Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Labor: The common name for robots designed for heavy industrial use. The rise of labors sparked a revolution in construction and civil engineering, but labor-related crime skyrocketed as well. To combat this new threat, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police created a patrol labor unit, the Special Vehicles Unit Second Section. This was the origin of Patlabor.

In the Criminal Justice System, Humongous Mecha-based offenses are considered especially heinous. In Tokyo, the dedicated officers who deal with these vicious felonies are an elite squad known as the Special Vehicles Unit. These are their stories.

Set in the not-so-far-off future of 1998, this late-80s/early-90s anime, Mobile Police Patlabor, is the story of police officers fighting crime with giant robots. The SVU's (no, not THAT one) Division 1 are a corps of competent, hard-working police who always get their man -- but Patlabor isn't about them. No, it's Division 2 that gets the spotlight, that scruffy, rag-tag band of half-competent cops with a propensity towards massive property damage.

Quite possibly the quintessential Twenty Minutes Into the Future giant robot anime, Patlabor is notable for treating its mecha not as insanely powerful miracle machines, but actual vehicles with clear limitations that require constant maintenance. In fact, although there's action aplenty, most of the series focuses on the daily life of the police officers who pilot the mecha, and big robot smash-ups often take up only a minute or two, if that. It is, truth be told, a slice of life series disguised as a Humongous Mecha show.

Patlabor was created in 1988 by "Headgear" -- a group of creators including Mamoru Oshii of Ghost in the Shell fame. Patlabor was planned from the start as both a manga and OVA, and a theatrical movie and ongoing TV series followed not long after. By turns a Cop Show, Police Procedural, slice of life comedy, political thriller, and of course, a Mecha Show, Patlabor had no trouble switching between genres from one episode to the next. (For the most part, though, the TV series and OVAs tended more towards comedy and light drama, whereas the movies were much more adult and sophisticated.)

Patlabor was unique for its time in that it examined the impact that giant robots might have on society. Not war machines but glorified forklifts, hijacked labors (hence the name) provided a new avenue for crime and terror, thus the need for a police organization trained to deal with them. Otherwise, the Japan seen in the series was virtually identical to the Japan of today, just with slightly more advanced tech. On the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, it fell somewhere in the middle -- it wasn't some wonderful new age of technological miracles, yet the tone was still generally hopeful and optimistic. (However, the tone of the movies, most notable in the third and final film is decidedly more cynical and pessimistic, almost a denouncement of original premise)

Most of the narrative focuses on Officer Noa Izumi, an eager, fresh-faced, tomboyish young woman who's just graduated from cadet training. Noa's a mecha Otaku -- the only reason she applied for the job was so she could ride around all day in her own personal robot (nicknamed "Alphonse"). One of the main themes of the series is Noa learning to take her job as an enforcer of the law more seriously.

Other main characters include:

  • Asuma Shinohara, the dispossessed heir to a mecha construction company and Noa's "backup" (this is the English term used in the series--with Noa being the "forward"--although his role would be better described as "spotter", or possibly "field commander", as there is an implication of the backup being a superior officer).
  • Isao Ohta, another pilot and red-blooded alpha male gun nut. An honorable, impulsive Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Lt. Kanuka Clancy, a hot-shot Japanese American NYPD officer sent to observe Tokyo's mecha operation.
  • Mikiyasu Shinshi, a mild-mannered computer expert and family man. Woe to whoever insults his wife.
  • Hiromi Yamizaki, a Gentle Giant who drives the Division's patlabor-carrier truck.
  • Lt. Takeo Kumagami, an ultra-competent Bifauxnen policewoman brought in to replace Kanuka after she returns to the States.
  • Captain Kiichi Gotoh, Division 2's easy-going (but supremely observant) commander. A Benevolent Boss (and occasional Troll).
  • Captain Shinobu Nagumo, Division 1's captain and target of Gotoh's affections.
  • Seitaro Sakaki, the gruff old chief engineer who oversees the nigh-constant patlabor repairs.
  • Shigeo "Shige" Shiba, Sakaki's assistant and protege, an ineffectual gearhead.

