Original Run: April 11, 2021 - June 20, 2021 Number of Episodes: 11 Genre: Action, Drama, Mecha, Military, Science Fiction Based on the Series Created By: Asato Asato
***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for 86. Reader discretion is advised.***
In its war against the Gaidian Empire, the Republic of San Magnolia boasts an unbelievable record of zero casualties. The horrifying truth is, though, the Republic, led by the silver-haired Albas, deemed many of its citizens to be less than human and thus, has sent them off to fight and die. All non-Albas work in brutal labor camps, are often sent on suicide missions and exist on the front lines in the impoverished district 86.
Vladilena Milizé (voiced by Ikumi Hasegawa), a young Alba Major, despises how her country treats its people. Although she is alone in her views, she is determined to stand up for the so-called 86.
Recently, Vladilena becomes the Handler of the army’s top 86 division, a.k.a., Spearhead. The squadron’s leader, Shinei Nouzen (voiced by Shouya Chiba), has an infamous reputation as a fierce and deadly warrior. But Vladilena soon realizes that this too is the Republic’s propaganda.
Vladilena thinks she can offer a friendly hand to the members of Spearhead. However, her conviction proves to be nothing more than naivety, for Vladilena is unaware of how awful the 86’s plight is.
Before anything, know this:
86 is a split-cour series; that means this review will be focusing on 86 Part 1. At the time of this post going live (September 2021), 86 Part 2 is scheduled for a fall 2021 release, so expect Anime Hajime to highlight it sometime at the beginning of 2022.
But more importantly, since this series is only at part one, it does not have a satisfying ending – yet. And I feel confident in using the word “yet” because, based on what I saw this season, 86 Part 2 is shaping up to be something awesome.
This installment was pretty great.
I want to assure you, there was a ton of emotion, character, and other things to move your heart in 86, and they all made this show a fantastic watch. I will go into more detail about those aspects momentarily. But first, we must talk about this series’ animation.
Although one show does not make a trend, 86 is proof of something I have believed for a long time: Anime does not need to regulate itself to crap CGI.
Admittedly, the medium has been getting better in this respect. But more often than not, computer animation in anime has been stuck in the early 2000s. If they don’t look bubbly, clashing, or fake, many computer models are horrifyingly out of place; it is impossible not to notice them.
Some series have used this happenstance to their advantage (often accompanied by stellar storytelling and characters); 2017’s Land of the Lustrous is an excellent example of this. But 86 is one of the first televised anime I have seen that employed fantastic CGI during action sequences.
I won’t say you can’t notice the CGI; you totally can. But the point I’m making is, it doesn’t look out of place. It blends in beautifully with the locations, the characters, and, most importantly, the story. Whereas Land of the Lustrous was more fantastical, 86 was more grounded, and I have to say, I am impressed.
And as luck would have it, this series followed its visuals up with a truly unforgettable story.
Without going too far into spoiler territory, for a show where its two main characters never technically met, there was much to unpack. I’m not sure where to start. Or, more to the point, I’m not sure what I am comfortable revealing. There were many amazing scenes in this series because they were the result of a long build-up.
I suppose the safest route would be talking about the relationship between Vladilena Milizé and the soldiers of the Spearhead squadron.
We cannot understate the plight of the titular 86, a collection of “inferior races.” These peoples have been the victims of discrimination, war, and genocide; they knew nothing else. Most of the members of Spearhead had zero experience with a kind person from the Alba race. Therefore, none of them had any positive expectations for Vladilena, who was Alba.
At the start of this series, it was easy to think of the Spearhead squadron as being unfair towards Vladilena – please allow this thought to finish before you go off on me in the comments. As the audience, we got to see things from Vladilena’s perspective, and compared to damn near every other Alba, yeah, she was an ally to the 86.
Thus, at the beginning of this series, I imagined a story of two vastly different groups of people gaining respect for one another. Although such a thing happened, leaving it at that would mean criminally overlooking this show’s message.
Despite Vladilena being conscious of the outward racism towards the 86, she had still grown up in a society filled with propaganda and indoctrination. As a result, there was a mindset Vladilena didn’t even realize she possessed. Unintentional bigotry is still bigotry.
For instance, Vladilena never bothered to ask the names of Spearhead’s members; she only referred to them as their call signs, both in AND out of battle.
If that sounds like a small matter, then you are actually reinforcing 86’s entire point. Without realizing it, Vladilena had denied the members of Spearhead one of the simplest ways to humanize a person, saying their names. This didn’t delegitimize her calls for justice, but it did show she had a long way to go.
This series made it very plain – idealism alone cannot change the world. Sometimes you can fix the system, and other times, the system needs replacing.
This was merely one instance; 86 was full of them, making this series hard to put down. It comforts me that season two is imminent because I want to know how this story ends, particularly given this installment’s final shot.
86 was a lot more than an action-packed mecha anime. No, this was a series with a tale to tell.
It is now part two’s game to lose.
Fortunately, even if this show’s follow-up is only half as good as this season, then I think we are in good shape.
Although I’ll accept the argument that fictional – for the lack of a better term – Star-Dates help add to a story’s atmosphere, I find them annoying.
So we are clear; when I say Star-Date, I mean dating systems that are not our own. For example, instead of using “the year 2100”, a series might say “ the Year of Fire 2100,” or something else to that effect. In the case of 86, it was “Stellar Year Something-or-Other.”
This is a nitpick of mine, nothing more. However, 86’s Star-Date didn’t do it any favors. After all, I found it challenging to keep track of when things were taking place. This series didn’t convey its time progression that well.
The good thing is, this aspect, ultimately, did not matter. It was nothing but a minor irritant that did not take away from 86’s intrigue and power.
That said, were Vladilena and the Spearhead squadron together for a few months, half a year, a whole year – what? Then again, you could tell me everything that happened in this show took place in a week, and I would be hard-pressed to disprove you.
If this seems like a little thing to bring up, that’s because it is. But for the moment, that is all I can do. 86 isn’t done yet.
It is difficult to discuss anything this show did wrong narratively since the narrative still has a way to go. I won’t pretend there was nothing wrong with 86, but there was, at least, nothing game-breaking about it. And for all the superficial elements – animation, music, etc. – this series was on point.
I would expect a more complete Series Negatives section when part two comes out. Then, and only then, will there be something to talk about – maybe.
Season two cannot get here soon enough.
From its animation to its story, its characters to its atmosphere, and everywhere in-between, this show killed it. And not only did this series have top-notch action and a gripping narrative, but it also filled itself with a ton of emotion and personality.
Eleven episodes went by in no time at all.
86 has earned a massive recommendation.
But these were just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this series? How would you advise 86? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.
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