In the Burning Skies

The Story of Shin Kazama

by Rocky Mashima

Over years, journalism will take a man to many strange places. I've certainly seen my fair share. I've thought of it as a blessing that I've been able to see and experience so much of the world. When in the field, it feels more like a curse as I miss the simple things of Japan; like eating some good old fashioned ramen. Still, nothing could prepare me for the assignment to cover Shin Kazama. In all my time, I don't think I've ever met a man with such a compelling story as that of Shin, nor have I been in a place as unusual as the military base he's stationed at: Area 88.

Shin is currently a mercenary pilot enlisted in the Arslan air force. Arslan was a nation like any other in the middle east until it was recently plunged into a cival war. The war is rooted in a conflict between two brothers in the royal family, in a dispute over succession. In a strange twist, one of the sons has sided with his uncle against his own father.

A country like Arslan is not rich enough to afford a civil war using modern machines, so some corners have to be cut. One solution is to hire experienced mercenaries to help in the fighting. Air superiority is a key component in modern warfare, but the cost of a plane is only a part of the true expense. In fact it usually costs more just to train the pilot. With this in mind, Arslan created an air force division for mercenaries who are often given the most dangerous jobs. Each pilot is responsible for his plane, supplies, and the cost of both. For unskilled pilots, this is a source of perpetual debt. For adept pilots, it's a chance to become very wealthy. Either way, they can end up very dead. Speaking with the pilots, it didn't seem like they were preoccupied with wealth or death as much as you might expect. It's almost as if something is holding them there, and they can't get away. Death is viewed by some as just another exit; perhaps the only way left to finally escape. Within the dry hot desert where fighter jets dance like angels, and die in flames, is the secret base known as hell to some, but officially given the name Area 88.

Given the context, it seems to be the last place to find a man man like Shin Kazama, formerly known for his kind peaceful nature. Unraveling the mystery on how he got there began to reveal how fascinating the man truly is. Shin is humble, but more than that does not like to discuss his past. Instead I had to piece together his story from other sources. Not long ago Shin was training to become a pilot in France. Shin was ranked top of his class and seemed destined to get a good job as an airline pilot once he graduated. It's also known that Shin dated Ryoko Tsugumo; daughter of the president of Yamanto Airlines (YAL). Running from a relationship gone bad seems a likely explanation, however Shin and Ryoko were known to be very in love and never showed signs to the contrary. So why would a man who had everything give it up for the nightmare of Area 88? On the night he graduated, Shin went out drinking to celebrate but was tricked into signing a contract with the Arslan air force. Some rumors say it may have been his friend Satoru Kanzaki who tricked him, although this has never been confirmed. Satoru is now an influential pilot working at YAL, now living the life Shin had dreamt of after graduation.

Having signed a contract with the Arslan air force, Shin is now obligated to complete a full tour of duty. This normally lasts for two years, however few live through a full tour. Pilots are offered a second option through a payout of 1.5 million dollars. As a mercenary, each pilot earns a given amount per battlefield kill. Tanks and planes are generally worth the most, although other ground targets may also be worth money to the pilots who choose to fly such missions. The third way out is desertion, although this is punishable by death if caught.

Shin is a very quiet man, who likes to keep to himself. The Japanese pilot seems at odds with the other foreigners gathered from around the globe. Shin hasn't made many friends here at Area 88, although he still feels the comradely that naturally forms when fighting alongside others: no matter how different they are from you. A bond that many of us civilians will probably never understand. If Shin does have a friend, it's the American pilot known simply as Mick. Mick was once a pilot in Vietnam, but found that civilian living wasn't for him after the war. Ever since he's been in and out of the military. Speaking with Mick I got the impression he was more concerned about what Shin was becoming than his current situation. He believes the more combat you see, the more it holds a grip on you; until one day you can no longer escape. Mick thinks Shin is approaching that point where he'll never be able to return to the life he once had.

Shin was less than enthusiastic to tell me much, so I spent much more time observing him than speaking with him. What little he does say, reveals he truly hates what he does to survive. His eyes show a level of sadness in them: longing for the life he once thought he'd have. He also feels betrayed that the thing he loved most in life, flying; has become a skill for him to become a professional killer. Among professionals, Shin is considered the top pilot here at Area 88. I can say I've witnessed the skill of Shin in the sky, and he's well deserving of that top rank. If anyone can make it out alive, it's Shin Kazama, but if he'll be the same man is a question even I can't answer.

© 2001