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Anime Review: 86

English Title: 86

Japanese Title: 86-エイティシックス-

Director(s): Ishii Toshimasa, Ando Ryo and others

Screenwriter(s): Ono Toshiya, Nagai Chiaki, Sunayama Kurasumi

Studio: A-1 Pictures

Released: 2021

Part 1 Runtime: 11 episodes, ~23m each.

Part 2 Runtime: 12 episodes, ~23m each.

Starring: Hasegawa Ikumi, Chiba Shoya


My Verdict: Interesting enough premise. Excellent production. Can delve deeper into the themes, but plot and characters are sufficiently captivating.


86

Based on the ongoing light novel series of the same name written by Asato Asato and illustrated by Shirabii, 86 is a military mecha story in a war setting that also tries to focus on characters and relationships. Please note that I have not read the novels so the review is purely of the anime.


The Republic of San Magnolia is at war with the Giad Empire. Against the latter’s autonomous mechs, the former has also come up with its own. San Magnolia’s commanders, referred to as “Handlers”, individually sit in their control rooms issuing orders to these autonomous mechs called “Juggernauts” in a war that has no casualties… or so goes the propaganda. In reality, these mechs are piloted by humans, a minority group designated as sub-human and forced to live in the 86th district.


It is an interesting enough premise, presumably inspired by the likes of 1984 even though it is not that kind of story. Despite the technology, the setting—everything from architecture to fashion—has aesthetics somewhat like 1800s Europe. The worldbuilding is generally handled well, the audience is shown a lot right from the start.


The story has two main viewpoint characters: 16-year-old Vladilena “Lena” Milizé, a newly promoted major, and Shin, a veteran mech pilot and squadron leader. Although Lena is young and is obviously there due to her family connections, she has ability and a good work ethic. She is assigned to command the Spearhead Squadron led by Shin, also known as the “Undertaker”.


Lena
Lena

The nobility of San Magnolia are mostly decadent and complacent, very few are like Lena who takes life seriously. She treats the units of the Spearhead Squadron as human, unwilling to unnecessarily sacrifice them in battle. Part 1 follows her efforts in getting to know the squadron despite their skepticism and the daily lives of the squadron.


Themes like racism, class struggle and discrimination are obvious. Although the series thankfully does not dwell on these issues, since the facts speak for themselves, it arguably lacks depth. Ultimately, given the emphasis on Lena’s efforts to form good relationships with the squadron, this is probably the better approach anyway.


Lena is the “serious and determined female lead” whilst Shin is the “cool and calculated mech pilot”, both common templates in anime. Although more interesting character traits might improve the work, they are relatable enough so that the audience cares about them.


Shin
Shin

A story in a war or war-like setting that emphasizes relationships is not new. The Macross franchise does it and generally does it well. However, Macross has overt romance and follows the main characters who are close and interact in person whereas Lena and Shin interact over a distance by remote. This distance is apparent and whilst it thankfully avoids trying to be emotion porn (and failing), it could use more emotional charge.


The other weakness is that [Potential Spoiler] as the squadron moves into enemy territory, the pacing stagnates somewhat. Nevertheless, the plot tries to mix it up by introducing a little intrigue. Although hardly an original idea, the “zombie problem” trope is applied to the empire’s autonomous mechs and involves the control system that San Magnolia uses which is clever enough even if it is somewhat predictable.


There are also, not surprisingly, the “past connections” between some of the main characters. Whilst this is mostly handled well and does make the story feel more complete, some of it is not necessary.


Part 2 mostly follows Shin and the surviving squad members as they reach the Federacy of Giad which has its own problems. This gives the so-called enemy of San Magnolia a face which keeps the plot interesting. Also, by shifting the viewpoint character and setting, the series avoids getting stale since, as already mentioned, the pacing in Part 1 drags somewhat in the later episodes.


The voice acting is excellent as is the overall production, which is expected from A-1 Pictures. Visually, there is that good balance of having the CG look that still looks like traditional anime. The details like computer screens are refined and the background and terrain are beautifully done. Sometimes, the motion of the mechs during battle is not quite right but this is not jarring.


The soundtrack by Sawano Hiroyuki and Yamamoto Kohta is fitting. To anyone who follows the work composed by the former, his trademark mix of contemporary and orchestral style is clearly recognizable.


I suspect that the abovementioned weaknesses regarding storytelling are more apparent in anime and the novel series probably reads fine as structure and pacing requirements differ from one medium to another. Some may consider this a masterpiece. Although that may be a stretch (assuming it is trying to be one), it is nonetheless a very good attempt at one that is worthy of viewing.


A Juggernaut in action.
A Juggernaut in action.
 

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