The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

86 EIGHTY-SIX: Review and Reflection At The Halfway Point

“Life is not always easy to live, but the opportunity to do so is a blessing beyond comprehension. In the process of living, we will face struggles, many of which will cause us to suffer and to experience pain.” –L. Lionel Kendrick

After Kaie’s death, Vladilena makes an effort to learn Spearhead’s names, earning their respect and discovers that she’d met Shinei’s brother, Shourei, long ago. Spearhead’s next engagement with the Legion and Vladilena’s refusal to disconnect from the session results in her being exposed to the Legion’s “Black Sheep” units, whose microprocessors can assimilate neural processes from their victims in order to maintain their functionality. Despite the horror and further casualties, Vladilena persists in her support for Spearhead and begins to fall in love with Shinei. She arranges for a crate of fireworks to be delivered to Spearhead. However, she is unable to secure reinforcements, as Spearhead was designed as penal unit of sorts, whose soldiers were made to fight to the death. During one engagement, Shinei hears Shourei’s voice amongst the Legion’s new model and desires to confront him one final time in order to properly put him to rest. Vladilena’s persistence in helping Spearhead draws Henrietta’s ire: she reveals that she’d been friends with Shinei and her father’s work on the Para-RAID resulted in the deaths of countless Colorata. Remorseful of her actions towards Vladilena, she agrees to help her by commandeering San Magnolia’s artillery systems, and in their next engagement, this allows enough Legion to be destroyed such that Shinei can confront the Shepherd Legion possessing Shourei’s mind. He is able to destroy the Shepherd and finds peace in success, feeling his brother is finally liberated from suffering. With his goal finished, Shinei decides to desert and set course for territories beyond San Magnolia, to Vladilena’s chagrin. Shinei and the surviving Spearhead members, Anju, Raiden, Theoto and Kurena enter Imperial territory, where they encounter additional Legion. Vladilena travels out to Spearhead’s base to see the sights she’d only heard about, and discovers they’d intended for her to adopt a kitten they’d picked up. She promises to continue fighting and do what she believes is right. This is 86 EIGHTY-SIX at the halfway point; a second season was announced shortly after the finale aired, and will pick up in October 2021. Until then, 86 EIGHTY-SIX leaves in its wake a trail of questions after Shinei is able to face his inner dæmons and confront his brother one final time.

Because 86 EIGHTY-SIX is technically only halfway through, ascertaining the series’ overall objective is not a particularly meaningful task; whatever awaits in the second half will be required to provide a complete picture of what 86 EIGHTY-SIX strove to convey. With this being said, the first season’s portrayal of the war between San Magnolia and the Giadian Empire’s autonomous machines, specifically how San Magnolia handled the conflict, speaks to the idea that dehumanising a group of individuals perpetuates a cycle of suffering that will result in complete annihilation. This is most obvious with the Colorata, who are treated as non-humans, but among the Alba residing in San Magnolia, it is clear that their society has stagnated from a technological standpoint; as the war against the Legion raged, San Magnolia’s inability to defend their nation proved embarrassing, so the Colorata (conveniently living at San Magnolia’s edges) were made the scapegoats to shift blame away from a government unable to find a solution. In time, discrimination against the Colorata became commonplace, and the current status quo seemed viable, so San Magnolia has no incentive to advance their technology and properly face the Legion, which in turn results in continued death amongst the Colorata. As more Colorata die, the Alba leadership are forced to eventually await total casualties so the truth will never get out, but the outcome of this approach is that, without the Colorata to fight, the Legion will eventually overrun and destroy San Magnolia, too. The Alba of the present don’t seem too concerned because many remain unaware of the fact that the Legion are capable of replacing their processing cores and effectively giving them an unlimited operational life-span. Coupled with the fact that the Legion can appear to use nano-machinery, 86 EIGHTY-SIX is setting the stage for San Magnolia’s demise, and it appears that nothing less than uncommon perseverance from Vladilena and other like-minded Alba will save San Magnolia from complete annihilation.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s too early to tell if the world-building and outcomes in 86 EIGHTY-SIX will rival those of Sora no Woto, which is the vibes I had coming in to this series. Sora no Woto excelled in all areas, with a unique balance of character growth, comedy, urgency and a solid theme to unify everything, so it’s naturally a very tough bar to beat, and while I’m not expecting 86 EIGHTY-SIX to impress quite to the same level, I found this to be a modestly enjoyable ride, enough for me to have an interest in the second season.

