Writer’s note: This article includes spoilers for the show “86.”
With the rise of shows like “Attack on Titan,” more and more people have been getting interested in anime, especially those with more political themes. If you like shows like “Attack on Titan” or “Fullmetal Alchemist,” get ready because “86” could be your next watch.
The Republic of San Magnolia has been at war with the “Legion” ever since the fall of the Giad Empire. The Legion are intelligent AI that the Giad Empire developed to use in war against the Republic but they continued to function even after the fall of the Empire.
Luckily for the Republic, the war against the Legion is expected to end within a couple years. This is due to the “Juggernauts” used to defend the country. The Juggernauts are robots sent to the battlefields and are controlled remotely by a handler, which has resulted in the death toll against the Legion being zero.
In reality, the Juggernauts are being piloted by the Colorata ethnic minorities of their country, and have been dying every day fighting against the Legion. The Colorata have been oppressed by the Alba ethnic majority ever since the war with the Giad Empire due to many of them having ethnic roots from the country. They were forced into the 86th district of the country, giving them the nickname, the “86.”
Since the Colorata are considered subhuman by the government, this allows them to say their human death count is zero. The story follows Vladilena ‘Lena’ Millize, a handler who advocates for the rights of the Colorata, and her involvement with the Spearhead Squadron, an elite group of Juggernaut pilots, which include Shinei “Shin” Nouzen, Raiden Shuga, Anju Emma, Theoto Rikka and Kurena Kukumila.
“86” is an emotional rollercoaster, from the beginning to the end of the show.
Despite only being 12 episodes long, each episode feels fleshed out and not rushed. There is a clear sense of the world around us when we begin the show. The Alba majority, who are privileged and discriminatory reside inside the walls of San Magnolia. The Colorata minority, who have been banished to the 86th district to fight, are clearly contrasted. From the beginning of the show, we are introduced to Lena, who despite her position in the military, is still a naive girl. We can see her determination when she still advocates for the 86 despite the ridicule from her peers, who call her a robot-obsessed fool.
We are also introduced to the Spearhead Squadron, where we see what battles they have to go through, especially Shin, who is put to the task of putting down his teammates when they’re close to death. Despite not seeing each other face to face, the relationship Lena develops with the Spearhead Squadron feels very real, I feel like they were able to grow and learn from each other.
Shin and Lena’s relationship was especially a nice one to see develop because we can see them start to open up to each other. In addition to development from our two main characters, we also get to see how other characters act and develop from Theoto and Kurena coming to accept Lena, from Raiden strengthening his resolve to fight, to Anju coping with the death of Daiya, a member of the squadron she had mutual feelings for. Seeing all of this develop hurts more in the end when we find out the eventual fate that the Spearhead Squadron had in store for them.
The first season ends on a very sad note. After months of fighting and requesting backups, Lena realizes the truth that everyone in the squadron knew all along; the Republic was never going to let them be retired from service. Their final mission was a suicide mission, and Lena, after helping them by disobeying orders and using mortars after she’s been told not to, loses contact with them after they decide to venture into unknown territory.
This mission ironically makes the remaining members of the Spearhead Squadron, Shin, Raiden, Anju, Theoto and Kurena feel more free than they did while they were stuck in the 86th district.
The season ends with them losing a battle, leading to their deaths, or so we think… Aside from the plot itself the soundtrack is phenomenal, especially the ending song “Avid” by Hiroyuki Sawano, which plays at many of the saddest moments of the show.
Whether you like anime or not, “86” will definitely be an emotional watch that will leave an impact on you. The second season is currently airing and if you have finished watching the first season, you’ll be on the edge of your seat in anticipation for what comes next.