Tag Archives: Anime OVA

Area 88 (OVA) Review

In the late 1980s Viz Media released Area 88 in comic book form in the US. Offering readers cartoonish-looking characters struggling in war, and touching on their struggles to fit back into society. Due to poor sales, one thing the comic book shares with it OVA counterpart is leaving readers/viewers hanging. While talks about the comic book seemingly vanished the OVA is still fondly remembered for its story, and animation during its action sequences.

Being tricked into joining a foreign military by his best friend, Shin Kazama must either survive 3 years in the battlefields of Aslan, or earn money from missions to pay a debt of 1.5 million dollars in order to return home. Taking a grounded approach for its storytelling the OVA chooses to tackle the psychological effects war can have on a soldier. In doing so, it removes any fantastical elements present in other war stories in animes like fighting over ideologies, or having a singular advance piece of technology that puts the odd in a faction favors. Residing in a simple world where politics, and money drives the conflict around Shin Kazama being powerless against these forces.

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Our war drama is brought to you by our sponsor Coke-Cola

The OVA is wonky in its pacing. Within 3 episodes each averaging about an hour in length. Two of the three episodes portray Shin as someone out of his element. Not hiding how much he hates the sense of war, and what it’s doing to him. These moments where Shin is confronted about his feelings toward fighting is where the characterization shines best. Showing stages of when he’s a pacifist, and refusing to accept what he has become as the result of the war. Not only will you get a picture of who Shin Kazama is from himself, but also what other around Shin feel about him. Making the human drama the centerpiece of the OVA.

When you do eventually get to the famous ariel fights Area 88 is famous for they have more weight attach to them. Spending time developing a bit of the supporting cast, and the history behind the base the anime is named after. Delving into the supporting cast mindset to explore how the stench of war has changed them forever. Showing the strong bonds between the comrades of Area 88 through some humorous exchanges. Highlighting the team sense of comradery with each other despite their tormented souls, and views on morality.

This OVA does have a villain in Shin Kazama best friend Satoru Kanazaki who betrays Shin to get everything he desires. Sleazily presented as he might be the OVA offers moments where he shows some humanity. Showing some level of remorse for betraying Shin adding food for thought in a otherwise simple character. Rokyo Tsugumo who is the center of a unwanted love triangle is given other things to do in the story than just waiting for Shin. She tries to deal with things sensibly, and is given her own moral dilemma which is handle well in the OVA.

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Shin knows criticism is locked on, and ready to hit

The OVA biggest weakness is the weak romance. While watching the OVA I didn’t get a sense of a romantic connection between Shin Kazama, and his love interest Ryoko much. In a ironic turn, everything else revolving around that romance is actually handled better. One of those being a scene where Shin gets asked if he still believes Ryoko is waiting him. It’s a good scene since it gets across Shin affection for Ryoko. As individual characters Shin, and Ryoko are better than expected, but as a couple their romance storyline lacks any sparks, and chemistry to be on par with everything else the anime offers. 

The Japanese voice acting wins by a long shot. While the English dub isn’t bad in any significant sense the voice work is notably weaker. In the English dub you have Chris Patton who voices Shin Kazama easily being the best voice actor in the English dub. He’s able to masterfully hide the jarring shift in Shin Kazama character going from a fish out of water to a cold blooded killer within the span of a single episode. However, Kaneto Shizawa who also voices Shin Kazama provides much more of a punch. Coming across more distraught, and cold compare to Chris Patton who withhold himself a bit in the more emotional scenes.

My biggest problem with the English dub is the supporting aren’t emotive enough. Doesn’t help they mostly play one note characters. Hilary Haag for example who plays Ryoko just sounds helplessly shy in every scene she’s in. In contrast to Sakiko Tamagawa who provides the Japanese voice for Ryoko sounds more concerning than shy in her performance. While the English dub is technically more accurate in portraying the different ethnicities of its cast. English voices are generally subdue better fitting the overall tone the OVA is going for. Whereas the Japanese voices can be over the top in places. However, the Japanese voice acting captures the emotions the best in their portrayals because they aren’t holding back like in the English dub.

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Might be from the 80s, but this animation is awesome.

