Area 88 TV Vol. #2 (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Saturday, September 03, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, September 13, 2005



What They Say
In every life there comes a moment when skill is pushed to the limit, when the only thing that stands in the path of death is the strength of the spirit and the shEar will to survive. Out numbered and overpowered, Shin is forced to ditch his plane and parachute into the barren, unforgiving desert where he is haunted by memories of his past as he struggles to survive. Back on base a new pilot is turning heads, and she… yes, she… has the skill of an ace and the beauty to match. But Shin is oblivious to her obvious advances as he impatiently waits for his new plane to arrive. Amid thoughts of the life, and love, he left behind, Shin is confronted with the face of the friend who took it all away, and in the last place he would expect it, in the cockpit of the 747 barreling toward him through the clouds.


The Review!
Life continues at the base as people come and go amidst the myriad number of battles.

Audio:
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. My only real disappointment and I know I'm in the minority, is that lack of inclusion of the Japanese DTS 5.1 track that was available on the commercial release and not just the rental version. Otherwise, dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problem with dropouts or distortions.

Video:
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.

Packaging:
Using the same style as the first volume, the mixture of character and aircraft imagery is used here with one of the jets flying fast an dhot over the desert in the foreground while above it underneath the series logo is a character piece for Makoto with his camera in hand. 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 the artwork from the Japanese cover Makoto looking out into the desert from the base at sunset while the reverse side has a pair of translated comments about the series from two of the Japanese voice actors.

Menu:
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.

Extras:
Similar to the first volume, there's a healthy selection of extras here. With them being as lengthy as they are and apparently the same for the remainder of the volumes, I can retract my previous comments as to why such spoilerific material was included so early. These are definitely worth watching when the series is over though to get some real insight into what went into it. This volume has an interview segment with the director and the character design that runs nearly thirty minutes in length while the interview with the director and the supervising producer runs close to the same length, resulting in nearly an hour of behind the scenes production information. 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. These are very nicely loaded discs.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The return of Area 88 to the current generation of fans is something that I'm certainly enjoying since it's helping to fill a woefully underserved genre out there and that's the realism area of fighter jets. With so many shows today simply centered around either fantastic science fiction events or high school related material, something like this where adults are dealing with a variety of situations both in the air and on the ground has pretty much disappeared in the last decade. While some of the OVAs and series from that time period aren't worth the material they were animated on, there were more than enough that helped to provide a lot of diversity to the overall market.

This installment of Area 88 moves things along nicely both in the present and in the past as we get to explore what drives Shin the way it does. With the three episodes, it all goes by surprisingly fast as it mixes both the dramatic sequences and the action sequences quite well. It opens quickly with the premise that Shin's about to go out on a mission that he won't return from as Gustav just knows this by the sound of things he hears as Shin heads off. Prescient or simply lucky, Shin does find himself overwhelmed and shot down on this mission and even worse he manages to eject into a massive sandstorm that's sweeping through the area.

This provides an excellent opportunity for a flashback sequence and we start to finally see what put Shin in the situation he's in. We see when he and his friend Kanzaki are finishing out their airline pilot training in Paris and the talk about their childhood at home in Japan at the orphanage. Shin talks about going back to visit but we get an insight into Kanzaki's motivations as he doesn't want to go back until he's wealthy and powerful and can buy a brand new place to replace what he grew up in. They have very different attitudes about things but Kanzaki is the type to do whatever he can to get what he wants.

The path for him with this is something that happened before they went to school to fly the big airliners and that was a chance meeting with the president of Yamato Airlines. Kanzaki went right on to deal with him but Shin ended up taking his daughter up for a plane ride and the two ended up in love. As time passed, Kanzaki sees this not only as an obstacle but an avenue and he pulls of the most despicable of tricks. Before heading home to Japan from Paris, he gets Shin drunk and has him sign up for the Aslan mercenary force for a three year contract. His shock at what happened and his resignation is what starts him off but what keeps him going is his promise that no matter what or where, he will return to Ryoko no matter what.

This is strung across the episodes here so we learn what's going on with him and it parallels nicely as he makes his way back to the base and has to deal with being grounded while having no fighter craft of his own. To provide some balance to his being grounded, a new character is brought into play named Kitri, a female pilot who is actually Saki's cousin. She's not exactly a hotshot pilot but she's finagled things to come out to fly with this group and get more experience. The arrival of a female at the base is comical in itself as all the guys fall over her and Saki has issues with her being there. She definitely brings something new to the show and the dynamic of the previously all male complement.

Coincidence figures heavily into the last episode on the disc though but it's a priceless piece. Seeing things in the present for both of the men that the series is actually about brings things into focus, as does seeing Ryoko and how she's dealing with the missing Shin. The arrival of Shin's new fighter gives us a good shakedown piece which is enjoyable but it's still not as good as the action scenes in the two previous episodes. There's a lot of fighter action which is very well played here with the Avex music, continuing to give it that "Initial D" of jets feel. It may be cheap and corny to call it that, but it describes it so aptly for me since I enjoy Initial D just as much as this for a lot of the same reasons.

In Summary:
Though in a way there really isn't much new here since I'm long familiar with this property and its previous OVA release, this updated version plays out beautifully here with crisp clean animation, excellent acting and some very well done CG scenes for the aircraft. While it may not have the same kind of feel and allure of the old traditional animated shows when it comes to seeing the jets fly about, the added realism we get here combined with the detail and speed more than makes up for it. This show is going by far too fast already but I can't wait to get my hands on more, or for it to be all over so I can watch all of these extras. Good stuff and definitely worth the entry price.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Interview with Isamu Imakake (Director) and Horoshi Koujina (Character Designer), Interview featuring the director and Kenjiro Kawando (Supervising Producer), 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, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: A-
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: 29.98
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Area 88