If you thought that episode 22 is already the best episode in the series, you couldn’t be more wrong.
86’s season finale blew every previous episode out of the water, as if the Morpho had unleashed one of its deadliest barrage. From the symbolisms in key scenes, to the heartwarming music, and the voice acting and animation, everything blended to perfection, creating one of the best season ender in modern anime history.
With Kiriya’s defeat, our heroes finally return to the Giad Federacy. And what better way to celebrate their triumph than gift-giving! The Holy Birth Festival is here once again, and this time, Ernst is present to hand out presents! It is fun to watch Shin and the other enjoying their hobbies after all the grueling battles and near-death situations they’ve been through. After all, they are still teenagers, and it is only right that they live the life that was stolen from them.
Of course, the war is not over yet. The Eighty-Six are still needed, as much as it is hard to admit, and Ernst knows that his adopted children would return to the battlefield given the chance. Thus, he proposes a unit that they will personally lead, commanded by a foreign officer: the Eighty-Sixth Strike Package. But unlike before, the overprotective president/foster father is willing to let them join out of respect for their decision and achievements.
Letting Go Of The Past
Before going back to the battlefield, Shin has some few errands to make. We have a heartwarming scene where he visits Eugene’s grave, and it is worth noting the changes in Shin’s demeanor. Gone is the guilt and burden he carries, and he is finally smiling amidst all the tragedy he has experienced. One of the biggest takeaway here is how he, Marcel, and Nina finally amend their strained relationship, with a sweet and sincere “Thank you!” from Eugene’s sister.
However, the greatest moment in Shin’s side of this episode is how he lets go of all his guilt at last, and how he will carry the memories of his fallen comrades not as a burden, but as his motivation to keep moving forward. This is shown when he still keeps his Personal Mark, but visits the Eighty-Six memorial and promises to take them beyond the battlefield with a smile on his face while Avid plays in the background, lending impact to an already great scene. And frankly, there is no better way for him to honor their deaths than this. All throughout the season, Shin has been living just to fight. But now, he has found a new purpose thanks to Lena.
The Fate of San Magnolia
The second half of the episode focuses on Lena, and it is both bittersweet and hopeful. We finally learn, albeit briefly, the fate of San Magnolia during the large-scale invasion. And just as expected, the once proud country didn’t stand a chance, getting overrun in just a matter of weeks despite Lena’s efforts.
Of course, her efforts allowed them to hold out long enough for Giad to arrive. But there’s no denying that a lot of people still died, including Jerome and Lena’s mother. Even her home, once a symbol of her status, didn’t escape the ravages of the war, and it is interesting to note the contrast between its former bright interior and its current ruined state. In a way, it somehow reflects the changes that Lena has gone through: from an innocent yet determined Handler to a battle-hardened commander who remains standing despite all the hardships she has endured.
The scene with her visiting her father’s grave greatly mirrors Shin’s, and this is not the only parallels they share. While Shin now lives a relatively peaceful life in Giad, the state of the surviving Albas is an exact opposite. Perhaps it is karma, and judging by the repulsive looks directed at them by Giadians, they more than deserve their fate. However, it is still quite sad that they’ve been reduced to nothing more than refugees, slightly more than what they did to the Eighty-Six.
And yet, all hope isn’t lost. Some Albas will join Lena in the Federacy, proving that not all of them are racists. The surprising thing about this is Annette, and we should expect a reunion between her and Shin at some point.
In the end, San Magnolia may have been reduced to rubble, but its spirit definitely remains.
The episode then transitions to the last parts where Lena is appointed as the commanding officer for the Eighty-Sixth Strike Package. But first, Ernst has a welcoming gift for her. And as Kyoukaisen softly starts in the background, we follow Lena into the Eighty-Six memorial, a scene that, once again, greatly mirrors Shin.
And much like Shin, Lena still carries the memories of the Eighty-Six in the form of a glass box containing caricatures of all her deceased soldiers. Ever since Shin and his group left, Lena has been carrying them with her, just like what Shin did. We can feel Lena’s pain in this scene as she tearfully repeats “I won’t forget” while kneeling in front of the memorial. It is obvious that she took Shin’s words to heart, and as she has revealed in the previous episode, it is the only thing that keeps her going.
But much like Shin, Lena can finally lay them to rest, putting the box side-by-side with the one that Shin once carried. She didn’t know it, of course. But it is a tearjerker to see that both of them has finally let go of their burdens. And in the case of Lena, her resolve to live life to the fullest is only strengthened.
The Long-Awaited Reunion
We all thought it’s over, but we know this will eventually come, right?
The final five minutes of the episode is the most emotional and sweetest one in the entire season. Fido once again begins recording, and it is really fun to see a montage of all the characters in various shenanigans, interspersed with some of Fido’s old footages from season 1 while the new insert song, LilaS, plays triumphantly in the background.
One of the most interesting part about this scene is how Fido has video recordings of Shin as a child, implying that the robot dog has always been his companion. But more than that, it’s really touching when we see Shin’s childhood transitioning into the present, showing his personal growth, and how he is beginning to regain a sliver of his former self.
By this point, it is now obvious that LilaS is a song for Shin and Lena. The buildup to their meeting, with Fido recording in the background, is simply beautiful and cathartic. At first, the grassy field is overshadowed by clouds. But soon the sun shines brightly as Lena salutes Shin, symbolizing a new beginning. We then witness a powerful moment as Shin introduces himself, and at first, Lena didn’t recognize his voice. But as soon as Shin utters his name, the dam of emotions finally explodes.
For two years, Lena has been burdened with their apparent demise, and rightly so. But seeing her expression morph from confusion to wonder and eventual relief and joy is a scene that explains much about the feelings she has been carrying all this time. Her voice as she says Shin’s name is full of longing, and the crescendo of LilaS simply adds to the emotional impact, especially with them staring at each other like lovers who are finally reunited after a long time.
Of course, the rest of the Spearhead Squadron isn’t ignored. It is fun to watch as Lena names them one by one, like a little girl who finally gets to meet her superheroes. And perhaps, in a way, Lena sees them like that.
The shot of the railway mirrors the opening scene of the series. But instead of a dark and bleak battlefield, it ends with a bright, grassy field with the gang standing united, symbolizing that Lena and Shin has finally reached the end of their journey and will begin a new one, together at last.
Episode 23 serves as a capstone to a magnificent series’s first season. Everything is a roller-coster of emotions, and it is nice to see it end, hopefully for now, in a high and hopeful note. The ending scene will definitely go down as one of the best in anime history. And that final shot of Shin and Lena’s hands drawing close together before forming the series title is a delectable icing to the sweetest cake.
Episode score: 10/10.