Area 88 Vol. #1 (of 4) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, September 25, 2006
Release Date: Monday, September 18, 2006
What They Say
The Only Way Out Is To Kill Or Be Killed.
Shin Kazama is a gifted pilot with a bright future, a beautiful fianc√©e and a job with a prestigious airline until a treacherous act of betrayal rips his world apart and sends him into the barren desert of the war-torn Kingdom of Aslan. With escape only meaning death, he must now use his superior skills to become a cold-blooded aerial killer; and with every kill, he paints a trail of blood in the sky back to the life that was stolen from him.
Area 88 pushes the boundaries of animation to the limits with a visual beauty that is rarely accomplished. You can almost feel the jet wash on the desert wind.
This is Area 88. In the desert the souls of men are either consumed by the fire or reborn from the ashes.
The latest series from ADV brings us some high flying action.
For this review I listened to the disc in its English language dub. The 5.1 mix is generally quite good and sounds come through well with a little directionality, but when all is said and done it is still a show originally made in stereo and you know this isn't a truly originally 5.1 mix, though it's on the same standard as other ADV releases. The dub itself was really enjoyable with some great performances tossed in there, and I look forward to watching the rest of the series in English.
I did spot-check the Japanese track as well, noticing no technical problems with either track.
The three episodes on this disc are presented in anamorphic widescreen, and look excellent for the most part. Aliasing is barely noticeable and the video generally looks very crisp and clear. Colours are vibrant and the show just looks very good.
Subtitles are in a nice yellow font and I didn't notice any major grammatical or spelling errors.
Packaged in a clear keepcase, this is another reversible cover job from ADV. The front cover features a nice image of an aircraft soaring through the sky with Shin in the background in the top left. The logo is kept to a decent size in the top right as well. The back cover features the usual interesting summary of the disc, as well as clearly listing extras and credits. ADV's usual technical bar is also present and correct. The reverse side features the Japanese cover of Shin standing in front of his plane on one side, with information about Makoto and Shin on the other. The packaging for this series does look quite nice.
The menus are definitely what let this disc down " they look downright awful! They're done up as an aircraft interior with all the usual sticks and dials, with the listings dotted around the screen in seemingly random points. There is no music playing over the main menu, just some sound effects of a plane, though some repetitive background music plays over the extras menu. While they are quick and functional, the menus just look basic and quite ugly to the point of not wanting to navigate via the menu more than once.
This is where ADV get kudos, as not only do we get some good text-based extras (character bios and aircraft specs) as well as the usual clean opening and ending, we also get an interview with the director and screenwriter that lasts close to an hour. It's great from what I saw, but I didn't watch it all yet as there was a spoiler warning when it started. I'll definitely revisit it after completing the series though.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I wasn't really sure what to expect from Area 88, knowing only that it featured planes and some aerial combat, and was based on a manga that was also adapted into an OVA series in the mid-80s (this series being a remake of sorts going further than that mini series). What I got was an intriguing story with some satisfying aerial action that didn't disappoint.
The story takes place in a country called Aslan, where a civil war is taking place, with one side employing mercenaries to carry out their duties. Makoto Shinjou is a photographer (for whom we're left to ponder with some cryptic references) who lands at the military base Area 88. A plethora of mercenary pilots reside there, taking missions from the higher ups in order to earn money so that eventually they can leave. The exact circumstances of how everyone got there aren't always well known, some being in it for the money and others for different reasons, but Makoto has an interest in one of the pilots in particular, Shin Kazama.
Quite why Shin is here isn't revealed in these opening three episodes either, though we know he was brought here against his will, but it's clear that he's one of the most skilled pilots at the base and has obviously accrued a fair amount of money. His reputation precedes him, with most thinking of him as one of the best pilots at the base, but Shin has always kept his distance from others because his goal is quite simply to get out of Area 88. The missions the pilots go on are extremely dangerous (we get to see a few in these episodes), and on average one in five pilots don't make it back. Over the course of the three episodes, as well as seeing some of the missions first hand, we're introduced to a number of other pilots, including Micky Simon, who Shin spends most of his socialising time with, a young boy called Kim who is in far more over his head than he realises, and an older pilot called Boris, whose end comes rather tragically and far too soon in one of the missions on the disc.
At this stage, it's still quite hard to know exactly where Area 88 is going, not being familiar with the story from any of its other previous incarnations. The background behind exactly what is going on and the reason the pilots are all there is left somewhat as a mystery for most of these opening episodes, and it makes it hard to judge whether the creators are just trying to add some spice and intrigue to the story or if they're just intending to cram everything revealing into the last few episodes and spend most of the series on random missions.
I certainly hope they're just going for a slower reveal and we'll soon find out everyone's motivations, because the characters show a lot of potential at this point. Shin in particular had me watching his every move, because I was so curious to find out more about why he was there (since it was so obvious that he didn't really want to be and was doing all he could to get the $1.5 million needed to get the heck out of there) and who this Ryoko woman was that he is so desperate to see. I also liked that while he is generally regarded as a quiet and unsociable type, it's not obnoxiously so and he does have one friend in Micky who he seems to confide in to a degree.
Those two pilots actually make a great little pair and it's a lot of fun seeing them in some of the missions working on the same wavelength, even when they both refused to go out (getting fined in the process) because they knew an attack on the base was imminent. They're also very cool in the air and exude plenty of confidence while they fly. One thing that could become a little tiring as the series draws on (though I hope it doesn't) is how many of the characters seem to look up to Shin as if they're idolising him. Naturally Kim, being a teenager, is one of them, but when the scenes started focussing on those characters I found myself a little bored and wanted to return to the others who were far more independent and had an air of mystery about them (such as Shin and Makoto), since I wanted to find out as much about them as possible.
I did find it somewhat surprising as well that the characters were more of the focus of the series than the aerial combat, given how much of the artwork and promotional material has always focused on the flight side of things. This aspect of the series is actually quite entertaining, with a number of different spins on battles being fun to watch. The animation on them is pretty good for a TV series, but naturally doesn't match up to the superb sequences in the likes of Yukikaze and Macross Plus, both of which are big budget OVA series. They are good though and break up the focus on the characters, giving the show a pretty good pace.
Area 88 opens with an enjoyable first volume that gives us some enjoyable characters and almost-spectacular flight and combat sequences. The series clearly has a lot of heart and much effort has been made to make the characters interesting. The story is somewhat lacking though, as although it does hook you in wanting to find out as much as possible, it does feel like some vital information is being held back without particularly good reason. In terms of a recommendation, it is too early even for this short a series to pass judgment, so I'll wait for the next volume to really decide on whether it's good or bad, but so far it's an enjoyable ride with some great action, that left me fairly eager to see the next volume.
Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (5.1),English Subtitles,Clean Opening & Closing,Interview with Isamu Imakake (Director) and Hiroshi Ohnogi (Character Designer)
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Philips DVP5100 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.
Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: D
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 15 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: ADV Films UK
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Area 88