Whoa, it’s finally here! I can’t believe it, can you? Yes, back when I did my Spring Anime Awards (Summer coming in a few weeks), I promised a review of the anime I considered best of the season, 86. And finally, I am here to present that. Partly because I promised it, and partly because it’s just really, really good.
There’s no secret here. I crowned 86 the best anime of last season (not a bad season, mind you), and it took three separate awards as well. 86 is very good, especially when my motivation for watching it was just the name. And keep in mind the story is already continuing. The second cour/season is airing now. I hope that’s some good incentive to get watching.
So, what makes 86 good? Well, a lot of things. But if I had to say one thing above all else, I would say it’s the world-building. That’s what really separates 86 from other series.
In case you haven’t been debriefed on the series (get it, because it’s like the military?), 86 is about racism. Ok, also war, politics, and spider mechs, but mostly racism. Racism is a pretty big blanket to throw everything under, but it’s the main point of the whole series. Everything is built around it, even spider mechs!
But then 86 takes the awful thing that is racism and was like, “what if we made it as harsh and brutal as possible? That would sell!” And sell it did. One thing I really enjoyed about 86 is how the racism actually made sense.
Like, of course, it’s irrational and stupid, it’s racism, but the way it was structured made it believable that some people would go along with it. It was a really interesting attempt to rationalize the irrational, basically, and that’s one big point I give to 86. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes, but you can summarize it to this:
The Republic of San Magnolia is the country all of this takes place. They were the first country to lean towards democracy, making them think they’re better than every country that hasn’t pretty much. Mostly Alba live there, which are people with silver hair and eyes.
Eventually, the Republic was like, “Hey, why don’t we let some immigrants in? I’m sure they want into our great country.” So many groups did. They all became known collectively as the “Colorata,” and they started to see that the Republic might not have been as accepting as they thought because why would they be?
Then, The Giadian Empire, a neighboring country, built these autonomous mechs that ended up invading other countries, the Republic being one of them. The Republic, despite its supposed greatness, was not ready for this outcome and began losing the war. But then they got an idea.
They would just create their own autonomous spider bots! But nobody in the Republic was smart enough for it, so they settled for enslaving the Colorata, but because slavery is unethical, the Republic made a bunch of laws saying the Colorata are bad and shouldn’t have civil rights, and, of course, most people agreed or at least put up with it.
So all the Colorata now live in the abandoned 86 sector of the Republic, are known as 86/pigs/whatever you want to call them, and they operate the spider bots in the war unbeknownst to most everyone. The majority of the Republic thinks the mechs are autonomous, but they wouldn’t care either way. After all, the 86 aren’t people, so this truly is a war with no casualties.
There’s a lot that I didn’t mention there, but that at least brings you up to speed. 86 has a ton going on in the background and so many things that happen before the plot even begins. There’s a whole living, breathing world here, and really you need it.
To make this kind of insanity believable, you need the right events to lead up to it, and given everything we know, I believe that the 86 aren’t treated like people. I don’t think this is out of the realm of possibility.
Do I think it’s possible that we’ll be segregating and taking people’s rights away and forcing them to fight in spider mechs tomorrow? Of course not. We need time to make the spider mechs!
In all seriousness, it’s a very scary situation and a very scary world that 86 shows us and is one that’s not impossible for our own world to come to, given the right circumstances. The story is trying to do and say a lot, and 86 does a good job telling the story from all perspectives, not just one or the other.
With this setup, it’s very easy to say that the Republic is trash, racists, and the worst and that the 86 are in the right, but things aren’t that black and white. Our main character, Lena, is an Alba that is very much part of the problem. She’s a handler that is in charge of handling(?) her group of 86.
She’s the race that enslaved the 86, now helping send them into a battle that will lead them to their death, all for the country that wronged them. Now that’s messed up. But then you have the flip side.
The 86 now despise the Alba. It doesn’t matter if one is kind to them. It doesn’t matter if they apologize. No matter what Lena does, they’ll never forgive her purely for the fact that she’s part of them. It’s fighting racism with racism, which as you might imagine, is just as bad of a thing. It shows that regardless of who started it, neither side is right anymore.
What’s so unique about the way they do this is that each episode is split into two segments that tell the same story. Lena’s side, which focuses on stuff happening in the Republic, and Shin’s side, which shows stuff happening on the field and with the war in general.
Both take place at the same time, but because of how far apart these two people are, each side is different. Add that with the fact that Lena can communicate with Shin and the other 86 in his squadron, and you have this really fascinating two-sided story.
Lena can talk politely to Shin and the gang, she can do whatever she can to make them feel appreciated, and they can seem receptive to that. Next thing you know, they’re saying all this while drawing pictures of her as a fat pig. There’s a lot of pain here, and it’s not something that can be solved with a few kind words.
That’s something that comes up quite a lot, is this idea that Lena’s just a hypocrite. Saying how awful it is that the 86 are treated the way they are, but not actually changing anything. That her being nice is crueler than if she’d act like everyone else.
86 really tackles its subject matter from every direction you could imagine, and that’s what makes it so good. It’s a story about racism, and not only does it handle that touchy topic well, but it also does it justice. It’s impressive.
86 nails pretty much everything it sets out to do. It’s not a perfect series by any means, but it does a lot right. You could say it’s kind of slow, but I think the pace is perfect, frankly. It does exactly what is needed.
My biggest issue with the series is coincidentally, the thing that people are the most split on. See, 86 has death. I don’t think that’s a spoiler. It’s about war. Some people say that the deaths don’t feel very impactful like they should. I agree with that. I did not care when most of them happened.
But some people feel that this is on purpose. It helps drive the point of the story home if their deaths are quick. They aren’t “human,” so why treat their deaths like one. I also agree, but I’m not sure I’m ready to say it’s on purpose. I feel it’s just a happy side effect. If 86 wasn’t about this kind of story, the lackluster deaths could have been a much bigger problem.
Ultimately, it’s almost impossible to have such a large cast of characters that you actually care about. Think of it this way, for every character added, you have to divide your emotional attachment in half. Eventually, you just don’t have much to give.
It’s not necessarily a fault of the writing. It just comes with the territory. I’ve yet to see any story with a huge cast do this right. It’s tricky. It just so happened that it worked out in 86’s favor this time around.
Or, maybe it was a clever move to tell the story. Beats me. It’s entirely possible, though, since just about everything else in 86 is done right.
Regardless, 86 is really, really good, and just one potential misstep that adds to it is nothing to get upset about. Yes, there’s a lot of character to split your attention between, but all of them are good and there’s a lot to love on both sides of the war. Maybe a bit more on the 86 side. Most Alba kind of suck. Lena’s great, though. She’s a fantastic character.
I’ve yet to mention the sound design, art, or anything because I don’t have nearly as much to say about it. The characters and story are plenty to talk about. Does that mean the production value was bad? Oh, god no. It was exceptional. I don’t have much to say because I can’t think of a single flaw or anything to discuss about it.
The music is great, the sound effects are solid, the art is just gorgeous, and the voice actors bring the characters to life. A-1 Pictures wasn’t messing around when they tackled 86, let me tell you. They brought their best and made a phenomenal series.
But the best part of all of this is that we’ve only got season 1. All this good stuff happened in 11 episodes. Season 2 is out now, and I’m doing like episode reviews for it. That’s right. This whole review was just a scheme to promote it. Actually, that’s a lie. It just took me forever to get this out.
Thank you very much for reading
I was going to make a joke I shouldn’t here, so I won’t. See ya.