Area 88 is based on a manga series by Kaoru Shintani. This three-episode OVA adaptation was directed by Hisayuki Toriumi and produced by Studio Pierrot, and it was released in Japan between February 5, 1985 and August 15, 1986. As of this writing, Discotek Media holds the North American rights for the OVA.

The story is set in a fictional Middle Eastern kingdom called Aslan. The government of this kingdom uses mercenary fighter pilots who are stationed at a desert airbase known as Area 88. These pilots fight its 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 earn the $1.5 million he needs in order to cancel early. He is determined to return to his fiancée, Ryoko. Shin’s friend, Satoru Kanzaki, tricked Shin into signing a contract to serve as a fighter pilot for Area 88, because he was jealous of Shin getting ahead of him in a professional context and of his relationship with the daughter of the CEO of the company they work for.

I watched the 2004 television anime adaptation of Area 88 before watching the original OVA anime adaptation. Between the two, I have to say that the OVA adaptation was the stronger of the two.

First and foremost, Ryoko and Kanzaki receive a lot more screen time in the OVA than in the television series. In addition, I thought Ryoko had much more agency in the 1980’s OVA than in the television adaptation from 2004. Which, to be honest, seems a little backwards to me. You’d think Ryoko would have been depicted with more agency in the more recent adaptation. In the OVA adaptation, Ryoko helps her father run the company, and receives some assistance from her father’s secretary, Taeko Yasuda. Taeko’s character was completely eliminated from the 2004 television anime series adaptation, in addition to Ryoko’s agency. I also thought that Kanzaki’s jealousy of Shin was much better developed in the OVA adaptation, and we also got to see Kanzaki’s downfall in this adaptation. The viewer doesn’t get the satisfaction of seeing Kanzaki getting his “just desserts” in the 2004 adaptation.

Another major difference is that Saki, the commander of Area 88, is a much better developed character in the OVA adaptation. Here, the audience learns of his background as a former member of the Aslan royal family, and also get to see Saki flying on a couple of missions with the soldiers of Area 88. In the television series, Saki came across as rather cold and distant, and he only briefly participated in one mission (as bait). Outside of that, he never got his own hands dirty.

Another difference between the two anime adaptations is the fact that the photographer who comes to Area 88 is depicted as a more important character in the 2004 television anime adaptation and has ties with Kanzaki. In the OVA, though, he still comes to Area 88 and takes photos, but his character is eliminated within the first two episodes of the OVA. Overall, I think even though he had a more important role in the 2004 adaptation, I don’t think that expanding his role did much of anything to strengthen the story.

When it comes to the animation, I liked the animation in the OVA a little better as well. Admittedly, it does look dated, but I like the designs of the characters here (especially Shin and Ryoko) more than I did their 2004 counterparts. Maybe it’s just me, but the 2004 designs just didn’t resonate as much with me as the 80’s designs. And since the OVA was made in the mid-1980’s, there was no use of CG for the planes, so everything was hand drawn. The CG utilized in the 2004 adaptation was rather “hit and miss,” so it made the planes look a little wonky at times.

I think that the original three-episode OVA did a much better job of telling a strong story by utilizing its runtime. The first two episodes are about an hour in length, while the final episode is a little over an hour-and-a-half. Even though the 2004 television series adaptation was 12 episodes in length, and thus had more time to potentially flesh out the story and the characters, I thought it failed to do so. Downplaying Ryoko as a character and introducing a female pilot (Saki’s niece) to Area 88 didn’t really help much. I’m guessing that the crew behind the 2004 adaptation thought another female character was needed, but I’m a little frustrated that her addition caused the writers to water down Ryoko’s characterization. Why couldn’t they both have been strong female characters?

If I’m going to recommend an anime adaptation of Area 88 to someone, I would highly recommend the 1980’s OVA. If someone wants to watch both anime adaptations of Area 88, then I would recommend watching the OVA before the television series.

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