Shin Kazama, tricked and forced into flying for the remote country of Aslan, can only escape the hell of war by earning money for shooting down enemy planes or die trying. Through the course of the series, Shin must deal with the consequences of killing and friends dying around him as tries to keep his mind on freeing himself from this nightmare.
Simply put, the Area 88 OVA is a highly underrated anime series that does nearly everything right.
Story: I don't need to explain the concept too much since it's already on the page. It has two parts to it, an anti-war story and a long-distance romance story. The war story aspect revolves around Shin Kazama's life at Area 88 doing whatever mission he feels like doing. He never wanted to be a soldier, but he got tricked into it by Kanzaki and his whole personality has changed for the worse because of it. He went from a pacifist who just wanted a normal life being an
airline pilot and dating the boss's daughter Ryoko. to a man who's learned to accept that he has to kill for a living and has gotten used to his life on Area 88 as he earns his 1.5 million dollar ticket back home to Japan. This comes into play in part 3 in a heartbreaking, yet realistic way. A couple of the missions are unique as well, including the tunnel sequence which was done even better than in the TV series.
The second part of the story revolves around Ryoko trying to find out where Shin is located and bring him home. All the while, Kanzaki is putting his master scheme to take over Yamato Airlines and steal Ryoko into play. Shin cares deeply for Ryoko and she is the driving force that keeps him alive, but the Shin that Ryoko once knew was gone and she doesn't realize it. Kanzaki, on the other hand, is a shrewd businessman who will do anything with money and power. This section of the story provides the emotion behind the story and it works excellently.
The story is attention grabbing with Shin's detatchment with the war and his love for Ryoko, and it only gets better from there.
Characters: Shin is the opposite of the mega manly character that the 80's possessed. (Kenshiro and Goku, to provide examples). He's a caring soul who was hardened and changed by the experienced in the war. He despises the fact that he kills people to survive, but he's the best pilot at Area 88. Mickey Simon is another pilot who knows the effects of war all too well and he's the more lighthearted character foil to Shin. Kanzaki is easily one of the cruelist villians in any anime I've seen. He'll hurt anyone and everyone in the way of his goals. The other minor characters have personalities all their own, from the cocky weapon/other item salesman McCoy to the comic relief character Greg.
Art: Despite the OVA being nearly 25 years old, the animation still looks excellent. The landscapes are well designed, especially in the cities. The dogfights were also well animated, with a great attention to detail placed into all the pieces of the plane that get blasted around once a plane was shot down and the flight sequences also look great considering how old the OVA is. I do think that the character designs are inferior to the TV series and the series does show it's age compared to the newer series.
To wrap up this long review, I've got few complaints with this OVA. The story was full of real emotions, the action was well animated, and each character had something to add to the story. I highly recommend watching this and running at only three hours, it's could hardly count as a waste of time.
You're a fit and young Japanese man who has managed to work through the ranks of a prestigious airline company known as Yamato Airlines, earning large amounts of respect from your peers and your boss. Not only that, you have a beautiful and caring girlfriend whom you will be marrying soon but who also happens to be the daughter of the company chairman ensuring your heritage into the company. Life is swell and dandy but while you're out for a night on the piss with your dickhead of a friend, the twat gets you so intoxicated with the Devli's nectar that
he tricks you into signing a document that ships you off to place called Area 88 located in the heart of a huge war in which the only ways to escape from this place is to do one of the three following things:
A: Survive three years of pilot combat
B: Pay a penalty of 1.5 million dollars which is earned by shooting down the enemy planes
And that is the story of Area 88 in a nutshell. While the narrative is rather simple in design and not all too complex what makes this short three part OVA shine is the characters and the psychological aspects of them. The show spends a considerable amount of time dealing with the main character's state of mind and through Shin we see the dehumanising effects that war has on its soldiers. Shin is a person who is forced to spend each day constantly killing people he doesn't even know just to survive and to garner enough money to make his way back home and free himself from Area 88. The constant death and killing Shin has to endure and the way this effects his mental state is easily the most interesting part of this show and despite the short run time overall, it manages to present and develop Shin's hang-ups very well as we see him evolve and become used to the idea of killing to the point in which he can't return to normal civilisation again since he has gained a hunger for war after experiencing it first hand.
One of the most interesting scenes comes from the third episode in which Shin is speaking to a fellow Japanese man who will be killed soon because he attempted desert from Area 88 on the grounds that he did not want to kill anyone. The man who is soon to be dead challenges Shin's ideology and new way of life which only add to Shin's already broken mental state that war has inflicted onto him. Shin's arc and character are both easy to understand from a narrative standpoint and have a lot of development and time to breath through the show.
While most of the spotlight is exclusively on Shin, the other characters in Area 88 who Shin works alongside with also have their own mental hiccups too with each one dealing with their mental fatigue in a certain way. Each character has a reason for being at Area 88, whether that be because they were tricked into doing so like the main character Shin or simply because they love the sensation of killing. On top that, the tension is rather high since many of the characters in the show are killed off raising the narrative stakes and making each aerial plane battle seem all the more intense and exciting.
