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“Area 88 - Original OVA Series” - {Blu-ray}
Taylor Carlson
Studio: ADV
Release Date:
Special Features:

Aircraft Profiles, Kaoru Shintani Interview


Area 88 began as a Manga series in 1979, created by Kaoru Shintana. The story, following pilots flying for a mercenary air force, represented a number of themes from start to end - and these traits made it one of the most memorable series out there. The series has been adapted in Anime form twice - once in 1985, as a 3-part OVA, and once in 2004, as a 12 standard-length episode series. This set is the former. ***

The story of Area 88 goes something like this. Shin Kazama and Satoru Kanzaki have been friends since childhood. The naïve, caring Shin always managed to stay one step ahead of Kanzaki, by no means of his own. The twosome train to become airline pilots, and when Shin falls for Ryoko, the daughter of the company president, it is more than Kanzaki can take. He tricks a drunken Shin into signing a 3-year contract for a mercenary force in the Middle East. ***

Shin finds himself on the front lines of Hell. The airline trainee is now a fighter pilot, forced to kill in the skies to stay alive. There are only 3 ways out of Area 88 alive - serve for 3 years, pay a $1,500,000 penalty, or desert - which is an offense punishable by death if caught. Other faces around the base include an American veteran of Vietnam, a Japanese cameraman, the base commander whose father is the leader of the Rebel forces being fought against, a cocky amateur, a bearded Danish hothead, a crooked arms dealer who can get anything for anyone if they put up the cash, and many more. And all the while, Shin can't get the visions of his home and old romance out of his head. As if things weren't already bad enough, Kanzaki has plans for the airline - AND Ryoko, of his own. ***

Area 88 is an incredible Manga series, and this is by far the better of the two animated adaptations. The horrors of war are captured firsthand, far better than many live-action movies covering the same material! It succeeds because it shows the trauma war has on real men, and how it alters the lives of those around them. It makes no attempt to glorify war, and has excellent, multi-dimensional characters that we actually give a damn about. The show isn't afraid to introduce and flesh out one character, and then kill him off in the next act. It's a real depiction of war, and you never know who is going to come back from each mission. *** Like many Anime adaptations of Manga, this OVA takes liberties with some of the material presented in the original Manga. The major differences are: ***

1) A number of characters from the Anime version are not featured here - this is most likely to focus on fleshing out a few specific ones - and if you ask this reviewer, that was a good decision. Quite honestly, some of the Manga characters not appearing in this adaptation were pretty annoying, and I don't miss them. ***

2) The ending is changed from the original Manga. When I first saw this version of the story, I hated this ending, but the more times I watch the series, the more sense this ending makes to me - and I definitely prefer it over the “cure all” ending the Manga had. ***

Quite honestly, I prefer this version of the story over the newer 2004 series. The 2004 series tends to shift focus to a different character, throws too many new characters into the fracas, and takes itself less seriously with more comic relief thrown in. YES, even the old series had comic relief - and needed it. But the newer series goes overboard. The 1985 version is the definitive telling of this story. Sure, the new one has CGI and better artwork and character designs, but they don't make the new version better. ***

Area 88 has had quite an interesting home video release history in the United States. It was initially released by US Manga Corps and King Video in 3 (sold separately) acts spanning 3 VHS tapes - all but the third and final act were available as dub or sub, with the finale being sub only. They eventually released the first act on DVD as a “dub and sub” disc, but ONLY THE FIRST ACT. The latter 2 chapters didn't get the DVD upgrade. ***

ADV's DVD marks the first time the complete OVA series has been released in America on DVD. It combines the first 2 acts onto the first disc, and the third and final act (which is about the same length as the first 2 combined) on the second disc. Disappointingly, the first disc is missing some scenes that were on the US Manga Corps/King Video releases. I don't see why, and it can't be a time issue, since I have purchased movies running over 3 hours before on DVD. ***

An interesting piece of trivia: Capcom's hit video game UN Squadron was based on this series. It was released in 2 versions - an Arcade game and a Super Nintendo game. ---

Image And Sound:

I didn't have the best of expectations for this release, seeing as how vintage Anime titles often hit DVD looking like hell. I am pleased to report that Area 88 doesn't suffer like this. The image looks a bit soft and faded, with film grain prevalent through most of the feature - however it maintains the original look of the show, and doesn't feature any annoying enhancement. Print damage and dirt are kept to a minimum, and as a whole the show looks great. ***

Audio is presented in both dub and sub forms, and the dubbed version has been re-dubbed from the old release. This new dub is closer to the original Japanese version, though the voice actors sound a bit too similar to one another, whereas the older dub had a diverse voice cast but a script that was off in a few places. Still, this is the definitive dub of the 2 - and it is an a dubbed version I actually didn't mind watching.

Special Features:

Not much on here, but I wasn't expecting anything at all. The only real extras are profiles of the aircraft used in the series, and an interview with series creator Kaoru Shintani - the latter of which is well worth your time.

Final Words:

Area 88 in the quintessential Anime war story. Full of multi-dimensional characters, drama, romance, action, and no shortage of any of the above, it stands the test of time as a great series. Far superior to the 2004 update, and even to the Manga on which it is based, I highly recommend this release. The missing scenes are my only complaint.


Copyright @ Teakwood Productions 2000
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