“I think it’s a common misconception in the civilian community that the military community is filled with just drills and discipline and pain. They forget that these are humans who are in an abnormal situation.” –Adam Driver
After Shinei and his team disappear past radio contact, Vladilena is relieved of command and assigned to manage a conventional team, but her combat efficiency allows her to continue looking after her charges and provide them with benefits. Meanwhile, Shinei and his team awaken in the Federacy of Giad, where they meet president Ernst Zimmerman and former princess to the Empire of Giad, Frederica Rosenfort. Zimerman wishes to have Shinei and his team adjust to civilian life, but the five are unable to do so as a result of survivor’s guilt, and so, when Zimerman learn that Shinei and his team intend to rejoin the armed forces, reluctantly allow them to do so. Frederica decides to join them: the five have no trouble getting through basic training and are assigned to Leftenant Colonel Grethe Wenzel’s Nordlicht Squadron. Shinei pilots the Reginleif-class spider tank, which is a single-seater derived off the San Magnolia Juggernauts, and despite their performance, Giad forces still sustain heavy casualties, including Eugene, who Shinei had met in the library and is fighting for a better future for his younger sister. Shinei mercy kills him and prepares to turn his attention towards the upcoming battle ahead with the amassing Legion forces. With this, I am now three episodes into 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s second half, which follows up with the events that saw Vladilena develop a closer bond with Spearhead and attempt to make tangible changes even as San Magnolia continues to lose the war against an unfeeling, autonomous foe. The first season had suggested that systems exist out of convenience to the politicians, and while Vladilena’s efforts had given the Colorata of Spearhead some hope, the harsh reality led to the deaths of everyone, save Shinei, Anju, Raiden, Theoto and Kurena, who managed to survive and begin to yearn for a future beyond the deaths that the San Magnolia armed forces had consigned them to.
However, adjusting to life outside of the battlefield, and the expectation of dying in battle, is not an easy task for Shinei and the others. The very idea of a future seems entirely foreign to them, and while everyone does their best to acclimatise to the fact that they’re now the masters of their own future, guilt and remorse weight heavily on their minds. This outcome is not particularly unusual, and there is substantial evidence to indicate that veterans who leave the armed forces do have a tough time returning to their lives. Pew Research found that aound 27 percent of veterans experienced this difficulty, and moreover, being seriously injured, watching a fellow soldier get injured or killed, and generally experiencing a traumatic event made it tougher to transition back to civilian life. Further to this, soldiers have a very disciplined, rigid life and train extensively for the operations they face, so many veterans report that the relative lack of order and structure means that getting used to how civilians approach problems and work together is completely unlike how people within the military work together. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and 86 EIGHTY-SIX has done a fair job of conveying this: for Shinei, Anju, Raiden, Theoto and Kurena, a lifetime of fighting under the inhumane conditions that San Magnolia had foisted upon them instilled in them a sense of devotion to their duty bordering on fanaticism, and this is most evident once the five’s wishes are granted. When returning to the battlefield, Shinei fights in a suicidal manner, putting his assignment above his personal safety, and his machine’s capabilities – at this point in 86 EIGHTY-SIX, it is evident that Shinei, Anju, Raiden, Theoto and Kurena have lingering hurdles in their life, and while they see a return to the battlefield as their solution, I imagine that a part of 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s second half will be having these five find their peace.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Since the events of 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s first half, Vladilena has adopted a darker uniform and given her hair a red streak to signify the losses Spearhead had taken. While her actions have garnered the respect of some of her colleagues, on the whole, Vladilena’s vocal defense of the Colorata have made her highly unpopular amongst command, and it is only by virtue of her bloodline that she’s allowed to continue working, albeit on less prestigious assignments.
- I’m not going to count 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s second half a second season and continue to refer to the series as a whole on the virtue of episode numbering: the first episode of this second half starts at twelve. It feels like 86 EIGHTY-SIX would’ve done better as an uninterrupted twenty-four episode series, but such productions are less common nowadays because TV networks no longer put up large sums of money to produce a show with the expectation of selling products by using said anime as a promotional means. These days, most anime tend to air during off-hours, and because there is no guarantee that longer shows can succeed, anime producers will produce shorter seasons, see how they perform and determine whether or not it is worth continuing.
- Some anime do end up with a new season announced immediately after the first ends; in the case of 86 EIGHTY-SIX and Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, I imagine that the studios split production up so they would be able to work on other series. From a business and production standpoint, there are practical reasons for taking this route. For us viewers, this isn’t of too much consequence, save the fact that one might forget what happened in the past season. The remedy for this is simple enough: reading up on things as a refresher, or if time allows, rewatching the earlier works anew.