Although pretty popular over in Japan, Patlabor never took off in North America. The TV series wasn't imported and dubbed until more than a decade after it ended its run, and received a very sub-par dub job at that. As for the manga, only two first two volumes were released in the U.S.

Watch Mobile Suit Gundam or Super Dimension Fortress Macross if you are interested in more Real Robot Genre shows. Compare with the Mazinger trilogy, Getter Robo, Voltes V and Daimos to have an idea of what the Super Robot Genre is about. Contrast with Gunbuster or Space Runaway Ideon to see what the opposite end of the scale is.

See also: WXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3

Tropes used in Patlabor include:
  • Affectionate Parody: of both videogames and itself with an in-universe Patlabor arcade game, complete with missspeld Score Screen.
  • Alternate Continuity: Three of them - the comic; the first OVA and the three movies; and the TV series and second OVA.
  • Anime Theme Song
  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: Noa was apparently expecting this from Asuma in the ninth episode: "Red Labor Landing".
    • In context, they end up having to share a hotel room while on assignment. Noa waits until she thinks he's asleep before cautiously entering the room to turn in, as well. When Asuma suddenly "awakes" and creeps toward her futon, she's clearly expecting to be groped and braces herself for the inevitable... except he completely ignores her and goes for her snack bag. Noa becomes outraged and clocks him.

Noa: (indignant) "I'm disappointed in you Asuma!"

