So, if you saw my episode review a few days ago, 86 has finally returned after months of a delay. It hurt to wait, but we finally got to see the continuation of one of the best adaptations I’ve ever seen, and the penultimate episode was no exception.
From beginning to end, it was a beautiful telling of the light novel’s story, in not only a fairly faithful way, but applying outstanding, symbolic visuals to a scene that had none and made the entire thing that much more special. The most important scene in the entire series was absolutely nailed.
But screw that, we’re here to talk about a smile, not any of that garbage. Look! Do you see that? Do you see the image above you? No, you’re not seeing things. Our boy Shin just smiled, and not just any smile, damn near the most sincere smile I’ve ever seen anyone give in my life. I just want to hug him, ok? That’s it.
I absolutely died when I saw Shin make this face, not to mention his very innocent look of shock he had just moments before. I’ve already tweeted about this face multiple times too. Why? Because I love it and it makes me happy, but also because this image is why I love Shin so much.
This smile also came from Shin. Not long before, either, just a few episodes. Hell, minutes before Shin made his genuine smile, he was yelling at the top of his lungs for a Legion to kill him.
So how do you go from screaming about death to smiling from the bottom of your heart? That’s because of the complex character that Shin is, or perhaps, the fairly simple character.
Shin is not that complicated of a character. He just acts like he is. At the end of the day, Shin is a child. It doesn’t matter if he lost his freedom, it doesn’t matter how he’s treated, it doesn’t matter how many people he’s seen die, it doesn’t matter how long he’s fought. Shin is still a child.
A child forced into battle, causing his heart to freeze over and his emotions to plunge even deeper in the ice. Even if it was all his own doing when he decided to become their reaper, it doesn’t change the fact that one man, and especially not a boy, can shoulder that kind of weight on their own.
Though Shin became a reaper to carry on the legacy of his fallen friends, to remember them when nobody else would, it comes at the cost of him always being alone. To keep their legacy and their existence alive, he must live and must carry on. He’s not allowed to die. He’s fated to outlive everyone he holds dear because that was his promise.
If nobody else would acknowledge or remember his friends and family, then he would. He had to, and he locked away his emotions to do so. This is the biggest reason Lena means so much to him. Not because of nativity, not because of her platitudes, but because she would take their real names to heart, live, and remember everyone, including Shin, when they all passed on. Shin had no reaper until her.
Shin is a character that has gone through a lot of pain. Not only because of all the people he’s lost, but because he’s lost everything, including himself. All of this is fine because Shin knew that he would die soon. His service would be over. He could finally rest. It’s only after Shin lives and has to fight on does he realize he doesn’t know how.
And that’s the biggest thing about the character that is Shin Nouzen. Shin does not want to die, despite yelling just that. He just doesn’t know how to live, and the two look very similar. If all you remembered was war, turmoil, and oppression, would you know how to live on? Would you know how to stop fighting? If your ultimate goal was to join all of your family that had passed on, would you even want to live on? Probably not.
Shin doesn’t feel anything unless he’s fighting. He doesn’t know how to feel anything else. That brush with death is peaceful to him. It’s all he knows. It gets him close to what he’s always wanted—the only thing he’s ever wanted. To stop fighting. To stop being anyone’s reaper. To die at peace.
Shin’s whole character arc spanning six books or so is about him finding a way to live, and about finding something he wants to live for. About finding something that isn’t the battlefield. Some reason for him to live on since it seems clear that he’s not meant to die yet.
Why I love Shin’s smile isn’t only because this is the first time he’s really done it to that extent animated, but because it marks the beginning of his growth and acceptance of who he is. Shin knows he has his issues. He admits that, but this is where Shin finally starts to crack and not in the wanting to die way.
Everyone was destined to leave Shin behind, no exceptions. Whether they wanted to live or not, they would die right in front of him, and like some sick joke, nothing would ever let him die, even if he charged headfirst towards it at every chance.
And it’s in this moment, this time when Shin thinks he has at last lost everyone left that’s dear to him, that he curses the fact that he ever became the reaper, tries to desperately scratch the proof of his moniker out of existence, and using the last of his breath to scream his one and only wish, to die. Or, in reality, to not be alone anymore.
And it’s then that something happens that Shin never expected; he wasn’t left behind. Not only did his longest-lasting family survive the battle with him, protect him even, he finally learns that his reaper managed to survive and fight on. He sees that Lena never gave up. She struggled, fought hard, and lost everything, all just to honor his wish. To keep everyone’s memories alive. To keep him alive, not the reaper, but the scared, lonely boy that is Shinei Nouzen.
And in a moment like this, even with a heart of ice, even devoid of most all feeling, Shin can’t help but get teary-eyed and let out the most honest smile of his life. He wasn’t alone anymore, and he never would be again.
Thank you very much for reading
I love this man.