“I hate prejudice, discrimination, and snobbishness of any kind – it always reflects on the person judging and not the person being judged. Everyone should be treated equally.” –Gordon Brown
When war erupts between the Republic of San Magnolia and the Empire of Giad, San Magnolia begins folding under the Empire’s automated machines. San Magnolian engineers claim to have developed their own autonomous machines, leading the public to believe that this war is purely fought between automaton, but in reality, San Magnolia has the Colorata people, an ethnic minority in San Magnolia, pilot these machines, Juggernauts, while the Alba majority live their lives idly. Major Vladilena Mirizé is an Alba with the military, and at the age of sixteen, is a handler for Colorata squadrons. Unlike her compatriots, she treats her units kindly and possesses a fierce desire to end the discrimination the Colorata, informally, the 86, have received. She accepts an assignment to lead the Spearhead unit, which is infamous for having driven previous handlers insane. Vladilena quickly realises that Spearhead is worthy of their reputation, and desires to learn more about them, including unit leader Shinei. The Colorata soldiers, on the other hand, find Vladilena curious at best and untrustworthy at worst: a handful of Spearhead begin to speak more freely with Vladilena, Kaie among them, but Kurena refuses to open up because the Alba had executed her parents. WiShineig to help Spearhead improve their combat efficiency, Vladilena finds a new map with engineer and researcher, Henrietta Penrose, to better improve her awareness of the terrain, but during an operation, Kaie’s Juggernaut gets bogged down in a marsh, and she’s killed in action. Theoto, one of the surviving pilots, accuses Vladilena of putting on a front about caring for those she commands into combat, and claims that Vladilena hadn’t even bothered to learn everyone’s actual names. After three episodes, 86 EIGHTY-SIX has proven to be an intriguing anime, covering a range of intriguing topics through its world building: while there are moments that lighten the mood up considerably, 86 EIGHTY-SIX on the whole
Out of the gates, the dystopian world is rife with relevant social issues of segregation and discrimination, and the protagonists represent dramatically different viewpoints on the war. The treatment of the Colorata, the 86, as non-humans, is despicable, and 86 EIGHTY SIX makes this discrimination clear out of the gates with an Alba handler verbally abusing the Colorata soldiers as they enter combat. After Vladilena is introduced, she enters a military office filled with inebriated officers who seem completely disinterested in their duties. It becomes clear that the Alba are no saints, and that their world is a fabrication. Vladilena, however, is different: she regards the Colorata as humans to the bemusement to those around her, and while other Alba lecture her for her seemingly naïve perspectives, Vladilena’s beliefs make her easily sympathetic to the audience. What appears as electronic signals on her screen, are, after all, people, and 86 EIGHTY-SIX subsequently switches the perspectives out to show the Colorata as they fight in combat against an unfeeling enemy, as well as their lives outside of battle. The Colorata are human, experiencing joy, sorrow, mirth and melancholy as acutely as any Alba (if not more so). Meals are enjoyed together, jokes are shared, amongst the Spearhead soldiers, and Vladilena plainly understands this, even if she’s not on the battlefield herself. Hoping to lead her soldiers to survival and eventual return to San Magnolia, Vladilena immediately becomes a likeable character: three episodes in, viewers have reason to support Vladilena and hope that her sincerity reaches those who fight under her guidance.
Screenshots and Commentary
- I’ve always been fond of anime with an interesting world and mecha: 86 EIGHTY-SIX looks like an amalgamation of Sora no Woto and Warlords of Sigrdrifa at first glance, with Vladilena benig 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s counterpart to Warlords of Sigrdrifa‘s Claudia. Both are devoted to their duties as soldiers, but have a more friendly side to them, as well. Upon reaching the military headquarters, Vladilena is disgusted to see her fellow officers lazing around after what must’ve been a wild party. In this moment, it became apparent that in San Magnolia, very few care about doing their duties properly.
- Consequently, I developed an immediate sense of respect for Vladilena. Vladilena’s battle station is a dark room with large displays and an uplink to real-time data that allows her to spot enemies and direct her units to proper points on a map. While it makes sense that even automated systems have human controllers, that Vladilena is speaking with the machines hints at the fact that the Juggernauts aren’t, in fact, autonomous. Fighting from behind the safety of a screen, and the comfort of a good chair, Vladilena nonetheless feels connected to the names on a screen, whereas other mission controllers, dubbed Handlers, view their units as disposable.