Speaking of the plane battles, even after thirty years they still are amazing to watch. This OVA was released in 1985 and still stands up incredibly well today. The beautiful hand-drawn plane designs and fights are some of the best choreographed and directed dog fights in the entire medium with huge amounts of detail in every frame. The fights and general war are both presented as gritty and real making the deaths of the characters all the more impactful.
While Shin is busy battling in Area 88, we have another plot involving Shin's girlfriend attempting to cope with the loss of her love and trying to make sense of what happened while trying to track down Shin once and for all. The insane lengths she goes to for Shin made their relationship feel more organic and stronger which acted as one of the driving forces for Shin's struggles as well as the motivation from an audience to see them reunite once again. Irony is used pretty often in the show such as in the case where one of Shin's missions focuses on him having to shoot off bombs from a moving air plane - a plane his girlfriend was currently on.
Shin's ass-hole of a friend also has a fair amount of screen time with him overtaking Yamato Airlines but seeing his entire world collapsing around him. It's bittersweet to watch after all the shit we see he has put Shin and his girlfriend through but a good amount of development and exploration was implemented into explaining why his friend acted the way he did and his motivations as a character making him less of a one dimensional dickhead.
If I do have one complaint about the narrative, that would be the ending. Without spoiling too much, it can feel kind of anti-climatic considering what all the characters went through and for some, Shin's final decision can feel off putting and confusing but I was generally all right with it. I just wanted a bit more in terms of the final meeting between Shin and his girlfriend at the end, which he hardly got.
The music is also fantastic too and each one fills me with so much manly energy and testosterone that my shirt would easily blow off my chest in the same way the clothing in Ikkitousen gets blown off a woman's body if the wind so much as blows a little too hard. My favorite track being the wonderfully composed Kanashimi no Destiny which never fails to fill me with happiness on each listen.
In conclusion, Area 88 is a great OVA with fantastic characters, brilliant plane battles and a wonderful OST. Even after all these years the show still holds up very well and I would highly recommend it. There was a TV anime sometime in the early 2000s which I haven't seen yet but I've been hearing rather mixed views on that version so I'll be checking that out in due time.
Also, holy shit, I praised something for once rather than being a cynical ass hole and hating everything I watch. Feel strange man...
In the last couple years, Area 88 has seen an explosion of popularity here on MAL. This makes it a rather tricky title to review. It used to be criminally underrated, but now it's actually in danger of becoming overrated. While Area 88 is a strong OVA and does a number of things really well, it also has some aspects that really bug me.
The Psychological Effects of War:
Area 88 is entirely devoted to showing the horrible effects that war has on the human psyche. It's not just PTSD or even the dehumanizing effect of how soldiers learn to see their enemies. Once you go to
war, it's immensely difficult to adapt back to civilian life. Soldiers have a hard time relating to civilians, who have never been in real danger and can't possibly understand what they've been through on the front lines. This leads to social isolation, depression, and often suicide. Many former soldiers become mercenaries because they feel they don't have a home outside the battlefield.
Literature devoted to this topic bloomed after World War 1 with the writers of the "Lost Generation" like Hemmingway, Wilfred Owen, Remarque, etc. In the Western world and especially the United States, these themes made a huge comeback in films, shows, and literature of the 1970s and early 1980s following the Vietnam War. It was this second wave that directly inspired Area 88. The mangaka, director, and anime writer had never been to war themselves, but they saw the critical success of American movies like Deer Hunter, First Blood, Platoon, etc. They wanted a piece of that pie, so we got this anime. To be fair, it's pretty damn good and handles the topic with respect. Unfortunately, the plot is...kind of a mess.
Plot: (Spoilers Ahead! Skip plot section if you don't want anything spoiled)
Shin is a Japanese commercial airline pilot who is in love with the daughter of an airline CEO. Unfortunately, the CEO is an evil asshole and collaborates with Shin's traitor "friend" to create a ridiculous scheme to get rid of Shin. Do they put a Yakuza hit on him? Nope. Do they pay off a waitress to falsely accuse him of rape and fire him? Nope. Do they get him drunk and trick him into joining the Iranian Air Force during the Iran/Iraq War? If you guessed that last one, congratulations! You win!
I'm dead serious, that's really what they went with. Now they can't call it Iran for legal reasons, but it's a Middle Eastern War raging in the 80s with Soviet fighter planes vs. US fighter planes. It's clearly supposed to be the Iran/Iraq War. Shin of course rejects this once he sobers up, but the Iranians absolutely REFUSE to let him back out. The fate of the war clearly hinges on this commercial pilot with zero experience piloting fighter jets, doesn't speak a language anyone understands, and has no desire to be there. It turns out the Iranians were smart like a fox because this airline pilot is immediately the best fighter pilot to ever live...for no reason! Even Erich Hartmann and Manfred von Richthofen bow down to Shin. Oh and he can instantly speak Farsi or they all learned Japanese...or the writer wasn't thinking.
