Flying The Blue Skies of Betrayal
What They Say:
A classic tale of love, war and tragedy comes to life in the original fast-paced emotionally charged thrill ride Area 88. In a cruel twist of fate,talented young pilot Shin Kazama is tricked into serving as a mercenary for Area 88: A hell on Earth where men survive by gunning down anyone who stands in their way. To return home, Shin must sell his soul to the battlefield and pave his way back to Japan with the corpses of his fallen opponents. All 3 original video animations have been combined into feature-length films, full of dizzying dogfights and wrenching drama!. This includes the original Japanese language with subtitles and the English dub!
Normally this section is further down in the reviews, but due to what’s present here, talking about the extras first makes writing out the rest a bit easier. We get text pages of history by Mike Toole entitled “Area 88 Combat Report Notes” talking about the franchise as a whole. as well as ADV Films’ English trailer, the Japanese trailer for OAV volume 2 and an interview with the original manga creator Kaoru Shintani.
The coolest extra though concerns the content of this OAV series. There were originally two 45-minute volumes (Act I: Skies of Betrayal and Act II: Pact of Wolves), which take place one after the other, with a third 90s minute volume (Act III: Burning Mirage) taking place 2 years afterward in the story. When the last U.S. rights holder ADV Films released their DVD, the first 2 volumes were presented as a single 90-minute movie, alongside the third volume. Discotek Media has released both versions, with the single movie of vols. 1-2 on one disc and the first OAV volume singularly on one disc. Central Park Media (the very first company to import the Area 88 anime) did a dub for this first OAV but never got a chance to do more before their company folded. The other disc has the third feature-length volume as well as the original second OAV, which has scenes (such as some brutalities in Vietnam and the heroine Ryoko’s efforts to find her man) that were not on the compiled movie of volumes 1-2.
We get three audio tracks here: The original Japanese track made for the OAVs and compilation, the ADV Films English track, and the dub track Central Park Media made for OAV 1. It’s a bit of fun to compare the two English ones to see which one feels more accurate to the Japanese story. Both were ok. The audio came in loudly and quite clear in Dolby Stereo 2.0 in both Japanese and English. No distortions occurred during playback of either track.
On the compilation and vol. 3 movie, the picture is bright and hues are nicely saturated. The individual OAV vids were clearly taken from VHS masters that have small hints of image instability and tracking scratches, which give a nice dose of nostalgia to anyone who collected anime in the 80s and 90s.
There is a glossy slipcase with the title masthead taken directly from the film’s opening sequence and lead character Shin Kazama stepping out of the cockpit of his plane. The back has the text of the ‘what they say’ section in decidedly small print in the upper section, along with screenshots and credits taking up the bottom two-thirds. The inner disc case is a clear one. There is an information slip with the art / information arrangements similar to the slipcase on both sides.
The discs have pilots Shin and Mickey in their cockpits taking up the left 2/3 of the screen. The text-based links show the menu options for playback, languages, and extras, all of which are arranged vertically with a target sight
next to the desired link. Vocals from videos are played in the background.
“We abandoned God and shook hands with The Devil. We are the mercenaries of hell.”
Welcome to the world of aerial warfare, full of sleek aircraft, twisting missiles and deadly gunfire; a touch of the trigger can bring instant death. The element which can be interesting is the possibility of making money as a soldier for hire, as is the case in Area 88. Taking place in the fictional North African Kingdom of Arslan, we are shown a civil war fought by crown prince Saki Vashutar (on behalf of his uncle, the king) against Soviet-backed rebel forces led by his father. To gain an advantage, Saki employs an all-mercenary air force for sorties, bombings and various missions. The mercs find it worth their while to gain money, weaponry, food, and supplies, and more pilots are always signing up for the opportunities to destroy enemy units. Hiring out to this branch can also be a curse, since it costs money to turn down a mission, but for the most part, the pilots are happy (and greedy) enough to do as their commander asks.
Into this comes our main character Shin Kazama, a Japanese pilot who is known as the number one pilot at Area 88. He has been fighting furiously and gaining a fairly large sum on his missions, repeatedly signing up for just about any new sortie that arises. All the other pilots regard him highly for his skill, but notice that he doesn’t really talk or socialize much at all, preferring to remain quiet and dour.
The reason for this is simple: Shin is trying to get out of Area 88.
Unlike the rest of the recruits, Shin was sent to this base very much against his will. He woke up in a bar after some drinks with his childhood and fellow flight student Satorou Kanzaki, celebrating graduation from the Yamato Airline fight school… only to learn he’d signed a contract for a three-year term with the Arslan Foreign Legion. With Shin gone from Japan (to possibly die in combat), Kanzaki is now free to pursue his two biggest desires: control of Yamato Airlines and Shin’s girlfriend Ryoko, who just happens to be the daughter of the company president. So Shin fights as hard as he can to get back home to Japan. He knows there are only three ways out of Area 88: serve the three-year term, pay $1.5 million to buy out his contract, or escape. He also knows the fatal penalty for attempting escape, electing instead to take the missions Saki assigns… for the moment anyway.