- When Vladilena is given command of an elite squad, she immediately accepts. Vladilena is an idealist, speaking to things like equality, fairness and nondiscrimination: these topics have never been more relevant, with current events constantly highlighting the mistreatment of minorities and need to contain racial discrimination. As a visible minority myself, I’ve experienced discrimination, but it also speaks to a bit of luck where I’ve opportunity to overcome whatever barriers this presents on virtue of effort and merit alone. In 86 EIGHTY-SIX, however, the Alba’s systemic discrimination against the Colorata is such that the Colorata don’t even have this chance. Vladilena therefore becomes a character viewers will rally behind, as she’s completely opposed to San Magnolia’s treatment of the Colorata, and does what she can to raise awareness of this issue.
- I suppose that it is a hallmark of this decade’s anime, where cutesy mannerisms and facial expressions find their way even into anime with a more serious premise: Vladilena melts when Henrietta convinces the former to stick around for tea, as she’s made cream puffs and cakes with real eggs and cheese. The implication is that there’s a food crisis going on, and while San Magnolia’s citizens seem to be living in reasonable comfort, their world also seems artificially clean, manufactured. This stands in stark contrast with the Colorata, the 86’s, world, which is rundown, gritty, but also possessing a human touch to it.
- Unlike the Alba, which all have silver hair and blue eyes, the Colorata are a very diverse group of individuals, sporting a range of complexions, hair and eye colours. Having grown up in a multi-cultural nation, I’m accustomed to seeing people of all sorts, and I fully embrace the idea that different cultures share one thing in common: everyone has noteworthy customs, traditions and above all, food. Despite their poor treatment at the hands of the Alba, Spearhead squad is a spirited and energetic group: ironically, they feel more human than the Alba do, even though the Alba claim that the Colorata are non-human.
- Between the devastated world outside of the San Magnolia walls, military emphasis, spider-tanks and general aesthetic, 86 EIGHTY-SIX distinctly feels like Sora no Woto. It’s been ten years since I first watched Sora no Woto, and admittedly, since then, I’ve had a fondness for the sort of world-building that Sora no Woto presented. Here in 86 EIGHTY-SIX, it is no small compliment when I say that this series is comparable to Sora no Woto as far as creating intrigue and excitement to see what happens next. However, unlike Sora no Woto, which I watched after its airing (and therefore, could watch the episodes at my own pace), watching 86 EIGHTY-SIX as it’s airing means that I’ll have to wait a week should any episode end on a cliffhanger.
- Whereas the Alba eat artificial foods, with actual food being hard to come by, Spearhead appear to have access to fresh peaches and cherries, as well as real eggs and flour. Even though their lives are far tougher, and death is always a real threat, one could make the case that the Colorata are living more fully than their Alba counterparts. Here in this screenshot, I’ve just got Shinei, the male protagonist of 86 EIGHTY-SIX. Brutally efficient and skilled, Shinei is a taciturn, stoic individual, and in fact, reminds me greatly of Gundam 00‘s Setsuna F. Seiei.
- Assuming this to be the case, I feel that 86 EIGHTY-SIX will likely have Shinei become more expressive and honest with his feelings as he gets to know Vladilena better. Shinei is voiced by Shōya Chiba (B Cell from Cells at Work! and Yuito Aoi of Iroduku: The World in Colours). Shinei is notable because of his devotion to duty and attendant combat efficiency. When one of his squad-mates is injured in combat and asks Shinei to put him out of his misery, Shinei does so without hesitation: in most situations, one would at least stop and hesitate a little, so such an action speaks volumes about Shinei’s mindset.
- Despite not expressing his emotions often, Shinei is often seen reading books when off-duty. I read primarily to lose myself in other worlds, and I therefore imagine that books are probably Shinei’s way of coping with the things he’s seen and done on the battlefield. Further to this, while Shinei isn’t particularly vocal, I imagine that there could come a point in 86 EIGHTY-SIX where Shinei loses his cool: in Gundam 00, flashbacks to his past, brought on by Ali Al-Saachez and a return to the Krugis republic, causes Setsuna to fight with a wild abandon.