  • Arson, Murder, and Lifesaving
  • A Simple Plan
  • As the Good Book Says...: The first movie.
  • Badass:
    • Badass Adorable: Noa
    • Badass Crew: SV-2. Everyone has a little bit of Badass in one form or another.
    • Badass Grandpa: Sakaki. Even the labor pilots fear Sakaki. Considering he's in charge of the mechanics that maintain their machines, their fear is somewhat justified.
    • Colonel Badass: Gotoh was "exiled" to the SV.2 because he was such a Badass, HQ didn't want to deal with him ruffling all sorts of feather. Obfuscating Stupidity is his current trademark.
  • Benevolent Boss: Gotoh, Nagumo.
  • Berserk Button: Word to the wise - do not insult Shinshi's wife.
    • Also somewhat applies to Izumi when Alphonse (her Labor) is damaged.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: As mentioned above, Shinshi is an extremely mild-mannered, helpful, nice individual, but if he feels you've insulted his wife--or even the institution of marriage-- he will go berserk on you (and probably injure himself as a side effect).
  • BFG: The SVU labors are armed with scaled-up versions of police firearms. Other labors also use scaled-up versions of actual firearms. The general rule of thumb is that a Labor weapon has a bore diameter of a bit less than 1mm for every hundredth of an inch for the real world weapon; the Labor version of a .38 caliber revolver is a 37mm cannon, and the .44 caliber revolver scales up to 42mm. But there are exceptions. But the big guns aren't restricted to labors. Hiromi even uses a 20mm anti-materiel sniper rifle in the first & second films.
  • Bifauxnen: Kumagami is short, has a boyish haircut, and looks rather tomboyish (but still feminine). She's also an expert at judo.
  • Blue with Shock: Happens to the pilot of a, virus infected, rogue construction Labor in the first movie when he realizes that the Second Unit (Otha) is here to rescue him "I'M DEAD!!", Otha has a bit of a rep as a hothead.
  • Boring but Practical: A lot of the Labors are fairly unimpressive, but functional.
  • Bottle Fairy: Noa and Lt. Clancy. In fact, the first time they start to bond is when they're both screaming drunk.
    • There's also Lt. Kumagami. Kumagami and Clancy getting drunk together at the hot springs and poor Ohta paying for it is classic.
  • Broke Episode
  • But Not Too Foreign: Lt. Clancy.
  • The Chessmaster: Yukihito Tsuge, the stoic Big Bad of the second film, fits this quite succinctly, driving Tokyo to the brink of civil war while never once getting his hands dirty himself.
  • Clip Show: Episode 23 of the TV Series.
  • Colonel Makepeace: Division 1 as a whole and Lt. Gomioka especially.
  • Cool Plane: The fictional AH88 Hellhound actually out-cools most if not all of the mecha's
  • Cop Show
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Schaft Enterprises is a ruthless corporation that produces military mecha. They use highly illegal means to test their vehicles. An odd case, in that it remains a monolithic entity with no Big Bad in charge of it, though their agents Kurosaki and Richard Wong/Utsumi give it a human face.
    • Yeah, you know they say that those cats at Schaft are some bad Mother-
  • Cross Counter: Alphonse vs. Griffon in the TV series.
  • Cross-Popping Veins: Ohta, mostly.
  • Darker and Edgier: Every one of the movies gets progressively darker than the last but surprisingly enough the first two are really low on violence and serve more as psychological thrillers. However, the third movie got away with some rather gruesome deaths and a gloomier mood.
    • The Griffon Arc in both the television series and second OVAs is slightly edgier than the rest of the other episodes, but still has some comedic charm scattered about it.
  • Day in the Life
  • Decon Recon Switch: In the second movie, every time that mecha go up against real life war machines like tanks and helicopters, they get annihilated. However, the movie still ends with a mecha battle between bipedal bots and Spider Tanks.
  • Downer Ending: Oddly enough, done humorously in one episode in the second OVA featuring a maze of abandoned sewer pipes and albino alligators.
  • Dream Sequence: Twice. Once with our heroes fighting supervillains in New York, later with them fighting alien invaders in space. The latter was subverted at the end when we find that the main character of the Dream Sequence wasn't the one dreaming it - he had actually nodded off listening to the star of the first sequence describe that episode!.
  • Eagle Land: In the Aforementioned New York dream sequence. Type 2 for the most part, but the Shout Outs rampant throughout make it even more humorous.
