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Manga / Area 88

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"It's not just a job, it's an indenture."
Tagline for a showing of Area 88 at the MIT Anime club.

Area 88 is a manga by Kaoru Shintani that ran from 1979-1986. It is the story of Shin Kazama, a brilliant Japanese pilot tricked into enlisting in the Foreign Legion mercenary air force of the ambiguously Middle Eastern or North African kingdom of Aslan, sometime in the late 70s or early 80s. Aslan is in the middle of a bloody civil war between two brothers contending for the throne, and Shin and the other pilots at the titular airbase are at the front lines of the war, fighting to defend the existing government from the rebellion.

The story starts with the arrival of a Japanese photojournalist (Goh "Rocky" Mutsugi in the manga and OVA; Makoto Shinjo in the TV series) at the isolated base. He has been pursuing rumours of a Japanese mercenary pilot and finds him along with some great photographs. Shin's story is told as he remembers how he came to be trapped in this hell on earth.

Shin and his childhood best friend, Satoru Kanzaki, were trainee pilots for Yamato Airlines, and both of them seemed to be headed for the top. Shin had even caught the eye of the beautiful daughter of the CEO, Ryoko Tsugumo. But one day, while celebrating the end of a training trip to France, a jealous Kanzaki tricks a drunken Shin into signing a contract to join Aslan's military. He is picked up by 'recruiters' the next morning. Now he's forced to risk his life every day in a war that means nothing to him, and he has only three ways out:

  1. Serve and survive the three years of his contract.
  2. Buy out the contract by earning $1.5 million from the bounties on the targets he destroys — while also having to pay for his fuel, ammunition, and repairs to his fighter. And new fighters, more than once.
  3. Desert from the base... which is in the middle of the desert, and face pursuit and execution if caught.

Along the way, he must deal with the blood on his hands and the horrors of war.

Among Shin's comrades at the base are: Mickey Simon, an American Vietnam War veteran who flies an F-14 (until it was shot down in the manga); Greg Gates, a masochistic Dane; and Saki Vashtal, the base commander, and a member of Aslan's royal family. These are the longest lived of the pilots still at the base.

Back in Japan, Kanzaki begins courting Ryoko in Shin's place. He also rises through the ranks of Yamato Airlines, eventually managing to acquire control from Ryoko's father through an underhanded business deal and stock purchased by proxies. Ryoko, by chance, sees a photo of Shin in a magazine and embarks on a quest to find him. Kanzaki becomes determined to either stop Ryoko or ensure Shin's death.

Area 88 was one of the earliest manga to be released Stateside. Eclipse Comics and VIZ Media published the series as single chapters each about the size of standard comic book, but stopped after 42 chapters (perhaps a quarter of the whole series), though it continued (but was not completed) in the Animerica magazine. A fan translation of the final twelve issues is available here.

Shintani started his career as an assistant to Leiji Matsumoto, and the influence clearly shows in his character designs and more humourous panels.

A three-episode OVA was produced in 1985; the first two episodes were also released as a compilation movie in Japan. Central Park Media released the OVAs on VHS, but only released the first episode on DVD before their license expired. ADV Films finally released both the compilation movie and the final OVA on DVD in 2006.

There was also a 12-episode TV series remake released in 2004. ADV also released this version. Since then, ADV disbanded into a group of different companies, none of which retained the license, meaning both the OVA and the TV series are currently unlicensed in the English-speaking world.

There were also videogames based on it. Not to be confused with the 2014 manga Area 51.

Area 88 contains examples of:

