“Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.” –Henry David Thoreau
After the Morpho’s self-destruction hurls Shinei’s Reginleif clear of the blast, a lone Legion unit approaches, intent on harvesting his brain. Shinei experiences a gripping vision, where he struggles to accept that he’s no longer got a purpose now that everyone dear to him is gone. However, support fire from allied forces save him, and it turns out Vladilena has arrived. Although she has no idea she’s talking to Shinei, the pair exchange their thoughts behind what makes something worth fighting for. Shinei learns that his friends have survived, and with Giad reinforcements arriving, Vladilena prepares to return to San Magnolia; Ernest has arranged for Giad forces to help survivors in San Magnolia out. Federica believes that meeting Vladilena again has given Shinei new purpose in life: spurred on by the fact that she hasn’t given up, Shinei and his friends promise to do what they can, too, and shortly after Night of the Holy Birth, they return to Giad’s military. Shinei visits Eugene’s grave and apologises for failing to protect him. Here, he runs into Marcel and Nina, reconciling with both and promising to continue on with protecting what Eugene had sought to defend. Shinei later leaves the old dog tags at the memorial, having made peace with the past, but he, Raiden, Anju, Theoto and Kurena are all surprised to learn that Vladilena is their new commander. It’s a tearful meeting as Vladilena finally is able to put faces to names, and most of all, meet the people that she’d once tried so hard to make a connection with. Having finally met at last, Vladilena and Shinei resolve to continue puShineig forwards into the future and fight the Legion to protect that which they hold dear. This is the ending of 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s animated adaptation for the present, and with it, a nearly year-long journey draws to a close. Through its run, 86 EIGHTY-SIX covered an impressive breadth of topics, from how ethnocentrism can lead to complacency and calamity, to the idea that being alive allows one the opportunity to regain their purpose where death would only deprive one of all hope, and that people are capable of change as a result of their experiences no matter how firmly entrenched they are in their own beliefs. While this series has framed these learnings around a brutal war with an unfeeling, mechanical foe and portrayed the horrors of warfare in its own right, 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s strongest point lies in its characters.
While Shinei had begun 86 EIGHTY-SIX a lone wolf, moving from squadron to squadron after surviving endless battles, his time with Raiden, Theoto, Kurena and Anju under Vladilena’s command begins to change him: his squad-mates are no longer people who come and go, but rather, people who promise to stick it out with him. Indeed, by accompanying Shinei when he takes out Shōrei, and in continuing to remain by his side when he reaches the Federacy of Giad, Theoto, Raiden, Anju and Kurena demonstrate to Shinei the strength of certain bonds amongst people who’ve endured countless trials together: to Shinei, there is no greater show of trust and resolve, since his friends have, seemingly against all odds, continued to survive with him through many dangers. When Vladilena returns into his life, being constantly shown how people can live on and find new purpose catalyses the final change of heart that leads Shinei to finally realise that there is more to life than dying, and that there is more to living than merely welcoming and embracing death itself. In those moments when Shinei is faced with death at the hands of a Legion, an indescribable terror seizes him; he’s not worried for himself, but rather, than he will face and end without having the chance to have seen Vladilena, Theoto, Raiden, Kurena and Anju off. Although Shinei had not realised it at the time, interacting with them, and then seeing Vladilena on the battlefield again, made coherent something Shinei had been worried about; all he had known was death and destruction, and so, he’d sought out death as being the purpose in life, to put others out of their misery and meet a better end than those who’d fallen to the Legion. However, when this ended, and Shinei was stripped of his purpose, he wandered through life without any aim until the battlefield found him again, and this time, it took a near-death experience to show Shinei what would be more visible to people blessed with a more ordinary life: that purpose is unfixed, mutating, and as one chapter on one’s life closes, another will begin. The key here is being able to spot these opportunities and capitalise on them to take a step forwards, no matter how uncertain the future may be. This is, of course, contingent on one’s being alive to do so.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Last I wrote about 86 EIGHTY-SIX, it would’ve been late January, a full month after the twenty-first episode had concluded. I’d fallen quite far behind on things, and therefore did not have the time to watch 86 EIGHTY-SIX in December, so I spent a few days in January catching up on things. Like Girls und Panzer, three months separated 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s final two episodes from the remainder of the series, and similarly to how I remembered things, the period between the series respective finales were characterised as being busy.
- Over the past season, I’ve been keeping up with only two active series: Slow Start‘s in the books now, and I was also following World’s End Harem, a series that managed to create a curious thriller despite its raunchy premise. The former proved fun and accompanied me through the move, while the latter was interesting, and while I don’t have much to say about it as of yet, I was moderately impressed with how the latter was able to weave a sci-fi story into things. There may be a discussion on this in the future, but for the present, my focus is on 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s finale.