  • A major part of 86 EIGHTY-SIX was Vladilena’s gradual coming to know Spearhead better. As viewers, we are well aware of the fact that Vladilena’s intentions are genuine, but Spearhead have no way of knowing, and as such, a part of the payoff comes from Vladilena succeeding in getting her feelings across through conversations with the group. While they still keep her at arms’ length, the hostility slowly begins dissipating. Compared to the antiquated and sterile environments within San Magnolia, Spearhead’s facilities feel a lot more natural.

  • It turns out that Vladilena’s perception of the Colorata as human, and her determination to save them, comes from an event in her childhood: her father had been a staunch proponent of the fact that the Colorata should be treated properly, and even travelled out into District Eighty Six to show Vladilena the reality of their war. However, during one such excursion, their helicopter was shot down by anti-air legion, and the young Vladilena herself would’ve perished had it not been for Shourei, who saves her.

  • While 86 EIGHTY-SIX does aim to present a more serious story, two aspects of the anime did diminish the atmospherics. The first of these was a whimsical piece of incidental music making use of a woodwind, and the second is the fact that Vladilena herself seems to glow in bliss whenever she has food made from real ingredients. I understand that this is placed to indicate that Vladilena has access to the full spectrum of emotions, although I would also suppose that it’s to demonstrate that despite her station and the associated responsibilities, she’s still young.

  • Against a foe like the Legion, the most effective weapon would’ve probably been electromagnetic pulses to scramble their electronics, followed by use of cluster munitions. If we’re allowed more exotic weapons, then plasma rounds as seen in Halo, or Star Wars‘ ion cannons would also feel like feasible choices. Instead, San Magnolia is left to field inferior, manned spider-tanks against the Legion, speaking volumes about their nations’ inadequacies. The general attitude surrounding the armed forces seems to be “better us than them”, and it appears that as long as the Alba leadership can live comfortably, they don’t really concern themselves with even developing better weapons.

  • The Colorata thus could’ve become a stopgap measure, but instead, a combination of discrimination, complacency and hubris stops them from researching more effective weapons. Granted, had this been the case, 86 EIGHTY-SIX wouldn’t allow Vladilena and Shinei to speak with one another, which is doubtlessly the disruption to the status quo that allows the story to happen. I’ve long joked that if common sense prevails too early, there is no story; in 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s case, I’ll forgive the lack of drive to develop better tools against the Legion mainly because giving the protagonists powerful weapons diminish the impact of death.

  • The sharp contrast between the world that Vladilena lives in, and Shinei’s world, is night and day. Through this, 86 EIGHTY-SIX conveys the idea that to live life fully is to accept that there is always going to be a risk, and that because of this risk, the experiences that we share become more meaningful and precious. By comparison, the sheltered, closed-off life within the walls of San Magnolia feels stilted, and here, Spearhead recalls a party they’d had as a group during the spring, under blooming cherry trees.

  • The biggest surprise early in 86 EIGHTY-SIX is the idea that the Legion’s machines possess enough sophistication to be aware of their own “death” and have determined that harvesting neural tissue from deceased humans is the best way to ensure their own survival. While this seems like malevolence in AI, one could actually devise a setup such that the Legion’s actions can be considered an emergent property: in graduate school, I took a course in biological computation and emergent computing to study how immensely complex behaviours can arise from devising agents that follow simple rules.

  • The most famous example is Craig Reybolds’ BOIDS, which demonstrate flocking behaviours rivalling those of real-world bird flocks despite each agent only possessing three rules. It is therefore conceivable that that a slightly more complex set internal data and a sufficiently sophisticated decision function would eventually lead the Legion to realise that their internal hardware can be replaced with a readily available source of computational power, one that is easier to find than returning to the manufacturing plant and asking for replacement parts. What works for the machines, however, terrifies those who fight them: residual neurological patterns mean that the dying thoughts of the person can be heard, and Vladelina loses her composure outright when she’s exposed to this phenomenon.

  • One of the factual pieces of 86 EIGHTY-SIX that isn’t accounted for is the fact that organic tissue, while capable of immensely complex actions, is still very slow. Modern day processors cannot reason and spot patterns anywhere nearly as effectively as our minds, but instead, they compensate by being orders of magnitude faster. One supposes that the Legion have overcome this particular barrier or use the organic matter purely to augment their existing hardware in some way.