  • 2D Visuals, 3D Effects: The fighters in the TV series. Varies somewhat, they actually are cel-shaded.
  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality:
    • Even at the time of this story's setting, the days of the Foreign Legion just accepting anyone off the street, No Questions Asked, were long over. There would have been no story if the Foreign Legion worked in this manga the same way it does in real life. In real life, it's not so easy to be tricked into signing up for the Foreign Legion. They have to actually "accept" you before you sign anything. In the real world, they would have noticed that the man who brought them a signed contract isn't the same man that they are picking up to collect. Signing your contract is usually done a few minutes before you leave, or just after you get there, and usually done in a Legion office, not in a bar with no witnesses or notary present. However, this makes sense given that...
    • The Aslan Foreign Legion doesn't exactly comport itself like a real-life foreign legion. The French Foreign Legion, for example, absolutely would not tolerate a good half of what goes on in the book, both morally and certainly in terms of professionalism and performance.
    • Planes and ammunition don't cost a whole lot in this story. Granted, they are using dated aircraft much of the time, but in real life, even older aircraft will cost at least a few million dollars. Missiles each can cost tens of thousands of dollars, some (like the Sparrow or Sidewinder) a few hundred thousand apiecenote . So for the real world price of a replacement, missiles, and ammo, Shin could have easily bought out his 1.5 million dollar contract many times over. It also raises the question: since mercenaries are required to buy all their equipment, how was Shin, a mere airline student, able to afford to purchase the plane and armaments he started with in the first place?
    • In the manga, Area 81 is destroyed by a nuclear missile. Later in the manga, Area 88 is abandoned after Farina's nuclear weapon detonates nearby, forcing the pilots and staff to relocate to an underground base. No matter how small Aslan might be, the successful use of nukes would have made the news worldwide, turning all eyes in the world to Aslan, and likely putting an end to their civil war, or at the very least getting bigger world players like the US or the UN involved. Nuclear weapons have only ever been used in war twice: at the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, prior to the end of World War II. The anime adaptation, instead, depicts Area 81 as being wiped out by the Wolfpack squadron in a conventional bombing/strafing run.
    • A competent Mafia Don would have handled Kanzaki's assassination request by having him go through an intermediary underling, not directly Farina himself. The real Mafia has levels of insulation to keep the boss from being directly accountable for any such criminal activities.
    • Given what Abdael was trying to accomplish, a putsch or a palace coup would have made far more sense. The common people would have most certainly gotten behind any plans to make their country a lot richer. He clearly has plenty of military supporters, so why not just directly make a play at the capital to seize Aslan from his brother before the government even realizes what's going on? Of course, this would have involved forming his own political party, making speeches, and drawing the support of the common people with his vision for the future (after all, it worked for Hitler). But these are not as dramatic and drawn out as a civil war.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Shin is a blonde in the manga, TV series, and video game, but brunette in the OVA. Ryoko's hair also turns from lavender to more pink.
  • Airstrike Impossible: That base with the Fang and the canyon mission, among others. The mercenaries are often assigned such missions to keep regular air force casualties down.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Near the end of the manga, Saki finds Abdael dying outside of Soria's tomb. Abdael tells Saki that Soria was put in a cryogenic chamber after Rishar's birth, when she was near death. Abdael dies thinking that his beloved wife died when the tomb was set on fire. Saki carries his father's body into the tomb, then shoots himself.
    Abdael: Saki ... I wonder what on earth we have been doing ...
    • In manga that did not make it stateside, Nguyen tells Mickey about his traumatic birth and violent life while he is dying. Mickey is moved to tears.
    • After Mickey fought against his ex-wingman in the TV series.
  • Alternate Character Reading: Shin and Makoto have names written with the same character in the TV series. Both men comment on it in the first episode.
  • Alternate Continuity: The manga, OVA, and TV series all have different endings and plotlines. The video games have no continuity.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: In the 2004 TV anime, Shin speaks only when necessary and has a blunted affect. He's socially awkward, as seen with how he interacts with Ryoko in flashbacks. Finally, he's aloof and detached from the other pilots at Area 88, and only slightly less so with friends such as Kim and Mickey. He demonstrated this behavior before his time at Area 88, so it can't be attributed to depression or war trauma.
    • In the TV anime, Mickey has a somewhat bipolar temperament. He can be cheerful and gregarious in some situations, and extremely angry at other times. He's prone to violence, as demonstrated when he punches Makoto Shinjou in the first episode and beats him within an inch of his life in the last episode. It's not clear if this is Mickey's default personality or a result of his war trauma.
    • In all continuities, Kanzaki demonstrates a complete lack of empathy, disregard for the lives and rights of others, disregard for the law, a lack of remorse, and a talent for lying and deception. He fits the DSM-IV diagnosis for antisocial personality disorder, but he is never given a diagnosis in the story.
  • Anyone Can Die: Area 88 has a very very high casualty rate.
  • Armies Are Evil: In all continuities, many of the Area 88 mercenaries are greedy, amoral men who have no qualms about participating in a bloody civil war. Similarly, anti-government soldiers are shows slaughtering Bedouin civilians in the manga.
    • Downplayed with the pro-monarchy forces at Area 85, who are depicted as patriotic.
  • Arms Dealer: McCoy and Farina.
