Asuma and His Father: A Father’s Day Post

Happy Father’s Day! This post isn’t about anime fathers per se, but about a character and his relationship with his father instead.

Asuma Shinohara is one of the main characters of the Patlabor series. He’s smart, but still brash and green. Despite his shortcomings, he proves to be a more reliable cop than one would think.

He’s also estranged from his father.

Big deal, you might say. A lot of male anime characters don’t get along with their dads. What makes Asuma special?

One of the first things we learn about Asuma (at least in the TV series) is that he signed up for a police Labor unit instead of working in Shinohara Heavy Industries, in order to spite his father. Can you imagine it? The heir to a huge and influential company, running off to become a lowly civil servant?

However, the anime never shows us the details of this estrangement. Asuma rarely brings the topic up, and only when the situation calls for it–there is an arc in the TV series where he stays with Shinohara Heavy Industries to oversee the development of new Labors. Yet his father’s underlings seem to be very fond of him, and even ask him to make amends with his father. (He turns them down casually.)

Asuma’s beef with his dad, and his aversion to talk about it, speaks volumes. Asuma isn’t in his job to fool around, and he takes it quite seriously after all those wacky hijinks. His rebelliousness defines him, but he doesn’t let it manifest in his work or control him. This is a refreshing change compared to anime characters who would beat us over the head with their parent-related problems. But that’s probably because Asuma is an adult!

I also find it strange and amusing that the final episode of the 2nd Patlabor OVA (which caps the TV series) lends a bit more context between Asuma and his father. During their day off, Asuma takes Noa out to visit his older brother’s grave.

“He killed himself. I thought he did it to get back at our father. It was a stupid thing to do. Dying doesn’t solve anything.” Those were Asuma’s words. Could his brother’s suicide have factored strongly into Asuma’s estrangement with his father? It’s hard to tell, but for him to drag his partner out to another prefecture just for this must mean something.

And it isn’t over yet–as they leave for their car, Asuma runs into his dad, who walks to the Shinohara family grave without a word. Asuma tells Noa to wait for him in the car, and follows his father.

Their private scene together in the graveyard is shot in silence. We never know if they even exchanged words. It is considerably later when Asuma returns, and he gives no further clue of what transpired between them.

He does concede, in the end, that he might have to quit the SV2 in order to run his father’s company in the future. But that’s still a long way off.

The brilliance of this episode is its timing in the show. The last episode of the TV timeline still finds it fit to reveal a main character’s backstory, putting his behavior throughout the show in a clearer light. It’s a very quiet rebellion–stoic, even. There’s also an air of ambiguity–is the rift between father and son slowly mending? Will Asuma take over Shinohara Heavy Industries eventually? Maybe, and maybe not. The open question lingers on, long after the show has ended.

And I love it. If anything, the Patlabor TV shows us that people can change, as long as life goes on. It’s the ambiguity that makes Asuma’s situation believable.

Asuma’s understated relationship with his father is particularly memorable to me, and brings out one of Patlabor’s strengths–well-written characters who aren’t made up of cheap, exaggerated traits–into the open.

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