Area 88 (エリア88, Eria Hachi-Ju-Hachi) is a Japanese Manga
series by Kaoru Shintani serialized between 1979 and 1986. The story is about a young pilot named Shin Kazama
and his experiences at Area 88, a mercenary air force base secluded in the desert of a war torn country. Shin goes from head of his class at a world renowned aviation school dating the beautiful daughter of an airline president to a mercenary fighter pilot bound to Area 88 by a three-year contract that he was duped into signing by a jealous and competitive childhood friend. Determined to earn $1.5 million dollars to buy his way out of the obligation and return home, killing becomes second nature to Shin as he quickly rises to the top rank at Area 88. Overwrought with shame and self-loathing for what he has become, Shin begins to question whether he is still fighting for survival, or like his fellow mercenaries, for the sheer excitement and camaraderie of battle.
Area 88 was among the first three manga to be translated into English and published in North America. It has been adapted into two Anime
series, the first an OVA
originally published in 1985 and the latest, a 12-episode anime television series, which premiered across Japan on the anime television network Animax in 2005, and a video game, U.N. Squadron. It is also a brand of model aircraft in Japan. While it appeals to aviation fans for its realistic depictions of aircraft and aerial combat, it has also been critically acclaimed for its strong character development and Shintani's poignant storytelling, combining action, tragedy, romance, and comedy. In 1985, the manga received the Shogakukan Manga Award for Shounen
Area 88 takes place in the late 1970s/early 1980s and is largely set in a war-embroiled Middle Eastern country called the Kingdom of Aslan. The war uses mercenary fighter pilots, with its headquarters at a secret desert air force base called Area 88. Up-and-coming airline pilot Shin Kazama gets tricked into signing up by his "friend" Satoru Kanzaki
. Facing execution for deserting from Area 88, Shin reluctantly turns into a fighter pilot and attempts to serve his three year contract out.
Area 88 attracts all kinds of people with all kinds of assorted and often sordid pasts. Among the other mercenaries are Mick Simon, an American who couldn't adjust to normal life after his tour of duty in the Vietnam War. Mick becomes Shin's best friend at Area 88. Another familiar sight at Area 88 is McCoy
, a greedy weapons dealer who sells everything the mercenaries need from toilet paper to the planes that the mercenaries fly in battle. The commander of Area 88 is Saki Vashutal
, who is actually a prince of the nation of Aslan, though his royal heritage means nothing there. Also prominent on the base are the war photographer Rocky (presented as Makoto Shinjou in the 2004 anime), the Dane Greg Gates (later featured in the video game adaptation) and the numerous pilots with whom Shin flies (most of whom die over the course of the series, often in the issue in which they were introduced). Though the series focuses mostly on Shin, other characters (notably Rocky and Mick) did have their own individual storylines.
There are only three ways to leave Area 88: Survive three years (highly unlikely), pay off your 1.5 million dollar contract in bounties (difficult as a mercenary must pay for all his expenses - room and board, maintenance, weapons and fuel for his aircraft - and face stiff fines for turning down hazardous missions) or desertion (a capital offense if caught). With each enemy plane brought down, Shin faces his shifting acceptance of the violence and killing that fills every day, as well as suppressing his feelings of wrong-doing.
Area 88 is usually placed during the late 1970s, or early 1980s, although evidence points towards the latter in the OVA's case. First, during Act 1 of the OVA when the calendar in Shin's room is first seen, Shin marks off the date Wednesday, April 11. Then, during the flashback where Shin unknowingly signs the contract from Kanzaki, the date reads on the contract 'le 29 avril 1979' or April 29, 1979. Based on the calendar marking, it is some point past 1979 and the nearest year where April 11 falls on a Wednesday is 1984. Secondly, the OVA featured the F/A-18 Hornet, which entered service in 1983. From the OVA's conclusion it's reasonable to suggest the end date is sometime in early 1986 given Shin's term in Aslan (2 years 5 months). Note, however, this is directly contradicted by a scene in the third part of the OVA in which we see a calendar in Shin's room during his discharge, the date being Monday, Sept. 22, 1982. (It's more likely that the animators in fact were in error, both about the days of the week, and about the date of service of the F/A-18, as they had made a similar error with the F-14 Tomcat in the second part of the OVA, depicting the F-14 in service over Viet-Nam, when the plane did not enter service until after US forces were withdrawn.)
Each version of the Area 88 told slightly different variations on the same basic premise, and often shared individual story arcs. However, there are several key differences between each version, especially in the endings.