  • Artistic License – Pharmacology: In Vietnam, Mickeys base is unsuccessfully attacked by one of their own in a Skyraider plane. One of the soldiers wants to go and kill him, but Mickey stops him, because the pilot is high on heroin. Heroin is an opiate which makes you sluggish, tired and apathetic. To go on a crazy kill rampage you'll have to be taking PCP or something at least.
  • Attack Drone: The Harriers and F/A-18 Hornets launched by the desert carrier (see Military Mashup Machine below) and the tanks supporting it are all robotic.
  • Bedouin Rescue Service: Rocky is picked up by one after his chopper crashes in the manga. Sorta...he has to fight the chief, who suspects him of being a spy for the anti-government forces that killed half his tribe. Rocky wins with a Barehanded Blade Block, badly cutting his hand in the process.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: In the final issue of the manga, Kanzaki dies in an aerial duel with Shin as Julianna gives birth to Kanzaki's son.
  • Bittersweet Ending: At the end of the manga, Project 4 has been defeated and Kanzaki is dead. Aslan's civil war is over, and the country is about to convert to a modern republic. However, the civil war has cost countless lives, and Aslan will need years to rebuild. Most of the main characters, including Saki, Mickey, Sela, Roundel, and Greg, are dead. Ryoko and Shin reunite, but Shin's amnesia means that years of his memory are missing.
  • Bland-Name Product: Yamato Airlines (not Japan Airlines).
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: The trio of African mercenaries who specialize in hunting down deserters is known as the "Escape Killers". One speculates they actually mean "Escapee Killers" but it still sounds awkward. This is probably why the VIZ/Eclipse translation just decides to call them "The Enforcers".
  • Blood from the Mouth: Used in the manga and OVA to denote serious injury among the pilots.
  • Bodyguard Babes: Saki's private soldiers in the manga.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The OVA; the Area 88 pilots refuse the chance to flee the conquering rebel forces in favor of one last battle.
  • Boom, Headshot!: In the third episode of the OVA, one of Shin's subordinates loses his sight and goes into a berserk rampage. A 20mm round happens to fly through his head for a Boom, Headshot!.
  • Broken Aesop:
    • The manga shows how war trauma can devastate the lives of soldiers long after the war has ended, then at the end of the manga, Easy Amnesia allows Shin to forget his war trauma and live happily ever after with Ryoko.
    • Ryoko's ongoing heartache over Shin shows readers what happens when an immature and idealistic person assigns too much importance to a "puppy love" situation and proceeds to love a shadow. At the end of the manga, after Shin has broken Ryoko's heart several times, his amnesia resets the relationship, and the two live happily ever after.
  • Calling Your Attacks: In a slightly odd example, brevity codes (Fox Two, Guns, and Splash X, most often) were added to the English dub of the TV series, possibly to fit American expectations from other media. The Japanese dialogue omits them.
  • Canon Foreigner: Makoto and Kitori from the TV series.
    • Kitori may have been an expy of Sela from the manga.
  • Cast Full of Crazy: In the manga, Shin is clearly depressed over his involuntary servitude and later exhibits symptoms of PTSD after his release, which he soothes with alcohol. Mickey has untreated PTSD, which he veils with a friendly exterior. Sela is not coping with her father's death in a healthy manner. Hoover is wracked with survivor's guilt. Nguyen is a sociopathic soldier and a sadist. Saki has a death wish. Abdael becomes a drug addict to cope with the events of the story. Kanzaki is a sociopath who has never truly processed the trauma of his mother's suicide. Ryoko has an unhealthy obsession with Shin, which leads her to make irresponsible decisions.
  • Cast Full of Pretty Boys: The manga, thanks to its shojo art style. Shin, Mickey, Saki, Rishar, Kim ... it's easy to lose count.
  • Captain Crash: In the manga (and to a lesser extent, the OVA), Shin manages to crash just about every plane he flies: the Crusader, the Draken, the Kfir, and the Tiger II all wind up in pieces. And that's just in the part that managed to get Stateside.
  • Civil War: Aslan is in the throes of a civil war between pro-government forces led by King Zak and anti-government forces led by his brother, Prince Abdael.
  • Colonel Badass: Saki is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Aslan air force.
  • Coming in Hot: While it's not an aircraft carrier, pilots regularly try to land damaged fighters at Area 88. It typically doesn't end well; about the best that happened in the 2003 series was that Kitori went off the runway, collapsed her nose gear, and damaged her Mirage. The worst was a classic Disaster Dominoes when a damaged A-4 tried to land without jettisoning his ordnance: he blew up on the runway, spewing live 250lb-bombs everywhere, which also blew up, destroying most of the base's supply stores.
    • Greg's first scene in the original anime is literally this, as his A-4 Skyhawk comes in as a smoking, burning mess, and he has a head wound from broken cockpit glass. He manages to make a complete three point landing and taxi to a stop with his drop tanks still attached.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: Many of the Area 88 mercenaries accept that war entails danger and death. For example, when Mario dies in the manga, Shin mourns for him, while Hoover urges him not to take the tragedy so seriously. Saki is resigned to the deaths of his pilots in all continuities.
    • Subverted in that several pilots do grieve for their fallen comrades and reflect on the absurdity of war. For example, Hassan weeps when a friend dies at Area 85. Greg weeps when Jensen and Campbell die in combat, lamenting that they died for nothing. Mickey is distressed when he learns that Shin has been shot down, and weeps later in the manga when Nguyen dies.
  • Conflict Ball: In the manga, it seems implausible to have Shin enter temporary psychosis because he learns that Kanzaki is flying a civilian plane in the vicinity of Aslan. Nor is it plausible to have him attack said plane, then attack Saki and Mickey after he's detained back at Area 88.
  • Cool Boat: In manga issues that did not make it stateside, Aslan government forces acquire an aircraft carrier. Mickey is right at home.
  • Cool Plane: Quite a few drawn from the Real Life list, though it should be remembered that the F-15, F-16, F-18, and A-10 were the latest aircraft and had just entered service at the time.
