Area 88 (エリア88, Eria Hachi-Jū-Hachi?) is a Japanese manga series by Kaoru Shintani serialized between 1979 and 1986. The story is about a young pilot named Shin Kazama and his experiences at Area 88, a mercenary air force base secluded in the desert … see full wiki
Shin Kazama, a very promising young pilot with a bright future is on his way towards working for Yamato Airlines. Things are indeed looking up for the young man, as he's also dating the company owner's daughter Ryoko. His childhood friend Kanzaki, a very competitive man who will do anything to be at the top, tricks Shin into getting drunk and signing a contract to fly and fight for the Foreign Legion. Shin must do battle for a country he doesn't even care about, and not only try to keep himself alive, but maintain his grip on sanity. -summary
Funny as it may seem, I'm not one of those old school anime fans who immediately believes everything from "back in the days" are untouchable classics. Many individuals I've ran into love to hail the older titles as the absolute best. After revisiting many of these older titles; Fist of the Northstar, Akira, Wicked City, Vampire Hunter D,8-Man After, just to name a few. I truly believe nostalgia plays a strong role in some of these peoples praise. I'm glad I don't think this way, and I only judge these titles based on their quality; with that said, I believe this lost gem from 1985, Area 88, was indeed one of the better titles of that time period. While many anime titles of that time period shocked with the brutal deaths and sexual themes, Area 88 not only was able to cause an eyebrow to raise with its death scenes, but its overall story involving one man's grief.
Based on the manga series that I've given up trying to track down and finish reading. Area 88 follows Shin Kazama as he works together with this mercenary group, who is gripped in a full scale civil war lead by Prince Saki. The organization runs on very strict discipline and rules, and there are only three ways to leave the group; 1) Complete the three year service, 2) Earning $1.5 million dollars to buy their way out, and 3) Desertion, which will always and immediately end in execution when caught.
The outfit which is called the Aslan Royal Air Force, conducts a number of raids as well as sneak attacks that results in brutal dogfights. Shin detests the very notion of taking other peoples lives, but he's hoping to earn enough money very quickly to buy his way out, because three years is just too long of a wait. And whenever he's close to earning the last few dollars, he would suffer some kind of set back.
The character development is definitely among the anime's stronger attributes. It's impossible not to feel for Shin, because we all know he isn't there by choice, and he has to endure some very hard decisions. This doesn't even include the sometimes very tough assignments the group takes on. One mission sees the group having to conduct a night time operation, which involves maneuvering through a very dark cavern that almost certainly guarantees a quick, flaming death, on their way to hit a heavily armed target. They also have to battle against pilots either as skilled as they are, or piloting far more advanced fighter jets.
Shin goes through several moments of homesickness, and there are various moments when the stress would take over and see him speaking to himself out loud. I felt he was very well written, since his constant angst doesn't come off as whining. It's not as if he's fighting for the fate of the Earth, and he has to man up and accept his fate. Not even close, the guy was betrayed by his childhood friend and he doesn't even have a clue why. Plus he's forced to fight a war that's clearly none of his or the country of Japan's business.
The story also changes focus, and Kanzaki is also very well developed and the viewer will learn his true plans, in which, his goal is to bite the hand that's feeding him. He's a deplorable character that is only obsessed with being at the top, and he chooses to step on everyone in his path. He plays a strong role in the plot, as does many of the side characters. Director Hisayuki Toriumi (Mysterious Cities of Gold), does an excellent job with making the most of the side characters and exploring various themes through them. One of the strongest themes running through the narrative, is soldiers not being able to transition into normal lives after witnessing so much killing in combat. This anime is set after the Vietnam War and takes place in 1979, and some of the vets who fought in that war chose to return to the battlefield in some way. This is a form of post combat stress, that I've known plenty of folks to have a very hard time dealing with. I enjoyed the way it was handled here in its realism. The storytelling continues to excel as its also blended into the action scenes. The dogfights can be ferocious, with cockpits being shot up and soldiers dying horrible deaths in the air. I would like to give some details, but I rather possible viewers come into these battles fresh.
The animation of course looks dated as to be expected from a 1985 OVA. But the dated feel doesn't overshadow its grittiness or the masterful camera work on display. There are some real good close ups of the killings, and the air battles are in good detail. There are little to no shortcuts taken here, because it plays into the story by depicting the horrors of war. The vehicle designs are excellent and I was able to pick out the MiG 21's, B-52 Bombers, F-20 Tigersharks, and of course, the F-16 Fighting Falcons pretty easily. The 80's soundtrack was a nice fit then, but sometimes sound a little awkward. I can't complain about the voice acting. I enjoyed it for both languages and as usual I rather listen to the English dub, which I felt had some better lines.
The only issue I can really say that I have with this anime is the ending. It's not that it's bad because I don't actually think it is. I see the directors point and in some ways I agree, but I would have preferred something different. It's something that I believe will differ from person to person. In any case, when I think of truly great titles form the 80's, it's usually Area 88 somewhere as a frontrunner long before the usual suspects. I highly recommend this to those who enjoy the more thought provoking anime. And the action scenes are definitely good enough for diehard action fans. This OVA contains both movies and runs for 195 minutes.
Pros: -Very strong character development, action scenes