Area 88 - OVA
Shin Kazama thought he had it made. While he was still in training to become a pilot, it looked certain that he could land a job as a pilot for Yamato Airlines. By random chance he happened to get introduced to Ryoko, the daughter of the president of YAL. The two hit it off and it looked like it would probably be a marriage after a time. The day of graduation things looked pretty good. With a night of celebration, Shin would wake up the next morning and begin the rest of his life.
That wasn't what would happen however. His supposed "best friend" had tricked him that night into signing a contract with the country of Arslan. He was now officially drafted to be a mercenary pilot. Shin has no interest in being a combat pilot, but now at the mercy of the government, he has no choice but to comply. Arslan is a poor country in the middle east in the midst of civil war. While planes cost a lot of money, training pilots costs even more. Thus the government of Arslan hires pilots to do the fighting for them. Bounties are offered for various targets. By contract you must serve for 3 years, or pay off the contract for 2 million dollars. If you are very good, you can get very rich. Most pilots however end up very dead.
And so Shin lives his life in the dry desert, counting down each day until he can finally be free of his burden. He has a score to settle with his friend. He has a woman waiting for him. But as each day passes that Shin survives, more people die by his hand. Can he ever really go back?
Released in 1985, Area 88 is dated. You'd think in the decades since, this one would have been surpassed many times, but only a few titles really approach the level of greatness found here. When it comes to war drama, I'm starting to think no title ever will. Then again, believing Area 88 is one of the greatest anime titles ever made marks me as biased. Area 88 has fairly dated animation, but it's of exceptional quality for its time. Likewise it sports some excellent good music. The key thing which brings it together is the setup for the story, and its central character Shin Kazama.
War sucks. That's the point generally stressed in anime drama about war. Area 88 digs into many core concepts of traditional war drama often forgotten in modern titles. Shin has a kind peaceful nature, but turned into a killer in a war he doesn't even care about. He struggles every day with the conflict within himself between the desire to survive, at the cost of taking others lives. Worse still Shin had always loved to fly, and even that joy is now tainted. Every day spent at Area 88 means he moves farther away from the man he was and wishes he could continue to be. There is also the woman he loves still back in Japan. He still loves her, and part of his desire is to live to see her once again. If you watch WWII era movies, you'll see many similarities.
On the other side is Ryoko. It's hard to say much about her, as she's elevated to the level of angelic in Shin's mind. Her side is minor, but also gives the viewer another compelling view. Ryoko has no idea if Shin is alive. Yet she waits and hopes he'll come back to him. Only her faith in the man she loves gives her hope to do so. It's not what many would call a love story, but when you really think about it, the level of purity these two embody is rare in any story.
The added twist in Area 88 is of course Shin's "best friend" who betrayed him. Whether Shin makes it out the same man, or Ryoko ever accepts him is one thing. Shin is also determined to make it out and make Kanzaki pay.
Day to day events at Area 88 (per the manga it's based off of), are the meat and potatoes of the show. This is a mix of anime embellishments with fairly realistic air combat. As an action title, it never has enough breathing room for a lighter atmosphere, but if you're interested in war drama: this is it. Despair, hope, love, revenge: things that are almost tangible in Area 88. Good stuff. Watch it.
Shin: Ryoko... my sweet angel. I'm no longer the man you knew. I'm a devil, steeped in blood and forged by hatred.
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