This follow-up to the 1986 OVA series reimagines the Area 88 storyline and, as hard at it may seem, actually makes it better.
What They Say
Welcome to Area 88, a desolate outpost in the sun-blasted desert where mercenary fighter pilots risk their lives in service to the Kingdom of Aslan. Any skilled pilot will do, no questions asked. They literally kill for cash as they fight for the government of a country torn apart by a bloody civil war.
Who are these pilots, and why do they suffer the pains of the desert to serve a country that isn't their own? Some fight because it's all they know. Some fly for the thrill of the game. Some have nowhere else to go. Shin Kazama, the only Japanese pilot on the base, is different from the rest. He may be the only pilot capable of earning enough money to buy out his contract... if he lives long enough. But Shin fights only to return to Japan, to a life and a love that was stolen from him in cruel act of betrayal.
Contains all 12 episodes.
For this viewing, I took in the English dub, which is offered in 5.1. The Japanese track is available in 2.0. The audio mix is pretty solid, with no blending or distortion between the tracks. The dialogue stays in the center, but there is some directionality present in the sound effects. With the amount of aerial combat in this title, it would have been nice if the audio was a bit more diverse as it would have added to the atmosphere, but otherwise it is fine.
Originally broadcast in 2004, this title is show in 16:9 aspect ratio, and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The visuals in this title are really well done. There is a blending of traditional animation with computer animation, which can be very noticeable at times, but the transitions between the two are seamless in this release. In particular, the battle scenes are really well done, as the fast paced action and explosions are rendered in great detail. There is some haziness and blur in a few sections, but it does not show up often.
This release has some fairly solid packaging. The three discs come in a standard amaray case that has an insert to hold two of the discs. The front cover has a picture of Shin’s first aircraft in combat with an enemy, with an inlaid image of Shin in the cockpit. The title logo is across the top. The back has some more combat images along the top, with a summary in the middle, and some screen shots and the technical details below. I like the nice, compact design of this set, and the imagery does a good job playing up the intense fighting that takes place in each episode.
The menus for this release are pretty basic. The main menu is a static image that looks like an altimeter. The selections are placed around the inside of the meter, with the selection highlight being different lines on the meter. While the menu is up, sound effects of a jet engine starting up is played in the background. The menu fits the theme of the series, but it is not particularly interesting.
Aside from a few previews, there are no extras in this collection.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The Area 88 TV Series is a new look at the story told in the Area 88 OVAs in 1986. While much of the structure remains the same, the TV Series is given a little bit more time to flesh out the plot and characters and add a little depth to what was all ready a fairly deep tale. Having just recently seen the OVA series for the first time, I was looking forward to the chance to check the TV series out, and I was not disappointed.
Makoto Shinjo is a Japanese photographer who is travelling to an air base in the Middle Eastern Kingdom of Aslan known only as Area 88. Aslan is in the middle of a civil war, and Area 88 is the home to a group of foreign legion pilots who take on the dirty jobs the regular air force does not want to deal with. On the surface, Shinjo wants to capture the war through his lens, and find the one true shot that will show the world what the war is about. However, underneath he has a different motive for being there, and that is to get a picture of Shin Kazama’s dead body.
Shin Kazama is another Japanese man stationed at Area 88. He is there for reasons unknown, as he refuses to discuss his past, much like everybody else who signs up to go to Area 88. However, he is determined to raise enough money—$1.5 million—to buy out his contract and return to Japan. As a pilot in the foreign legion, he earns money for each plane he shoots down and each target he destroys. Unfortunately, as he is foreign legion, he has to purchase all of his supplies as well, making the job a little more difficult. But Shin quickly proves himself to be the most able pilot on the base, so he earns capital well enough.