- For 86 EIGHTY-SIX, the fact that the first half had aired earlier this year meant that I still had a reasonable idea of what happened earlier: Shinei and his team have disappeared beyond San Magnolia’s borders, leaving Vladilena to sort things out on her own, and end up coming upon a Legion army near the Federacy of Giad. I imagine that in between, they engaged in combat but were overrun, then saved by Giad’s armed forces. Once they’ve had a chance to recuperate, the interim president, Ernest Zimmerman, introduces himself, and explains that he’s taken an interest in ensuring these five can lead normal lives as citizens of Giad.
- While 86 EIGHTY-SIX has all of the elements for an all-business story about warfare and its consequences, the biggest piece that stands out is the fact that there are whimsical moments, such as Vladilena melting in happiness when eating a pudding made from real ingredients, or here in the second half, when Shinei and the others meet Frederica for the first time. Her initial manner is that of a spoiled child who is concerned with little more than having a good time in life. This is initially meant to drop the viewer’s guard: the little sister archetype is a familiar one in anime, and these seemingly-bratty characters do have a charm about them.
- Much as how Shinei and the others struggle to adjust to their new lives in Giad, the change in pacing in 86 EIGHTY-SIX was noticeable, and the anime does a fantastic job of conveying to viewers how unaccustomed to things the five are. It feels strange to see Shinei and the others outside of their Juggernauts and uniforms, without their distinct Para-RAID devices on their ears; Giad surgeons have removed the devices, creating a strange sense of freedom that Theoto cannot get used to; during a conversation with Anju, Theoto complains vocally about how mobile phones are inconvenient even if they do offer a modicum of privacy compared to the Para-RAID.
- 86 EIGHTY-SIX capitalises on this time to show what life in Giad is like: there are cooking classes, Christmas markets and boutique clothing stores that Kurena takes an interest in. In many ways, Giad is more similar to the world that we know, and by comparison, San Magnolia feels even more backwater as a result. Seeing all of the activity in Giad suggested to me that this nation was one that had learned from its predecessor’s mistakes, and looking around at the citizens, there is a diverse range of people sporting different appearances, unlike the homogenous makeup in San Magnolia.
- While the combination of diversity and the fact that their armed forces is a professional one would indicate that their society is better equipped for dealing with the Legion, Giad is by no means a perfect nation. Here, Shinei meets Eugene, a young man close to him in age who has aspirations to join the army so that his younger sister can be afforded an education. Conversations such as these underline social issues in Giad, such as social stratification; one would imagine that since Giad formed from the remains of its old empire, former nobles are the ruling class, and while the country has transitioned over to a more democratic systems, old systems endure.
- As such, Eugene struggles to make ends meet and believes that joining the army would allow him to earn enough funds to send back home. This is a world that Frederica isn’t terribly familiar with, and out of the blue, she appears in front of Shinei. The two end up visiting a Christmas Market in town, where Frederica pulls some stunts in a bid to convince Shinei to buy something for her. Although Shinei wonders where Frederica would pick up something like this, he buys her the stuffed bear that she’d been eying, a reminder that despite his past, Shinei retains his humanity.
- The presence of a Christmas Market, coupled with the nation’s history and the eagle motif on their flag suggest that Giad is probably modelled after Germany: anime is particularly fond of incorporating German elements into their stories because of Germany’s lengthy historical connections with Japan. The military discipline and organisation of the Meiji Restoration was in part, inspired by Prussian approaches, and even today, there are aspects of Japanese culture that overlap with German culture, such as the belief in punctuality, politeness and respect for formalities.
- While Giad might have Germanic elements, aspects of Japanese culture inevitably return: one evening, Shinei and the others are late in returning to Zimmerman’s palatial home, and Raiden is the first to run into Frederica, who’s feeling uncomfortably hungry. Raiden decides to whip up an omelette for her in the shape of the Japanese omurice, and upon tasting it, her spirits immediately return to her. Although such everyday experiences are doubtlessly comforting and a far cry from the battlefield, Shinei and the others are uncomfortable with spending their days this way and decide to rejoin the armed forces.
- Zimmerman is initially reluctant to allow them this, feeling that the five had seen more than their share of combat. However, when Frederica finally reveals that she’s the former princess to the Empire and explains that she has the power to delve into someone’s mind and see their past, Zimmerman eventually relents, although he does ask the five to take on the training needed to become officers, as this would allow them more opportunity to reintegrate with society once their duties ended.
- While doing a training exercise, several overly-enthusiastic recruits pilot their spider-tank over the hill but slips off, nearly colliding with Shinei’s unit. Shinei manages to evade but blows out his unit’s actuator in the process. The drill sergeant overseeing the exercise admits that Shinei had a point, but concludes his decision was still reckless. While Shinei is accustomed to being treated as expendable by the San Magnolia military, Giad clearly views its soldiers as people, and the design of their spider-tanks more closely resemble present-day MBTs, indicating that they were designed with survivability in mind.
- Grethe Wenzel ends up taking Shinei and the members of the newly-minted Nordlicht squadron out to a memorial in a field where Spearhead had made their final stand earlier. It’s a little early to be passing judgement, but it does look like that despite their predecessors manufacturing the Legion, the present-day Giad holds human life in a much higher regard than the Empire (and considerably more than San Magnolia). This is an encouraging sign so far, although a part of me wonders if Giad might end up betraying Shinei and the others despite doing so much for them now.
