Shelf Life
Area 88

by Paul Jensen,

A friend of mine is headed to Anime NYC next weekend. I'm not, which means I get the dubious pleasure of having a thoroughly normal weekend while getting bombarded with texts and pictures from the convention. If you're going, have fun! If not, well, there's still plenty of anime to watch. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Area 88

On Shelves This Week

And You Thought There is Never a Girl Online? - Complete Collection BD
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Currently cheapest at: $22.49 Right Stuf

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Extra: We have episode reviews for this series, along with a review of a previous release. It's available streaming on Funimation.

Beyblade: Metal Fusion - Complete Collection DVD
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Currently cheapest at: $18.29 Amazon

Synopsis: Young Beyblade fighter Ginga takes on the nefarious forces of Dark Nebula with the help of his friends.

Extra: No formal reviews for this series based on the battling top toy line, but our user ratings have an average of 6.1 out of 10.

Beyblade: Metal Masters - Complete Collection DVD
Cinedigm - 1122 min - Dub - MSRP $24.97
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Synopsis: After defeating Ryuga, Ginga must defend his crown as champion of the Battle Bladers Championship as competitors from around the world appear to challenge him.

Extra: This series is the sequel to Metal Fusion, and our user ratings for it are marginally better with an average of 6.7 out of 10.

Code:Realize Guardian of Rebirth - Complete Collection BD+DVD
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Extra: We have episode reviews for this steampunk romance series, and you can stream it on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie BD
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Extra: We have an old review of this movie, along with a recent interview with the crew from the TV series. The series is available streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

Drifters - Complete Collection BD
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Extra: We have episode reviews and a review of a previous release for this series, and you can stream it on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

Gatchaman Crowds - Complete Collection BD
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Currently cheapest at: $64.99 Right Stuf

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Extra: This set includes both seasons, and we have separate reviews for those here and here. We also have a feature article on the series, and it's available streaming on Crunchyroll and HIDIVE.

Joker Game - Complete Collection BD
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Extra: We have episode reviews for this series, and I also reviewed a previous release for Shelf Life. You can stream it on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

Made In Abyss - Complete Collection BD Limited Edition
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Synopsis: After meeting a humanoid robot named Reg, a young girl named Riko travels down into the depths of an ancient ruin.

Extra: Gabriella reviewed the standard edition of this series in last week's column, and we also have episode reviews and a full series review. It's available streaming on Amazon Prime and HIDIVE.

One Piece - Collection 23 DVD
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Synopsis: Luffy and the Straw Hats continue their battle against Hordy and the Fish-man pirates.

Extra: Take a look at our episode reviews for current coverage of this series, and you can stream it on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.

ReLIFE - Final Arc BD+DVD
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Extra: This set of OVA episodes serves as the conclusion to the TV series. The full story was covered in This Week in Anime, and we also have a review of the TV series. It's available streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

Sailor Moon Super S - Part 2 BD+DVD, DVD
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Extra: We have reviews for both part one and the related movie. You can stream it on Hulu and

A Sister's All You Need - Complete Collection BD
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Currently cheapest at: $41.19 Amazon

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Extra: I'm a little surprised by the amount of coverage we have for this one: episode reviews, a full series review, and an installment of This Week in Anime. It's available streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

Twin Star Exorcists - Part 3 BD+DVD
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Extra: Our episode reviews cover the entirety of this series, and Gabriella reviewed the first part for Shelf Life. You can stream it on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

Shelf Life Reviews

Shelf Worthy
Nothing this week.
Area 88
Nothing this week.

We're taking another dive into decades past this week with the 1980s OVA version of Area 88. Here's my review.

From time to time while working on this column, I find myself reviewing something that feels like it was made specifically for me (or at least someone like me). It happened a while ago with the new Initial D movies, and here we are again with Area 88. My tendency to geek out over airplanes has waned a little over the years, it's still strong enough that an anime series about fighter pilots is right up my alley. This is actually the older of two separate adaptations of the source manga; its release dates span from 1985 to 1986, while a more recent TV series aired in 2004. I watched the TV series years ago, and having now seen both animated versions, I can say with certainty that Area 88 is something that I really enjoy but wouldn't necessarily recommend to everyone.

