The following may contain spoilers for 86 -Eighty Six-.
Director / Toshimasa Ishii
Screenplay / Toshiya Ohno (based on the light novels by Asato Asato)
Production / A-1 Pictures
Release Date / April 2021, October 2021
It was around the same time last year that the anime adaptation of Asato Asato’s 86 -Eighty Six- (henceforth, 86) light novel, started broadcasting. I admit that my first exposure to this story was Bandai Spirits’ solicitation of upcoming HG kits of the mechanical quadruped tanks the protagonists are going to use. But upon watching the series, it quickly became more than just your vanilla anti-war story with angsty teenagers at the forefront. So much so that members of the production staff really committed to the quality they wanted to tell this story and they opted to delay the broadcast of the last episodes just to provide a well-deserved and satisfying conclusion to this story. Yes, there were production issues, but we’ll go into those later. But the more important thing is, what makes this series one of the more underrated shows in the Fall 2021 anime season and why should everyone watch it?
As of this review, 86 is a two-cour series adapting the first couple of volumes of the light novel source material and tells the story of a war between the Republic of San Magnolia and autonomous machines called the Legion. The press release is that this war is also fought on the republic’s side by autonomous machines as well and that no actual humans are getting hurt in the conflict. But in reality, the war is fought by the Spearhead Squadron, which are composed of racially discriminated soldiers dubbed as “eighty-six.” They are then used as “processors” (i.e. pilots) for these poorly built quadruped mechanized tanks that basically serve as their own coffins. Leading this squad is Shin “Undertaker” Nouzen who has a rather complicated past and Vladilena “Lena” Milizé who has been assigned as the group’s “handler”, serving as tactician. Throughout several battles, Lena gets to know Shin and the rest of the eighty-six more and becomes sympathetic of the group’s struggles much to the dismay of her oppressive superiors.
The opening episodes of the series really remind me of Mobile Suit Gundam IRON-BLOODED ORPHANS with its large set of characters but with a much grimmer situation. As such, I already expected that a good chunk of them would be dying as the series progresses, at least for the first half. That said, most of these characters were fleshed out to the point you’ll get attached to them, while knowing that eventually, most will likely die and get the group we’ll end up following during the second half. Many have also pointed out how the anime was able to put additional details that were not even covered to a certain degree in the source material. And these aren’t like just added fluff but more of world building and backstories that you’d really feel where these characters are coming from.
I wanted to highlight the unique presentation they did for the first half of 86. An episode is typically split into two segments where one half deals with Shin and the Spearhead Squadron on the frontlines while the other focuses on Lena and the bureaucracy and incompetence of her superiors within the San Magnolia military. This approach best illustrates the extreme dichotomy between these two sides and the place they meet is the audio-only conversations between Lena and the rest of the eighty-six. Through these, Lena gets to know and understand the eighty-six and in turn, the eighty-six warms up and appreciates her more.
The first half brought us a lot of twists, turns, and reveals more about the Legion and proves otherwise what the citizens of the republic are led to believe. It also tells how and why Shin is more involved in this conflict than anybody wanted. As mentioned, it ends with most of the Spearhead Squadron perishing and leaving with just five members to continue the journey beyond their original mission from the republic. It also sets up how Lena vows to continue following the steps left by the squadron, wherever they may lead.
The second half premiered late in 2021 as we find our remaining Spearhead Squad members adopted by the Giad Federacy, where they were offered the chance to have normal lives after all the hardships they endured from the republic. Ultimately, they decided to continue the fight, but as respected soldiers under the federacy along with new and more powerful units (hint, new model kits). They also meet new characters, including Frederica Rosenfort of the former Giadian Empire which is now the federacy. It also continues the consistent trend of having great episodes that balance both action and emotional dynamics, with the focus on a narrower set of characters.
As I mentioned earlier, the production of this series has been plagued with issues, but these are not the kind of issues you’re used to seeing in such productions. Earlier on, we already felt the passion and dedication of the staff to bring as much quality as possible to this adaptation and they managed to carry it through until the end of the season. Though that passion ultimately led to several setbacks, including in the second half where some episodes were broadcast weeks in between and the final set of episodes being delayed for a couple of months. But these were all worth it as it built up this feeling of anticipation of how they’re going to close this chapter of the story. And sure enough, as the final set of episodes for the second half dropped, they made one of the most satisfying conclusions I’ve seen in an anime and paid off almost a year’s worth of us watching along Shin, Lena, and the rest of the characters.
And before I forget, can I just say how gorgeous the animation is for this series! There are multiple scenes where shots were framed perfectly and the composition is absolutely amazing, especially for those visually symbolic scenes. The series is just so beautiful to look at and it’s all thanks to the folks over at from A-1 Pictures. Couple the stellar animation with that signature Hiroyuki Sawano soundtrack that never fails to impress, and you get something that’s truly memorable. I will just suggest that you watch the show and judge for yourselves with my utmost recommendation in mind.
Ultimately, this season concludes with everyone reunited, Frederica, Shin, and especially Lena seeing everyone for the first time. Lena has fulfilled her promise of catching up with Shin and the rest of the gang and they’re now facing this threat together. Unfortunately, this is sort of a bittersweet ending since we don’t know if they are going to continue animating the rest of the light novels, especially given the production issues they had with just two cours. The amount of passion the production team had with this anime really shows and that they opted to have delays instead of dwindling animation quality. Hopefully, if another season is greenlit (and yes, I really would appreciate another season of this excellent anime), the production team would be in a better position and be able to continue breathing the same love for this series. If you want to pursue reading the original light novels, then you can start with volume four as the anime has covered the previous three.
If it isn’t obvious enough, I am highly recommending this series. Not just because it has mecha elements, but the overall story and the quality you’ll get with watching 86 -Eighty Six- is something you don’t see often in anime nowadays.