A contender for anime of the season!
Eighty-Six, also called 86, has a complicated and intriguing story for a war drama. While series like Gundam tackles war and racism in a serious and gritty way, Eighty-Six takes it to the next level.
For one, the plot revolves around a war between two nations—the Republic of San Magnolia and the Empire of Giad—and the employment of unmanned drones in combat. But while Giad’s dreaded Legions are indeed autonomous, San Magnolia’s Juggernauts hides an open secret: they are piloted by humans stripped of rights by the same nation they are killing and dying for.
And so comes a tale of racism, authoritarianism, discrimination, and a host of other subjects that one may see in a World War II-inspired story. Unlike other series that has the same premise, however, 86 compliments this backdrop with an ensemble cast who stands out individually.
First, we have Lena, a young major who finds herself as the command and control officer for the Spearhead Squadron, an elite unit who has survived countless battles despite their young age. In contrast to the rest of her silver-haired race, the Alba, Lena is a strong and kind girl who treats the 86 with respect. But what sets her apart from similar heroines are her own flaws, which only displays how deep racism runs in San Magnolia. Despite her sincerity, Lena is far from perfect, and it shows the more she interacts with the unit.
Then we have Shin, also known as the dreaded “Undertaker”, the official field commander of the squadron. And he is a character that we have seen from time to time in war dramas: a stoic, emotionless, brutally efficient leader who has seen everything despite his age. But this is also part of his charm as a lead, and it heavily contrasts Lena’s personality.
Aside from them, 86 features a cast of supporting characters, each with their own interesting quirks and personalities. It would be a chore listing all of them here. But they are all likable in their own ways, which is a trap set for audiences; after all, this is a war story, and deaths are inevitable.
As far as pacing and animation goes, A-1 Pictures(Sword Art Online, Seven Deadly Sins) did an excellent job for this series. The art style is beautiful, the animation itself is fluid, and the fight scenes are thrilling. While just three episodes released so far, the story doesn’t feel rushed, and there is a greater focus on the various nuances of the adaptation. An example of this is how often the POVs switch between Lena and the 86, showing the perspectives of these two sides for the same event. This is a very rare case in storytelling in an anime adaptation where we often see only one side because of time constraints. Thus, the fact that A-1 Pictures, especially the director Toshimasa Ishii, chose this style speaks much about how serious they are in bringing this series to life.
In terms of music, both the opening and closing credits are haunting melodies that evokes the tone of the story, but it is the various background and insert songs that make this anime a thrilling watch. After all, the legendary Hiroyuki Sawano scores the music, adding his epic themes and enhancing the experience further.
Overall, 86 is a must-watch series for this season. The story is gripping, the characters are unique and interesting, and the fight scenes would surely satisfy fans of the mecha and war genres.
Personal score: 9.5/10.