Area 88 is hand-drawn by Studio Pierrot whom painstakingly go out of their way to animate the most realistic ariel fights possible. Changing up the scenarios to keep things interesting be it flying through a very narrow canyon opening to avoid radar detection, or trying not to crash into a giant steel wall during an assault on a enemy base. Going all out in showing airplanes being pierce apart in combat, tanks getting blown up, and at times showing pilots getting shot inside the plane. Putting on display a variety of different aircrafts. Through masterfully done camerawork you can easily see no shortcuts were taken during the action sequences in the OVA. Character designs are a bit cartoonish with their hairstyle, and wide arrange of colors. Thankfully it’s not distracting enough to take away from the drama.

The soundtrack in Area 88 is both awesome, and datedly cheesy in some of its choices. During the aerial fights the music is able to add a bit of tension to the proceedings. Thankfully director Hisayuki Toriumi knows when to use music so the soundtrack doesn’t come off as intrusive. While in the dramatic scenes it music can sound very hokey. Biggest standout in the soundtrack are both the opening, and themes. In both the English dub, and English sub version you’ll still get the opening theme “How Far To Paradise” in English sung by Derek Jackson which is pretty awesome rock song. “Kanashimi no Destiny” by Mio is the opposite being a slow, piano piece with some emotional vocals from Mio.

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Hard to believe this was animated by Studio Pierrot

Another track, Sabaku no Illusion by Shima Kitahara is similar to “How Far To Paradise” in pumping you up to see the OVA, but lacks the same energy to match “How Far To Paradise”. “So Long My Love” also sung by Shima Kitahara is the second ending theme, and is a perfectly mellow tune to end the OVA on. Capturing the pleasant, and soft nature of the protagonist underscored by it sadden vocals.

Area 88 offers compelling characters, great aerial combat sequences, and theme exploration that’ll make you think about the various side effect of war long after its over. The ending will leave some conflicted, but it’s an appropriate end with everything wrapping up nicely, and the character arcs are completed. It’s an OVA I would highly recommend anyone checking out whether they want some good aerial fights, good drama, or both. Area 88 can deliver those things in stride in three episodes.

Rating: 8/10

Anime-Breakdown: Blue Sonnet (1989) OVA

The first thing I think about when the word shojo comes up in the description of anything is Cardcaptor Sakura. It’s one of my favorite anime so the association is natural. To be more specific, I usually associate a shojo for stories that place more emphasis on romance than a shonen, or seinen manga from what little shojo manga I’ve read. The vague definition of what is considered shojo versus its origin can muddles what is properly label a shojo, and what is mislabeled that. Although, I ain’t here to discuss that, but I am here to write about a shojo anime OVA from the late 80s that contains heads exploding, spider robots, huge amount of gushing blood, and eventually disposal unit filled with dead fetuses. Yep, these things that can be found in violent shlock can be found in the five episode OVA Blue Sonnet.

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What exactly is Hot Dog Express about? I’m curious.

Storytelling in Blue Sonnet is as straightforwards as they come; good guys live ordinary lives, supernatural intervention occurs on heroes average life, and bad guys attempting to capture heroes. On one corner you have Lan Komatsuzaki, a quiet teenage girl who is thought to be controlled by the rage of the esper Akai Kiba (Crimson Fang), and the cyborg/esper Sonnet tasked to capture her. Both of these leading characters are decently developed in the five episode OVA. Sonnet character arc is the standard human recently turned cyborg rediscovery her humanity. There’s nothing here to spice things up besides the fact that Sonnet is also an esper. I might be someone who constantly harp on a story’s writing on a number of things, but I personally feel execution is more important than the ideas themselves. In Blue Sonnet, the character of Sonnet is handle well having each episode slowly questioning what she’s doing. Her rare interaction with other people also help in getting across these plot points.

Lan Komatsuzaki, as the OVA puts it, is just recently becoming a woman. The OVA partially tackle the matter of Lan growing up, but is mostly focus on her trying to control her powers, and learning about herself. She isn’t as developed as Sonnet since it feels like part of her character arc is incomplete. Only getting some answers to her mysterious background. Other characters in the series get minor development making events in the story slightly more engaging as two dimensional characters. Making the odd sight of seeing a human size cyborg battling spider robots, or a seeing a little kid holding a room filled with adults at gunpoint feel a bit more eventful.

