Movie: Anime classics from the past, like VOTOMS, are often interesting to watch since technology has progressed substantially in the last 15 to 20 years. The technical limitations of the older stuff aside, the ideas tend to have been fresher back then since the nature of the genre is that so many of the creative people work on many series and heavily borrow from their previous works. Is it any wonder that an earlier show might never sit perfectly with a director or writer, leaving them to want to address any flaws in later projects? Today's review of the one of the original classics of mech-robots is the subject today, the title being Patlabor: The Movie (Limited Collector's Edition).
The movie has been released in the past so as a double dip; my biggest concern is that it achieves some measure of improvement over the original release. Given the number of related series based on this movie, the fact is that a large following has developed based on the quality of the premise (such as described in my review of Patlabor: The New Files). I'll try to give a reasonably descriptive account of the show but limit the spoilers that other websites seem to litter the landscape with. Patlabor is the story of the late 1990's where construction robot technology had substantially increased in response to a specific need in Japan for building an artificial island off the coast of Tokyo that started in the 1980's (the movie was originally released in the late 1980's). Rising sea levels and the sheer value of useable land in the city prompted the so-called Babilon Project, based on a real life technological feat for modern man. To achieve the deadline, large mechanized robots, called Labors were developed to expedite the project, allowing men to work far more efficiently than cranes, bulldozers and other conventional devices. As with anything else, the new technology is occasionally abused by criminals, causing the need for the authorities, both military and police, to develop specialized robots called Patlabors.
The focus of this and other Patlabor shows is a single police unit called the SVU or Specialized Vehicle Unit. Each episode of the various TV versions or movies has a slightly different focus but the leads here were the indomitable Noa Izumi and Azuma Shinohara. They play the front line officers who pilot the Patlabors; Noa being a young female with excellent reflexes piloting a labor she names Alphonse (to personalize it; naming it after a former pet) and Azumi the young male officer whose strained family ties to the leading manufacturer of labors, Shinohara Heavy Industries, frequently plays into the stories. In the case of Patlabor: The Movie, the use of labors is fairly new with about 8000 in place (most working on the local Tokyo Babilon Project) and call ups for the unit still fairly rare. Unfortunately, an increasing number of incidents involving the labors have been happening with the industrial-military complex keeping any details secret from the general population, as well as the heroes on the police force. A new operating system that has upgraded previously built labors (like Microsoft's upgrades over the years) is suspected in some of the incidents, and the movie shows the team investigating the possibility of a hacker's computer virus, called Babel, furthering the Biblical references so freely employed by the movie.
As the movie progresses, it becomes a race against time and the forces of nature, to uncover what appears to be a madman's plot to wreak havoc long after his death but suspecting such a thing and proving it in time are two different things with the team of the SUV caught between the industrial needs of the city and the limitations of a strong corporate influence on their chain of command. Going outside their own policies and procedures, Commander Gotoh and captain also get involved, with far less robot combat action than most similar shows. The exploration of cultural themes and their logical conclusions (from the way a large corporation seems to dictate policy to the manner in which large organizations tend to cater to the financial burdens of the times). If you're in the market for a non-stop action flick using anime to tell the story, this isn't the one for you but the depth of the movie and it's pacing were substantially better than average. Rather than completely ignore the laws of physics, the premise of the show only slightly expands on current technology, combining some of the better aspects of other futuristic cop shows like Robocop, resulting in excellent story telling that simply happens to use anime as a means to an end rather than use the gimmick of anime to appeal to fans of the genre. I only had the discs from the collector's edition for this early review so I'm rating it as Recommended, though the advertised books that come with it may well elevate the rating a notch and I'll revisit the review if they happen to come in. The single disc version of the movie without the extras will also be available but lacking any significant extras, probably won't be enough to warrant an upgrade for fans of the show that aren't into double dips.
Picture: Patlabor: The Movie (Limited Collector's Edition) was presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen color, substantially enhancing the original release in terms of visual appeal. There was some edge enhancement and grain, with a few scenes looking like moiré wasn't corrected for, but there were no compression artifacts as the original was plagued with. Further, while the animation techniques employed were uncorrectable, this was a major step up that fans of the movie, and series for that matter, should consider upgrading for (aside from the sweet extras the set is supposed to have). It was far from perfect but given the age of the source material and estimations of sales, I think Bandai is to be congratulated on the overall effort here.
Sound: The audio was also upgraded to provide 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround in both the new English dub track as well as the original Japanese audio. One of the factors I find interesting about upgrading older titles is how the production companies handle the audio. Cleaning up hiss, pops, drop outs, and other matters is one thing; that can always be done given advances in technology. Altering music and vocal tracks is substantially more difficult, though some companies have certainly made tremendous strides with the music upgrades in recent years. In general, improving a dub is easier since that can be done with a new voice acting cast but doing so with the original track is fraught with potential for error. In the case of this production, the music was indeed enhanced substantially; providing better bass, sharper headset, and more dynamic range with the expected better separation between the channels. The dub was also better, though perhaps less so in this regard and the original Japanese vocals were definitely cleaner, though less improved than the other audio aspects of the movie.
Extras: The Patlabor: The Movie (Limited Collector's Edition) is largely interesting not only for the upgrades to the audio & video but for the relatively limited nature of the set (10,000 copies is my understanding). It is supposed to come in a cool package with a couple of large, detailed books but since I don't have access to those, I'm unable to properly evaluate that aspect of the set. The first disc contained three promotional spots for the movie (trailers/TV spots from Japan) that were nothing special though they did seem fairly clean looking for such an older show. The second disc had a single extra called the Making of Patlabor the Movie where it broke down the feature into subsections that were easily accessible, unlike most such extras these days. It started off with a section where creative lead Yuuki Masami spoke about the project in general terms, providing some valuable context to the show. The feature than went into the look of the future with 1999 Tokyo Image, showing the city as always being under construction and how reasonable the original material looked to folks back when the movie was made, then going into section like Silicon City, Labors, Design, Sound & Music, and Ending. Each of these seems to have been made years ago but added to recently as adding in new material causing the producers to label the sections as "remixed". I look forward to seeing the books and case the set came in but even the discs themselves were well done.
[Note: The rest of the set came in and was as wonderfully appealing as the marketing campaign suggested. Here are a few pictures of the material for those who care. I've upgraded the rating for this classic anime release, thanks in large part to the extras.]
This is the collector set material.
Here is a look at the glossy color book.
Final Thoughts: Patlabor: The Movie (Limited Collector's Edition) was definitely something special for fans of the movie and anime in general, owing in large part the source material but also the care with which Bandai Visual provided to improve what went before. There were some minor liberties taken with the dub and the potential of the additional extras that have yet to come in is a large factor in terms of whether some of you should consider upgrading the older version to the new with a double dip but the technical matters were handled in such a manner that many of you will be kicking yourselves if you wait for a possible HD version of the set that may never happen. Older anime doesn't always benefit from increased resolution (sometimes it does just the opposite) that enhances the flaws more than the movie so consider this the definitive version of the movie, well worth picking up.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.