Area 88 (エリア88 Eria Hachi-Jū-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 shōnen.
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.
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 their planes. The commander of Area 88 is Aslanian Prince Saki Vashutal, though his royal heritage means nothing there. Also prominent on the base are war photographer Rocky (presented as Makoto Shinjou in the 2004 anime), Danish pilot Greg Gates (later featured in the video game adaptation), and the numerous pilots with whom Shin flies (most of them 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, pay off a USD 1.5-million contract in bounties, or desertion, which is a capital offense. 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 see action.)
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 English language version published by Eclipse Comics was left unfinished and incomplete: Shin does not return to Japan. The rebels, operating unmanned fighter jets from a giant, mobile base - a "land-carrier" - have targeted Area-88 with a nuclear-armed, computer controlled drilling machine. Saki, meanwhile, has acquired an American B-1B bomber armed with nuclear weapons.
The three-episode OVA adaptation had Shin return to Area 88 and his apparent death when the Area was overrun by mercenary planes and the anti-government forces.
The 2004 anime series 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 series also introduced the permanent characters of Kim, from the manga, and Saki's cousin Kitori, who appeared in the manga as Seilane Balnock.
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 a land-based aircraft carrier with its fleet of AI-controlled F/A-18 fighters. A rebel weapon called the Grand Slam is basically a ballistic missile modified with a drill machine. 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-19, MiG-27D Flogger, Sea Harrier FRS Mk.1, T-6 Texan, OV-10 Bronco, B-1 Lancer, X-29 and B-52 Stratofortress.
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, without resolving the storyline, 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.
An 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 the TV series, as well as extras including an interview with Kaoru Shintani and an introduction to the fighter jets portrayed in the series.
- Area 88: Act I: Blue Skies of Betrayal (1985, VHS/LD; 1992, VHS; July 14, 2000, DVD)
- Area 88: Act II: The Requirements of Wolves (1985, VHS/LD; 1992, VHS)
- Area 88: Act III: Burning Mirage (1986, VHS/LD; 1992, VHS)
- Area 88: Original OVA Series (July 25, 2006, DVD)
Script error 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.
A shoot 'em up video game by Capcom was released in the arcades in 1989. It was released in the West as UN Squadron, with only the characters connecting the two versions. Ports were released for the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Super Nintendo and ZX Spectrum.
In the game, the player could select from Shin, Mick, or Greg as the pilot to play. Each came with a different plane and various advantages; for example, Mick could handle air-to-air dogfights well while Greg excelled at air-to-ground attacks. Each pilot also had special abilities; Shin mastered normal weaponry at the highest speed, Mick inflicted extra damage with his armaments, and Greg recovered from attacks almost before they occurred.
A few of the elements mentioned in the manga made it in here, like the land carrier and the massive Project 4 air-battleship.
Other than the U.N. Squadron, Shin Kazama's F-20 Tigershark model has also appeared in Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War as one of the selectable plane color schemes. However, the unicorn tail roundel was replaced by the logo of the Galm Team which appeared to be the head of the red wild dog.
A line of Area 88 model kits was also produced, which are basically aircraft that are painted as they appeared in the series. Takara produced the released a 1/100 line of aircraft kits, each with a 1/24 pilot figure in the early 1980s to coincide with the original manga stories. Kits included Shin's Crusader and F-5G Tigershark (later known as the F-20), Mick's F-100 and F-14, Saki's Kfir, Greg's A-10 and a couple others.
The first release of 1/144 kits by Hasegawa in the early 1990s consisted of Mickey's F-14, Shin's F-8 and F-5, Seilane Balnock's Harrier, and Saki Vashtar's Kfir. Each kit had a 1/12 scale figure of the pilot in resin while the 1/144 plane kits were styrene plastic tooled up by Dragon models in Hong Kong. The third wave, released by Hasegawa in 1996, featured 1/72 kits of the same jets, but this time Hasegawa's own kit moldings were used. They comprised Saki's Kfir, Gregg's A-10, Shin's F-8, F-20, X-29 and Draken, and Mickey's F-14. Hasegawa also produced a 1/48 two-pack set in line with the 2004 TV series, consisting of Shin's F-8 and Mickey's F-14, plus a DVD .
- Area 88 Opening Theme: Mission - Fuga
- Area 88: Sound File 1
- Area 88: Sound File 2
- Area 88: Mission Cyber Trance
- Area 88 Website from TV Asahi (Japanese)
- Area 88 Website from ADV Films
- Area 88 (anime) at Anime News Network's Encyclopedia