Mobile Police Patlabor, Episode 1

We begin with an episode about the spaces between things, and about impatience.

Mobile Polic Patlabor

The episode opens on a flag rustling in the wind, and on a man waiting.

There is a quiet beauty that comes with the act of anticipation, although we seldom apprehend it in the moment. 

Patlabor places us into this time ever so gently, allowing the sounds of wind and planes above to immerse us in the time before the Labors arrive. The focal point of the waiting is Sakaki, whom the camera draws back from in stages, gradually revealing the lonely context of the SV2 campus. It is Sakaki who most desires the end of the waiting—and yet he waits in calmness befitting the lazy locale and of the dignity of his great affection for machines. This is the patience of love and passion.

The sky is a lovely blue, the clouds rendered in painterly prettiness. The grass is lush and tall. Others may rush by, pushed by duty or eagerness, or find something else to do in the meantime. He will be waiting in the same place the entire episode.

Of the new arrivals, it is Noa Izumi that stands out most. In her own words, she’s been preparing for this same arrival since she joined up—even having named the mechanical partner she has never met. Isao Ota’s impatience is framed somewhat differently, but he too finds his wishes unable to be fulfilled, foiled by the distancing, slowing effect of an uncaring bureaucracy. As my high school drama teacher told the cast of my senior year play time and time again, comedy is tragedy plus time. In this case, the time between Ota’s immediate desire and the far-off once-a-year shooting practice.

“Let me shoot a gun!”

To return to Noa Izumi, she is able to assuage her needs by finding an old Labor. For Izumi, waiting is not difficult because of her enthusiasm. Although she is far more energetic than the grizzled Sakaki, they do share their patience borne out of love. On her trip, she is accompanied by Asuma Shinohara, who is in a place he doesn’t wish to be. Will he run away? Doubtful. After all, the bikes here have bent handlebars—an apt metaphor for this place of in-betweens. You can leave, but it’s difficult to overcome the sheer inertia of suspension. We do not wait on ourselves.

Mobile Police Patlabor

The First Unit returns home awash in the colors of sunset. Following immediately after the break of the episode, one might be forgiven for thinking that they were, in fact, the long-awaited AV-98s had arrived. However, they are a false alarm, a fake ending to the period of anticipation. The robots are tucked into bed. Still Sakaki waits.

We’re going to go pick them up.

With those words, the suspension is ending—the fourth resolves into the third. After all, this is what it means to be a robot show, does it not? A criminal on the run, a newly minted force with all the best technology at their fingertips, an explosion of action. These are the adrenaline-inducing, blood-pumping moments we crave.

We will keep waiting, although the rewards come, incrementally, more quickly now. Lights flash, screens go online, the slow churn of pistons give us a moment of respite, then finally it’s here—and Ota must carefully pick his way through the cars to arrive at the next step while Noa refuses to jump. Where is the beauty in waiting for the mundane efforts of preparation? Of course, now it is the sweet anticipation of impending action. What we came here for is within our grasp, our appetites whetted by the steady progression towards the climax being measured out to us shot by shot and procedural moment by procedural moment.

The time draws near…

…the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

People will continue to wait. Goto will wait until the park is cleared of civilians to begin to work with Shinobu to set up their trap. Ota waits as long as he can, then begins to fire (it is a sad ending for him). Noa waits, as well, although her time is noticeably, humorously less joyful as we might expect given her happy meeting with her beloved Alphonse, the One-Armed Man. Once again, we are delivered comedy by an abrupt use of time. Neither Ota nor Noa are given the chance to embrace the moment they have been waiting for. Duty calls, defeats must be endured—and the First of Justice must be dispensed.

Sakaki has been waiting all this time. It would be fair to say that he has waited longer than anyone. A said return on his love he is offered—missing heads, missing arms. Perhaps comfort can be offered by the fact that it seems that nobody is getting quite what they want today.

“You want them?”

“I want them.”

“You can’t have them.”

Perhaps Goto is the most patient of them all. Comedy in serenity, one might say.

Mobile Police Patlabor

About the Anime Secret Santa Project

Every November, a bunch of anime bloggers come together to take part in what’s known as the Anime Secret Santa Project. Facilitated by the fine folks over at the Reverse Thieves blog/podcast, dozens of us blogger types recommend a minimum of three different anime to people based on what we think they’d like. Mobile Police Patlabor is a title I’ve been wanting to check out for a while, so thanks to my anime Secret Santa for giving me an excuse to watch it!

3 thoughts on “Mobile Police Patlabor, Episode 1

  1. Back when I was first getting seriously into anime, or as much as one could back then, in the late eighties/early nineties with the first wave of proper anime licences, Patlabor was one of the things that kept me interested when the original glamour of animated sex ‘n violence had worn off. A mecha show that wasn’t a war story, that was firmly grounded in the ordinary, day to day concerns of its cast, that was so slow compared to the frentic energy of almost everything else you could get those days; it took me a while to get to grips with it.

    Rewatched this OVA series this year, after I got back into anime again in 2015 — it still held up.

    If you like the series, try the first two movies too, they may even be better.


    • I’ve only seen this one episode, but just from watch it I’m suspecting I’m really going to like the rest of the OVAs. Thanks for the advice, I’ll definitely be checking out all of the other iterations of the franchise.


  2. Ooh, Early Days, I’ve been wanting to see this. Some really neat framing & visual there. I’m only familiar with the 1990s TV show and the Mamoru Oshii movies…found the TV show boring as a child (for the reason Martin mentioned above), but really love it when I re-visited it recently. The characters… no matter what iteration of them you’re seeing, they’re the kind that would likely stick on you for life.


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