    • It's mentioned that the US has threatened to take military action if the Japanese can't get their house in order in the second film.
  • Energy Weapons: Only one enemy robot ever uses it, and it's quickly abandoned by the corporation building them because they're too expensive and not as effective against cannons and good old-fashioned pummeling as they thought.
  • Escalating War: The Seven Days of Fire that result when the mechanic team's Porn Stash is confiscated.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Played straight with cars, but averted with Labors, which require a self-destruct to explode.
  • Eye Beams: The Phantom, the Labor that uses the aforementioned Energy Weapons, has a creepy, skull-like face & fires the beams out of the skull's "eyes", but the main camera is actually located in the "mouth".
  • Eyes Always Shut: Richard Wong/Mr. Utsumi.
  • Face Fault
  • Fainting: Takeo Kumagami when confronted with either Supernatural beings or Monsters. A Horde of stampeding rats had a similar effect.
  • Fish Eye Lens: Seen often in the first & second films, particularly from the perspective of some poor bastard getting a royal ass-chewing.
  • Flat Character: The mechanics are never really given much development, aside from Sakaki and Shige.
  • Frothy Mugs of Water: Averted, there's no censorship regarding the episode where everyone but Gotou gets drunk.
  • Furo Scene: OAV episode "Black Trinary"
  • Gatling Good: The AH88 Hellhound helicopters, Extor battle robots, & AL-97B Hannibal labors in the movies are all armed with 20mm rotary cannons.
  • Gentle Giant: Hiromi, so much.
  • Gratuitous English: Averted most of the time with American Kanuka Clancy, who still pronounces "Roger" with an L. Everyone else plays the trope straight.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: In the first manga volume, Noa gets her first (of many) Crowning Moment of Awesome when she rips a leg off a four-legged labor, then beats the labor into submission with it.
  • Gun Nut: Isao Ota, combined with Humongous Mecha and Testosterone Poisoning, is a rather extreme example of a Gun Nut.
  • Hand Behind Head: Asuma, often.
  • Hot Springs Episode: In the second OVA series.
  • Hot Scoop: Momoko Sakurayama
  • Humongous Mecha: on the smaller side at about 8 meters.
  • I Call It "Vera": Police Officer Noa Izumi upon joining the squad affectionately names her Ingram AV-98 Patrol Labor 'Alphonse'. She previously had a dog and a cat named "Alphonse" as well, making the labor "Alphonse III."
  • Idiot Hair: Noah on occasion.
  • Idol Singer: Kana from the TV series
  • I Don't Know Mortal Kombat: Izumi did badly on a Humongous Mecha game because she was too used to piloting a real Humongous Mecha.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Loudmouthed and trigger-happy Ohta. Who gets to shine in the episode where he goes into an omiai (very formal arranged date) and ends up helping his prospect girlfriend, whom he did like, save the man she loves.
    • In one episode, Noa discovers that Ohta, known for causing massive property damage, especially with his trigger-happy use of his labor's revolver, is actually a perfect shot. When she asks Gotoh about this, he points out that none of Ohta's shots have ever injured anyone.
  • Kaiju: Subverted in episode 3 of the first OVA series, where the monster walks off into the sea immediately after it appears. It has an appearance similar to Garia from War of the Gargantuas...and Hiromi Yamizaki. Other examples are played straight: The fourth and 19th episodes of the TV series feature different monsters as well. The first is a mammal of some sort--an escaped genetic experiment. Some think it looks like a bear, others like a cat or raccoon-dog. The Audience never sees it though.[1], In 19, the monster is an underground-adapted Dragon. Izumi insists on calling it a real Kaiju. Kanuka calls that a childish fantasy--and insists on calling it a surviving Dragon descended from the ones in the middle ages.
    • The manga contains a different Kaiju story that doesn't appear in the anime, involving an airline crash that accidentally releases a genetic experiment that rapidly grows into an amphibious monster that Division 2 -- among others -- get called out to deal with.
  • Kaiju Defense Force: The JSDF makes an appearance at the beginning of the first movie, and plays a large part in the second movie.
  • Lady of War: Kanuka, and Takeo. Cemented for Kanuka when she took on a mob of Yakuza in a Kimono with a wooden sword. They didn't stand a chance.
    • Kanuka's combat skills, in and out of her labor are to be worshipped, just ask Gotoh, who specifically called her in to assist SV.2 with the raid on the Ark in the first movie

