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- Published on Amazon.com
The 80's sure was a great decade for anime. Indeed, all things considered, it might have been the best decade for OVA (direct-to-video anime) ever. You had romance like Ah My Goddess, comedy like All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku, and then of course you've got this classic. Anime is largely by nature very anti-war, even when it's an action title, and this is perhaps best personified by this classic.
The story is an unusual one. A promising young airline pilot is set to marry daughter of Japan's biggest airline and start a magnificent career in the airline industry, when on the night of his graduation, his best friend gets him drunk and makes him sign a contract to become a mercenary jet fighter pilot in deep in the savage desert in Area 88. A pacifist and gentle soul, our hero finds this is a terrible nightmare come true, as he is forced again and again to kill people he doesn't know for a cause he cares nothing about, just to stay alive.
The story segments are solid, if a little slow moving. His "friend" tries to take over both the airline and the love that Shin should have had, and his girlfriend desperately tries to find him and bring him back. Meanwhile, on the base, and in the air, is where the real drama lies.
The opening moments of the OVA have Shin's plane shooting up tanks in the desert, and you can actually see the shells from his bullets fall through the air as he fires. Planes in this show are destroyed in seconds from bullets and missiles, and if they manage to survive a few hits, they are likely so crippled as to make survival almost impossible. This ain't no video game, the planes actually run out of bullets. There is a constant sense of danger throughout the entire series, because you have absolutely no idea who is going to survive from one mission to the next. A character may be introduced and then get killed the first time they go up in a plane in this show.
In the first half of the series there's a this double-edge sword of desperation to escape combined with resistance against what a life like this does to a person. Shin is trying desperately to hold onto his humanity, not to become a cold-blooded killer who feels nothing when someone dies. And he is desperately trying to get away. So as he closes in on his goal of paying off his contract and getting out, you can feel his incredible frustration when things don't go as he plans. The opening song "How far to Paradise" is the theme of the first episode in this AVI, and it's a fitting description of Shin's mindset. He's trying to escape from hell on Earth to go back to a peaceful life, a beautiful woman, and wonderful career that's waiting for him.
The second half of the show is partly just closing things up resolving plotlines, as Shin's nemesis finds his evil plot unraveling, Shin's girlfriend gets closer to setting him free, and the the war draws to a close as the loyalist forces Shin works for are outgunned, outmanned, and (eventually) forced to surrender. The real story though, is the subtle change that has happened to Shin. He talks like a wimpy pacifist, but somewhere along the line he stopped being afraid and stopped caring about the people he killed. The ultimate example of this is when he shoots down one of his comrades who has gone blind and is shooting everwhere in a random pattern in violent desperation. And yet Shin still refuses to accept what he has become, or rather, to embrace it. When a wingman shoots down the parachute of an ememy, he is appalled.
Some time is spent on describing the why of what has happened to the men of Area 88 to make them want to do what they do, and what it amounts to is that once these people live in an environment where their lives are in constant danger, they just can't be at home anywhere where their death isn't close at hand. And in the end Shin himself has succumb to it as well. Finally free and able to return to the life is longed for so desperately, the dramatic end of the show has him instead getting back into his aircraft to join his comrades in one last heroic and foolish battle where survival is almost impossible. But when a life of danger and death is all you have known, would it really be a mercy to let you live through it and return to the world shattered. Heavy stuff indeed.
Throughout the entire series there is some wonderful high-quality animation, music, and voice-acting. The sheer quality of the entire series is what makes it a must have for me, because I have never seen a better animation about a fighter pilot's life. The air battles are incredibly exciting, and friend and foe alike are always just a hair-breath away from destruction (no invincible heroes here!). Everything moves are high speed with style, and the large variety of aircraft are all meticulously detailed, not just exploding, but breaking up, falling apart, smoking, catching on fire, ect ect. Pilots are killed by bullets going through their cockpits, entire instrument panels are recreated in loving detail, and airplane parts move and adjust in realistic manner. Very impressive indeed. It's this level of detail that sets this show apart. And the two best (and craziest) action scenes, one in each episode, are better for the fact that the danger feels all-too-real. One involves an airbase attack where a giant steel wall lifts up right in front of the planes (and they have to fly through the holes in it), and the second navigating an incredibly narrow canyon wall at high speed in the middle of the night. But the all the flight scenes are great, the other standouts being the time Shin and his wingman have to shoot bombs off a jumbo jet without damaging it, and the final battle against the rebel Air Force.
If you love classic anime (and particularly classic OVA), or just want to watch a great show about a stoic fighter pilot's struggle to survive on the far side of the desert wasteland, this show is a must own.
- Published on Amazon.com
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 him into getting drunk and signing a contract to fly and fight for the Foreign Legion. Shin must now do battle for a country he not only doesn't care about, but keep himself alive as well as 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. He's a deplorable character that is only obsessed with being at the top. 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. 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 from 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
Cons: Ending didn't sit well with me