Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Video Backlog: “Mobile Police Patlabor Reboot”

Publisher: Emotion (Bandai Visual, Japan)
Format: Region Free Blu-ray, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English and Japanese Subtitles
Length: 8 minutes
Production Date: 2016
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

A Bulldog type Labor rampages through a tightly packed residential area in Tokyo. The perpetrator demands better rights for Labor pilots and begins to stream his demands and his whole rampage on a local streaming website. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Force’s Special Vehicles Unit 2 (SV2) move in with their Ingram Labors but aren’t making any head way. They soon realise that the usually sluggish Bulldog Labor, used for construction work, has been modified with far superior leg parts. While the captain authorises to take down the Bulldog Labor regardless of the damage caused (over a dozen houses have been trashed even before the SV2 arrive), it’s soon apparent that they will need back up. A second Patrol Labor unit is sent via the civilian Yamanote train line. But before it arrives, the order is given to use the Revolver Cannon, something which the pilot has reservations about.

I thought Mamoru Oshii had killed off the Patlabor franchise with the lukewarmly received “The Next Generation - Patlabor - ” project. I was utterly surprised when this short was was announced back in late July. The short film was screened mid last month as part of the "Screening of Go Go Japan Anima(tor)'s Exhibition" compilation film which includes shorts from the Japan Animator Expo (aka Japan Anima(tor)'s Exhibition) series. This is a weekly series of animated shorts by various directors and was a collaboration between Hideaki Anno’s Studio Khara and telecommunications company Dwango, streaming for a limited time on Japanese streaming site Niconico. The shorts were also subbed in English. This short film is a bit of an oddity in the series as it was created specifically for the theatrical compilation and was released on home video a couple of week after. This is unusual as none of the other Japan Animator Expo shorts have been released on home video anywhere.

The staff on this Patlabor project are a who’s who of the industry; Yasuhiro Yoshiura ("Time of Eve", "Patema Inverted") was the director and did the storyboards. He also co-wrote the screenplay with Kazunori Ito (“Ghost in the Shell”, “Patlabor the movie”). Naoyuki Asano ("Mr. Osomatsu") did the character designs based off Masami Yuuki's original. Yutaka Izubuchi who did the original mechanical designs revamps them for this project. And Kenji Kawai will provided the music. There’s also some big name voice actors in the main three roles; Megumi Hayashibara (Rei in "Evangelion", Lina Inverse in "Slayers") I think plays both the female captain and the back-up guiding the Labor (not too sure about the latter, it’s a bit hard to tell) and Koichi Yamadera (Spike Spiegel in "Cowboy Bebop") plays the male Ingram Labor pilot.

Amusingly unlike the majority of the Patlabor franchise, this short is chock full of Labor action. So much so that we are never told the names of the three members of the SV2. Unlike previous entries into the series, none of the existing characters make an appearance. There seems to be a gender reversal in the team with a Captain Goto like character as a woman, the Noa Izumi type as a male and the surly Shinohara back up as a woman. The action is really well done with the Labors duking it out in very narrow spaces in between residential blocks and houses. It feels and looks very much like the first time the SV2 are called out to a disturbance in “Patlabor the movie”, sans the ending of that sequence where Ota freezes himself in the river. Yoshiura modernises the franchise by including modern items like live streaming, social media and the general public trying get shots of the incident with their phones. The other new addition I liked what the SV2 using Japan Rail lines to get to incidents. Totally makes sense in a city like Tokyo.

While the short is really fun and action packed and it’s great to see Kazunori Ito and Yutaka Izubuchi working on Patlabor stuff again (both are members of the core team who created the series, collectively known as Headgear) you do really wish it was longer and hope it’s meant as a pilot film to a new series. It’s also really hard to get a grip on any of the character’s personalities with that short runtime. I mean their names are never mentioned in the show at all. Maybe they should have just used existing characters? The other major problem with this show is how it has been released. On a Blu-ray costing ¥5,000. It’s absurd for a short which really only runs six and half minutes when you take the credits and company logos out. The BD has about 40 minutes of extras which are mainly interviews and the recording of the soundtrack (both featurettes have no English subtitles), plus two booklets, one with the script and second with the storyboards and character and mechanical design reference sheets and a CD soundtrack. Regardless, it still feels like bit of a rip off. The Amazon.co.jp reviews of the BD are full of one star reviews upset at the yen to actual content (i.e. the actual main feature) ratio.

I think that this short should have been released as one package with the other shorts from the "Screening of Go Go Japan Anima(tor)'s Exhibition" compilation film. I suspect that copyright issues may have scuttled that idea. Or maybe Bandai Visual foisted this release on Studio Khara in exchange for being able to use the Patlabor designs. I really have no idea. In conclusion it’s pretty good short film and totally blows away “The Next Generation - Patlabor - ”, but it’s far too short and pricy for my liking. 7 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: Three TV series. In addition I am also waiting for the second part of one TV series to be released before viewing it.

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