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Area 88: Target 02

ADV Films // Unrated // September 13, 2005
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted September 19, 2005 | E-mail the Author
Movie: Today's review is of a remake of an excellent series involving mercenaries fighting a foreign war of air superiority in the Middle East; Area 88: Target 02: A Lonely Crossing of Paths. Focusing on one such pilot, Shin Kazama, the series is top notch in terms of the technical values and creative writing; making it a sweet companion to the first episode, Area 88: Target 01. The original story was from a Manga in Japan long ago, eventually offering up a fitting ending for the lead characters that I won't go into here. It was later made into a short lived television series, a videogame, and even a domestic comic that I really liked twenty years ago (IIRC, there's a compilation volume or two of the comic still available but forgive me if I'm wrong as it was a long time ago).

Area 88: Target 01 explained the series like this: "Welcome to Area 88, a desolate outpost in the sun-blasted desert where mercenary fighter pilots risk their lives in service to the Kingdom of Alsam. Any skilled pilot will do - no questions asked. They literally kill for cash as they fight for the government of a country torn apart by a bloody civil war. The catch? Once you're in, the only way out is to serve your three year commitment, pay $1.5 million for breach of contract, or... face death as a deserter."

"Who are these pilots and why do they suffer the pains of the desert to serve a country that isn't their own? Some fight because it's all they know. Some have nowhere else to go. Some fly for the thrill of the game. Shin Kazama, the only Japanese pilot on the base, is different from the rest. He may be the only pilot capable of earning enough money to buy out his contract... if he lives long enough. But Shin fights only to return to Japan, to a life and a love that was stolen from him in cruel act of betrayal."

"Stunningly realistic animation and sound transport you into the soul of Area 88 where you can almost feel the jet wash on the desert wind. Once you're in, there's no going back. This is Area 88. In the desert the souls of men are either consumed by the fire or reborn from the ashes." In large part, that describes the entire series and Manga to a "T" as the characters follow their destinies in the military adventures that take place in the desert. The characters in this new anime series were almost all taken verbatim from the pages of the Manga and related American comic book translation with the sole exception of a news photographer called Makoto Shinjo (whose name, in Japanese, looks almost identical to lead pilot Shin Kazama, in a twist of fate). Shinjo's real motivation is to get a picture of Shin's dead face for his employer (Shin's old friend, Satoru Kanzaki, who happened to be the one that tricked him into his contract in the first place) but he keeps that secret as he gets a lot of great shots of the pilots before, during, and after their varied missions. With sortie after sortie where life and death hang in the balance, Shinjo hopes for a quick score as Shin manages to hold on time after time, defying the odds.

The idea behind the characters is that they get paid a certain amount for each mission they fly, each aircraft they down, or each ground target they destroy, with the money commensurate with the threat level each activity provides. The pilots have to pay for their own fuel, repairs, and weapon upgrades, hoping to balance out the books in their favor over time. Unlike Shin, most of them appear to be there on a voluntary basis, making his dilemma of "killed or be killed" all the more touching as he uses his impressive skills to routinely come back regardless of the odds that end the lives of his many comrades. In an effort to survive, Shin becomes increasingly colder as he determines to get back to his true love, possibly lost forever to the man who sold his soul while pretending to be his friend.

The second volume of the series, Area 88: Target 02: A Lonely Crossing of Paths, continues the adventures as Shin's increasing number of scores hits a snag when he gets shot down in the hostile desert at the beginning of a sandstorm. Chances of rescue are slim as he attempts to hold on past the elusive 19 hour mark (the longest any pilot in his circumstances has survived in the past) and his life story flashes in front of him as he walks the lonely dunes in hopes of making it out alive. The three episodes this time were 4) The Treacherous Sky: Desert, 5) An Unyielding Spirit in Lipstick: Lip Stick, and 6) A Lonely Crossing of Paths: Cross Over and after the great start with Shin's background, they switched over to an episode dealing with a new, female ace pilot who learns Shin is far more than he appears to be as he catches her interest. The final episode dealt more with Shin's past and the man who betrayed him but each of the episodes offered up some quality entertainment with great replay value. Here's what the back cover said about them:

"In every life there comes a moment when skill is pushed to the limit, when the only thing that stands in the path of death is the strength of the spirit and the sheer will to survive.
Out numbered and overpowered, Shin is forced to ditch his plane and parachute into the barren, unforgiving desert where he is haunted by memories of his past as he struggles to survive.
Back on base a new pilot is turning heads, and she… yes, she… has the skill of an ace and the beauty to match. But Shin is oblivious to her obvious advances as he impatiently waits for his new plane to arrive.
Amid thoughts of the life, and love, he left behind, Shin is confronted with the face of the friend who took it all away, and in the last place he would expect it, in the cockpit of the 747 barreling toward him through the clouds.
Truly innovative animation and heart-pounding suspense transport you to as world where every breath could be your last.
At Area 88, there's no such thing as a normal day."

I think this volume in the series was still worth a rating of Highly Recommended for the quality that went into it, the interesting extras, and the way it continually drew me into the ongoing plot even though I "knew" generally what would happen since it was so closely based on the original. Sometimes, it's good to remember that the journey is what is worth the trip more than the destination, although both were entertaining here.

Picture: Area 88: Target 02: A Lonely Crossing of Paths was presented in its original 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen color as originally presented in Japan not long ago. The colors were accurate, the anime style perfectly suited for the material of the stories, and the combination of more traditional anime and CGI melded for a solid picture in all ways. It wasn't the most detailed and didn't look as though it was hand rendered but it worked great here and I think fans of anime would do well to check this one out. I saw no compression artifacts or grain here, perhaps owing as much to the limited number of episodes as anything else.

Sound: The audio was presented with the usual choice of the original 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese soundtrack with English language subtitles or the newly created English language dub sporting a 5.1 Dolby Digital track. In terms of voices, it was strictly a toss up as to which was best since both worked very nicely for me. In terms of the music track and special effects, the English dub was superior in most ways, owing a lot to the team at ADV Films that has been getting increasingly talented in recent years, probably knowing that such a track was needed to compliment the very expensive rights to the show (this was one of their more expensive titles from what I understand so they pulled out all stops).

Extras: The best extras by far was another couple of great interviews with the Japanese director, Isamu Imakake; this time joined by character designer Hiroshi Koujina and supervising producer Kenjiro Kawando. They lasted the better part of an hour and went into great detail about many aspects of the show. I caution fans to wait to watch them until after they see each of the four volumes that'll be released (I bit the bullet for you) since they had a lot of spoilers. There were also sketches, aircraft and character biographies, some trailers, clean opening and closing, and a paper insert that gave some information from the Japanese voice actors that played Satoru Kanzaki (Hiraku Midorikawa) and Mickey Simon (Tomokazu Seki).

Final Thoughts: Area 88: Target 02: A Lonely Crossing of Paths was full of the same enjoyable action that made the first volume so entertaining. Competing with such excellent releases as Samurai 7 and Cowboy Bebop Remix is no easy task and I'd be lying to you if I said that this one was as complexly layered as either of those but its approach of elegance through simplicity will hopefully win over a new generation of fans given the manner by which ADV Films worked on it. The technical aspects were as good as ever, the creative writing used a wealth of material from the original Manga but still kept it new and fresh, and the overall experience cannot be compared one to one against either of the aforementioned series since all had a lot to offer fans of anime.

If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 article or regular column Anime Talk

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