Look at the Patlabor 2 cover. You see a beautiful looking anime babe, hair flowing, in front of a giant robot. Giant robot… equals action! Animation… dazzling effects! Anime babe, sex appeal!
However, Patlabor 2 is not an action movie and with that in mind the cover is pretty accurate. There is indeed a lot of snow and a lot of birds. The animated characters share a similar pale color scheme, and the giant robots remain stationary, in fact, their presence is entirely inconsequential throughout most of the movie’s runtime. The Patlabors are merely an upgrade to the military hardware that exists today and when they do finally see action in the movie’s closing moments it’s like nothing from Gundam or Big O. Their battle performance is procedural, even mundane, though not without its own blue collar appeal, akin to Ripley’s clunky power loader at the end of Aliens, like these things could one day exist.
And that’s Patlabor 2’s greatest strength. Though often set far in the future, science fiction is about what’s happening today. The movie, made in 1993, is set in 2002 (so now it’s actually in the past), but it’s surprising how timely it remains. It is almost all dialogue so some viewers will find the heady philosophizing, dense monologues, urban vistas and political barbs very boring.
Those looking for something other than Studio Ghibli’s output and whatever’s on Adult Swim these days will find a lot to think about in Patlabor 2, and they should. It’s directed by Mamoru Oshii, the guy who gave us the equally intellectual Ghost in the Shell movies.