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By Daulton Dickey | August 26, 2005

Shin Kazama is an enigmatic Japanese pilot turned mercenary who’s been tricked into joining a group of mercenary pilots engaged in a war inside the Kingdom of Aslam. Receiving money for every enemy fighter jet he blasts out of the sky, he’s intent on earning the 1.5 million dollars one is required to buy out their contract before their three-year term is served.

“Area 88” presents us with a few themes so common in anime that they’ve become cliché. We’re treated to a mysterious protagonist who appears to be selfish and concerned with nothing but his own being, but who, as the show progresses, we learn that his seemingly selfish acts are actually defensive maneuvers to protect and conceal a deep, personal wound. Though the first three episodes of “Area 88” don’t reveal those scars, they do a good job of foreshadowing them.

Through the first three episodes presented here, we’re introduced to a ragtag group of mercenaries, some young, some old, some experienced, some not, who risk their lives and limbs fighting for a country that is not theirs, for causes they don’t believe in, and, in some cases, for money they’ll never see.

The show is structured around a photojournalist who has come to the mysterious Area 88 air force base to document the inner working of the mercenary camp. A Japanese man, he immediately latched onto the enigmatic Shin and attempts to turn him into a hero of sorts, while harboring secrets of his own.

These episodes are slow paced. Not a whole lot goes on here and pertinent information is given sparingly. To make up for the series’ lack of progress, though, we’re treated to superb animation and some truly spectacular aerial sequences. Following the recent trend of simulating cell animation in sophisticated computer software programs, we’re introduced to fluid animation and 3D fighter jets and environments. Aerial dogfights are on a large scale and filled with suspense, drama, excitement, and, last but certainly not least, spectacle.

But the pacing ultimately proves the show’s greatest weakness. In this early stage, they show could go a few different directions, but it will lead to nowhere if its creators don’t pick up the pace and broaden the overall story arch. These three episodes are an adequate introduction to the show, however, and any die-hard anime fan should check them out. But only time will tell if the show as a whole is worth watching.

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