Area 88 is based on a manga series by Kaoru Shintani. There was an OVA adaptation of the manga that was directed by Hisayuki Toriumi and produced by Studio Pierrot, and this adaptation was released in Japan between February 5, 1985 and August 15, 1986. There was also a 12-episode television anime adaptation that was directed by Isamu Imakake and produced by Group TAC, and it aired on Japanese television from January 8-March 25, 2004. As of this writing, Discotek Media holds the North American rights for the OVA, and ADV Films has the rights to the television anime adaptation. This piece will be focusing on the television anime adaptation of Area 88.

The series is set in a fictional Middle Eastern kingdom called Aslan. The government uses mercenary fighter pilots, who are stationed at a desert airbase known as Area 88. These pilots fight the kingdom’s wars, and they are paid for each enemy aircraft that they shoot down. Each pilot’s contract lasts for three years, and if they want to cancel early, they must pay $1.5 million. Desertion from Area 88 is considered a capital offense that is punishable by death.

The main character of Area 88 is a Japanese fighter pilot named Shin Kazama, who is attempting to serve out his contract so he can return to his fiancĂ©e in Japan. As the series progresses, we learn that his friend, Satoru Kanzaki, tricked Shin into signing a contract to serve as a fighter pilot for Area 88, because he was jealous of Shin’s relationship with the daughter of the CEO of the company that they worked for.

Another important character in the series is Makoto Shinjou, a photojournalist who comes to Area 88. He has experience working as a photojournalist on the front lines, but it turns out that’s not why he got permission to go to Area 88. His real mission is to get a particular photo, but what that particular photo is supposed to be isn’t revealed until near the end of the series. I’m not going to state what it is here, because I don’t want to provide a “spoiler.”

Since Area 88 features mercenary pilots, some of the other pilots in the group are also featured in the series. During the series, we see Shin around a pilot named Mickey Simon, who is an ex-US Navy American pilot and a Vietnam War vet. Another pilot who is focused on is Kim Aba, who is the youngest pilot among the group. He tends to get picked on by most of the other pilots because of his age, but some of the main characters regard him as someone they can rely on.

The commander at Area 88 is Lieutenant Colonel Saki Vashtar, and he’s mostly seen leading the force from the control tower. There’s only one episode in the series that I can think of where he becomes directly involved in the action. About halfway through the series, a female pilot named Kitori Palvanaff is introduced, and she turns out to be one of Saki’s relatives. She starts out being rather full of herself and her abilities, but she does tone her attitude down a bit by the end of the series. In her earlier appearances, I found her to be kind of grating and a little annoying, so I was glad to see her attitude being dialed back in the last few episodes.

When it comes to this television anime adaptation, it felt like it was a little slow to get going while watching the first episode. Fortunately, the pace does pick up, and the viewer starts becoming a little more invested in the characters and the story. By the halfway point, the viewer has most of the pieces of Shin’s story (except for the biggest reveals that happen right near the end of the series), and getting these pieces helped me to better appreciate this character. One of the episodes near the end has a focus on Mickey and his past, and I thought this helped to strengthen him as a character more. It’s too bad it appeared in the last third of the series. Unfortunately, after building up Shin and his story, I thought the ending was a little on the predictable side and that it wasn’t quite as strong as it could have been.

When it comes to the animation, I have to give credit for the character animation because it was consistent. With this television adaptation being produced in the early 2000’s, there was usage of CG in the production, especially when it came to the various planes that appeared in the series. Unfortunately, the CG could be rather “hit and miss,” which caused some shots of the planes to look unnatural. I wish the CG had been more consistent for the series, because it would have helped to make the overall series look better.

As of this writing, my only exposure to Area 88 is through this television anime adaptation. I hope at some point to be able to watch the 1980’s OVA adaptation in order to compare the two versions. This television anime adaptation of Area 88 isn’t bad for what it is, but there were times when it felt as if the execution could have been a little stronger.

If you’re a fan of war stories that feature fighter pilots and fighter planes, as well as sometimes examining the characters and their motivations, then you might find some enjoyment in this television adaptation of Area 88.

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