Area 88 OVA Series -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 195
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Area 88

Area 88 OVA Series

By Chris Beveridge     July 18, 2006
Release Date: July 25, 2006

Area 88 OVA Series
© ADV Films

What They Say
A classic tale of love, war and tragedy comes to life in the original fast-paced, emotionally charged thrill ride, Area 88. In a cruel twist of fate, talented young pilot Shin Kazama is tricked into serving as a mercenary for Area 88: a hell on earth where men survive by gunning down anyone who stands in their way. To return home, Shin must sell his soul to the battlefield and pave the road back to Japan with the corpses of his fallen opponents. Two feature length films, full of dizzying dogfights and heart wrenching drama that make Area 88 one of the most memorable anime classics of all time. Get ready for the ride of your life!

The Review!
Based on the original manga series, Area 88 caught the imagination of many during its first run and even inspired a remake nearly twenty years later as a TV series.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series sports a rather good stereo mix that has a strong full feeling to it. There isn't a lot in the way of real heavy directionality to it but the mix is good in capturing the sounds and feel of the various aircraft that fly throughout it. The English mix manages to take things a step further with a bit more directionality and nuance to it, such as the various echoes in rooms and so forth. Both mixes sound good and it's worth noting that the English mix here is a new one done by ADV Films and I believe utilizing the same cast as the TV series. Unfortunately, the original one done by Central Park Media is not included.

Originally released to video in 1985, the transfer for this OVA series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Area 88 has had a number of releases in its US history, from the three VHS tapes to the laserdisc release. It also had its first OVA released onto DVD but it never made it past that. In Japan, it received a couple of releases as well with a final remaster and pseudo-compilation being done of the first two episodes into a movie form while the third episode, feature length itself, remained by itself. This is the release that we get here and it's night and day compared to all the previous US releases. The OVA certainly does show its age as you can see the dirt and dust on the print and right from the opening you can see the animation moving across the backgrounds, but as it progresses this tends to smooth out and the materials are in stunning shape for its age. This is almost essentially a direct port of the Japanese release, just re-encoded. With no clean credit sequences, they also went the extra distance to soft subtitle the credits, so you basically get an unadulterated version of the Japanese release for a fraction of the cost. This two disc edition is just beautiful and outside of the Japanese releases it's the best this has ever looked in the US.

The cover artwork for this is definitely aimed at appealing to the fans of this show as it utilizes the original logo which is a mix of English and Japanese. The artwork is true to the show and it has a great shot of Shin in his uniform reaching forward while his plane is streaking behind him against a great visual of the cloudscape below. It's a muted looking cover with a certain brightness to it that just looks striking in a way that a lot of today's covers don't. Of course, I enjoy a lot of these older shows and it's what I grew up on so there's an appeal there. The back cover is done sideways with some light background imagery that's hard to see but it has a flowing stripe of shots from the show that reveals how the animation itself looks. The cover is pretty text heavy overall but it's well laid out and covers the basics as well as the technical and extras. No insert is included with this release nor is there a reversible cover.

The menus are rather simple all told but a mix of stock footage of skies and clouds combined with a shot of the various aircraft that are from the show gives it a good look, one that feels rather relaxing and enjoyable rather than full of technology or action. The menus are otherwise fairly standard design in terms of layout and accessibility and we had no problems in navigating them. The disc also correctly reads our players' language presets properly so we had no problems with it picking up the right options.

There aren't a ton of extras here but what we get is really good at fleshing out the show. The first disc has a series of stills of the various fighter craft and you can select each one of them, which then plays a brief portion of their animation from the show before shifting to a static page that details their specs. The second disc has one of the best extras a show like this could have as it has a video interview with the original manga creator, Kaoru Shintani, done during the remaster that was done for the series. So it's a treat not only to see him basically twenty odd years later but also to have him reflect on a book that's long been done for him.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Area 88 hasn't had one of the best histories when it comes to its releases here. Viz attempted the manga series many years ago and only made it through three volumes before dropping it, leaving the other twenty unreleased. CPM fared a bit better by having the show come out on VHS in full with the OVA series that was done in 1985 and even managed to get it out on laserdisc in full. Their attempts at a DVD release was less than spectacular however when only the first episode was released back in 1998 at the dawn of DVD. A new TV series was announced in 2004 and made stateside release in 2005 from ADV Films, which also paved the way for them going back and getting this original OVA and giving it the full release it's deserved since back in 1998.