- Rather than being an action-packed finale, as one might expect of the typical science fiction, 86 EIGHTY-SIX uses its final two episodes to act as a lengthy (and satisfying) dénouement to Shinei’s journey to meet Vladilena. Because of how 86 EIGHTY-SIX closed things off, I was left with the distinct feeling that the war against the Legion was ultimately secondary to Shinei’s internal conflict: had this series been about warfare itself, human nature and the belief that people should be free to choose their futures without another force controlling said futures, it would’ve unfolded more like a Gundam series.
- That two entire episodes are devoted to having Shinei express pure relief at his friends’ safety shows this series is more concerned with the human nature of things, than it is about the Juggernauts and other hardware that the human forces, and the Legion, possess. While the eponymous Gundams in the Gundam universe play a central role to things, being symbols of hope and power, and mobile suit development is often tied with character growth, the mecha in 86 EIGHTY-SIX are simply a means to an end. This is the primary reason why I’m not terribly worried about the ramifications of the mecha design in 86 EIGHTY-SIX, or the series’ general lack of exploration regarding alternate weapons and strategies that might be employed against a hypothetical grey-goo scenario.
- As the Legion are self-replicating automata, they can be treated as a much larger (and therefore, more manageable) form of grey-goo: it is thought that use of software viruses to interfere with their capabilities or communications, depriving them of their power supply and use of directed energy weapons would be sufficient to handle the Legion. However, such countermeasures would’ve rendered the Colorata, and by extension, Shinei’s entire story, unnecessary. Logic would dictate that, were efficient solutions been in place, then there would have been no need to create the Juggernauts, and therefore, no story.
- As it is, the seeming lapses in judgement are necessary to create the story at hand and write something that can present the themes that Toru Asakura had intended to tell, and one of the things in 86 EIGHTY-SIX that has endured throughout the series’ entire run is the juxtaposition between the serious and the comical moments. While Shinei is dealing with complicated matters, he and the people around him are human. As such, after Frederica spots Shinei speaking with Vladilena and peers into his mind, she’s able to confirm something that viewers had been thinking since 86 EIGHTY-SIX started: that Vladilena is that “special person” to Shinei. Her eyes sparkle in excitement, and this is something that Shinei’s Reginleif is apparently able to capture with its external cameras.
- The exchange between Vladilena and Shinei is not the first conversation they share, but it is the first time both are unknowingly close to one another; Shinei decides not to reveal himself to her just yet, feeling that if they are to meet, then at the very least, they should meet when he’s in a more dignified position. This frustrates Frederica, who feels that Shinei could’ve fulfilled a longstanding promise of sorts, but I’d tend to agree with Shinei’s decision here from a narrative standpoint; choosing to wait shows that Shinei has enough faith in himself that he will be able to meet with Vladilena again in the future. It turns out the entire conversation between Shinei and Vladilena was recorded, and everyone wastes no time in poking fun at Shinei after he returns from the infirmary with his post-mission report.
- 86 EIGHTY-SIX had always been particularly open about Shinei and Vladelina, using more subtle gestures during its run to hint at where things were headed. However, befitting of the fact that Shinei and his friends are still youth (and Lieutenant Colonel Wenzel isn’t too old, either), they gently nudge him about things. The fact that Raiden, Theoto, Anju and Kurena have survived alongside Shinei show both their own determination and resilience, as well as the fact that while Shinei regards himself as cursed to live until his time is up, those around him regard him warmly. It is not lost on me that Shinei resembles Warlords of Sigrdrifa‘s Claudia, who had similarly survived battle after battle while her allies fell, leaving her withdrawn and grim. When placed with a squad that was plucky and spirited, Claudia had begun to change, and in doing so, found the strength to fight for those around her.
- The human sides of 86 EIGHTY-SIX is something that one “Lambdalith” appears to be unable to grasp: during the height of 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s run, this individual claimed that the series made numerous gaffes about the technical elements, and professed to possess a profound understand of the series few others would have. Such individuals are always a disruption in discussions: they’re so insistent on their own correctness that they fail to see perspectives beyond their own. “Lambdalith” became known to me after making the claim that this blog was “spam” when a commenter at Random Curiosity linked back here, and struggled with the idea that there could be other writers out there, besides Random Curiosity’s, that could offer meaningful conversation on things like Super Cub. I would tend to argue that focusing on philosophy in a slice-of-life anime like Super Cub is to be pedantic: the goal of such anime is to make a statement about life in general, rather than a company’s mission, but that a conversation for another time.