The original manga ending had Shin returning to Japan, but having lost all memory of Area 88.
The 3-episode OVA adaptation had Shin return to Area 88 and his (surmised) death when the Area was overrun by mercenary planes and the anti-government (Saki's father) forces.
The 2004 anime adaptation truncated the story to just after Shin lost his F-5E, but Shinjou returned to Japan to derail Kanzaki's plot to marry Ryoko. The 2004 anime also introduced the permanent characters of Kim, from the manga, and Saki's cousin Kitori, who had never appeared in any prior versions.
Despite the consistent use of existing aircraft, the manga -unlike the anime adaptations- introduced, as the series progressed, a number of elements that may have been considered science fiction at the time but at least used existing technology. Such devices include the land based aircraft carrier with its fleet of robot-controlled F/A-18 fighters. The Grand Slam was a drill-missile that bore under the ground towards its target. There was also other exotic weaponry, none of which appeared in either anime adaptation.
The themes in Area 88 mostly revolve on the Vietnam War and those who have participated in it. The psychological state of the base's mercenaries are also noted, showing that most soldiers who have fought in conflicts from the early 20th century have reported difficulties in getting their lives back to normal.
Area 88 also depicts the use of freelancers in fighting wars as mercenaries have fought for various countries during the 20th century, with the attention of their field work in Africa for most of the time back then.
Notable combat aircraft to have been featured in the series include A-4F Skyhawk, A-10A Thunderbolt II, AV-8A Harrier II, Blackburn Buccaneer, Dassault Mirage F1, SEPECAT Jaguar, English Electric Lightning, F-4J/E Phantom II, F-5E Tiger II, F-8E Crusader, F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, F-16A Fighting Falcon, F-20 Tigershark, F-105D Thunderchief, F-100 Super Sabre, F/A-18A Hornet, IAI Kfir, J35F Draken, MiG-17 Fresco, MiG-21 Fishbed, MiG-23 Flogger, MiG-27D Flogger, Sea Harrier FRS Mk.1, T-6 Texan, OV-10 Bronco, B-1 Lancer, X-29 and B-52 Stratofortress.
Other aircraft that have appeared throughout the series include the Boeing 747, C-130 Hercules, Cessna 150, Tu-95 'Bear' and UH-1 Iroquois.
The original Japanese manga of Area 88 was serialized in 23 volumes between 1979 and 1986 by Shogakukan. Each volume was black and white with a painted color cover and contained several short stories called "missions." In all, there were 172 such missions across the 23 volumes. Shōnen Sunday later repackaged the 23 volumes into ten thick books under its Wide Volume product line.
Area 88, along with Mai, the Psychic Girl and The Legend of Kamui, was one of the first three manga to be translated to English and published in North America by Eclipse Comics and VIZ Media in May 1987. It was published bi-weekly with each issue containing a single mission, of which the editors had planned to release all 172. The first 28 issues featured covers from the original manga plus some original artwork by Shintani, but as these resources were limited, the covers of issues #29-36 featured stills from the OVA film. With issue #37 in December 1988, VIZ Media took over the series, and in addition to featuring photographs of actual fighter jets on the cover, the publication went from bi-weekly to monthly and the price from $1.50 to $1.75. The series did not adjust well to the dramatic change, and with issue #42 in May 1989, it was canceled. It was later run as a feature in Viz's Animerica Magazine, but did not run to completion there, ending in January 1995.
Area 88: Original OVA SeriesAn OVA trilogy produced by Studio Pierrot was released between 1985 and 1986 on videotape and laserdisc. These were later released with English subtitles in North America on VHS and laserdisc by Central Park Media's U.S. Manga Corps in 1992. Only the first volume was later released to DVD on July 14, 2000. Central Park Media would later let the original OVA license lapse, which allowed ADV Films to re-release the trilogy on July 25, 2006. The two-DVD set included all three episodes containing the original Japanese track and the redubbed English track using the same cast from the English dub of TV series, as well as extras including an interview with Kaoru Shintani and an introduction to the fighter jets portrayed in the series.
An updated 12-episode anime television series with CG graphics, produced by Animax, Group TAC and Media Factory, began production in 2003 and premiered across Japan on the anime satellite television network, Animax from 8 January 2004 – 5 March 2004, who later aired the series across its other respective networks worldwide, including Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, South Asia, South Korea, Taiwan and other regions. ADV Films licensed the series for North American distribution, releasing the series across the region, with the first DVD volume release being published on June 22, 2005 and the last volume being released on January 17, 2006.
- From Wikipedia