  • Cool Shades, almost to the point of Sunglasses at Night: Saki in the TV series; other characters flirt with them in other continuities, including Sawa in the manga.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Kanzaki later in the series.
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • Ryoko goes flying in a Cessna with Shin. While flying, they hit an air pocket, dropping a few hundred feet in the air. Ryoko pries one of Shin's hands off the controls!
    • Also Saki for putting a man with no depth perception in charge of leading jets through a narrow canyon.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Asran is a nation stuck in a Civil War between a (mostly) western-style Monarchy which is selling oil to the West and is dead against the Soviets, against an anti-government group which has a set of people - led by a spiritually-inclined member of the Asran Royal Family, no less - demanding a return to their roots and a more traditional and representative government based on the old ways, and hates the West. It's also set in and around The '70s. Hmm...
  • Dodge by Braking and Aerial Canyon Chase
  • Downer Ending: The OVA shows two, because one is not enough. Shin, free at last, is so unfit for civilian life that he forfeits his romantic plans on Ryoko and returns to Area 88 in his warplane...just as, after the war is lost, his companions charge into a last desperate battle. The tragedy of Ryoko, left alone against Kanzaki, remains implied.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: It's hinted in the TV series that Shin does this privately. In manga issues that did not make it stateside, Shin drinks heavily to cope with his war trauma after leaving Area 88 and returning to Paris.
    • In the manga, Greg does this once after the deaths of several fellow pilots.
    • In the manga, Kanzaki gets drunk after a Yamato Airlines plane crashed into Tokyo bay.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first few issues of the manga fell victim to this. In the first issue, Mickey is much more boisterous and older-looking than in later issues. McCoy is indifferent to the mercenary pilots' safety in early issues (such as when he sold defective Sidewinders to Boris), but shows warmth and concern for them as the series progressed. When Hoover is first introduced in the Wolf Pack storyline, he is just as greedy and amoral as the other mercenaries (such as when he was among pilots trying to get free fuel and maintenance from Saki), in sharp contrast to his maturity later on. Greg is an idiot ball holder in the incident with Gold's documents early on, but is depicted as competent and insightful later in the manga.
  • Easily Forgiven:
    • In the manga, Shin menaces a civilian plane, strikes Saki, and attacks Mickey during a brief psychotic episode. His actions would be grounds for a court martial in any other military, but he's released from a holding cell at Area 88 without charges once his psychosis subsides. Mickey and Saki quickly forgive him, even though the blow he dealt to Saki's head damages Saki's eyesight and requires Saki to seed medical attention abroad. To boot, Ryoko isn't troubled by the fact that her boyfriend shot at the civilian plane she and her friends were on.
    • During Shin's incarceration in a holding cell during his psychosis, Mickey warns Saki not to execute Shin, lest Saki experience an "accident" during combat. Saki has little reaction to a pilot under his command threatening his life, and Mickey would remain his trusted comrade for the remainder of the manga.
    • Mario nearly causes a mid-air collision, ignores a direct order from Hoover to stay at Area 88 during a Wolfpack raid, and nearly gets Hoover, Mickey, and Shin killed when he joins their aerial battle uninvited. However, he's never disciplined for his bad behavior.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: In manga that did not make it stateside, Area 88 is abandoned after Farina's nuclear weapon detonates nearby. (It's reoccupied later.) The pilots and staff are relocated to a subterranean base inside a mountain.
  • Elite Mooks: The MiG-23s in the 2004 series.
  • Evil Counterpart: In the 2004 series, the rebels began to recruit pro-rebel mercenaries of their own including ex-US Navy pilot Patrick Reed.
  • Evil Cripple: Farina, who is confined to a wheelchair.
  • Evil Old Folks: Farina in the manga and OVA.
  • Eyes Always Shut: Roundel in the TV series; Hoover and Ryoko's father in the manga.
  • Fanservice: Ryoko gets a nude scene in the OVA, not to mention several nude scenes in the manga. Several other female characters, including Taeko and Sela, deliver fan service in the manga too.
    • Mr. Fanservice: Several male characters have shirtless scenes in the manga, namely Shin and Mickey. Mickey is sometimes shown with his shirt partially unbuttoned.
  • Fear-Induced Idiocy: While flying through the canyon, one of the pilots got scared, flew higher and was shot down by enemy air defense.
  • Fighter-Launching Sequence: Shown from time to time in all continuities whenever a large-scale sortie is ordered. Direct attacks on Area 88 itself are relatively rare.
  • Flashback
  • Foil: In the final OVA installment, Shin encounters two characters fitting this trope. First, there's Nguyen, another Asian pilot who enjoys committing acts of brutality and calls Shin out when he objects. Then, Shin gets called in to visit another Japanese pilot who unwillingly signed on with Aslan and is on death row for an escape attempt; he requested to see the face of his countryman who agreed to go along with this before he died.
    • Nguyen himself serves as a foil to Charlie in the OVA. Both Nguyen and Charlie antagonize Shin, but in radically different ways; Charlie acts nicely towards Shin off battle, but he's looking for the opportunity to kill Shin in battle; on the other hand Nguyen is rude and likes to harass Shin off battle about Shin's "shooting allies from behind" (in reference to Shin's Mercy Kill of Jess), but in battle Nguyen focuses on the actual enemies and never ever attempts to attack Shin.
    • In the manga, Mario serves as a foil for Shin. Mario is a cocky, arrogant pilot who thinks battle is glorious, whereas Shin sees war as anything but. Mario and Hoover are also foils for each other, in that Mario is an inexperienced attention whore who isn't as skilled as he thinks he is, while Hoover is a skilled aerial commander who doesn't trumpet his abilities.
