One-Hundred and Eighty dollars. That’s roughly how much it costs to purchase both Patlabor films on Japanese Blu-ray from Bandai Visual and that doesn’t even include shipping and other fees you might incur. Sure the discs have English subtitles and dubbing, but $90+ per film? If that sounds like a bit much, there’s a reasonable English-friendly compromise courtesy of Proware out of Hong Kong.
Proware released Patlabor Movies 1 & 2 on Blu-ray last year. I had a chance to watch the first film, and I’ve checked out the second, and I must say the quality is rather solid. The discs are Region A coded, which means they will play in any North American Blu-ray player. Provided in a 1080p/AVC transfer framed in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, both movies look great. The clean-up work that was done is not the picture perfect remasters classic Disney films get, but the color correction is excellent and elements like film grain and visible paint strokes help give the image a nice sense of texture and a human touch. I haven’t seen a comparison to Bandai Visual’s Blu-rays, but I would not be surprised if it turned out to be the exact same encode. Anime releases in other asian countries, especially Hong Kong and Korea, tend to take the same audio and video streams from the Japanese DVDs/Blu-rays and I have a feeling that’s what we’re getting here.
The discs also includes the 5.1 Sound Renewal audio in Dolby TrueHD and a stereo Cantonese dub. Early listings for the discs indicated the English dub would be included, but that didn’t come to pass. That’s fine for me as Patlabor is a show I associate strongly with it’s Japanese cast. Speaking of, back in 1998 that cast was brought in to re-record their dialog for the surround sound mix so it’s a tiny shame that the original stereo mix isn’t included. That tends to be how these kind of releases work; in order to incorporate the Japanese video encode on a smaller Blu-ray (25GB vs. 50GB) things like additional audio tracks and special features are dropped. Sadly that keeps Proware’s releases from being as definitive as I was hoping. Can’t win ‘em all, and besides, the Japanese voice actors sound as lively as ever in the re-recorded version.
The most important part of the BDs for English speakers is the subtitles. As far as foreign English-friendly releases go I’d say these subtitles are among the best I’ve come across. I’m not entirely sure where the subtitles came from. They don’t appear to be the same as the subtitles Manga Entertainment produced years ago and I’d be surprised if Proware commissioned an original subtitle script. My guess is they copied the subtitles from Bandai Visual’s Blu-ray. There’s the occasional typo and grammatical error but my main criticism is that the timing is occasionally awkward and imprecise. However for anyone who has dealt with English translations on foreign DVD releases there are no deal-breakers to be found here. And if the subtitles are indeed an original translation then I have to hand it to Proware; this is not a turkey translation.
Oh yeah, did I mention the Patlabor movies are really good? The first film feels like an expanded and extended episode of the original Patlabor OVAs, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a well put together film that drags a little at times but is a worthy addition to the franchise. The second film however is very intelligent science fiction with themes that may resonate even deeper now than they did back in 1993. The third movie, Patlabor WXIII is… well, it is what it is but since Proware didn’t release it on BD I don’t feel any particular need to talk about it.
Proware’s Patlabor Blu-rays will run you about $25-$30 per film not including shipping. There are also no special features included, not a one. Still, getting both films for around 2/3 the cost of one of the Bandai Visual Blu-rays is a steal, especially if the video was taken right off the Japanese versions. I tend to use www.yesasia.com for importing asian releases however you can also probably find it at www.play-asia.com and www.dddhouse.com. If you’re interested, I wouldn’t dawdle. These kind of releases can go out of print at the drop of a hat and when they’re gone, they are *gone*.
Now Proware, how about releasing the spectacular looking Patlabor OVAs and TV series on Blu-ray with English subtitles? Hey, a fan can dream.