  • After one conversation with Shinei, Vladilena spots a heart shape in one of her chocolates and glows red in embarrassment. It’s easy to surmise that she’s fallen in love with Shinei;86 EIGHTY-SIX is set up in such a way so that the two’s paths will inevitably cross, and so far, the progression hasn’t felt unnatural in any way. The two exchange conversations to learn more about one another and support one another outside the scope of their ordinary duties to the point where they develop a minor connection of sorts.

  • I’d previously mentioned that Vladilena reminds me a great deal of Warlords of Sigrdrifa‘s Claudia: both are dedicated to their duties, but possess a more human side to them, as well. Unlike 86 EIGHTY-SIXWarlords of Sigrdrifa flew under most viewers’ radars, and discussion of the series was quite limited. 86 EIGHTY-SIX, on the other hand, drew much more discussions; some folks counted this series as a game-changer in anime, while others found the hype and acclaim for the series to greatly exaggerate what the series did end up doing.

  • A recurring joke in 86 EIGHTY-SIX comes from Henrietta constantly fending off suitors that are well outside the realm of her interests. At a San Magnolia party celebrating their national holiday, Vladilena is disinterested in the proceedings and activates her para-RAID so that she may speak with Spearhead. While her determination is admirable, resistance to any idea of reinforcing Spearhead is fierce. In fact, San Magnolia’s leadership is acting the same way Cornelius Fudge and the Ministry of Magic did in response to the suggestion that Voldemort had returned.

  • Competent leadership and the drive to innovate would’ve easily dug San Magnolia from their current situation, but this would end the story before we viewers had a chance to check it out. For the same reasons that humanity doesn’t have Forerunner technology at the beginning of the Human-Covenant War, we’re dropped in to a point where things look grim, so that Vladilena and Spearhead may work out the challenges together. While it’s a small gesture, Vladilena’s sending fireworks to their base, disguised as special rounds, is done to show she still cares about them.

  • As it turns out, Henrietta had been friends with Shinei as a child, but as the country devolved into racism and segregation, she ended up selling them out to avoid trouble for her family. I’d initially figured it was a radio, but between the Legion’s ability to jam EMR and Henrietta’s father had been involved in the development of the para-RAID, which directly links minds together, this theory is quickly benched. The fact that Henrietta’s father had experimented on live Colorata test subjects resulted in his committing suicide from the guilt, despite succeeding. I’ll leave others to cover the ethical ramifications of this achievement, since the implications for me are that San Magnolia does have the capability of putting together technological feats that are impossible with contemporary technology if they put their minds to it.

  • Hence, the question of why effort would be expended towards a technology that only will prolong the Colorata’s suffering, rather than developing the munitions needed to mop the Legion up, lingers. I’m not too sure if the second season will go in this direction, although I will note that I will not hold this against 86 EIGHTY-SIX at all: the world is built this way to accommodate the story, and even in reality, companies are known for making illogical decisions (such as loot boxes and delaying BD releases while offering location and timed exclusives for certain anime films).

  • Shinei’s prowess as a Juggernaut pilot is consistently shown throughout 86 EIGHTY-SIX, manifesting in high-paced combat sequences that are fun to watch. Despite his power, Shinei’s main reason to fight is the fact that he wants to properly send his brother off, having been haunted by the fact that Shourei had tried to kill him in a fit of rage after their parents died in the Legion onslaught. Thanks to his ability to hear the voices of the deceased, Shinei determines his brother must still be suffering from regrets in his life and feels the only way he can attain redemption for failing to protect those around him is at least to help Shourei find peace.

  • In the end, Shinei is successful: fighting against a titanic Legion known as a Shepherd, which possesses near-human intelligence and is capable of coordinating Legion offensive with frightening accuracy. While Shinei is nearly wrecked thanks to the Shepherd’s nanomachines, Vladilena had managed to convince Henrietta to take control of San Magnolia’s artillery system and hammers the area in a danger-close fire mission. Clearing away enough Legion to buy Shinei space, he is able to finally destroy the Shepherd, liberating his brother’s spirit from suffering. Recognising what Shinei was trying to do, Shourei apologises to Shinei before dying.

  • In the end, only five members of Spearhead survive the battle; there is a sense of finality here, akin to how as Angel Beats! progressed, fewer characters were left as they moved on. This creates a sense of melancholy, and knowing their eventual fate is death, Spearhead decide to head out of San Magnolia’s borders for new territory. While Spearhead’s members had each been prepared for death, seeing what lay outside of their service to San Magnolia also helped them to appreciate the value of life.

