Finally. I’ve gotten to the Patlabor that I had originally intended to watch.
First, Patlabor: Beyond Thunderdome. The less said about it, the better. It doesn’t feel like it belongs with the franchise at all, as none of the main characters are around most of the time, since Patlabor 2 had a pretty conclusive ending for SV2. And well, it’s pretty terrible. It’s like they tried to ape Mamoru Oshii, but all they seemed to associate with him was that they should make the movie really, really boring.
Next, Patlabor the Movie. This one is thoroughly competent. It’s not directed by Oshii, but it has a feel that’s sort of like 3/4 Patlabor, 1/4 Oshii imitation. That formula works perfectly fine. Being a movie and all, there’s little time for the standard Patlabor Keystone Kops antics, and more of a need for an actual plot. There’s actually police work this time! Oh, and some pretty awesome mecha animation, like during the opening sequence.
Finally, Patlabor 2. Patlabor 2 isn’t really a mecha anime. It’s more of a military/political thriller of the sort that that Kaiji Kawaguchi would make, except with a left-wing rather than right-wing slant. I think the only times that labors showed up were when one gets stuck in the mud in the opening, when a helicopter strafes the ones in SV2′s garage, and then during the finale. That said, there are tons of fighter jets and helicopters, which is obviously something that I find awesome.
Bay-ners over the military stuff aside, what really struck me about Patlabor 2 was that it was exactly the film that I’d always wished that Mamoru Oshii would make (and Brian Ruh picks it as the best and most accessible Oshii film.) With most of the films of his that I’ve seen, I’ll say to myself “Ok, he’s got some interesting ideas, and he’s got some pretty amazing set pieces, but there is just SO much exposition and meta obtuseness and the whole thing draaaaaaaaaags.” What makes Patlabor 2 work is the police procedural format and conspiracy thriller plotline.
Normally, everything would stop dead when Oshii would start pontificating about whatever it is that he is pontificating about (this time, Japan’s political, economic, and military roles in the early 90′s End of History) as the film abruptly turns into My Dinner With Andre. This time, everything gets woven together as the characters try to figure out who is one what side and who is behind what. Therefore, a discussion about whether or not the Japanese military should participate in international operations is important, as it will lead the characters to figure out which other characters might think in which ways, and therefore whether or not they should investigate them.
Also, I’m not entirely sure how to mentally square that whole concept of how Patlabor 2 is a left-wing military thriller. But you already know that.