Customs Agent: "Are you here to see the sights?"
Kanuka: "No. Combat."

  • Lower Deck Episode: A few eps revolving around the mechanic team.
  • Mecha-Mooks: Brocken military labors.
  • Mecha Show
  • Mood Whiplash: From the mostly serious and adult movies to the comical and sometimes juvenile television series.
  • The Movie: Three of them, though the third is actually a Gaiden Story in which our heroes appear only briefly.
  • Nerd Glasses
  • Never Found the Body: Hoba in the first movie, after jumping from the Ark into the ocean. In the climactic finale they pick up a signal from him in the building they're trying to demolish. Noa goes after him, but it turns out he really was dead: The employee badge with the tracker was attached to the leg of his pet raven.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Nagumo's decision to reject the SRX-70 Saturn because she knew the manufacturer would use its data for military purposes leads indirectly to the disastrous events of the Gryphon Arc.
  • No Fourth Wall: The manga, multiple times, for the sake of comedy.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Richard Wong/Mr. Utsumi, the cold and calculating agent of Schaft Enterprises, hides behind a happy-go-lucky facade.
  • Omake: The third theatrical movie was packaged with several humorous "Mini-Pato" shorts.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: It's six legged (two hands, four legs), eyeless from being underground for a thousand+ years and has sensory tentacles that it can use offensively growing from the back of its head.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Episode 27 of the TV series features a pretty standard group of poltergeists with unfinished business.
  • Otaku: Several Mecha Otaku, most notably...
  • Otaku Surrogate: Noah is a bit of a borderline example. She's obsessed with giant robots, but in a very girly way.
  • Phenotype Stereotype: In the New York city dream, most of the characters who appear are blond haired, blue eyed versions of the core cast--with a few exceptions--as is everyone else in New York City. They're also all Gun-Crazy.
  • Police Procedural
  • Put on a Bus: Lt. Clancy, sent back to New York. Came back a few times as a guest star.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
  • Real Robot: About as close to realistic as you can get, aside from some slightly whimsical giant police weaponry; even military Labors are pretty delicate and lightly armed.
    • Um, except that the TV series has in its main story arc a flying shiny black giant robot with wings that wouldn't look out of place in a latter-day Gundam show, and a labor with Frickin' Laser Beams attached to its head.
    • Exceptions. Both were special models not meant for mass production. The Griffon was also built without cost in mind and overtiming from most of shaft's engineers. It also helps that said flight was extremely limited and was brute thrust all the way.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Noa vs. Kanuka.
  • Red Shirt Reporter: Momoko Sakurayama won't let a little thing like danger get in the way of a good story--or being made into unknowing hostages by a criminal labor pilot. Her antagonistic relationship with Section 2 just makes all the more fun to see Otah stuff them back in there news van by hand.
  • Roboteching: Seen in an episode that parodied Macross (as well as Ultraman and a few other classic sci-fi shows).
  • Running Gag: Noa frantically running from something, almost fainting, quickly recovering. Happens at least three times in the course of the series. Usually from something monstrous--like albino sewer crocodilians.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: Shinshi, once you push him over the edge.
  • Schematized Prop: The opening narration of the last half of the TV series included a detailed description of the AV-98 Ingram, the show's titular patrol labor.
  • Scooby-Doo Hoax: An episode featuring a "sea monster."
  • Secret Diary
  • Seinen: Only insofar as it's aimed at older teens/early 20s. There's no Bishoujo to be seen.
    • The television series is pretty shonen though. Having a twelve-year old piloting a giant robot automatically makes it so.
      • Even if he's portrayed as in impetuous loudmouth with raw talent but no finesse, who ends up as the loser in most of his encounters with a force which is inferior not just technologically, but often numerically as well? Not much of a Mary-Sue---er, Shonen figure.
  • Serious Business: The two Maintenance Division centric episodes end up with most of Division 2 going mysteriously missing one by one and a small civil war among the unit including beatings, nazi-esque "security squads," kidnappings and (non-lethal) hangings- respectively. The culprits? Some spoiled food and the confiscation of a sizable porn stash.
  • Sentai: Parodied in one episode in which Shige dreams that the Division is a team of international crimefighters.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Cutesy mecha-fetishist Noah & wacky gun-nut Ohta get progressively less & less screentime with each progressively darker & more cynical film. Somewhat rectified in the manga & TV continuity with the Gryphon Saga, which, while still mostly serious & featuring an escalating level of danger still has a major focus on Noah.
  • Shout-Out: Several, including Macross and Ultraman. The character Kanuka Clancy is named after writer Tom Clancy, and the title Mobile Police Patlabor is a play on Mobile Suit Gundam.
    • Another Gundam Shout Out occurs in episode 32 of the TV series, where some mercenary labor pilots attempt a Jet Stream Attack. It failes spectacularly. It hurts that the one pulling the surprise attack shouted out "Jet Stream Attack" before he hit--his target actually telling him to "Shut up!". Apparently, he's something of an Otaku.

"But I practiced so hard!"

    • Earlier, Gotoh chastizes his crew:

"You think this [Machine] is Great Mazinger? Dangaioh?"