- As such, I am glad that “Lamdalith” has not returned to comment on 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s finale episodes: doubtlessly, one would be treated to irrelevant complaints on technical shortcomings in the series that add no value to the discussion, or baseless accusations that other commenters with opinions differing their own were spammers. Back in 86 EIGHTY-SIX, Shinei had been as stoic and taciturn as Gundam 00‘s Setsuna F. Seiei throughout much of 86 EIGHTY-SIX, but like Claudia, who underwent considerable growth as a result of the people around her, Shinei has undergone the same process. Both Warlords of Sigrdrifa and 86 EIGHTY-SIX share this in common, although the latter holds the clear edge in world-building and framing the story for their respective protagonist’s experiences. As it stands, seeing Shinei smile was the surest sign that he’s happy to be here, besides those who matter most to him.
- Since 86 EIGHTY-SIX entered its dénouement, humourous moments become common again. Unlike series that are all-business, the presence of funny faces and exaggerated facial expressions indicate that despite a heavier premise, 86 EIGHTY-SIX is about the human side of things, first and foremost. Frederica provides most of these moments in 86 EIGHTY-SIX, but the fact she’s experienced so much, in conjunction with her powers, allows her to present both sides of the coin. After everything wraps up, it turns out that Frederica had fallen behind on her studies, and Zimerman forces her to catch up before the Night of the Holy Birth arrives.
- One thing that 86 EIGHTY-SIX had particularly exceled in was how it portrayed the passage of time: when scenes transition, they are accompanied by a calendar date. Gaps in the dates are meant to show how certain experiences require a bit of time to process, and that things don’t happen overnight. On Night of the Holy Birth (a thinly veiled version of Christmas with the same customs we’re familiar with), Zimerman gifts to Shinei and his friends things that are related to their hobbies, and everyone is surprised that they’re able to celebrate something like this even in spite of the fact that the war against the Legion is ongoing, and the losses they’ve sustained earlier.
- Despite their surprise, everyone settles into their hobbies quite nicely: Anju impresses her classmates at cooking school, while Kurena finally decides to buy the jacket she’d been eying and turns a few heads when she steps out of the store with a spring in her step. Meanwhile, Theoto is enjoying the intermittent peace to sketch, and Raiden’s working on a mechanical project of sorts. Shinei decides to make desserts with Frederica, who’s evidently finished her studies. The resulting product is so good, even Anju is impressed, showing how even Shinei can find something new to immersive himself in outside of battle.
- However, as soldiers, Shinei and the others soon find themselves being recalled back to the battlefield. Zimerman notes that their next unit commander is a bit of a controversial figure that he’d personally approved of, and while he’d worried about Shinei’s team would not agree with the arrangement, it turns out they wholeheartedly welcome their new commander. Storytelling has people returning into one another’s lives in interesting ways in fiction, although in reality, fate can also work in curious ways.
- One of the more touching moments was watching Shinei reconcile with both Marcel and Nina; while visiting Eugene’s grave, Shinei runs into both here. Unlike his past self, Shinei expresses his remorse to Marcel, showing him that he’d accepted responsibility for what happened to him. However, as it turns out, Marcel had also felt guilty about not doing more to keep Eugene alive, and had pinned the blame on Shinei to assuage his own lingering regrets. Being able to talk to Shinei allows Marcel to get his feelings out, and help him to find the strength needed to move forwards to protect what Eugene had sought to when he joined the forces.
- Similarly, while Eugene’s younger sister, Nina, had loathed Shinei for letting her brother die despite his world, she’s since been able to reconcile with the fact he’d been fighting to protect her, and moreover, in his stead, others are now doing the same. Nina is able to properly express her thanks to Shinei, and as a mark of his own growth, Shinei acknowledges this. Death is always a tricky topic, and while I dislike sharing my own thoughts on things, I am of the mind that the best way to honour the deceased is to live life with integrity and do one’s best: this is something 86 EIGHTY-SIX is conveying in its finale.
- Winter soon gives way to spring, and Shinei’s team returns to the frontlines with new Reginleifs. While painting their custom emblems on, Theoto wonders why Shinei is sticking to his old emblem of a headless reaper, feeling it to be bad luck. However, Shinei’s reply speaks volumes to how far he has come: he sees surviving six years with this logo makes it lucky. Conversation soon turns to their new commander, and in subsequent moments, the perspective switches back over to Fido, who records footage ahead of everyone’s thoughts.
