Circumstances often bring us into situations that may not always be the most ideal. Shin Kazama is a young pilot who just graduated from a flight academy in Paris. His future looks certain; he is optimistic, has a job lined up with Yamato airlines and his beautiful girlfriend is the daughter of the president of the company. All his dreams are about to come true except for the fact that he decided to join his best friend on a drunken night on the town which ended up with the naive and very impaired Shin signing a paper without really reading over it. The following morning he comes to find out he has a new destiny and that destiny is in the foreign legion air force of Arslan. Shin Kazama’s future now belongs to Area 88.
Area 88, released in 1985, is an example of an early masterpiece for the then new direct to video format, the OVA. Produced by Studio Pierrot, the same company that released the first OVA release in late 1983 (Dallos), Area 88 showed a growing maturity in a short span of time. Based off of the original manga, this pocket sized three episode (two if you have an alternate release) was one of the first productions I experienced in the beginning of my journey into the deep dive of being a hard core older otaku who was looking for options to play catch up as it were. Megazone 23 Part 1 and Area 88 (episode 1 at the time) were my homework almost a decade ago and needless to say I was happy to find alternate material to compliment the usual material I had up to that point.
Let’s look at nature vs. nurture in regards to our hero Shin Kazama. True there is the debate of are things predestined or learned all across the map, but in regards to Shin I have to point to the nurture aspect, or more precisely environmental influence. Shin’s initial nature is a gentile soul whose life has become flipped upside down. He is depressed, he is desparate. More than anything he wants to return to Japan to go back to his former life. But over time from being in the battlefield and around battle scared pilots he begins to morph into a cold blooded mercenary as it is the only way for him to survive. The only life he can conceive is being trapped in a fighter plane trying to earn enough credits to qualify for an honorable discharge. Of course he can serve three years or desert (which he tried earlier in his career) as well.
Shin is a victim of circumstance, NO! He accepted his current condition instead of holding on to his genuine truth, but war does strange things to everyone involved. The love of his life Ryoko is now being approached by the friend who sold him out, Kanzaki. As Kanzaki weasels his way up the corporate ladder and enforce his love to Ryoko he can never escape the ghost of his old friend Shin. Often times their paths cross even though they may not be looking at each other in the face. Talk about a soap opera and a half and I am eating it all up with a bucket of popcorn (I need a refill!). Much of this story can be seen in many of the mecha series of the time, as I see this as shonen-esque type show, but Area 88 is a bit more down to earth dealing with actual war machinery and a more contemporary setting (be it the late 70s/early 80s). It’s kind of like, what I read somewhere, a more realistic G.I. Joe. Very true in that observation, but I still seeArea 88 as a tale of a man who lost his faith in himself.
Another avenue I often look at with the lens of Area 88 is the concept of the war draft. Growing up a decade after the ending of the Vietnam war, the shadow of being told to go to war without question or reason was around. This was my parents’ generation and of course it was reflected in films such as Apocalyse Now and Platoon. Much like those films, Area 88 shows a young man’s life change due to the circumstance of being taken away from his environment and his dreams. The spoils of war often silence many young people who had drive and ambition. If you feel it is your duty to serve you are more than able, but we should never force anyone to do what they may not feel is truly right.
Truly a gold standard of the OVA, Area 88 tells it’s story with the right pacing and production value. Without any question it is required viewing for anyone interested in classic Japanese animation. Just one word of parting advice… never sign anything when you have been drinking alcohol. You never know what misfortunes can arise from being careless.