  • The final moments of Spearhead setting course away from San Magnolia’s borders is set to an inset song, a collaboration between Hiroyuki Sawano and mizuki. 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s incidental music is, unsurprisingly, scored by Sawano and Kohta Yamamoto: I didn’t notice Sawano’s style until this inset song, whereupon motifs from Gundam Narrative immediately presented itself. Like Kenji Kawai, Sawano has a very distinct style, making use of percussion and strings extensively in his pieces to capture a sense of grandeur and scale. Indeed, Sawano’s contributions to 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s soundtrack greatly resembles the music in Hathaway’s Flash.

  • Because Sawano’s music (and the singers performing his songs) tend to have a strong emotional tenour, some folks indicated that 86 EIGHTY-SIX was trying a bit too hard to create a touching moment that showed the extent of how much Vladilena had come to care for Spearhead. As far as emotions go, I did not feel that this moment said anything substantial about Vladilena, but I did enjoy it for the music. The soundtrack released today, and aside from the track “TararaTaTa”, which was that woodwind song I’m not terribly fond of for being completely dissonant with the overall aesthetic in the series, the remainder of the soundtrack is solid.

  • Outside of San Magnolia’s borders, Shinei, Anju, Raiden, Theoto and Kurena are finally at ease: with the Legion a threat for another time, the five are able to unwind properly. After surviving their last battle, Spearhead’s remnants only have access to Shinei’s Juggernaut and one robot for carrying supplies, lovingly dubbed Fido. The vividly coloured landscapes Shinei and his allies see stand in stark contrast to the sterile environments the Alba live in, and it is here that 86 EIGHTY-SIX really shines. The combination of lighting and foliage colour here creates a very cool and comfortable feeling, paralleling the passing of last week’s heat wave.

  • We’re now a ways into July, and having gotten my second dose, I’m looking forwards to returning to the office in a shade under two weeks. I’ve been lucky in that after taking my shot, the only side effects I had was mild drowsiness, and by Friday, I was well enough to enjoy a surprise lunch of fried chicken three ways (quarter chicken, chicken tenders and popcorn chicken) with barbeque sauce and fries. While working from home’s been fun (I find that my productivity is roughly the same as it is from the office, ±10%), the biggest impediment is that I only have a single monitor setup at home for my Mac machines, and I lack the adaptors to run an HDMI cable to USB-C ports.

  • The drawback about returning to the office is that, since I tend to watch anime at lunch, my pacing might slow down somewhat. I’ll figure something out once I start at the office; for now, I’ll focus on 86 EIGHTY-SIX – here, Kurena melts in a hot bath, which is a rare luxary afforded to them by the large container they’re carrying. For the longest time, Kurena has had a crush on Shinei, but was always too embarrassed to say so. Shinei seems quite unaware of this, but in spite of this, Kurena always develops a spring in her step when Shinei praises her.

  • While exploring an abandoned town in the Giadian Empire, Shinei and the others come upon a damaged Legion unit possessing a human brain. Shinei is able to understand the machine’s desire to end its suffering and shoots it in his usual manner. During one engagement, the support robot Fido takes damage and needs to be decommissioned. The existence of robots like Fido would suggest that San Magnolia is capable of at least basic AI, even if what they build isn’t as advanced as what the Giadian Empire created prior to their destruction at its hands.

  • It suddenly strikes me that what makes the Colorata and Spearhead squadron special are the fact that they are human, whereas their foe is a machine. Since the Giadian Empire is no more, one direction 86 EIGHTY-SIX could impress with during the second season would be the idea that regardless of technological sophistication, the human spirit is more impressive still. I’m not sure if this is covered in the original novels, and I suppose I could go check the novels out, but for the time being, I would prefer to see the events from the anime surprise me.

  • After exploring a school, Shinei and the others encounter a field of Legion. Shinei decides to engage them on his own and orders the others to leave. While Kurena, Raiden, Theoto and Anju’s fates are unknown, one can suppose that Shinei survives, since this is essential to the story: one could say that he is cursed to live because the narrative demands it. Seeing everyone in a classroom was reminiscent of a scene in Sora no Woto when Kanata imagines her, Rio, Nöel, Kureha and Filicia in a music club together – there is a sense of longing for normalcy amongst the group, and this was a moment I found particularly moving.

  • Vladilena’s unauthorised use of artillery lands her a suspension from active duty, and she uses the time to head out to Spearhead’s base. Having shared so many conversations with them, Vladilena is reminded of how the facility once housed the people she’d come to develop an attachment to. For me, this was probably the more emotional moment in 86 EIGHT-SIX; as Vladilena explores the places Spearhead once occupied, memories linger in the corridors and rooms.