- It turns out that Giad had managed to recover items of personal significance to Shinei, including his service pistol and even FIDO, the autonomous support robot that had accompanied Spearhead throughout 86 EIGHT-SIX‘s first half. Frederica proudly announces that Giad retrieved FIDO’s main CPU and was able to rebuild it entirely, returning Spearhead’s companion back to life with all-new parts for increased performance and durability. This completely diminishes FIDO’s “death” back during the first half, but on the flipside, having an additional asset could be the difference between life and death.
- While Shinei and the others don’t play well with Giad’s main tank, the Vánagandr, the experimental Reginleif is right up their alley, being a high-mobility single-seater capable of much greater speeds than the Vánagandr, at the expense of firepower and armour (the Vánagandr possesses a 120 mm smoothbore cannon and a pair of .50-calibre MGs, while Reginleifs equip a smaller 88 mm gun). Despite the tradeoffs the Reginleifsd make, they are still superior to the Juggernauts that San Magnolia field in every way, possessing improved survivability and mobility. On their first engagement together, Shinei manages to save Eugene’s Vánagandr from destruction.
- Frederica ends up joining Nordlicht as a mascot, an individual tasked with bolstering morale amongst the soldiers. When she joins Eugene and Shinei for lunch in the mess hall, she struggles to finish her shimeji mushrooms: on one hand, she’s clearly not fond of them, but at the same time, she knows how much effort goes into food production. Shinei takes them off her hands but asks that she at least try one to help her grow: the moment does result in a few funny faces from Frederica, and I suddenly recall that of everyone in 86 EIGHTY-SIX, Vladilena probably had the most funny faces when she had screentime.
- While Vladilena might not have had much screen time insofar, it is not lost on me that Eugene’s appearance evokes memories of both Vladilena and Shinei’s older brother. Here, the pair share a conversation, and for me, such conversations have always been foreshadowing of death. Indeed, once their next battle begins, Eugene is mortally wounded and asks Shinei to let him look at a photo of his sister one more time before he dies. Shinei subsequently shoots Eugene in the head to prevent him from being assimilated into the Legion, and while another soldier who’d been disapproving of Shinei earlier objects to this, an officer thanks Shinei for doing the thankless job.
- The path that Shinei, Raiden, Kurena, Theoto and Anju go down will doubtlessly be a trying one, and I therefore look forwards to seeing where Vladilena comes back into play. At the time of writing, I’m an episode behind (and once the sixteenth episode airs later today, I’ll be two episodes behind): it was a bit of a difficult decision as to whether or not I would be writing about 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s second half early on, especially when the first few episodes were a bit slower, but once Shinei and the Nordlicht begin combat operations, the series immediately picked up again.
- The main mindset I have going into the remainder of 86 EIGHTY-SIX is that in this series, the sharp contrast between the lighthearted moments and brutality of warfare means that one can never be too blasé about what’s happening because things can always unfold in unfortunate ways. While it is the case that 86 EIGHTY-SIX does offer a lot to consider, at the end of the day, I’ve never found it to be too meaningful in trying to discuss things like morality and the like when a series is still ongoing. As such, I will be returning to write about 86 EIGHTY-SIX next once the whole series is in the books, and I’ve got a stronger measure of whether or not the story succeeded in conveying its message.
86 EIGHTY-SIX is proving to be a compelling one insofar: although its subject matter touches on the nature of warfare, handling of issues like racism and issues pertaining to things like PTSD, the series also spent enough time building up their world so that there is reason for viewers to continue watching. Up until now, we’d only seen San Magnolia’s central districts and the outlying areas where the Colorata engage the Legion, so to see an entirely new setting in Giad gives viewers a chance to see what became of the world outside of San Magnolia – while the former Empire appears to be more of a democracy now, resembling the contemporary world, it is still a nation in transition, and one where the government is attempting to sort out the problems their predecessors had created and, at the same time, continuing to ensure that their citizens are able to live peacefully. The most notable contrast between Giad and San Magnolia is the fact that Giad’s armed forces appears to be professionally staffed, and this is reflected in their war machines, which are built with survivability and safety in mind. Shinei, Anju, Raiden, Theoto and Kurena have grown accustomed to their mistreatment at the Alba’s hands, so it is understandable that things in Giad do seem a bit odd to them, and following how the five familiarise themselves with practises more consistent with those of modern nations will be interesting. Similarly, the introduction of former princess Frederica Rosenfort and the revelation that she can peer into the pasts of those around her adds another layer of mystery to the sort of technology that exists in this universe. With the way 86 EIGHTY-SIX is set up, there is the possibility that the series is doing more than it has time for, but for the present, all eyes are on Vladilena, who’s been noticeably absent from the proceedings.