Area 88 TV Vol. 4
I'm afraid we've seen the last of Area 88. Admittedly, that's what I thought many years ago when the Area 88 comic book was unceremoniously dumped during its American run by Viz. Though I enjoyed the OVA series, I never expected that the title would be resurrected into a 12-episode television show. So why the pessimism? It's because of how the TV show ends. I thought the first volume was good, and the second and third volumes wowed me, but the final volume is a bit of a letdown. Once again, an Area 88 production concludes with a non-ending, and though it varies a bit from the other incarnations, the TV show's closing is altogether too familiar.
The first episode of three on the final disc is another side story of a pilot and his mentor winding up on opposite sides of the conflict. (To be honest, that sounds right, but it's been about six weeks since I saw the show, and the episode left so little impact on me that I can't be certain.) Things change dramatically, however, in the two-part conclusion. Shin's earned enough money that he's about to be able to pay his way out of his tour of service at the base. Shin and his plans quickly unravel, however, and Shin is devastated by the thought of never seeing his love Ryoko again. His determination to get home no matter what the cost puts his friends in the awkward position of having to chase him down in their crosshairs.
Don't misunderstand me - the ending of Area 88 TV is not terrible by any means, and I still recommend the series on the whole. The fight sequences here are of a similar caliber to what has gone before, and for those who've only seen this incarnation of the story, this disc is a must-see. Although I wasn't impressed by episode 10 at all, the conclusion is certainly satisfactory, and the denouement with Ryoko works well. I'm certainly not dismissing the show, especially since Shin also starts to act in this volume more like the character I knew from the '80s.
However, volume 4 of Area 88 TV suffers because for those of us who have been fans for a while, there's an awful lot of unnecessary retread going on. With so much material from the manga that we've never seen, it would have been nice to have an ending that didn't reproduce in some fashion what's been animated before. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is that Area 88 continues to be completely open-ended. By the looks of it, the producers of the TV show must have hoped to continue on with an additional season or two...if not, why not finally finish this story? For Americans, Area 88 has remained unresolved for nearly 20 years. If nothing else, it would have been more satisfying to have a new piece of the storyline animated. For newbies, this is fine, but those of us old-timers will likely find it disappointing.
All told, I am still very glad that Area 88 was revived. The concluding volume isn't as good as the rest, but that's a problem for many series. I still wish I knew the final fate of Shin and Ryoko, but that will have to wait. Until then, I will enjoy the great dogfights of Area 88 TV and hope for another incarnation of this seminal title in the near future.
Area 88 TV Vol. 4 -- violence -- B