The last American fanzine PATLABOR

patlabor_fanzine_cover-380x615Love them or loath them – the Anime blog Colony drop has, for the last 8 years, made a name for itself as a dedicated source for articles and reviews of anime and mange either released in the 80’s and early 90’s, or modern series that were inspired by that period.

This issue, in fact the third of the series that comprise of variously contributed articles concerning classic anime series and culture is the first to cover a specific franchise – in this case Mobile police Patlabor.

The first thing that comes to note is the size of the magazine – coming in at 5.25″ x 8.25″ , compared to 8.25″ x 10.75″ it comes in much smaller than the previous two issues. There’s also the fact that, unlike the previous two that covered a wide number of series and topics, this issue is exclusively focused on the 90s mech series Patlabor and yet only comes in at 54 pages [including 17 pieces of artwork and photography, of which 9 fill out the magazines page count] – that’s not to say that the contributions don’t make up for the shortfall in pages-far from it-as we’ll see shortly.

We open with Anime world order co-host and Otaku USA magazine writer Daryl Surats PATLABORS CONTEMPORARIES, which covers the year of Patlabor’s first appearance into the world [1988] and talks both about the shows that aired [this being the year that Chars counter attack premiered] and the shows that played a seminal role in the genesis of Mobile police Patlabor.

At a time when the anime industry was still reducing female characters to the role of the damsel in distress waiting to be saved by the heroic male character GENDER ROLES IN PATLABOR, by Dave Merril and Shaindle Minuk, covers the complete role reversal that the series undertook – with Noa Iszumi always in the thick of action as a Labor pilot while Asuma Shinohara took the decidedly unmale role as van driver and backup of always stood back. For many fans the most memorable characters of the series were invariably taken by the female characters such as Noah as mentioned, the American-japanese US cop Kanuka Clancy [ played by the late Yō Inoue] supplying more than enough action and general bad-assery than most of the male characters offer – even the hotheaded Ota [he of the “shoot first, shoot again, shoot it some more and THEN ask questions] had to bow down to her.

From gender politics to politics of another kind as the author of “Stray dogs of anime: the films of Mamoru Oshii” Brian Ruh gives us PATLABOR AND THE 226 INCIDENT a piece that covers the attempted armed uprising by members of the Japanese army in 1936, an incident that would not only lead to the military increasing its control over the civilian government, but would become an inspiration for Oshii when creating the second Patlabor movie.

But did you know that the basic plot for that film very nearly became about not labors…But Lupin the 3rd?

In Renato Riviera Rusca’s PATLABOR AND THE LUPIN 3RD MOVIE THAT NEVER WAS we discover that, after Hayo Miyazaki turned down the chance to Direct another Lupin film Mamoru Oshii was tapped to take over the project, even bringing in A-list talent such as Yoshitaka Amano [Gatchaman, Vampire hunter D, god knows how many final fantasy art pieces] as character designer, Studio Gainaxs’ Hideaki Anno as a key animator and Kazuyoshi Katayama [Space Adventure Cobra: The Movie, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the big O and many others] as assistant director.

So why did this project get pulled, and how did it end up as the film we all know and… well mostly love?

From one project that never came to be to one that many wished had never happened as Matt Schley Gives us the rather spoilery THE NEXT GENERATION – PATLABOR: A THING THAT EXISTS [WE DONT GET IT EITHER] which covers the afore mentioned 2013 live action series that tried to reinvigorate the franchise – and instead ending up crashing and burning.

Wrapping up the fanzine is GHOSTS OF FUKUSHIMA, by Ian Martin, a contemporary story which moves quickly from the streets of Tokyo to the abandoned towns and countryside of Fukushima’s irradiated dead zone, an area of about five mile around the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear reactor cordoned off after the Tsunami of 2011, as police detective and Series regular Takahiro Matsui investigates a spate of Construction labor thefts, and uncovers much more…

So, after looking into this release how does it measure up? Welll……

The first key problem is one I’ve covered earlier is that with only 37 of the 54 pages of this issue not comprised of artwork it leaves very little page-count for these articles – the longest is that of the short story with 12 pages, with the 226 article [the one that should have had more pages to fully cover the events of that time period that lead to the incident and its after effects] only getting 4 pages, which in my opinion results in them suffering for it.

The other is the method of publication itself – in a time where many publications are now beginning [or have already made] the move to a digital format – Colony drop insisting that this [and all of the last fanzines future issues] would be only available as physical publications I feel is a move that, while I’m sure is intended to invoke “the good old days” of the fanzine, seems to only come across as more of a deliberate intent to refuse to move on from the 80’s.

Finally here is the entry level of the readership for this issue – with no “idiots guide” – like introduction to the franchise it’s expected that the reader has at least a working knowledge of Patlabor, if not at least access to the series.

And so I find myself at an impasse – on the one hand there’s the side of me that’s been the fan of Patlabor for the longest time [even thought my introduction was via Manga UK’S release of the two Patlabor movies] and so as a fan I found this to be an enlightening and [albeit abridged] read. However its my side as a reviewer that make me hesitant about recommending this release – maybe its the fact that this release is clearly intended if not for the hard core Patlabor fan, than for someone who is new to the franchise. It could be that the articles, as interesting as they are, fail to deliver any more than a mere surface level coverage of the series, leaving me at times flipping through the pages of each entry asking “what, is that it?”.

So what do I say? Go into this if your a fan, but don’t go into this expecting anything but the most bare bones of articles.

Both this and all issues of The last American fanzine are available as print on demand from Mag Cloud.

Patlabor vols 1+2

What’s the first series that comes to mind when you think of the word “Mecha”?
Gurren Laggan?
Star driver?
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.