Patlabor OVA ep 2 of 7: “Long Shot”

Patlabor is really a mishmash of tones that might seem more out there today than when it was released. There’s an intriguing premise, and quirky characters. The all have certain foibles, things about them that are obvious big flashing red letter Character Traits. It’s got constant silly asides and goofiness while telling a relatively serious story. This, for all of who never lived through it, was 80s television.

Of course, the original Patlabor was an OAV a direct-to-video series that wasn’t meant for broadcast TV. For some reason they often still produced along the lines of television shows – half an hour long, with a mid-act break that includes an eye-catch, and nothing (at least in these first two episodes) that couldn’t be broadcast. But they are even more like television in the tone. There’s a feeling that they want to include a little something for everybody in Patlabor – comic relief, a touch of romance, a serious terrorist plot and a theme about the environmental ravages of man on earth… and there’s a sequence where a giant robot is pulled over an overpass by a passing blimp.

In Long Shot, Division 2 is being prepped for a visit by the New York mayor for a goodwill mission to NY’s sister city of Tokyo… but also to discuss major construction projects that Japanese were engaging. To combat global warming, they had intended to build major dams that would not only protect against rising sea levels, but create an opportunity to win back land from the ocean and expand the always constrained Tokyo landmass.

Patlabor’s goofy tone and silly comedy is often leavened by the more serious concerns of human interaction with the world, and with the machines they create to change that world. There’s a threat to the dam from eco-terrorists who worry about how the dams would affect the ocean’s natural channels. Technological progress is always a dual-edged sword. More machines increase efficiency, and if that efficiency contribute to ecological degradation, then what is it really progressing to?

This is all related in a conversation between the men of Division 2 while the super hot American transplant explains why she’s there, and the men interrupt their important discussion with hooting and hollering at the pretty young woman (of course, of Japanese ancestry, since you can’t have an Occidental come in and impressive the Japanese. The Japanese definition of “progressive”, as evidenced by their silly cartoons, could never interfere with the centrality of Japanese identity that some people mistake for xenophobia… or properly recognize as such. That’s not what we’re discussing here.)

Patlabor episodes are not from an eagle’s eye view of national policy, though. This is Hill Street Blues. It’s about the cops on the street, even if they’re cops who ride big-ass robots. The episode is mostly concerned with their boredom. Since they’re all on call, they have to sleep in the dorms – one for men, one for girls. There’s only one girl, so the men sleep in a big pile in their small room.

The next day, they can barely keep their eyes open for a protection detail that is mostly show… that is, until Shinoharaaccidentally discovers that an argument he had the other day with some weird old lady was actually a confrontation with a terrorist who placed a fake police mobile unit right where its missiles can reach the friendly meeting of international delegates.

This leads to a fun sequence where Shinohara, with absolutely no experience, has to disarm a massive bomb. It’s a testament, I think, to Mamoru Ishii’s direction. It’s all straightforward – there’s nothing “arty” about his presentation of the material, but he knows how to draw out tension, even in what are essentially still drawings. Shinohara follows directions for cutting the various wires, like in any 80s WE GOT TO GET RID OF THE BOMB scenario… until it comes to the last pair… which are designed to confound disarmers.

The aftermath is Shinohara definitely sure he is quitting the Patlabor. He didn’t sign up for this tension. He didn’t sign up at all – he’s from a rich family, and doesn’t need this in his life. And he’s ready to go, announces it to everybody… until it turns out the hot American is sticking around. It’s a goofy almost sitcom ending to a show that weaves its way through myriad tones.

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