Shin becomes a super successful pilot and gets all over the news as a modern fighter ace. This infuriates evil CEO, so he commences what might be the most pants on head retarded sub-plot I've ever seen in anime! He flies to France to hire the Italian Mafia to steal an F-16 and fly it into Iranian airspace to somehow find and shoot down a specific pilot! Jesus fucking Christ! This is "galaxy brain" shit! Shin keeps surviving while his co-pilots all die. He's able to get out of the war, but can't adapt to civilian life. Instead, he decides to return to the battlefield and go out in a dramatic blaze of glory! That last part honestly feels like something Hideo Kojima would write...minus the nanomachines.
The dogfights are well animated and well choreographed. This is some beautiful, hand drawn 80s animation that has aged very well. The character art has kind of a Leiji Matsumoto feel, but it works. I don't have anything negative to say about the art, it's pretty spectacular.
So here it is. The anime that MAL's own beloved Snob said was one of the best war dramas of all time. I feel like I've been unfairly, overly harsh on this anime, but it's really not an all time masterpiece of war fiction! It's not even as good as Rambo 1 AKA First Blood. Maybe this would work better if it were set in the modern Congo with 2 grizzled mercenaries meeting. One is an American soldier who fought in Iraq and the other is a Russian soldier who fought in Chechya. Area 88 is beautiful to look at and has all the potential in the world, but the show we got is more a flawed diamond in the rough than it was a flawless masterpiece. That's just my thoughts on it though. I would still definitely recommend watching it!
Area 88 is just another one of those series you'd think that it wouldn't be great because it's old and outdated. But fortunately, Area 88 flips you on the side of your head, making you regret that you ever doubted this series' capabilities. You know something? I noticed a common trend in most older Anime series- most of them are "substance over style." This is what Area 88 is all about folks. "Substance over style." Let's review.
STORY... The plot revolves around a man named Shin Kazama who ends up in an Air Force Mercenary Guild somehow (You have to watch, if you want to find
out.). In order for him to reclaim his freedom, he must keep working until he reaches a certain amount of money. We all know what mercenaries do, right? They kill. But here's the thing- Shin isn't a true born natural cold-blooded killer. (I'll talk more about Shin later in the CHARACTERS category.) Basically, the plot is more about an inner struggle within Shin as he tries to retain his humanity. How can one not undergo character development when he's doing what he is required to do? The plot tears at your emotions eventually and you can't help, but feel emotions for Shin by the end of the series. There is another part of the story which is a tragic romance part, but I feel that it really is insignificant compared to the magnitude of Shin's story. His story will really have you paying attention from start to finish.
ANIMATION... The visuals are surprisingly good, despite being so old. The character designs look typical of old school, but where the visuals really shine is during the battle scenes. Fighter planes are drawn with good detail and when they fire at each other, huge explosions are everywhere which at times bring awe to your viewing experience. Also, wherein the visuals excels is during the expressions of the characters. They really look do human enough. If you can tolerate old school art design, then there will be no problems at all when you're watching this.
SOUND... The sound is perfect. The voice actors fit their characters, but more importantly it's the background music that greatly adds to the atmosphere of Area 88, making it endearing to watch. The background music comes in at the right moments to add that emotional effect, which grips the viewers emotions. The songs are perfect for the series' theme.
CHARACTERS... This is the bread and butter of Area 88. As mentioned earlier, Shin is not a natural cold-blooded killer. He has a soul. He has a heart that cares. In essence, he's just a man with an innocent and kind soul. He just wanted to pursue his dreams and live a happy life with his woman. What makes Shin so captivating is he goes through what we all must eventually go through- the loss of innocence. It's like this- the world sometimes puts us in situations where in order for us to gain something, we are forced to do something we don't like, or in Shin's case, despise. And when we do the things we dislike, you can't help, but feel as if a piece of your sanity, humanity, and dignity was taken away from you. But there's no other way because you must absolutely gain what you so desire... This is an idea of what Shin undergoes throughout the whole series. I'd like to delve more, but you really should just watch this to see what happens. I can assure you it gets interesting. There are also a number of side characters which are realistically human as well, and by the end of the series, you'll eventually like them as well. These guys are mercenaries, but they still retain their humanity... Somehow. Some will provide laughter, some you may dislike, but you'll understand where they're coming from. If you ask me, a splendid job in the CHARACTERS category.
OVERALL SCORE: 8/10= Awesome
+ Great cast of characters with an emotional gripping main character in Shin Kazama.
+ Plot will have you interested from start to finish.
+ Good visuals despite being old.
+ Ending could make you say, "What a tragic fate."
- Some plot threads prior to ending left and felt unfinished.
- Incomplete ending. (You'll have to resort to the Manga to finish this series.)
Note: Once again, this is a "substance over style" type of Anime. If you can tolerate old school animation, you won't be disappointed with Area 88. It delivers what most Anime of today's generation could not- a great story which tugs at your emotions from the start until the very end. Definitely recommended for any serious Anime watcher.
Do you have an older game console sitting in the cupboard, basement or attic? Perhaps it's time to dust it off, plug it in and start enjoying it once again. We're about to discover some fascinating retro games based on anime franchises we've grown to love over the years.