What’s the first series that comes to mind when you think of the word “Mecha”?
Full metal panic?
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 via Viz ten years later, Patlabor is set in 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 forces answer to labour crime, the SVD – Special Vehicle Division – and in particular division 2’s exploits both on and of duty.
Division 2’s personnel are hardly what you’d call your regular police officers. With officers Noa Izumi [a newly commissioned Labor pilot and self confessed Mecha phile] and Isao Ota (think Sousuke Sagara, from FMP, and you’ll get the jist of his personality) working as Labor pilots, and Asuma Shinahra, who chose the police force over working for his father, whose company make the Labor units, with Mikiyasu Shinshi offering backup.
Finally there’s Captain Goto, the commanding officer of the unit, whose laidback, Anarchic mannerisms and scruffy looking appearance hide both a razor sharp intelligence, and uncanny powers of observation which always keep 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, but also their simplicity (no spikes or unnecessary flashy bits here!)
But also in their realism – the writer and HEADGEAR, the creative group behind the original anime series, researched at great length the mechanics and designs that lead to the creation of the labours – making you believe that these Mechs could exist in real life (a fact that most creators of mech based anime/manga seem to ignore).
Considering that this is a mech series, Patlabor's stories seem to dedicate as much focus to events outside the battlefield as within, creating complex 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 of Gotos seemingly laid back approach to police work.
The storylines themselves also show the same attention to detail – the first volume taking us from the setting up of Division 2, and taking us on their first mission, capturing a stolen Labor – with a mix of comedy, drama and action in perfect balance.
Unfortunately only the first four chapters of the series were never published, thanks to Viz’s policy at the time 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 resulted in the series’ eventual cancellation. A shame as this series, if released in the compiled format of today's manga, would have sold far better.
Ah, the joys of hindsight………
Patlabor vol.1 and vol.2: basic training, are still available from many speci