- Spearhead and the other Colorata soldiers use the M1A4 Juggernaut, a manned spider tank armed with a single 57 mm smoothbore cannon and depending on the configuration, either a pair of oscillating cutters or 50-calibre machine guns. Juggernaut pilots are called Processors to create the illusion that the Juggernauts are autonomous, unmanned machines, whereas in practise, the Juggernauts resemble Star Wars‘ TIE Fighters, which were built to overwhelm enemies with numbers and lack any notable safety features.
- By the second episode, viewers have a chance to see what sort of enemies San Magnolia are fighting, and it’s explained that Spearhead and other Colorata pilots are engaged in a battle with the Empire’s Legion, fully autonomous machines that overwhelm enemies with their numbers and ability to sustain casualties without concern. It is briefly mentioned that the Empire might not be in full control of their machines, which attack based on some failed algorithm, and as a result, San Magnolia’s war with the Empire is set to conclude in two year’s time, when Legion machines reach their operational limits and shut down.
- With this in mind, the Colorata become human sacrifices, fighting to keep the Legion busy while the Alba wait things out. I’ve heard that this already precipitous setup will be further disrupted in the future as more of the world becomes presented to viewers, although having very little familiarity with the source material, I think I’ll stick to an anime-only perspective of 86 EIGHTY-SIX so that any new revelations can have a greater impact. While I’ve long been neutral or tolerant of spoilers, of late, I’ve had an increased inclination to avoid spoilers as to have a more thorough and complete experience.
- Vladilena’s convictions become reinforced to viewers when she’s invited as a guest speaker for a lecture and promptly goes on to say that the Colorata, the 86, are fully human, and that it is only with San Magnolia’s mistreatment and misclassification of them that allow the country to claim a zero-casualty war against the Empire’s Legion. Ordinarily, characters with a predisposition towards supporting a cause can come across as being quite irritating because of indecisive writing, so it speaks volumes about Vladilena’s character that hearing her bring awareness to the Colorata’s situation serves to increase my respect for her: the series is able to get viewers to rally behind Vladilena because the other perspective (i.e. those of the Colorata’s) is clearly presented, leaving no ambiguity that with few exceptions, the Alba are being unreasonable.
- To communicate with Spearhead, Vladilena uses what’s called a PARA-RAID, a VoIP system that Henrietta had a hand in developing. Spearhead finds her calls unusual, since most mission controllers regard the Processors as expendable. While initially reluctant to open up, a few of Spearhead do eventually warm up to Vladilena, who goes by the call-sign Handler One. Here, she asks Shinei to produce better combat reports so that she may better support them: while Processor teams are ostensibly supposed to write reports for this exact reason, unofficially, most mission controllers have no regard for the Processor’s well-being and thus, never read them, so Spearhead’s taken to submitting the same one every time to save effort.
- There’s actually quite a bit of terminology in 86 EIGHTY-SIX that takes some getting used to, but fortunately, after three episodes, I believe I’m a little clearer now. A Handler is a mission controller, an Alba who sits behind a screen to direct the Processor, human pilots running the M1A4 Juggernaut spider tanks. To ensure a line of communications, the PARA-RAID system is used. The Legion refer to the autonomous war machines the Empire has created, and I think that’s everything.
- Here, in between operations, the women of the team decide to frolik in a nearby stream, and after hunting a boar, some of the guys figure it’s a good idea to cop a look. They get busted almost immediately, and in the chaos, Kurena accidentally lets slip that she has feelings for Shinei, which leads to all sorts of good natured teasing subsequently, causing Kurena to puff up her cheeks in indignation. The use of visual elements such as puffed-up cheeks is unusual for a series of this premise, and I recall that Warlords of Sigrdrifa did something similar, with exaggerated facial expressions. I come from a time where serious anime had serious, consistent facial artwork, so seeing these elements always suggest to me that a given series, whether it’s 86 EIGHTY-SIX or Warlords of Sigrdrifa, is reminding viewers not to take things so seriously all the time.