It might be a shojo, but it also offers blood, and gore which it saves up for the final two episodes. Using it’s first three to develop the cast of characters to the best of it ability. Working for the most part to give out details on it cast, including some minor characters who don’t influence the story much. These three episodes also prepare the viewer for the insanity that occurs in the final two episodes which is basically a long rescue mission. These last two episodes is where it combines schlocky entertainment, and shojo convention in a surprisingly good mix. Taking a dark turn in what the villains intend to do with Lan, and eventually getting to a point where she ends up in a disposal unit filled with dead fetuses. It isn’t afraid to contrast the more realistic interaction in earlier episodes with dark moments like these. While nothing else is able to top the dead fetuses bit of grisly writing. What does it a good job at is structuring a buildup in first developing characters in the story earning it’s violent turned in the last two episodes.

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Hm, can’t say I disagree young lady.

Now the negatives of Blue Sonnet writing are easy to recognize. Suffering from talking a lot, and saying very little at the same time. Despite it having good pacing it feels like the writing linger on scenes longer than it should. Taking several minutes to establish information the viewer could easily pick up on. There’s also the character of Bird having a unearned importance in the story. Granted, Lan, and Sonnet developing convoluted romantic feelings for Bird is part of its Shojo DNA it in no way comes up naturally. It just appears, and you’re just meant to accept. Unlike the violent turn it takes, the romance aspect isn’t hinted at, or buildup too. There’s also the out of nowhere inclusion of humor after long stretches of being serious. Then there’s Dr. Merikus who is the villain, and the worst written character in the OVA. His motivation to capture Lan is poorly define resulting in him simply doing evil things for world domination. There’s hints in his dialogue he has a greater desire than simply capturing Lan, but that part of the story is poorly gotten across to the viewer.

The biggest downfall of the OVA is the incomplete state it feel it ends on. Being based on a manga that’s 19 volumes long ending it run in 1987. It’s unlikely that the five episode OVA which was released between 1989, and 1990 covered everything from its source material. This is strongly evident in the ending implying there’s between Bird, and Sonnet bond that was meant to build upon, and never did. Another instance of this is Lan herself suddenly being fond of Bird despite them hardly sharing any scenes together. Only in one episode do they share a scene together which is not romantic in the least. While the OVA is structure well it doesn’t use up all of its screen time wisely resulting in something that could have been than it ended up from a story perspective.zkg2m5

When it comes to the voice acting it was simply adequate. Only Hiromi Tsuru who voices Sonnet got a chance to stand out in her performance. The rest of the cast do fine, but only Hiromi stands out because she’s able to hit her dramatic parts successfully. Everyone else don’t add much to their characters in their performances. Also, it has some wonderful Engrish in the first episode which last briefly. The OVA is director by Takeyuki Kanda (director of the first six episodes of Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08Th MS Team) doesn’t impress in handling of the material. For the most part, the story plays out fine, but his inability to transition between tone is awkward. It explains the lack of balance in humor which is why Kanda hardly uses it because when he does it sticks out against the mostly serious tone.

Character designs look something from the early 80s, in particular Sonnet skin tight suit, and grasshopper inspired helmet is very cheesy looking in practice. The animation is done by Tatsunoko Production, and it’s dated. When moving, the animation lacks detail in the background art, and character movements are limited to being blocky. Visually resulting in a boring looking anime half the time. Only time the animation picks up are during the sequences, and the last two episodes where everything results in bloodshed. The same with the music being okay. No tracks stand out besides the opening song “What Is Love” by the band GO!. The music is easily the most forgettable part of the OVA.

Blue Sonnet is enjoyably schlocky entertainment. It might carry the label of shojo, but offers decently developed characters, a well structure story, and a little bit of blood & gore to satisfy an average viewer looking for something outside of what they expect from a shojo. The sums of it parts is better than the bigger picture itself, although it’s those parts that makes it stand out against shojo.


Rating: 6/10