Friday, June 3, 2011

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Patlabor: Chapter of Griffon (1993)

Catching up to the last digital comic in my current collection -- published by Riverhill Soft Inc. for the Japanese PC Engine Super CD-ROM system, with contributions from the Shogakukan and Headgear animation studios, it's Patlabor: Chapter of Griffon.  The disc opens with some very nice visuals, minimally animated due to the read-speed limitations of the technology, and the series' theme in full CD-quality audio:

The title screen is in English, conveniently for me -- at least I know I haven't put the wrong disc in:

Patlabor was another of those early-1990s anime titles that found its way to the US in subbed and dubbed form, when Japanese animation was still largely unknown on our shores; at the time, we would get the occasional feature by Miyazaki, or animated TV series like Battle of the Planets, but OVAs, manga and the otaku lifestyle were off the mainstream radar.  This disc provides a revealing historical window into the world of Japanese pop culture circa 1993 -- the Patlabor: Chapter of Griffon digital comic is a pretty deluxe production, with a lot more content than the norm for these titles.

Of course, I still don't read or speak Japanese with any degree of competency, so I'll just have to poke around the inscrutable (I mean that literally, no offense meant!) menus and see what I can find.

The primary attraction is, of course, a digital comic, wherein our heroine Noa Izumi explores the Patlabor facilities and engages the presumed-familiar cast in conversation, selecting dialogue options and actions to progress through the story.  The story uses chiptune music to provide better access to additional data on the disc.  There's some very nice cutscene animation, and a wide range of facial expressions displayed during conversation; the contributions of Shogakukan and Headgear make a big quality difference here. 

Normally, I would spend more time looking at the storyline of the digi-comic, which as near as I can make out concerns our heroes' mobilization to deal with the dark mecha Griffon.  But beyond the digital comic itself, this disc has some unusual features.  There's a game of rock-paper-scissors (jan-ken-pon), played between two mighty (and super-deformed) Patlabor ("patrol" "labor") mechs:

There are brief profiles and audio clips from the voice actors heard on the popular anime series -- and here, incidentally, an important, matter-of-fact reminder that life goes on:

And self-portraits and brief audio comments from several of the principals at Headgear:

There are also fan-cyclopedia Labor Information entries, with images, animation, narration and stats about the series' mechs -- these segments feature a neat lens-distortion effect on the background as the mechs come into view, something I haven't seen done on the PC Engine elsewhere:

And a CD-audio listening menu, set in an old-fashioned radio booth, with radio story segments featuring characters from the anime, as well as brief cuts from the game and series soundtracks:

The disc even contains three non-interactive animated promotional trailers that run on a loop, presumably for use in the shops to attract interest.  These are brief and quite entertaining, even if you don't understand the language -- the enthusiastically over-the-top voiceovers by the original cast just make you want to rush out and do SOMETHING, even if it isn't buying this disc specifically:

The digital comic remains the heart of the experience -- but there's a lot here for Patlabor fans, taking advantage of the new CD-ROM medium which was emerging at just the right time.  This kind of thing was ultimately superseded by DVD and the World Wide Web -- the novelty of playing an almost-animated game, created with labor-intensive production to digitize images and audio, wore off fairly quickly as CD and personal computer technology matured.  These digi-comics flourished only for a few years, and only in Japan.  But their time capsule nature makes them worth a look now and then.

There must be a lot of Patlabor fans out there, because this one seems to hold some value in the collectible market.  But if you're interested in a copy, you might be able to find one here.


  1. Nice information! The Patlabor game for the Super Famicom is very fun since it is an action/strategy game. I didn't know about this digital comic for the PCE, so I may get this eventually!

  2. Cool! The whole digital comic format was pretty short-lived... it was somewhere between a book and a videotape, but became obsolete as DVD and the World Wide Web arrived. This is one of the better ones I've seen -- not just a story, but quite a bit of fan service (the legitimate kind, even!)