- Of everyone in Spearhead squad, I immediate took a liking towards Kaie: friendly and outgoing, she’s very forward and direct, as well as possessing a greater understanding of the Alba and Colorata’s history. As with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s Kyon, I’ve long had a thing for ponytails, and despite 86 EIGHTY-SIX being a new anime, I felt that Kaei looks very familiar, even though can’t quite put my finger on which anime character. Kaie is voiced by Haruka Shiraishi, whom I know as Himouto! Umaru-chan‘s Kirie Motoba, Ruri Hibarigaoka from Anne Happy! and Hanawa Ushiku from Anima Yell!.
- By evening, Vladilena uses the PARA-RAID to contact Spearhead. One aspect I particularly liked about 86 EIGHTY-SIX was the fact that the same moments would be portrayed from Vladilena and Spearhead’s perspective as the two converse, which really accentuates the idea that there’s two sides to the coin here. Although the only thing connecting them is voice comms right now, 86 EIGHTY-SIX will almost certainly go down a route where Vladilena’s conviction in equal rights and fair treatment of the Colorata will have her show up on the frontlines, which would show Kurena and the others that Vladilena means business.
- After retrieving a map from the archives with Henrietta’s help, Vladilena is confident that she’ll be of greater help to Spearhead. However, things quickly go pear-shaped when Spearhead is ambushed by the Legion, and in the chaos, Kaie’s Juggernaut becomes stuck in a marsh that the maps did not denote. She becomes a sitting duck for the Legion’s guns and is subsequently destroyed. Theoto subsequently lashes out at Vladilena, and while his words come from the heat of the moment, there’s truth in them. Vladilena doesn’t know the horrors of the battlefield. As accusation after accusation comes in, Vladelina loses composure.
- Three episodes into 86 EIGHTY-SIX, and I’m sold on the premise; there’s a lot of moving parts in this anime, and correspondingly, much to consider. I could be here all day discussing various ideas, as 86 EIGHTY-SIX offers food for thought on many fronts. However, I also appreciate that there will be a smaller set of themes this series will likely wish to focus on as it progresses. To give 86 EIGHTY-SIX a fair chance to explore the themes its author had intended the work to convey, I’ll close things off here and note that with this post, I’ve now established all of the anime I’m actively watching and writing about this season. I’ll take a look at Yakunara Mug Cup mo in another week: because the series is broken up into an animated and live-action component, there’s only the equivalent of a half episode each week, so I figured I’d best wait to see more of the series before sitting down to write about it. In the meantime, it’s time to catch up with the fourth episode: I’d deliberately held off on watching it so this after-three talk was not impacted by knowledge of future events.
Beyond social matters, 86 EIGHTY-SIX also speaks to the disconnect between the Alba handlers and Colorata soldiers. Theoto’s grief-filled rant carries this message plainly; while Vladilena may care for those around her, all she sees on the screen is a series of pixels representing a soldier. She’s not present to know how losing a comrade feels, or see the battlefield painted with allied blood with each and every death. 86 EIGHTY-SIX thus indicates that there exists a gap between leadership and the foot soldiers in general: leaders often have sight of the bigger picture, but are blind to the experiences (and sufferings) of those with boots on the ground, and short of visiting the frontlines themselves, will have very little idea of what individual soldiers see and feel. At the opposite end of the spectrum, foot soldiers have their concentration focused on getting the next objective done, and without a connection to leadership, can find it easy to lose sight of what they’re fighting for. When one loses their best friend, or a squad mate, the overarching objectives of a war become secondary: someone dear to them is gone, and achieving victory won’t bring them back. As Vladilena and Shinei get to know one another better through both conflict and whenever Vladilena contacts the Spearhead, 86 EIGHTY-SIX is clearly set on reconciling these two differences, both closing the gap between leaders and soldiers, and also set in motion the events that will see the Colorata receive equal rights, and perhaps reconciliation to demonstrate that irrespective of one’s appearance, ethnicity, beliefs or creed, everyone is human, with rights to life and security. 86 EIGHTY-SIX has covered a considerable amount of territory thus far, and this series could prove to be immensely enjoyable if all of these elements are brought together to accentuate the idea that at the end of the day, even seemingly-disparate people are more similar than unlike.