Area 88 – Target 01 – Treacherous Skies

Vandemar

imageFighter jets roar through desert skies, piloted by pretty boy pilots with dark pasts and secrets of their own. Welcome to Area 88, an exciting, yet grim series full of magnificently choreographed aerial battles and interesting characters that live and die by their fighter planes. It starts from the opening. Maybe I’m just a sucker for techno beats with violin backings, but there’s something about fighter jets roaring at ear-splitting volume with a thumping soundtrack that is Entertainment Nirvana.

If there’s a little stir of recognition, it’s for good reason. Area 88 is the series that inspired arcade shooter U.N. Squadron, though this is far deeper than simply blowing stuff up. The mercenary pilots that fly from Area 88 are a diverse bunch. There’s the mysterious Japanese pilot trying to fight his way out of the mercenary agreement. There’s the kid who flies a Harrier and wants to get out of debt. And above them all is the mysterious, long-haired commander with an X in his head. The interplay between these characters as they fight enemy pilots and each other is the real strength of the series. This is not just another plot to hang mindless explosions on. It’s a compelling reason to watch the series on its own.

imageEpisode 01: Wings of the Desert
We’re introduced to the series in magnificent fashion, an air battle high above the desert. On landing, we meet a photographer out at the air base to snap a few pictures, and he meets Shin Kazama, the lone Japanese pilot in the combat zone. But why does our pretty blond hero brood?

Episode 02: The Setting Sun As Grave Marker
A raid begun in the previous episode is carried out in this one. The squadron roars into a nasty nest of antiaircraft fire and suffers for it. One of the pilots has earned the nickname “The Angel of Death,” but not for the reasons you might think.

Episode 03: Viewfinder in the Blue Sky
Shin’s a little shaken when an air battle gets a little too dangerous, and struggles to come to grips with his rather-sudden mortality. But when everyone’s out chasing treasure, it gives him a chance to find out a little more about the photographer following him around.

imageOn disc extras were good. The airplane dork in me loved picking through the aircraft specs, though I could’ve used a lot more of them. More is actually on the disc than is listed on the case, which is a little baffling, but the on-disc interview is really cool and I’m always up for some production sketches. I can’t imagine why they’d leave some of this out, but so much the better.

What stood out for me was the sound. The opening theme was good, and some of the music was well-used, but a series about fighter planes needs one thing. The engines need to roar. Area 88 delivers here. The jet noises could not be more satisfying and I suspect those with decent surround sound and subwoofers are going to be pushed back from the TV by the growling jet engines. Voice acting is also outstanding, and the animation for the air battles is very fluid. The jets are lovingly drawn and usually look like models than drawing, but for me it was all about that engine roaring. Area 88 is not one to miss if you’re looking for lots of action with a nice brain behind it.

Technical/Extras: 9.0
It’s interesting that the case didn’t list everything on the disc, but it made for a nice treat. The production sketches are always interesting, and the aircraft nerd in me loved digging through the aircraft specs, but there weren’t enough of them to be deeply satisfying.

Entertainment: 9.0
This is an exciting series that manages to unite action with a brain and give it some heart. Thrilling aeril battles AND a plot? Awesome.

Overall: 9.0

Episodes: Episode 01: Wings of the Desert, Episode 02: The Setting Sun As Grave Marker, Episode 03: Viewfinder in the Blue Sky

Extras: Production Sketches, Character Bios and Aircraft Specs, Clean Opening/Closing Animation, Character Bios, ADV Previews, DVD Credits, Interview with Isamu Imakake (Director) and Hiroshi Ohnogi (Screenplay), Volume 2 preview

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