  • I would liken the feeling to wandering campus grounds during the summer, returning to lecture halls and libraries I once made extensive use of – while devoid of people, certain memories endure. Vladilena’s trip leads her to find a cat that Spearhead had been keeping, and, promising to take care of the kitten to honour the old team’s wishes, Vladilena resolves to do what she can, as well. This is where the first season ends: after the finale, another episode aired, but to my initial disappointment, this ended up being a recap. However, the recap episode proved to be a blessing in disguise; I will watch it prior to 86 EIGHTY-SIX resuming in October just to jolt my memories on a few things. With this, my talk on 86 EIGHTY-SIX draws to a close. I have no verdict for the series yet, since it feels unfair to provide an assessment of a story that’s really only halfway through.

  • Having said this, I did have fun watching 86 EIGHTY-SIX, and the first half is sufficiently interesting such that I am looking forwards to the second half. In the meantime, the only other anime left over from the previous season is Higehiro –  I’m not too sure when I’ll get around to writing about it, but I do intend to wrap things up. For the upcoming season, The Aquatope on White Sand and Magia Record are on my list of series to write about, and DOOM Eternal has exceeded expectations, so I’m looking forwards to penning my thoughts on the game once I’ve completed the first four missions. Finally, I was able to set up a basic Mists of Pandaria server a few days ago, and while it’s nowhere nearly as functional as my Wrath of the Lich King server as far as quests, spells and dungeons goes, it is sufficiently complete for me to explore Azeroth and Pandaria from the air without any crashes, so that could be worth writing about once I finish exploring Northrend and share my final thoughts on Skyrim, where I’ve finally beaten Alduin.

Beyond these aspects, 86 EIGHTY-SIX also touches on what working within a system that is resilient towards change is like through Vladilena, as well as how even in the face of a limited lifespan, people like Shinei can nonetheless find purpose in life and make the most of the time they have. The more human aspects of 86 EIGHTY-SIX, however, have felt more inconsistent. Vladilena’s connection to Spearhead is still being developed, and while she’s determined to know those whom she works with, she still has yet to actually meet anyone in person. However, knowing that there is a second season means that Vladilena’s story will have time to undergo further exploration. Conversely, Shinei’s desire to find closure with his brother, despite being portrayed as a pivotal moment for him, ended up being resolved on short order; folks looking for a bit more of an emotional connection to Shinei finally achieving what he’d set out to do felt shafted on account of how quickly it’d occurred. This naturally leaves the question of what lies ahead for Shinei: once Shourei’s Legion form is defeated, Shinei completely relaxes and even finds enjoyment in life. He appears content to watch the sun rise over the universe, but with the Legion still posing a substantial threat, it is difficult to imagine that Shinei would take this lying down, and as he continues to fight, I imagine that his course is set to converge with Vladilena’s come the second season. Because 86 EIGHTY-SIX is still in progress, it would be unfair to settle on a verdict at this point in time; I’ll determine whether or not the series meets expectations once everything is in the books, but insofar, I have enjoyed what I’ve seen so far; despite hiccoughs in the character development, the world-building in 86 EIGHTY-SIX has proven to be very compelling to the point where I’ve certainly looked forwards to the episodes each week this was airing.

3 responses to “86 EIGHTY-SIX: Review and Reflection At The Halfway Point

  1. Michael E Kerpan July 7, 2021 at 09:56

    I found this series interesting enough that I bought all the available ebooks as soon as I got to the last episode. I was too impatient to wait until October (and I suspect that the second season won’t get to the end of the source material anyway). Not the most sophisticated literary style, but worth reading.


    • infinitezenith July 8, 2021 at 20:07

      If I do kick things off, I’ll probably start slowly and go for one volume at a time; as a reader, I’m spoiled by the likes of Tom Clancy and J.R.R. Tolkien, so I expect elegant prose and descriptions that strike a balance between detail and metaphor. Still, 86 EIGHTY-SIX was intriguing enough so that I could probably acclimatise to things to check out what happens,. Having said this, my enemy is time: there’s barely enough hours of the day to do every last thing, so inevitably, my hobbies usually take the hit, so we’ll see if I can find time to pick up the novels!


  2. Michael E Kerpan July 11, 2021 at 09:25

    Not as well-written as the Haruhi Chronicles or Hyouka (or Adachi and Shimamura), but not bad. 😉


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