The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Area 88

Title: Area 88
Genre: Action/Drama
Companies: Studio Pierrot
Format: 3 OVA
Dates: 5 Feb 1985 – 15 Jun 1986

Synopsis: Shin Kazama is Area 88’s number one pilot. In a mere few months, his kill count rivals that of even those who have been in the legion for years. But unlike everyone else here, Shin is no born killer. Tricked by a jealous friend, he found himself forced into a contract with a Middle Eastern foreign legion. In virtual captivity for three years, the only way out is to take on combat missions to earn a sum of $1,500,000, a task that becomes harder and harder with each passing day. However, with his loved one quietly waiting for his return, Shin will do whatever he can to escape Area 88, before it devours his humanity.

The Highlights
Premise: Outlandish while still being down to earth.
Aesthetics: Beautiful, consistent, engrossing, and atmospheric.
Characters: Cold bastards who still retain their humanity.
Direction: Genuinely pulls at the heartstrings.
Conclusion: Could bring a man to tears.

Okay, that’s it, I might as well shoot myself dead right now; all my standards could have been topped literally overnight. Okay, so the plot’s contrived and a little silly, but that’s okay. To backtrack a little, my anime niche has more often than not been about war and the human condition. This has featured many excellent and well done stories; however, they all tend to be bogged down by angst, heartlessness, and romanticism. This never really bothered me much, granted these were not in excess; however, that might all change now all thanks to one anime getting so close to what I’ve been searching for all this time. That anime was Area 88.

Before getting too far into this, I do have to admit that there are some moments that really force one to suspend their disbelief. A few times, moments come off as a little convenient. This mainly includes a couple of predictable last words and encounters and are utterly eye rolling. Luckily, these come far and few compared to the array of heart wrenching moments that fill the rest of Area 88. As bizarre as the way Shin got into his situation is, it is moot when you remember the fact that he is in hell, and you just have to live with it, as does Shin.

This feeling of harsh reality is really what makes Area 88 so powerful. The fact that the majority of the cast are a bunch of desensitized killers should make them unsympathetic. Yet it is hard not to like them because it is not so difficult to understand how they became who they are now. The members of Area 88 are portrayed as victims of circumstance who have become complacent with their situation. Shin, on the other hand, represents these men long before becoming so cynical. The only way he can stop killing is to take $1,500,000 worth of life. But the more he does, the more setbacks he faces. The more men he shoots down, the more missiles and the more planes it takes. What he earns for each must be used to kill even more, which is lost again as he must kill more and more in a downward spiral. By the end, he is no longer the man he used to be, and it’s hard not to shed tears for his lost soul.

Being pre Megazone (the first successful OVA), Area 88 really needed to make a good impression for the format, which it does phenomenally. Consistent animation, whose quality rivals that of its contemporary films, is a given. What really sets this apart is the atmosphere the artwork creates. The style shares a striking resemblance to that of Matsumoto Leiji, whose own work is among the most magical and inviting manga; granted this is likely just a coincidence. While fairytale like aesthetics may sound inappropriate considering the subject matter, it ends up so immersing that it ultimately makes the impact greater. Besides, Shin is living in hell on earth. The least he deserves is superb animation.

By the end of the third OVA, the only detrimental factor is a sense of ending fatigue. Everything begins to feel resolved, so there is a good ten minutes that end up appearing drawn out. It is never a good sign when a movie is exhausting. But this all turns out to be potential energy for one of the most bittersweet endings in anime. With such a poignant sense of pathos, Area 88 is one for the books. It is one to make you care; one to make you hurt; one to make you cry.

The Rating: 9

Reviewed by: Kavik Ryx

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