe that these mechs could exist in real life (an aspect that most creators of mecha-based anime/manga seem to ignore.)
Considering that this is a mecha series, the stories of Patlabor seem to dedicate as much focus to events outside the battlefield as well as in, with the goings-on and relationships and interactions between the crews adding an extra depth to the stories – from Noa naming her labor after her pet dog, to Shinobu’s continuous exasperation with Goto’s seemingly laid-back approach to police work.
The storylines themselves also show the same attention to detail – the first volume showing us the setting up of division 2, and taking us on their first mission, capturing a stolen labor – with the mix between comedy, drama and action perfectly balanced, with no uncomfortable gaps in between – and that’s not suprising, considering that the writing and art team that made up “GEARHEAD” itself comprised a who’s who of anime and manga creators at the time:
there was Artist/writer Masami Yuki (Birdy The Mighty, birdy the mighty:decode ), Mecha designer Yutaka Izubuchi (Gundam: A War In The Pocket, Record Of Lodoss War,RahXephon), Writer Kazunori Ito (MaisonIkkoku, .hack//SIGN), Artist/character designer Akemi Takada (KimagureOrangeRoad, dirty pair, Maison Ikkoku, Nausica of the Valley of the Wind [Screenplay]) And finally anime director Mamoru Oshii (both the original Ghost In The Shell movie and both series of ghost in the shell: stand alone complex and both the original Blood The Last Vampire movie and blood+)
So, with talent like this why didnt the manga series become a breakaway sucess?
Unfortunately only the first four chapters of the series were ever published, no thanks to Viz’s then policy of splitting up individual chapters into smaller parts, so they could be released as western–style comics, an action that, in my opinion, disrupted the manga’s story flow and, in part, lead in the series’ eventual cancellation; which I think was a shame, as this series, if it was done again in the compiled form that most modern manga has been done in recently, would have sold far better.
However there is hope, albeit tentative.
In a recent interview to Anime news networks’ podcast Vertical media’s, Marketing Director Ed Charvez let slip that, if it were possible, he would love to get the licence to republish manga series.
We can but hope…..
Patlabor vol.1 and vol.2: Basic Training are still available from many specialist manga/anime stores.