It's interesting to come back to this OVA after taking in the new TV series. While there are changes along the way in making the TV series and a different ending between the two, there are far more similarities than there are differences. Even as somber as the TV series gets, the OVA tends to go a bit more in this direction and during the first few scenes where we're introduced to Shin you can easily see him being someone who gets overly emotional about things. With its shorter running time and more varied episode length, the OVA series also tends to be a bit more meandering at times as it tries to really set a mood that's harder to create in a twenty minute timeframe on a weekly basis. When watched in full as what's basically a two-part three hour movie, it works quite well and in a lot of ways stands the test of time, particularly since it keeps itself firmly rooted in the time it takes place of 1979.

In order to fight the civil war, the Kingdom of Aslan has decided that to do so require the use of mercenaries. These pilots are brought in from all sources and sign three year contracts that they will fight for the Kingdom on missions that they are assigned to. The mercenaries are generally used for the more dangerous missions and to handle softening up the enemy before the Kingdom's own forces swoop in and deal with the rest later. The coordination of all of this is done by a man named Saki who commands the Area 88 airstrip and base out in the desert. The pilots there are a varied breed and each of them has their own motivations both for being there and in how they fight.

A pilot can get out of their contract early though but it requires paying a 1.5 million dollar fine. The pilots do earn money from their work here as each target it assigned a monetary value and some missions are worth more than others, such as enemy aircraft being worth more than ground targets. The downside is that the pilots have to pay for practically everything along the way, from their planes, fuel, weapons, food, cigarettes and so forth. It's easy to make money if you've got some skill but the maintenance and upkeep of the aircraft requires that you put a lot of it back into flying. This is what leads to some of the pilots doing more daring and reckless endeavors in order to get more money in order to get free if they've been swindled into the contract.

Over the course of the series, we get introduced to some interesting pilots with their own odd quirks and strong personalities. A good deal of the show is learning about Shin and what really motivate him to keep being a pilot and how he got into the situation. This aspect is covered in more detail than we see in the TV series and it's also one that feels more personal than that version as well. With its set layout as a three piece tale, each of the acts covers a strong story before it takes to the third act where its theatrical nature really delves into the world Shin has become a part of. There are plenty of movies about ragtag groups of mercenaries that you end up liking and seeing as good guys. Area 88 fits well into that mold but with some good added twists of character by being done from a Japanese perspective and the cost of being involved in such a war.

The technical side of this release is just fantastic. As mentioned in the video section, this is far and away a completely different show from what was released before in the US and it shows in just about every frame. While I do wish the original dub was included, the new dub works quite well and there's a good familiarity among the actors since I believe just about all of them did the TV series, which meant that they had an advantage into getting into these roles again for what's basically an alternate telling of the story. Another plus is that the subtitle script was done from scratch and cleaned up some basic turns of phrases and smoothed it out a bit more compared to the original. The dub does punch up things a touch in some scenes with the swearing or mild cussing, but it's an area where what works in the Japanese doesn't have the same effect in the English, particularly with an international crowd of characters that aren't inhibited by Japanese sensibilities.

In Summary:
As excited as I was over the last couple of years about the new TV series and its licensing in the US, I had always lamented that the original OVA series was never completed and essentially lost to the ages. It was a title that reminded me why I kept my laserdisc player around since this series made up what few discs I have left of that format. It's acquisition and release by ADV Films comes close to what you'd almost call film preservation since it's the kind of show that I think needs to be out there to understand where anime shows like this are today came from. In the extras for the TV series, almost everyone involved was in some way affected by this OVA from 1985 and the original manga from the decade before. Seeing that love of their own history and building upon it to make it new is great, but I'm just as excited, if not more so, to have that original history as well. Major kudos to ADV Films for not only getting the show but giving it the release it deserves.

Now if only someone would revive the manga.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Introduction of the Fighters,Extensive interview with original manga creator Kaoru Shintani

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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