  • Sitting on the Roof
  • Sliding Scale of Realistic Versus Fantastic: Differs. See Mood Whiplash above. The two movies helmed by Mamoru Oshii are highly realistic with situations that could happen in the real world; the antagonists in both are terrorists that utilize methods that can be and have been used in real life. The TV show is realistic in its portrayal of labor crime as well... until the main story arc kicks in, and the SV-2 battles Bond villains SPECTRE Schaft and their super-robot prototypes. Oh, and monsters, dragons and ghosts too.
  • Snow Means Love: An episode of the second OVA revolved around this trope.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": The Central Park Media release prefers to use "Gotoh", for instance, instead of "Gotou" or "Gotō".
  • Super-Deformed: The "Mini-Pato" Omake shorts.
  • Super Prototype:
    • The SVU had three prototype AV-98 Ingram mechs. One episode of the series focused on the introduction of a mass-produced line of Ingrams, subverting the trope a bit in that the prototypes weren't exceptionally good so much as the mass-produced ones were exceptionally shoddy. Also, other kinds of mass-produced police and military mechs are shown to be close in quality to the Ingrams.
    • The first film has the AV-X0 "Type Zero" which was supposed to be an advanced replacement for the AV-98. It proved to be a fearsome opponent in melee combat against other labors and when it was overtaken by the Babel virus, it completely mopped the floor with Ohta's Ingram and Noa barely managed to subdue it. Seeing as the Type Zero wasn't seen in the subsequent films, it can be assumed that the design was abandoned.
    • The Type Zero also shows up near the end of the manga, piloted by Noa. It actually does quite well, until the bad guys deactivate the computers that did the calculations for the Type Zero -- since it was a prototype it relied on an outside unit rather than having all the hardware inside the chassis.
  • Tall, Dark and Bishoujo: Lt. Clancy.
  • Team Shot: Both ending themes of the TV series, as well as the final shot of the second OVA, which brought the franchise to a close.
  • Team Spirit
  • Thanatos Gambit: The first movie starts of with the Big Bad jumping into the ocean. As a result, the police can't find out in time how his virus works. A second, less clear gambit, may be that he attached his employee badge to his pet raven to set of a Never Found the Body-paranoia, and give his pursuers a Secret Test of Character. Division 2 is only able to prevent the destuction of Tokyo because they decide to try and save Hoba when they think he's alive. They wouldn't have made it to the backup-system in time if they had decided to collapse the Ark with him still in it.
  • Theme Naming: Most of the career cops are named for WWII admirals (Gotoh and Nagumo), Ohta is probably named for the inventor of the Ohka (Baka) glider bomb - he looks frighteningly like his namesake.
  • Twenty Minutes Into the Future: Made in '88, set in '98. See the tagline below.
  • Unnecessary Combat Roll: In giant robots, even.
  • Used Future
  • Villain Team-Up: Episode 42 of the TV series, titled appropriately Enough "The Men Who Returned" features 3 previous villains teaming up--and forming a Power Trio.
  • Welcome Episode
  • Whole-Episode Flashback
  • Whole-Plot Reference: An entire (dream) episode devoted to an Ultraman homage, specifically harking back to the series Ultra Seven with the squad acting secretly as a monster/alien defense team. They even go for some of the classic sound effects and the big bad of the episode is an Expy of Ultraman's classic enemy: Zetton. Noa gets to transform using a beta-capsul into Ingraman. In fact, all the monsters and Ultramen who appear have the faces of military or police labors. The Zetton has the face of the Griffon, Ingraman is Noa's Ingram "Alphonse", "Zero" is the AV-0 Peacemaker.
    • The third episode of the first OVA is a hilarious Godzilla send-up, down to the one-eyed Mad Scientist and the "Oxygen Destroyer" (actually a bit of dry ice in a plastic tube).
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Takeo Kumagami is extremely afraid of ghosts. She hides it initially with skepticism, but the mask soon falls away. One the Ghosts spirits are put at rest, she presents the spirits with an offering of flowers, sake and an incense stick.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: The big battle in the first movie is a Hold the Line action to prevent civilization from being destroyed against an onslaught of slow moving, dumb, but relentless horde of opponents that are afflicted with a highly contageous virus that infects one of the good guys and turns it against his friends. Only instead of living dead humans, it affects mecha. You may now begin panicking.

This page is about a work of fiction... but in ten years, who knows?

  1. Actually we do, briefly, and it's Mughi from "Dirty Pair" (which shared staff with Patlabor).