Japan loves its fictional robots. The adorable Doraemon and unsettling Evangelion are instantly recognizable to both young and old. The giant statue of Gundam in Tokyo has become a major tourist attraction, despite being in the middle of Odaiba, which was already a major entertainment district with no shortage of other, hipper attractions.
And now, another robot, the Patlabor, has joined Gundam in making the leap into the three-dimensional world, towering size intact.
In the gigantic pile of giant root anime Japan has produced, Patlabor remains unique. Whereas most mecha series follow a military force or team of superheroes, often in deep space or on alien worlds, Patlabor instead gives its machines to the Tokyo police department.
Even the title itself reflects this down-to-earth sensibility, being a combination of “patrol car” and “labor,” the franchise’s term for its robots that references their original use as construction machines. Being a vehicle with a motor, the robot of course has a license plate, and instead of a laser rifle, its armaments are simply jumbo-sized versions of the standard-issue revolver and shotgun used by Japanese police officers.
Helmed by the creative team Headgear, the series featured distinctive character artwork from designer Akemi Takada, already known for her work on Creamy Mami and Kimagure Orange Road, and direction by Mamoru Oshii, who would later go on to international success with the Ghost in the Shell movies. Patlabor was one of the earliest cross-media hits, with manga, TV episodes, video games, and animated motion pictures during the height of its popularity in the late 80s and early 90s.
Filming has recently begun for a live-action theatrical Patlabor movie, scheduled for release in 2014. Old-school practical effects fans will be happy to know that at least some of the scenes will be forgoing CG images and instead relying on a full-scale mock-up of the Patlabor itself.
Of course, closed set or not, it’s hard to conceal a 30-foot robot, and fans were quick to snap pictures of the Patlabor and share them on Twitter.
▼ Just like in the anime, the Patlabor is transported on the back of a semi-truck.
▼ With the tarp off, we can see the red police flashers on the shoulders, in case a giant robot by itself isn’t enough to make motorists pull over.
▼ Ready to serve and protect!
▼ Support truck sporting markings of the characters’ department, “Special Vehicle Section 2”
While the original Patlabor story was set in Tokyo, these pictures were taken on location in Yokohama, 30 minutes south of the capital and the town where this writer happens to live. There’s no word on what will happen to the Patlabor once filming ends, but I think I speak for all residents of my adopted home when I say that I’d feel a lot safer if they just left it with the Yokohama police department.