“According to the Republic of San Magnolia, their ongoing war against the Giadian Empire has no casualties—however, that is mere propaganda. While the silver-haired Alba of the Republic’s eighty-five sectors live safely behind protective walls, those of different appearances are interned in a secret eighty-sixth faction. Known within the military as the Eighty-Six, they are forced to fight against the Empire’s autonomous Legion under the command of the Republican “Handlers.”
Vladilena Milizé is assigned to the Spearhead squadron to replace their previous Handler. Shunned by her peers for being a fellow Eighty-Six supporter, she continues to fight against their inhumane discrimination. Shinei Nouzen is the captain of the Spearhead squadron. Infamous for being the sole survivor of every squadron he’s been in, he insists on shouldering the names and wishes of his fallen comrades. When the fates of these young souls from two different worlds collide, will it ignite the spark that lights their path to salvation, or will they burn themselves in the flames of despair?” – MAL Synopsis
Taking a small break in-between my Gintama watching spree. I’ve had this anime on my radar for a few months now. It was somewhere on my list of anime I was personally looking forward too during the Spring season (it was #6 actually! and you can check that list out here). Being 11 episodes, it was perfect timing to watch it now. And um, it was good.
I really liked the world and a good portion of the story beats from this one. First off, what’s up with Japanese authors and their love of European settings. Not that I’m complaining but I feel like I’ve seen so many anime with some type of euro setting or that takes heavy inspiration from that. 86 has a semi-futuristic setting. Like there’s mechs and very high-tech stuff. It also sort of feels like a dystopia. The war and oppression of a subset of citizens being the main factor of that feeling. But also the smaller things like the nationwide propaganda, and the lack of natural food add to that dystopian feeling.
I loved the dichotomy between the Alba and the 86. I get slight Attack on Titan vibes but the way the 86 are treated as just completely non-human is bizarre. The whole propaganda machine in the show being “we’re fighting this war and we’ve taken 0 causalities today” is so wild. The public’s response is very true to life as well. Some people are fully propagandized, and some know the truth and look the other way. Whether that be from a place of malice or just having a “rational” thought process around the situation. Then you have our main character Lena who is the smallest minority possible. As she very much cares and wants change. My biggest compliment to this show is how it expertly showed the dehumanizing factors that the Handlers have while on the job. In one scene it’s the 86 fighting their hearts out and taking casualties. Then it’ll show the handler’s side of that same battle. Which to them it’s really just words on a screen. They don’t even go by their real names. So when you take a step back and look at it. The handlers serve no purpose besides making sure the 86 are out there on the battlefield risking their lives. I liked that aspect a lot.
There’s a fair bit of touching moments. When you follow the 86 and see just how numb they have become to the death of their people, the situation, and their bleak future it’s disheartening. Then there are those moments where they lash out or just let their emotions fly. There are a whole lot of character moments and interactions that add everything to those scenes. A few episodes in the overarching story begins to really take shape and without spoiling, I liked it a fair amount.
I don’t like the main character. Lena is the type of character with big ideas and morals that completely go against what the society that she lives in believes in. She really reminds me of Armin from Attack on Titan in a way. But it’s not that her ideas not only go against the grain but it’s more so her actions having very few repercussions and her initial lack of self-reflection. In which I think the former is what bothered me the most. Lena is 100% morally right and her actions are just but it’s like she’s just allowed to do what she ever she wants despite her going against strong orders from the top. Her only form of punishment is just a hand slap at the end of the season. Like I said though, she wants the 86 to be viewed as human and the atrocities that the Alba have committed to being mended essentially. I’ve never seen a character parade an in-universe ideology so much from such a privileged perspective and position. Which I will say again, she’s 100% completely right in what she believes. As the show progressed I liked her less and less for that reason though. But around episode 7(ish I think) she starts to get a reality check. I commend the show for calling her character out on that multiple times. Basically saying you spout these ideas but you’re part of the problem too and while on the surface you may think you’re talking to them and treating them [Spearhead Squadron] like fellow humans. There are still those little intricacies within her way of talking that ooze that same prejudice that she preaches against. I warmed up to her a little bit more towards the end of the season, more specifically the last episode. But those middle episodes, from like 4-8 maybe, I couldn’t stand her.
Shin is the other main character and leader of Spearhead Squadron. I liked him a lot. Definitely the most reserved personality-wise of the cast, he’s seen a lot. It’s funny how the perception of him before we meet him is as opposed to how he actually acts. He was way more level-headed than I thought he would be and he was understanding of the nuances of the world. Mainly due to him having been through a hell of a lot and seen way more than anyone his age should have. His personal quest takes on the role as the overarching story arc this season and it was really well done. It made every action the whole cast took a lot more personal. There were some interesting dots connected and reveals about him and his family. I think I’ve come to the realization that I’m a sucker for characters that are doomed to suffer. There’s something that I find very empathetic about that. Shin fits that mold. As he has his own quest to finish so he can’t die yet. So that dooms him to watch all his friends and so many of his people be killed in battle leaving just him to watch that cycle repeat again and again. It made me heavily empathize with Shin a lot and that’s why he was easily my favorite character.
This is one great-looking anime. I’ve seen a good amount of anime from A1 Pictures and they always have great animation. Character designs and all. But this anime has the best CGI I’ve ever seen used in anime. I’m not 100% sure it is CGI that’s how good it looks so correct me if I’m wrong. But if it is, it is very well rendered, blended, and smooth. It’s only used for the mechs so no janky character moments. But this is the perfect time for me to talk about the mech designs. I kind of like them. They’re pretty unique given that they’re quadruped as opposed to how most mechs in anime are bipedal. They were cool enough design-wise, but my slight gripe is that during a lot of the battle scenes it could get kind of hard to discern between the 86 and the enemies mechs. But it wasn’t that big of an issue and the battle scenes were great across the board. Great soundtrack and great voice acting as well.
So yeah I liked 86. After the ending, I’m very interested in seeing what happens next in this story. Ultimately this show doesn’t have any glaring flaws and as a whole, I think it’s fairly well written especially when it comes to its characters. But then that just boils down to me recognizing the quality of something but my overall enjoyment will always be what takes priority. And for a good portion of this show, I disliked the main character, and when it’s the main character and she’s taking up a lot of screen time, that’s tough. But like I said I kind of came around to her at the end and I’m very much looking forward to how her character progresses. Outside of her I pretty much liked everything else. This season set ups for some major stuff and as I’m finishing writing this the second cour was just announced yesterday. So I’m very excited to get around to that when it comes out. But as this season stands its an interesting sci-fi war story that tackles it’s issues really well for the most part.
86 – 7/10
Notes – 86 was a nice change of pace but I’m back on Gintama for a while. Still need to get around to the Benizakura movie, but a handful of episodes into season 2 (or series 2? Idk) its just as enjoyable as the previous season if not more.