The title of the series comes from an airbase in the desert nation of Aslan, where a foreign legion of mercenary pilots fly combat missions against a rebel army. Most of the pilots are there voluntarily, but for protagonist Shin Kazama, Area 88 is the last place in the world he wants to be. Tricked into joining the legion by his former friend, Shin now has three options: he can fight to survive three years of suicide missions, earn $1.5 million to buy his way out of the contract, or make a run for it and risk being executed as a deserter. While he grapples with that situation, Shin's traitorous friend Kanzaki schemes to take over the airline they both used to work for, while Ryoko, the company president's daughter and Shin's girlfriend, tries to stop him.

That premise essentially divides the story of Area 88 into two separate, parallel narratives. On the Aslan side of things, Shin flies a series of dangerous missions with his new foreign legion buddies, often surviving only through skill and sheer luck. This portion of the series features an international cast of characters, some of whom are compelling while others are more generic or stereotypical. Shin himself strikes an interesting balance where he hates the thought of killing other people but is willing to do exactly that in order to survive. Throughout the story and especially near the end, that conflict between longing for his old civilian life and growing accustomed to the battlefield gives Shin an intriguing character arc, even if he's not exactly a bundle of sunshine. The show's best supporting characters are the ones whose personalities and perspectives play into that struggle: base commander Saki is willing to use the pilots as expendable pawns in order to save his country, and American ace Mickey accepts his own addiction to combat while Shin struggles against it. While Area 88 is not always subtle about presenting its moral dilemmas, it does a pretty good job of balancing out the characters' different worldviews.

Then we have the portion of the story that takes place in Japan, which is arguably the weaker half of the series. Where Shin's battle for survival deals in shades of gray, the conflict between Kanzaki and Ryoko is more of a black and white scenario. Kanzaki is essentially a personification of greed and ambition: he uses underhanded methods to take over the airline company, compromises passenger safety in the name of profit, and acts like a total scumbag when Ryoko asks him to help her buy Shin out of his foreign legion contract. Ryoko does at least act on her own initiative most of the time instead of just being a damsel in distress, though her plans tend to depend heavily on support from her father's personal assistant. Most of this is vaguely compelling from a dramatic standpoint, but it often feels weirdly detached from Shin's story. There's not a lot of direct interaction between the characters in Japan and the characters in Aslan, and this can make it seem as if we're flipping back and forth between two separate shows instead of watching one cohesive story.

Frankly, Area 88 does some of its best work when it takes a step back from the big-picture narrative and focuses on the simpler pleasures of watching stuff blow up. The missions Shin and his fellow pilots take on are tailor-made to promote death-defying stunts. The guys dodge enormous anti-aircraft contraptions, fly through narrow canyons, and generally blast the holy heck out of any expendable baddies who cross their path. Aside from a few far-fetched ideas, most of this presented with a strong eye for realism. The characters are constrained by limitations like fuel, ammunition, and their ability to tolerate extreme G-forces, and the unique characteristics of their planes factor heavily into how they survive (or don't survive) each battle. Area 88 treats Cold War aircraft with the same technical reverence that Girls und Panzer has for World War II tanks or Initial D has for Japanese sports cars. If you enjoy this type of heavily-researched approach to action, it should scratch that itch nicely.

That action is bolstered by the high-budget, hand-drawn animation you'd expect from a mid-80s OVA series. Airplanes in Area 88 don't just blow up; they get riddled with bullets or blasted apart by missiles, with individual pieces and parts flying in every direction while our perspective swoops around to take in all the mechanical carnage. Character designs are pretty typical for the time, with all of the main characters being easily recognizable thanks to an exaggerated feature or two. I don't know how Shin fits all that hair under his helmet, but I guess he makes it work. This set is only available in DVD format at the moment, but it does come with a good amount of on-disc extras. You get both the episodic and theatrical cuts of the series, an interview with the original author, some notes on the franchise, and both the old Central Park Media dub and the newer ADV one.

Whether or not you'll enjoy Area 88 depends on how many of its core demographics you fit into. If you're an aviation junkie, a fan of 80s action anime, a sucker for detailed mechanical design, or any combination of the above, this release is easily worth the price of entry. For a general audience, it may be harder to overlook the more dated elements of the story or the awkward pacing created by jumping between Japan and Aslan. There's still a reasonable amount of narrative substance and entertainment value to be found, but this is definitely a niche title. While I happen to sit comfortably within that particular niche, your results may vary.

That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading!

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