Area 88 TV Vol. #4 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: A
  • Age Rating: TV PG
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.99
  • Running time: 75
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Area 88

Area 88 TV Vol. #4

By Chris Beveridge     January 11, 2006
Release Date: January 17, 2006

Area 88 TV Vol. #4
© ADV Films

What They Say
Japanese ace Shin Kazuma was staring at a cozy future at Yamato Airlines, where he was dating the president's daughter. Instead, he's tricked into signing on as a mercenary and now must serve a three year hitch or raise $1.5 million to buy his way out.

The Review!
Area 88 comes to a close with revelations about just what's going on and life changing events that force Shin to actually show emotions.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The shows included stereo mix does a solid job overall of providing a good full soundstage for the battle sequences in the air and when the bombs drop and hit the ground targets while also doing a good job at handling the various levels of dialogue and placement. This is a fairly busy mix in general though it does have its quiet moments, which helps everything else stand out more. Otherwise, dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problem with dropouts or distortions.

Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. With little time between its original airing and release, the materials here look really good and the show overall had a decent budget, though it looks like a good chunk went into the CG design and modeling which pays off nicely throughout. The series has something of a distinct look to it since a lot of it takes place either in the sky or around the base so there's lots of blues and yellows which translate nice and solid here. There are a few areas of some noticeable breakup in some of the tans but this amounts to a few seconds out of three full episodes. A couple of scenes showed off some edge enhancement, which was very much visible with the characters against the blue sky, but it wasn't something that was showing up consistently throughout the release.

Keeping with the theme of past volumes but accenting it nicely for the finale, we get a great sky blue background that only helps to draw more attention to Ryoko being on the cover with her soft light colors as she smiles. This is also nicely contrasted with the image of one of the fighter jets flying over her with a view from underneath that keeps the man and machine pairing. The back cover goes with a quasi military color palette and has the top quarter with the summary of the premise, though it gives away numerous plot points not revealed in this volume. Lots of shots from the show are included as is a listing of the discs extras. The full production credits and technical grid round out the bottom area of the cover. The insert features a good looking hsot of multiple fighters flying out towards the viewer while the reverse side has translated comments about the series from Ryoko's voice actress and info on other characters.

The menu layout is done up in a very in-theme manner with the interior panel shot of one of the aircraft with all its dials and buttons and knobs. The selections are laid out fairly wide and with the episode numbers for starting to play it may not be easy to find all that quickly but it looks good and access times are fast in general. The disc did however read our players' language presets properly and we had no problems with navigation or setup.

The extras finish out here with the usual warnings that they may provide spoilers. Just like previous volumes, there is a healthy selection of extras here. This volume has an interview segment with the director and several of the voice actors that's spread across two parts. In addition to these pieces we get the standard clean opening and ending, a new series of production sketches and the aircraft specs and character bios section. Area 88 has had a great selection of extras that really did a good job of showing the behind the scenes aspect of the show.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the last three episodes of the series, Area 88 comes to a close and differs fairly well from the original OVA series well enough so that those who had seen that don't feel like we're just rewatching everything over again, just in a shinier format. The emotions run high throughout this set of episodes as it brings a couple of things to the forefront and has Shin at one of the most important crossroads in his life.

Most of the focus of the last three episodes is down to the two Japanese men as their lives and decisions have brought them to a most interesting place. For Kazama, he's now close to the point where he's able to pay off the 1.5 million that can set him free from this place and he's making all sorts of decisions now based on that getting so close which puts him into a shaky position at times. It's a surprising change for him since he's been so calculating up until now but the promise of getting free from all of this after so long and getting back to where he truly wants to be is so overpowering for him. In a way, a lot of what he does after he returns from his final missions feels out of character for him but it's much more reminiscent of his earlier days before coming to Area 88 than his tenure there. He's been in such control for so long and keeping his eye on the ball that as soon as he shifted to a new focus he started to change.

Shinjou's arc has been interesting as well since we've known for awhile that his mission there hasn't been what he's told everyone it is and the connections to him and Japan will be a real problem should and when it comes out. Shinjou has been gaining more and more acceptance as he's spent his time there at the base and recently gained some very positive feelings from a lot of the guys as they've seen the changes in his pictures and see themselves in a new light. When everything gets revealed however it shows just how quick people can turn and change, both for better and worse. Shinjou's arc hasn't been quite as defined as Kazama's for basic reasons but watching the parallels between the two over the course of the thirteen episodes has been enjoyable to watch.

Mickey also gets himself a final episode to dig deeper into his past as well as to provide some foreshadowing of what's to come for Shin. With this series being set in the late 70's it's able to draw in a number of Vietnam angles that work well in reminding the viewer about the mindset of a lot of the fighter pilots of the time and the kinds of things that they've gone through in the last decade. This episode lets us draw on some interesting parallels to Shin as it deals with what you have to go through in order to survive but it also brings in another round of some good conflict within a fighter pilot's mindset and the kind of lives that a lot of servicemen found themselves in after Vietnam.

Keeping in pace with previous volumes, there is a lot of really good aerial combat animation in this volume that has a great pacing to it with the Avex music and the overall design and choreography of it. The series had me wondering early on whether it would be able to pull off the aerial moments well since CG animation can still be hit or miss but they really did a fantastic job with it here with the attention to detail and the way the fighters simply look when they're streaking across the screen and the rockets are flying off. The series overall has just been a lot of fun since it was able to take an older property that has its fans, rework it with fresh animation styles but still with the original concept designs, and make it work. Area 88 could have easily been reimagined into something more modern which could have been interesting but everyone on the project held the original manga material in such high regard that it wasn't going to happen.

In Summary:
While the final volume plays out differently in some ways from the original OVA series, it brings this chapter in Shin Kazama's life to a close and keeps the door open for plenty more to be made should that ever happen. Looking back across all four volumes, Area 88 basically hit every mark that I wanted out of the show with solid acting, animation and story. It's often hard to get older shows to appeal to current audiences but the people behind Area 88 did a fantastic job of taking classic property, keeping true to it but designing it to appeal to today's audiences. Add in the copious amounts of extras and a solid production overall, this is a release that should not be passed up.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Interviews with Isamu Imakake (Director),Production sketches,Aircraft specs,Character bios,Clean opening animation,Clean closing animation

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI set to 480p, 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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