Title’s rather self-explanatory, it’s my idea for a series of post in which I look at anime that you won’t find on the average MAL/hummingbird user list. I’ll mostly either try to make you feel bad about not seeing such and such wonderful gem, or tell you to keep averting your gaze. So yeah, now about Area 88
Me choosing to watch this OVA title has a lot to do with wanting to expand my tastes to make them broader then that of your average anime watching blogger. I’m no stranger to War dramas and 80s stuff, but it’s not something I often look for in anime. That said, for that reason I’m very much glad that Area 88 schooled me by showing that the 80s can be more then a pile of dry cliches in the faces of newer, shinier titles that tackle their themes and subject matter in a much better way (I’ll look at another 80s title that didn’t exactly test of time soon enough btw).
So what’s it about? It’s about ace jet-fighter Shin Kazama, a dude who gets suckered into signing a 3 year contract by a jealous childhood friend that would send him to a hellish military base in the Middle East: Area 88. According to the contract, Shin must either remain at the base, far from his loved ones until he earns 1.5 million on the job to buy his way out, or completes his missions for 3 years. Shin opts for the former option, and must escape before the horrors of Area 88 erode his humanity.
My first impression of this OVA was “hey, this is pretty much an anime version of Catch-22”, and indeed there are plenty of parallels on the surface level (I mean, a rogue jet-pilot completing missions only to get discharged, come on!) . Thing is, this OVA trades in the absurdist dark humour of Catch-22 with less silly character drama. Said drama was for the most part alright. Most of the soap-opera-ish comes from the side-plot revolving around Shin’s lover Ryoko and the lengths she goes to to use her connections as the daughter to the CEO of a major airline. As a subplot, it works just fine for the most part, the only sizeable gripe I had here that the villain here, aforementioned jealous childhood friend, was never really characterized as nothing more then a sleazy slime ball. However, I liked how Ryoko is characterized a pragmatic individual, rather then having her be a mere “objective” for Shin to return to.
And as for the real meat and potatoes, this OVA does little wrong. It captures a sense of harsh reality I really don’t see too often. The cast here consists of Shin’s comrades in arms: mainly un-empathetic killers. The guys are extremely easy to sympathize with for the most part, hell there doing this shit to survive. As the story progresses, we see subtle changes in Shin’s attitude towards his situation as he deals with impediments to his goal of escaping Area 88. He’s forced to carry on, not even sure if his own livelihood is worth having to take part 1.5 million dollars worth of murder. This all builds up to a catharsis that while defies common sense, is perfectly in-tune with his character.
Production values wise, don’t let the fact that this is and older title fool you into thinking it’s not up to par, because it most certainly is. It’s an OVA remember? It doesn’t have to deal with the budget constraints of longer TV titles. The choreographing off the dog-fights are glowing example of what 80s hand-drawn animation is capable of. It’s all consistent and easy to look at. Complimented by a solid, and dramatic soundtrack no-less. Regarding the art style, no this title nothing to do with Leiji Matsumodo, I was shocked too. But yeah, the character models are OK, sometimes rather unattractive though. The main character is a blonde haired, blue eyed Japanese dude which I find kinda funny, but hey, this is anime. No one cares about hair colours. But yeah, the character models are OK. Some are rather unattractive though.
Can’t really end this post with out emphasizing that this was 3-episode adaptation of a much longer manga, so expect a rather open-ending. I wouldn’t consider this a detriment as some would since the last act sort of fooled me into thinking that it would end on a simple, happy, and anti-climactic note (if so, the demeanor of this review would be noticeably less positive). Everything in the plot is resolved, so the last 10ish minutes should be devoted to a denouement, right? Nah. The story swerves in a direction at the last moment that forged the sort of powerful ending I hadn’t seen since seeing the finale to Berserk years back. Powerful stuff.
PS: Never saw the anime version to this from 2004. Will get to that just to bitch about how it probably isn’t as good.