- Fido had much more of a minimal presence during 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s second half, but seeing its recordings of Shinei’s teams prior to Vladilena’s arrival reminds viewers that Fido is solidly, dependably present, through both the tough times and easier moments. While the whole team is excited to finally meet their “Handler One”, the most standout moment for me was Theoto presenting his drawings. Initially, Theoto and the others had thought very poorly of Vladilena, expecting her to resign her post as their previous handlers had, but after she stuck it out with them, earned their respect. This is reflected in Theoto’s drawings, who present her as becoming more heroic, and in his last frame, he suggests that Vladilena and Shinei stand a chance with one another, leading an irate Kurena to chase him around and declare that Vladilena and Shinei have no chance on the virtue that she’d known him longer.
- What happened to San Magnolia and Vladilena is also shown in the finale: as it turns out, the Legion overran San Magnolia, but Vladilena and members of her faction were determined to fight to the bitter end. While San Magnolia and their capital is ravaged, people survive, and the Federacy of Giad step in on a humanitarian mission to save and support all survivors. While some of the Alba remain committed to their backwards thinking, many experience a shift in thinking and welcome help from Giad: this may mark an end to the Alba’s belief in their own racial superiority as they observe for themselves how other nations, and their people, conduct themselves.
- When the Giad forces arrive and link up with what’s left of the San Magnolia’s armed forces, Vladilena consents to join so she can continue to defend that which is dear to her. Vladilena may not have had much screen time during 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s second half, but her experiences during the Legion invasion only serve to reinforce her own beliefs and leave her more determined to do what’s right. In this way, the Vladilena at the end of 86 EIGHTY-SIX is not merely an idealistic naïveté, but rather, someone who now has seen firsthand what the Colorata had been dying for and therefore, has her own measure of what Shinei and former Undertaker squad, have experienced.
- When Henrietta and Vladilena have a chance to meet up and unwind after being extricated from harm’s way, Henrietta opts to join the Giad forces, too: she was greatly surprised to learn that the para-RAID system Giad had been using is more or less derived off the same system as the San Magnolian designs. This is what leads Vladilena to conclude that Shinei and his team survived: the only way for the para-RAID system to have been so similar would have been if the technology had been reverse engineered, whole-sale, from a functional San Magnolian unit.
- This fuels Vladilena’s intense desire to link up with the group she’d once commanded from afar, and this time around, Henrietta consents to also join the Giad forces, feeling that this is the best course of action that would allow her to continue her research. Henrietta and Vladilena may have had their differences earlier on, but when everything is said and done, the two do care greatly for one another. The terminal on Henrietta’s monitor suggests she’s trying to decrypt files, likely related to para-RAID research: because the text is different enough from the console logs I normally get while trying to debug, I rest easier knowing that no one can call out Asakura for not being accurate to reality.
- It should become plain that Asakura is no Tom Clancy: while 86 EIGHTY-SIX features a strong military component, the focus of the story is on the human aspects of things, and Asakura clearly doesn’t have the same background as Clancy and his contemporaries. Fortunately, viewers primarily have focused on the story rather than the technical details, and speaking to the clarity of writing within this work, viewers and readers alike both walked away with a satisfying and enjoyable experience. Of course, there are exceptions: one closed-minded individual who claimed that 86 EIGHTY-SIX needed to “be at least a bit more subtle in what they were trying to tell”. Naturally, I disagree: if a work was so subtle that only viewers with a keen eye for nuance, or a background in literature, could approach it, then it has failed.
- As it stands, there will always be individuals who believe themselves to be indisputable experts on most everything during internet discussions, and in the absence of evidence to suggest said individuals are acting in good faith, I find it easies to pay them no mind. Sardonic and patronising commentary insulting a given work (or its fans) is the height of irrelevance; per Les Stroud, if having a conversation with someone who is dismissive and disrespectful, there is no more discussion to be had precisely because in their closed-mindedness, they’ve shut the door to hearing others out. Regardless of whether it is face-to-face or online, I contend that there is no room for sarcasm anywhere: shooting straight and being honest avoids miscommunication, and it makes one’s opinions more respectable.
- 86 EIGHTY-SIX succeeds in telling the story it intended to tell, and the finale was a satisfying, conclusive one. After Shinei and Vladilena had come so close to meeting during the penultimate episode, all signs pointed to an eventual in-person meeting between the two. 86 EIGHTY-SIX does not disappoint in this regard: the final moment is prolonged, deliberately drawn out to show the enormity of Vladilena, Shinei, Raiden, Theoto, Anju and Kurena finally meeting one another face-to-face. This particular scenario was reminiscent of my own experiences; the ongoing health crisis had meant I largely worked from home, and save my supervisor, I’d never actually met anyone on my team in person until the company Christmas party.