    • In Shin's dreams, Hoover and Ryoko serve as foils to each other. While unconscious in Farina's land carrier, Shin dreams that Hoover is inviting him into the darkness while Ryoko is begging him to stay in this world. In manga that didn't make it stateside, Shin dreams that Hoover's ghost has entered his room while Ryoko is sleeping by his side. For Shin, Hoover seems to symbolize the pull of death and war, while Ryoko represents the pull of civilian life.
  • Foreshadowing: Twice in the OVA, and both times involving Mickey.
    • First when he explains his own past to Shin and why he chose to stay serving as a fighter pilot in Area 88, because he became unfit to civilian life after flying in the Vietnam War. He remarks to Shin, "once you smell the blood and gunsmoke, you can never turn back". In the OVA this is exactly what happens to Shin, who, at the verge of finally returning to Japan to resume his life with Ryoko, realizes how war had changed him, and decides to fly back to Area 88, forsaking his plans with Ryoko, the Yamato Airlines and everything else.
    • The second time is after a large air battle in the beginning of Part 3 of the OVA, when the mercs return back from the battle and relax for a while at the base; Mickey casually remarks that no matter how hard do the Area 88 pilots hit them, the rebel forces always seem to come back stronger. In the end, the rebels win, Saki's side loses the war and he, Mickey and his comrades are implied to have died fighting in a desperate last charge against vastly superior enemy forces.
  • Germanic Depressive: Hoover Kippenburg in the manga, who blamed himself for the accidental deaths of several pilots during a training exercise back in Europe. Played with in that he can have a pleasant demeanor.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Saki has a large X-shaped scar on his forehead. He carved it himself as penance for certain actions early in the war. On the evil side, Nguyen has a face full of scars.
  • Guy in Back: Mickey flies his F-14 solo because he never uses the long-range weapons and therefore doesn't need an RIO. Something similar might be in effect for the F-4s that fly out of Area 88.
    • Mickey actually does carry and fire Sparrows in the 2003 series, so apparently his F-14A has been modified to allow it.
    • One episode has Rocky flying in the back of one of the F-4s to get combat footage with his camera (works better in the Manga than the Anime).
  • Handicapped Badass: "Iron Hand" Campbell, who flies his jet with a hook hand and a prosthetic leg.
  • Heel–Face Turn: In manga issues that did not make it stateside, Julianna was romantically involved with Kanzaki and a member of the Project 4 arms network. However, when she discovered Soria's cryogenic chamber, she could not bring herself to harm the unconscious Soria. Julianna made it appear that Soria's tomb had been burned, then fled with Soria's cryogenic chamber and abandoned Project 4.
    • Also in manga issues that did not make it stateside, Sela. Originally a Project 4 mercenary pilot, she abandons Project 4 and joins the Area 88 mercenaries, even becoming Mickey's love interest.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Mickey and Shin develop this kind of dynamic. Most visible in the manga, when (after a Shin has a momentary Heroic BSoD during an encounter with an airliner carrying both Ryoko and Kanzaki) Mickey gives Saki (who is considering executing Shin) a very thinly veiled threat about the consequences of doing so — i.e., friendly fire.
    • Ryoko and Taeko as well.
  • Highly-Conspicuous Uniform: Several of the pilots wear brightly-colored flight suits in the OVA and TV series.
  • High-Speed Missile Dodge: Doesn't always work and the G forces involved wind up killing Mario.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Base quartermaster McCoy sells everything from fighter jets to toilet paper — and is not above shady practices. Like leaving Rocky's bag out in the sun to spoil his film, or selling defective Sidewinders at $20 each.
  • Human Popsicle: In manga issues that did not make it stateside, Soria (Saki's mother) was placed in a cryogenic chamber until a treatment for her blood cancer became available. The public was told that she died in childbirth.
  • Hypocrite: The manga is brimming with characters with a dangerous lack of self-awareness.
    • Saki waxes poetic about his love for his country, explaining to Mickey that the Vashtal royal family must care for the country and its people. However, Saki has no qualms about using nuclear weapons in his country's civil war and supporting an economic system that keeps many Aslanians poor and uneducated.
    • Mickey was traumatized by the horrors of combat during his deployment in the Vietnam War. Knowing this, he nevertheless works as a mercenary in a bloody civil war, thereby inflicting the horrors of combat on others.
    • McCoy grieves for the deaths of Area 88's pilots, but has no moral qualms about selling arms and profiting off death.
    • Hoover was grief-stricken by the deaths of several young pilots during a NATO training exercise, a tragedy for which he blames himself. To escape his painful past, he becomes a mercenary in a senseless civil war, killing enemy pilots every day without batting an eyelash.
  • I Don't Know Mortal Kombat: From the flashback scenes with Ryoko. Shin screams like a little girl on roller coasters (Ryoko even calls him on it).
  • Informed Attribute: Aslan is said to be a poor country, hence it's need to hire already trained mercenaries. However, in the manga, they seem to be able to easily afford at various times, 10 KFIR fighters, Saki's personal F-15 Eagle, a B-1 Bomber, and an Aircraft carrier. Also, at the beginning of the Wolfpack story arc when all the bases planes are destroyed by a suprise attack, when Saki is trying to convince his ten handpicked pilots to obey his orders unquestionably for two months, he offers them free replacement aircraft (the Kfirs), the usual prize money for kills, and to pay for all of their fuel, ammo, and maintenance costs for that period. For a country that prides itself in not capitalizing on its potentially lucrative oil deposits, Aslan's got a lot of money to spend on state of the art military hardware, many of which, at the time, would have been out of the reach the of even the more established nations in the area, such as Egypt, Chad, and Libya.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: At one point in the manga and OVA, Shin and Mickey shoot bombs off the underside of an airliner. While flying upside down to keep their tails from hitting it. In an episode of the TV series, the entire base is nearly locked down by a single sniper. Shin also shoots down an Atoll missile with his fighter's cannon. Kitori lampshades the improbability of this with her wondering remark after she lands. And then does it herself later on.