As an 80s kid, I grew up near McDonnell-Douglas and became a very big fan of fighter jets. Movies like Iron Eagle and Top Gun were religious experiences for me (minus the love affair and volleyball game). Watching G.I, Joe, it felt weird seeing every one able to fly an F-14 sky-striker or A-10 rattler and go into combat without ever being killed and always able to eject. Even as a kid it just didn’t feel right. Then came Robotech and suddenly I had air combat where pilots showed great skills but could potentially not make it home, showing the consequences of war. But this was a sci-fi story with robots, so as much as I loved the show (still do in fact), it still wasn’t quite what I wanted in to a degree.
Then I made it to my first ever anime meeting locally and there it was: Area 88. I was in heaven. This was true fighter plane porn, the way I wanted it. All kinds of fighters were used by the Are 88 pilots and you never knew what kinds would come at them next. The animation directed by Hisayuki Toriumi (Gatchaman II & F, Like The Clouds Like The Wind)was beautifully detailed, down to the engine parts moving. You get to see different HUDs, watch missile entrails and hear different types of gunfire. I especially loved his techniques of simulating sunlight reflections and cloud passage off the pilots’ face shields as they fly. The paintings of clouds blur while carefully-realized landscapes come at the viewer simulating the speed these jets travel at effectively. A couple of the battles really show the animators’ talents, at the conclusion of the second video and partway into the third one where Shin and company must fly through a canyon without hitting either wall to attack a base and get the biggest surprise of their lives. There are also a few city scenes showing life in the real world with real products the watcher can connect to. Another aspect that is addictive is the music soundtrack which varies from sad ballads to hard rock vocals and battle instrumentals. From the desperate opening “How Far To Paradise” to the high energy “Sands of Illusion” introducing Act III with R&B styled vocals “Goodbye Lonely Blue” and “Destiny” by MIO in between. The soundtrack is very much an extra character in these vids accentuating the drama throughout. One particularly menacing theme pops up during the canyon attack that remains memorable.
It really is cool to see the character development and intrigues play out. Shin basically goes nuts to a degree because he legitimately doesn’t want to kill anymore, even in war. But certain tendencies start to develop in him. His best friend and number 2 pilot Mickey Simon understands this as he had trouble adjusting to an excellent civilian life after fighting in Vietnam and became a merc instead. Shin gets enormously frustrated through the story and winds up dealing with a couple of unpleasant instances during the videos, particularly one at the beginning of the third film. We also see Ryoko getting more and more determined over time to get Shin home and find out just how far she’s willing to go for him. Equally so, we see how badly Kanzaki wants him dead and YAL under his control, obsessively so. It’s also fun seeing some of the support characters such as McCoy the somewhat greedy base overseer and technician who can apparently acquire anything pilots want, for a price. We also get fun pilots like Greg the boisterous Scottish bombing expert and Nguyen the Vietnamese “Man-Eating Tiger.” All are commanded by Prince Saki who generally has cold demeanor but occasionally is nice to Shin. He will go on missions with the pilot, or command from base or take up royal duties negotiating with other countries. As such, he’s a totally serious man. He also allows a Japanese photojournalist named “Rocky” Mutsuki to do a story about Shin, who comes to enjoy having a fellow Japanese around.
These videos got me to collect the manga by Kaoru Shintani in the late 1980s published by Viz Eclipse. Shintani created the manga in 1979 and focused much of it on advanced fighter jets for the time. Shin starts the series in an F8E Crusader, while Mick uses a Skyhawk before switching to an F-14. and we see many types of planes throughout the story. The OAVs only cover so much of the original manga though and to date only 1/3 of the manga has ever been translated officially.
All of that helped me to enjoy this TV series overall, and ADV Films’ dub earns it an extra star. For the most part, the actors performed admirably, probably due to the fact that unlike a lot of recent anime, they aren’t cast teenagers who have to yell a lot; the ADV cast instead play relatively level-headed adults. I did have a couple of issues. The first concerns Chris Patton, who does a decent performance as Shin, but can never seem to nail down his character’s last name. He always seemingly enunciates the surname with two syllables (KAZ-mah) instead of three (ka-ZAH-mah). Just didn’t care for that. Also, Mickey’s voice actor portrays him as a beach bum instead of an intelligent aviator. I got painful Duo Maxwell flashbacks listening to him.
In Summary: I’m normally not into the double of rescued licenses unless there’s something compelling about the second company’s release. Discotek Media gives us a lot here, particularly for the longtime collector. They did a great job putting out one of the best depictions of aerial warfare and drama out for the R1 DVD buyers. So since I can’t seem to get a chance to play UN Squadron, the arcade game based on this series anymore, I’ll simply say make a point to grab Discotek Media’s version of Area 88 at the first opportunity.
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Discotek Media / Eastern Star
Release Date: Otober30th, 2018
Running Time: 195 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1:85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Panasonic 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3