- From a narrative standpoint, 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s anime adaptation could end here, and still remain a satisfactory conclusion to things; Shinei has now appreciated that there is worth to staying alive and fighting for what matters to him, spurred on by the fact that Vladilena had done the same, and now, their paths have converged. This was the journey the anime had sought to present, and while I’ve heard that we’ve only covered the first three volumes of the light novels, and there are a total of eleven volumes at the time of writing. There is, in other words, plenty of material to continue adapting if 86 EIGHTY-SIX has strong sales.
- The brilliant blue skies and verdant fields of 86 EIGHTY-SIX have long stood out to me, creating a sense of contrast between how beautiful their world is during times of peace, and how grim things can get in war. When 86 EIGHTY-SIX first began airing, the juxtaposition had led me to wonder if this anime would convey a similar aesthetic as did 2010’s Sora no Woto. The themes in both series ended up being dramatically different, as did the respective worlds each was set in; Sora no Woto had particularly stood out to me because it created a cozier world, whereas here in 86 EIGHTY-SIX, the world is a bit larger.
- Since Frederica is around, the mood is light as she suggests taking a photograph of everyone together. Frederica had proven to be an integral part of 86 EIGHTY-SIX; despite her young age and occasionally bratty tendencies, when the moment calls for it, she’s able to ask the piercing questions that forces Shinei to re-evaluate his strategies. When times are less tense, she provides much of the humour, reminding viewers that for all of the danger that the Legion pose to their world, there are still things that are worth smiling about from time to time.
- With 86 EIGHTY-SIX at an end for the present, I have no qualms issuing this series an A- (3.7 of 4.0, or for those who prefer ten-point scales, 8.5 of 10): despite the opening feeling a little disconnected as the series established its characters (and this disjointedness works to the series’ favour, conveying the vast gap between the Alba and Colorata), once the series picks up momentum in its second half, the story becomes considerably more cohesive and gripping. Minor details, particularly with military technology and world-building, do seem a little overdone, designed to accommodate the story, but when everything is in place, 86 EIGHTY-SIX is able to tell a tale of finding purpose anew amidst the horrors and desolation of battle.
- 86 EIGHTY-SIX concludes with Shinei and Vladilena reaching for one another’s hands as they vow do everything in their power to protect humanity and defeat the Legion. The assured expression on Shinei’s face, and Vladilena’s look of confidence, speaks volumes to the fact that these two, and their allies, are ready to answer the threat that is the Legion, leaving no doubt in viewers’ minds that the world is ready to defeat their foe together. With this, I’ve finally crossed the finish line for 86 EIGHTY-SIX, and with it, I’m presently caught up on everything. Entering April, I have a small number of posts scheduled: I’m still getting used to life following the move, and like good software practises, I’m finding myself preferring to work out a routine that is elegant and maintainable now, then optimise it later. Having said this, there remain a few slots to blog, and I imagine that once I acclimatise to things, I’ll be able to write posts with some regularity.
Overall, while 86 EIGHTY-SIX excels with its presentation of this world’s military hardware, and while A-1 Pictures has likely passed through numerous challenges in bringing Toru Asakura’s sophisticated vision to life through animation, 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s core strengths lie in its characters. The series had started out a little more disjointed as both Shinei and Vladilena’s stories were given exposition: there are a large number of supporting characters early on in 86 EIGHTY-SIX, but as the series continued, and war claimed its victims, 86 EIGHTY-SIX began to narrow its focus. A smaller number of characters spoke to the horrors and desolation of warfare, but it also conveys the idea that as things are taken away from people, they are forced to appreciate what remains in their lives. As 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s cast size shrunk, its story became increasingly clear: this was a tale of finding new purpose in life, of appreciating that one always has more worth in life than in death, and how living allows one to realise opportunities that they’d never thought possible. In this way, 86 EIGHTY-SIX suggests that regardless of one’s background and experiences, there is always a chance to learn about those critical human traits, of resilience, and of always seeking out a new raison d’être as one’s circumstances shift in response to an endlessly changing world. Ignoring the fact that NATO ammunition exists in this world, or the fact that weaponry are wildly inconsistent, 86 EIGHTY-SIX excels in its portrayal of a distinctly human story whose strengths exist outside of the series’ factual accuracy. At the end of the day, a meaningful narrative and theme matter considerably more than smaller details: the Legion and the war are ultimately means to an end, of being used as a very visceral means of suggesting how human connections work in strange, but powerful ways, propelling people forwards even when all hope appears lost.