    • That being said, targeting the Atoll with his guns was an act of desperation on Shin's part; arguably, it was more luck than skill. Ditto for Kitori.
  • Improbable Hairstyle: Several fighter pilots have perfectly coiffed hair that is unaffected by their use of helmets. Shin's gravity-defying bangs, Mickey's pompadour, and Mario's thick black hair should be smashed and matted by the combat helmets they wear, but their hair always looks flawless when they remove their helmets.
  • In It for Life: Technically, the mercenaries sign contracts binding them into three years of service. In practice, most mercenaries die before they complete their three year terms, bringing this trope into effect. Even pilots who complete their three year terms find that they cannot escape Area 88. For example, Charlie left Area 88 alive, but later returned to Area 88 when Farina ordered him to assassinate Shin. In manga that didn't make it stateside, Carlisle completed his three year term, but was murdered shortly after returning to the U.K.
  • Jerkass: Kanzaki in all versions and Makoto Shinjo (the TV series' photographer)
    • The jury's out on Makoto, who ends up turning on Kanzaki and ratting him out to Ryoko.
  • Karmic Death: Nguyen, who killed an ejected enemy pilot with gunfire and died the same way after running out of ammo for his guns.
    • In the manga, Mario was an arrogant aerobatic pilot who constantly bragged about his skill. He died while performing an outer loop for which his aerobatic training failed to prepare him.
    • In the last issue of the manga, Shin kills Kanzaki in an aerial duel in his capacity as a mercenary pilot. This was fitting, since Kanzaki tricked Shin into signing a mercenary contract in the first place.
  • Liberty Over Prosperity: In the OVA, Saki tells Shin that his grandfather was a progressive, but objected to using foreign capital to develop Aslan.
    • In the manga, Saki explains to Mickey that Aslan doesn't export its oil because of the problems that would erupt from foreign capital.
    • Abdael rejects this approach. Part of the reason why he initiated Aslan's civil war was because he wanted to use foreign capital to develop Aslan.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: In the manga and OVA, Aslan's pro-monarchy forces are not the good guys. The Aslan monarchy lives in luxury while Aslan struggles with poverty and a poor educational system. Saki is willing to use nuclear weapons in the country's civil war. Many of the mercenaries at Area 88 are amoral or outright sociopathic. However, members of Aslan's monarchy have sympathetic moments, as do many of the mercenaries. With the exception of Rishar, the anti-government forces are depicted as much worse, committing atrocities against civilians and collaborating with Farina's mafia.
  • Lost Aesop: The initial message in the manga is that war is senseless, destructive, and traumatizing to everyone it touches. In manga issues that did not make it stateside, however, when pro-monarchy and anti-government forces team up to war against Project 4, it's depicted as glorious.
  • Love Hurts: Shin and Ryoko are deeply pained at being apart. Ironically, Shin abandons Ryoko in favor of returning to Area 88 in the OVA, and breaks her heart several times in manga issues that did not make it stateside.
    • After Mickey returned from Vietnam, his then-girlfriend Tracy could see that he was not the same man. In a manga flashback scene, she delivers a tearful exposition about the tormented man he's become. They break off their engagement, and Mickey becomes a mercenary soon after.
    • In the manga and OVA, Mickey feels very conflicted when he meets Tracy and her new husband, years after their breakup.
    • In the manga, Sawa is heartbroken when Taeko turns down his marriage proposal and slaps him.
  • Lowered Recruiting Standards: The Aslan foreign legion is desperate for fighting men, so it tends to overlook flaws in potential mercenaries, such as inexperience, criminal backgrounds, or psychopathology.
    • They're not too concerned about lack of consent (in Shin's case) or age (in Kim's case) either.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: The planes, at least in the OVA; they're usually destroyed in unique and lovingly animated ways.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: some head-on large engagements in the OVA look remarkably like one, but most missiles are shown being shot at most four at a time from specific planes and followed in their individual flight.
  • Mecha Show
  • Mid-Season Upgrade: Shin originally pilots an F-8 Crusader, but eventually upgrades to the F-20A Tigershark.
  • Mildly Military: All iterations of Area 88 qualify. The Area 88 mercenaries are undisciplined and insubordinate compared to real-life mercenaries. And what's with the technicolor flight suits?
  • Military Mashup Machine / Base on Wheels: In the manga, the Mafia builds an aircraft carrier on tracks that can submerge itself in the desert sand. The arcade game features the land carrier and a couple of Airborne Aircraft Carriers.
  • Mistaken for Servant: Ryoko first meets Shin at his flight school and takes him for a skycap, asking him to stow her luggage.
  • Mood Whiplash: The OVA goes from dogfighting to a date with Ryoko on a roller coaster, among other examples.
  • Multinational Team: Pilots hail from all over, though primarily from NATO nations. American, Danish, West German, British, and Italian pilots all show up. Also a Vietnamese (albeit from the former South) and a few Africans at one point. In the 2003 series, Kitori shows up to represent Aslan and Kim from India. Shin is in Area 88 to represent Japan.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse by way of The Uriah Gambit: Kanzaki tricking Shin into signing the Area 88 contract. Doesn't help him much with Ryoko, though.
  • Mysterious Mercenary Pursuer: The Enforcers in the manga and OVA.
  • Nebulous Evil Organization: Project 4.
  • Noble Fugitive: King Zak at the end of the OVA.
  • Noodle People: Most noticeable in the manga, though some of it also carries over to the OVA. Most of the adult characters are tall, rail-thin, and long-legged, sometimes ridiculously so. Shintani did start as an assistant to Leiji Matsumoto, after all.
