Alright, so I have covered science fiction quite a lot in my long illustrious venture of anime blogging. That is mainly down to it being one of my favorites of fiction and media, next to fantasy. Now, why you ask those two? Well because I find pieces of these two genres to be quite ripe with potential for original and/or interesting stories, characters and ideas. Science fiction especially so as it is all about speculation, to see what we could become not just as humans but society as well. But what makes the best science fiction? Well, we shall see with an example…
Patlabor 2: The Movie (1993)
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Writer: Kazunori Ito
Studio: Production IG
Well, here I end my experience with the Patlabor franchise that started a few years back. The original OVA (link here) is a wonderful little series with great characters and storytelling with a very neat and interesting premise. The first movie (link here) is something that wouldn’t feel out of place with the OVA but with a bigger production look and feel while being quite insightful and fascinating. But what about the second film?
Well, I got to say it’s a bit like the 2 parter story in the original OVA (episodes 5-6, SV2’s Longest Day) in which the SV2 team has to contend with political establishment while dealing with terrorists. In essence, the show turns into a sharp political thriller just with giant robots. It’s the best part of the OVA, and so to see the second film take a similar cue story-wise already makes me like this film, but there’s more to it.
Set in the near future of 1999 (really?) some military operation goes belly up but leaving a sole survivor. Flash over to Tokyo with our SV2 unit doing the usual activities: Noa doing some Patlabor training, the other squad members doing some training with new recruits, Gotoh and Shinobu being the stern but approachable commanders. But an incident involving a bombing at a major highway bridge leads to suspicion of a larger scale terror attack being a possibility. A conspiracy is afoot, and it’s up to the SV2 unit to investigate and find out who is behind though that may seem closer than they would expect.
What works greatly about this movie is the character work on display. Granted, that is mostly Shinobu and Gotoh as they become the focal point of the film after the inciting incident on the bridge. It’s nice in retrospective to see these two develop from the bickering but dutiful officers we see in the OVA to the noble, truth seeking individuals in the face of great adversity in the second film. The emotional scene where they get grilled by their higher ups and their response is one of the greatest I’ve seen in anime.
Of course, this is done at the expense of the rest of the main cast. Asuma and Nao aren’t in the film that much, only the start and finale, and what little they do when they’re on screen is alright but feels tacked on a bit. In fact, the whole SV2 team reunion seems a bit tacked and yet it being the closing entry of the franchise there are a few fleeting moments of character growth. One moment that comes to mind involves Shinshi, the lone married man and presented as a bit of a wimp. When the team gets the call for the 3rd act, Shinshi starts to head out when his wife pleads for him to stay, stating that she’s pregnant. Now, this would be an unneeded moment, except for the fact that it shows Shinshi showing some spine and going out for this mission despite the odds that he might not make it back, that’s a nice touch if you ask me.
But the ideas on display here with the second film is amazing, if also more pertinent than originally thought out. The film serves as a meditation on societal peace and the price that is paid for it, the security at the expense of liberty. There are still vipers even in this technologically advanced Eden, just because you have the advanced technology you think Paradise has been achieved but it’s not that simple. The Patlabor are only used really in the few action sequences of the film, but they stand for something much more: Law and Order in a world on the brink of destruction. Considering what was come to Japan soon after this film’s release, makes the subject matter all the more meaningful. The subject of militarization is treated in a rather ambivalent matter, similar to the first movie. On the one hand, it has allowed Tokyo to be somewhat peaceful but on the other matter, it allowed the villain to execute his plan simply because in the end, for all their power, if someone presents a significant threat they will likely find a way to work around it, rather than actually solving the issue. Sounds a bit familiar, eh?
Now, on top of all that, Patlabor 2 looks impeccable. Mamoru Oshii is a master of anime cinema with this movie, just about on the level with Miyazaki. The film looks amazing, even 24 years on. Granted, there exists lots of scenery porn as there are long stretches of just showing Tokyo and the associated environs, but hey it looks great. The final act is just a tour de force of action, suspense-ridden excitement as everything comes to a head leading to a powerful ending.
So, Patlabor 2 is an excellent closer for that franchise and serves as an example of doing excellent science fiction. That is done quite simple: Use the trappings of science fiction (tech and speculation) to tell human stories, and Patlabor 2 does this extremely well. It shows that in the end, no matter how powerful authority of fear and tyranny appear to be, individuals will find a way to the truth and succeed in overcoming adversity thrown their way from that. And really, in these times, that is something we need to hear now.
Well, next time is a review around Valentine’s Day, and since I have covered anime with relationships as the focus, this year is no different though this time well…..
Til next time dear readers