Area 88 (エリア88 Eria Hachi-Jū-Hachi) is a Japanese manga series by Kaoru Shintani serialized between 1979 and 1986. The story is about a young pilot named Shin Kazama and his experiences at Area 88, a mercenary air force base secluded in the desert of a war torn country. Shin goes from head of his class at a world renowned aviation school dating the beautiful daughter of an airline president to a mercenary fighter pilot bound to Area 88 by a three-year contract that he was duped into signing by a jealous and competitive childhood friend. Determined to earn $1.5 million dollars to buy his way out of the obligation and return home, killing becomes second nature to Shin as he quickly rises to the top rank at Area 88. Overwrought with shame and self-loathing for what he has become, Shin begins to question whether he is still fighting for survival, or like his fellow mercenaries, for the sheer excitement and camaraderie of battle.
Area 88 was among the first three manga to be translated into English and published in North America. It has been adapted into two anime series, the first an OVA originally published in 1985, and the latest, a 12-episode anime television series, which premiered across Japan on the anime television network Animax in 2005, and a video game, U.N. Squadron. It is also a brand of model aircraft in Japan. While it appeals to aviation fans for its realistic depictions of aircraft and aerial combat, it has also been critically acclaimed for its strong character development and Shintani's poignant storytelling, combining action|action genre|action, tragedy, romance, and comedy. In 1985, the manga received the Shogakukan Manga Award for shōnen.
Area 88 takes place in the late 1970s/early 1980s and is largely set in a war-embroiled Middle Eastern country called the Kingdom of Asran. The war uses mercenary fighter pilots, with its headquarters at a secret desert air force base called Area 88. Up-and-coming airline pilot Shin Kazama gets tricked into signing up by his "friend" Satoru Kanzaki. Facing execution for deserting from Area 88, Shin reluctantly turns into a fighter pilot and attempts to serve his three year contract out.
Area 88 attracts all kinds of people with all kinds of assorted and often sordid pasts. Among the other mercenaries are Mick Simon, an American who couldn't adjust to normal life after his tour of duty in the Vietnam War. Mick becomes Shin's best friend at Area 88. Another familiar sight at Area 88 is McCoy, a greedy weapons dealer who sells everything the mercenaries need from toilet paper to the planes that the mercenaries fly in battle. The commander of Area 88 is Saki Vashutal, who is actually a prince of the nation of Aslan, though his royal heritage means nothing there. Also prominent on the base are the war photographer Rocky (presented as Makoto Shinjou in the 2004 anime), the Dane Greg Gates (later featured in the video game adaptation) and the numerous pilots with whom Shin flies (most of whom die over the course of the series, often in the issue in which they were introduced). Though the series focuses mostly on Shin, other characters (notably Rocky and Mick) did have their own individual storylines.
There are only three ways to leave Area 88: Survive three years (highly unlikely), buy out your contract for one and a half million dollars (difficult as a mercenary must pay for all his expenses including stiff fines for turning down hazardous missions) or desertion (a capital offense if caught). With each enemy plane brought down, Shin faces his shifting acceptance of the violence and killing that fills every day, as well as suppressing his feelings of wrong-doing.
Area 88 F-8 vs MiG-21