  • The Not-Love Interest: Shin and Mickey have this dynamic in the manga. The two men are frequently in each other's company and confide in each other. Mickey protects Shin on several occasions, and when he hears that Shin has been shot down, he immediately rushes off to find him. Shin's relationship with Mickey seems much deeper than his relationship with Ryoko.
  • Nuke 'em: In the manga, nuclear weapons are used against Aslan bases by the rebels at least twice (the missile aimed at Area 88 was shot down by Shin), and near the end of the American run, Saki is willing to resort to these.
  • Occupiers Out of Our Country: In later manga issues that did not make it stateside, pro-monarchy and anti-government forces both drive Project 4 out of Aslan.
  • Old Maid: Yasuda Taeko, Ryoko's loyal secretary, who is unmarried at 28 and quite sensitive about the fact. Pursued by bald cake eater Sawa.
  • Omniglot: Several characters speak multiple languages fluently.
    • Shin speaks his native Japanese, French, and at Area 88, English. The original Japanese dub of the OVA features Shin calling out aerial commands in thickly-accented English.
    • Saki speaks his native Arabic, English at Area 88, and French when he travels in Europe.
    • Greg speaks his native Danish, English at Area 88, and presumably speaks to an Asranian child in Arabic.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: In the manga, Shin sees visions of the late Hoover on two occasions. In manga that did not make it stateside, Sela has a vision of scores of dead pilots at Area 88.
  • Parental Abandonment: Shin and Kanzaki are both orphans and Ryoko's mother passed away some time ago. So did Saki's mother. Or did she?
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The 80s OVA series left out all the hokey sci-fi, comic-booky elements that got added as the manga progressed: land based carriers, laser weapons, Project 4, cryogenics, Aslan getting an aircraft carrier...etc. It also avoids the Writer Cop Out of the manga's ending. Fortunately because the manga hadn't ended yet at the time the OVA series were produced.
  • Private Military Contractors: The Wolf Pack. Everyone at Area 88/the anti-government forces to some degree in the 2004 series. Also Mickey's ex-US Navy wingman Patrick Reed.
  • Product Placement: In the manga and OVA, Rocky uses a Nikon camera, whose name is prominently shown a few times. Also, in the OVA, the base cafeteria has a Coke machine complete with red and white logo...which sells 7-UP for some reasonnote .
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: The TV series used a techno remix of Bach's "Little Fugue in G Minor" for its opening theme.
  • Qurac: Aslan in all continuities; Bambara in manga issues that did not make it stateside.
  • Ramming Always Works:
    • Subverted in the manga when Campbell tries to ram the land carrier's elevator with his critically damaged plane. He misses.
    • Many years ago, Ryoko's father was a Kamikaze pilot in the War, but his plane failed to explode.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The F-8 Crusader can and has flown with its wings folded. In fact, it can take off, fly, and land with the wings folded. The first time this happened, it was because the pilot forgot to unfold the wings.
    • The same episode features a giant pop-up barrier being used against low-flying planes. While this is a (very) exaggerated example, stringing up cables to clothesline low-flying planes is a tactic with real historical basis.
  • Red Shirt: Pilots flying A-4 Skyhawks/MiG-17s doesn't always return from missions.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: Trying to leave is punishable by death. Doesn't matter if you were signed up against your will or tricked into it.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Saki and his relatives on the other side. Subverted for the 2004 series.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: In the manga and OVA, Kanzaki's price for purchasing Yamato stock from Ryoko while she raises money to buy out Shin's contract. Fortunately, Taeko and the police intervene just in time, saving Ryoko from having to sleep with Kanzaki.
    Kanzaki (OVA): You're not a child. You know what I want.
  • The Scrounger: McCoy, especially with aircraft.
  • Setting Update: Area 88 can be seen as The Count of Monte Cristo WITH FIGHTER JETS!
  • '70s Hair: Mickey's pompadour, Kanzaki's thick black chaos, Charlie's pageboy haircut, and Hoover's long sideburns are just a few examples. Justified in that the series is actually set in the late 1970s.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Several of the pilots at Area 88 joined because they were veterans who couldn't adjust to peacetime. Most notably, Mickey. Shin becomes one in the OVA.
  • Shoot the Dog: Shin has to shoot down a member of his own wing who panicked after being blinded at the beginning of the final OVA episode.
  • Shower of Angst: Ryoko when taking up Kanzaki's offer. Taeko manages to get her out of it.
    • In the TV series, Shin muses on his unhappy situation while in the shower.
  • Shown Their Work: Shintani is an avowed airplane otaku and this shows in his art. There are, however, some discrepancies concerning the early operational history of the F-14 and other minor details.
  • Shout-Out: When Shin flashes back to his Paris bender and Kanzaki's betrayal in the manga, the Yamato appears in the background with (presumably) a few of its crew members.
    • That would qualify as self-insertion, Matsumoto based one of the crewmen on his (then) assistant, Shintani.
    • During a flashback to Saki's youth, an airport scene with him and his uncle, has a background cameo appearance by a certain familiar Matsumoto character.
    • Recently four planes flown by the main characters of Area 88 have become special released planes in Ace Combat: Infinity. The "special aircraft" feature enhanced stats and manga accurate paint jobs and emblems.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Nguyen in the OVA.
  • Spell My Name With An S: The English translation seems to vary for the name of the Middle Eastern country in which this story is set. It can be due to the tendency for Japanese Ranguage to blur the difference between "l" and "r". Some translators prefer "Asran". Others believe that "Aslan" is the original intent. Whatever the case, the preference of the former may be due to the fact that does look and sound more Qurac-ish while the latter is more Turkic in origin. However, while the Turkic region does cover Central and North Asia, as well as parts of Slavic Europe and North Africa, the country in question is decidedly Muslim and Arabic. The remaining reason for preferring "Asran" seems to now be the other spelling invites confusion with a certain unrelated Aslan.