The Area 88 OVA series is told from Shin’s perspective, and as such, his back story is given in great detail. The TV series, though, is told mostly through Shinjo’s eyes. Therefore, Shin’s origins are more hinted at through a series of short flashbacks, rather than any concrete evidence being given. Shin and his childhood friend, Satoru Kanzaki, were trainees in the Yamato Airlines flight school, when Shin falls in love with Ryoko Tsugumo, the daughter of the company president. In a fit of jealousy and ambition, Kanzaki tricks Shin into joining the Aslan Foreign Legion before embarking on his own plan to take over Yamato and to marry Ryoko. As such, Shin is determined to get back as soon as he can, back to Ryoko and back to find out why Kanzaki betrayed him.
Since this is essentially the same story, many of the themes from the OVAs show up again in the TV series. Side stories—such as certain missions or the story of Boris, the Angel of Death—make a reappearance in an effort to build the same atmosphere as in the OVAs. As mentioned above, since the TV series is longer than the OVAs, these plotlines are able to develop more and become much larger in the grand scope. Even Shinjo, who is in the OVAs for only a short time before dying, becomes a major character in this telling.
That said, this telling does offer some new ideas and characters. For starters, there are a few new pilots in Area 88. The first is Kim Aba, a young African recruit who is constantly picked on and overlooked due to his age and size. His battle skills are somewhat lacking due to lack of experience, but he has secured a British Royal Harrier for himself giving him some maneuverability advantages over the other pilots. Shin is the only resident of Area 88, though, that shows Kim any friendship, and it is from this friendship that Kim gains confidence of his abilities and allows him to reach his potential.
Another new recruit is Kitri Parveneh, the cousin of Area 88 commander Saki Vashtar and the only female pilot at the base. Despite confidence in her own abilities, she is still a distant second to Shin in terms of combat skill. No matter how hard she tried, Shin outstrips her in the sky, and he makes it seem effortless. She quickly begins to see Shin as something of a rival; this rivalry induces her to get closer to Shin, though he is so focused on his mission and on Ryoko that he ignores her advances.
As such, she tends to spend most of her time just hanging out and being sexy. On the one hand, I am perfectly fine with that. But on the other, I was actually hoping that Shin would accept her as I found her character much more interesting than the wet-blanket he had waiting for him in Japan. She is such a forceful personality, and she makes her presence known in each situation, whether she is shooting down enemy planes or potential paramours. I guess I am just drawn to strong female characters, and the damsel-in-distress Ryoko is anything but.
Overall, what I found better about the TV series over the OVAs is the focus. I found it hard to be interested in the interplay with Kanzaki and Ryoko in the OVAs. While the same is still true—moreso considering my attitude towards Kitri in relation to Ryoko—much less time is spent dealing with events back home. This time through, the majority of the time is spent in Aslan and at Area 88 detailing Shin’s struggle, Shinjo’s moral struggles, and the effects the war has on all that are involved. Kanzaki and Ryoko, very much main characters in the OVAs, have been reduced to little more than bit parts, and I am fine with that. They serve their purpose in giving Shin a motive for his actions, but I am fine not having to know any more about them.
It is perhaps because of this lack of focus on Japan that I was more interested in Kitri’s involvement with Shin than Ryoko’s, but it does make me question the point of Ryoko as a character if her potential romantic rival gets so much more screen time. I almost feel like I am supposed to feel more affinity towards Kitri, and it is somewhat disconcerting that I am then supposed to accept that Ryoko is much more important in the grand scheme of things.
I would also be remiss if I did not mention the excellent aerial combat sequences in this series. Each episode has at least one instance of fighting, and all are rendered in excellent detail and pacing. Each battle also tends to be a little different making it stand out, whether it is night combat, bombing runs, or the excellent sequence where the Area 88 pilots have to traverse a narrow trench in order to stay under radar. All are really well done and certain to appeal to fans.
The Area 88 TV Series is a wonderful revision of the Area 88 story. Just about everything in this version is an improvement over the OVA series, and considering that the OVA series was really good itself, that is saying something. There is plenty of action to appeal to action fans, but there is plenty of drama too, as the real story is what is happening to the people involved in the war. It really is a great look at the human side of combat, and should appeal to many people. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System