  • Spent Shells Shower: The OVA opens with Shin's Crusader scattering spent casings as he tears up enemy tanks.
  • The Squadette: Kitori from the 2004 anime; Sela from later issues of the manga which did not make it stateside.
  • Stepford Smiler: Mickey may be this in the manga and OVA, veiling his war trauma, regrets, and cynicism with a friendly exterior.
  • Succession Crisis with shades of Cain and Abel: The current King of Aslan is the younger of two brothers. His elder brother created the anti-government forces in response.
  • Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder: The Area 88 mercenaries are meant to fly highly dangerous missions to take pressure off regular Aslan forces, as Bowman observes in the OVA. Since many of the mercenaries are veteran soldiers, they're very good at warfare.
  • Tank Goodness: The opening scene of the OVA shows Shin launching an aerial attack on anti-government tanks.
  • Tempting Fate: 2004 TV anime, "We flew with Boris 'The Angel of Death' and survived!" Boris became the only survivor 7 seconds after one of the 3 Mooks accompanying him on the mission said those words.
    • Mickey believes that his old wingman Patrick Reed is happily retired in Oklahoma working at the countryside after the two left the Vietnam War. He was dead wrong when he heard that one of the mercenary fighter pilots downed mentioned Patrick's personal emblem, the red lizard. It was later seen on a MiG-23 Flogger, which made Mickey fear the worst when the two fought each other.
  • Thematic Theme Tune: "How Far to Paradise" from the OVA series.
  • There Are No Therapists: After the Vietnam War, Mickey never got professional help for his war trauma, making it difficult for him to adjust to civilian life. Same with Patrick in the anime series.
    • In the OVA, war trauma left Shin distracted and emotionally disconnected after he left Area 88 and returned to Paris. In the manga, after leaving Area 88 and taking up residence in Paris, Shin drinks heavily to cope with his war trauma. In neither case did he think to seek professional help.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Sawa, who first appeared in the manga as a joke character, later returns throwing assasins off a balcony and carrying a katana under his coat.
    • For that matter, Rocky after his crash in the desert.
    • In the OVA, Shin is not particularly good at defending himself. In the Paris bar scene, the Aslan military recruiter throws him to the floor after he denies signing a mercenary contract. Later in the OVA, however, Shin not only stands up to a trio of Paris thugs, but subdues a robber by throwing a knife into his arm.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Shin, who was betrayed by his best friend, forced to give up his lifelong dreams, torn from his girlfriend, forced to kill on a daily basis to survive, and the victim of multiple jet crashes and injuries. No wonder the poor guy has issues!
    • Saki also qualifies. He lost his mother when he was a little boy, but that's just for starters. As an adult, he was betrayed by his father, compelled to fight in a brutal civil war, targeted for assassination attempts, attacked by one of his most trusted men ( Shin), and forced to endure the slow deterioration of his eyesight. No wonder he commits suicide at the end of the manga.
  • True Companions: Somehow, the pilots end up as this in the final OVA episode.
  • Two Men, One Dress: In the manga, Shin (injured feet) and Mickey (injured hands) rob a guard and use this to escape captivity on the Mafia's desert carrier. The man in charge lets them go partly because it's so funny and partly because he's got the planes rigged to self-destruct.
  • Unfriendly Fire: The reason for Charlie the Phoenix's return to Area 88.
  • War for Fun and Profit: Farina, the Mafia boss who built the land carrier in the manga is essentially doing it for the money.
  • War Is Hell: The whole point of the manga and OVA. Shin tells McCoy that he's going to Hell for selling weapons. McCoy responds by saying that he's already there. Shin feels this especially strongly.
  • Weak Boss, Strong Underlings: Giuseppe Farina is an extremely elderly, wheelchair-bound, blind (or nearly blind) mafia don who nonetheless has an enormous amount of influence and connections.
  • Wine Is Classy: In the manga, Farina offers Kanzaki wine from his considerable wine collection. Red wine is also Farina's beverage of choice, and the means by which Julianna poisons him.
    • In manga that didn't make it stateside, Carlisle tells Shin that the late Hoover loved Steinberger Riesling.
  • Wingman: Mickey often covers Shin when they're on the same mission.
  • Worthless Treasure Twist: One manga chapter (and an episode of the TV series) has the pilots excited over radio transmissions that mention an enemy convoy carrying gold. It turns out to be a General Gold, the enemy's top tactician. Also, Greg burned half of the man's papers and blew his nose with the other half when he caught a cold after bombing the convoy and crashing due to battle damage. Saki is not amused.
  • "X" Marks the Hero: Saki isn't the main character, but he has that scar front and center on his forehead. In the manga, it's revealed that he put it there himself after a disastrous attempt to end the war.
  • Yo Yo Plot Point: In manga issues that did not make it stateside, Shin goes through several cycles of leaving and reuniting with Ryoko. The first time, Shin was parted from Ryoko under duress when Kanzaki tricked him into signing a mercenary contract. The second time, Shin broke up with Ryoko over the phone before joining Bosch on an escort mission in Africa. The third time, Shin leaves Ryoko shortly before their wedding to stop Kanzaki and Project 4 back in Aslan. The two finally reunite in the last issue of the manga, when Shin's amnesia provides a relationship reset button.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: In the manga, Mickey meets Rishar Vashtal, Saki's brother and a leader among Aslan's anti-government forces. Rishar explains the anti-government forces' reasons for engaging in the civil war, showing that both sides of the conflict have legitimate aims. Mickey feels conflicted after meeting Rishar but remains loyal to Area 88.
    Mickey: I didn't want to hear his problems. It'll be harder for me to fight now.