Season aired: Spring 2021
Number of episodes: 11
Genres: Action, Fantasy, Drama
Thoughts: I looked forward to 86 EIGHTY-SIX ever since the announcement for the anime adaptation. I had heard of the good reputation that the light novel series had with the light novel community, and every trailer only captivated me with its fast, clean animation and epic soundtrack by composer master Sawano. However, 86 EIGHTY-SIX is more than just a perfect marriage of music and animation — it’s a storytelling champion with hard hitting themes and great character development.
Major Lena and Captain Shinei come from different worlds despite living in the same country. Lena is a privileged Alba who lives within the safety of the city. Captain Shinei, nicknamed Shin, is the infamous Reaper of the battlefield and leader of the Spearhead Unit. He is a non-Alba, people not even considered to be citizens and dubbed under only a number — 86. His people fought and died on the battlefields for years against the Legion, an AI system that overtook the empire that originally built it. Lena has been commanding units of 86 people from behind a computer screen for years within the safety of the Alba society. When she is put in charge of the Spearhead Unit as their Handler, Shin and Lena’s worlds collide as she is forced to reckon with a perception she has been blind to, and he faces the ghost that haunts his past.
I have already written extensively in regards to how the anime’s themes work in the context of the story and real life in a separate article, so in the review, I will not be diving into that particular part of storytelling. Instead, I want to focus on what I think is one of the most powerful storytelling techniques 86 EIGHTY-SIX uses: perspectives.
Perspective is a powerful tool in storytelling, and the anime milks every usage of it. Episode time lengths are divided equally between the point of view of the Spearhead Unit and Lena for the exact same event, and it illustrates how drastically the story changes. The anime doesn’t just reserve these shifts for the battlefields, where you know how different the two people’s worlds are — one in a small room, illuminated by a computer screen and the other in the chaos, blood, and screams of a physical life or death situation. The anime also uses these perspective shifts for the mundane activities of life. Whenever Lena and the Spearhead unit talk through their Para-raid, the world’s equivalent of a cell phone, the Spearhead Unit’s lives are put on full display: loud, crowded, yet filled with fun and emotions as the unit members tease and play games with each other. In comparison, Lena speaks to them alone, surrounded by nothing but pretty furniture in a white, well-lit room, homing in on the emptiness and materiality that envelops her because of her Alba society. These visual shifts in perspective are a particularly powerful way to tell the story in anime storytelling, and 86 EIGHTY-SIX’s usage of it is one of the best I’ve seen. Unlike many other series that tend to either dedicate entire arcs or whole episodes to different perspectives, the anime actually integrates them together instead to remind viewers that two completely different views happened at the same time.
The anime also had some of the most powerful facial expression storytelling I’ve seen in anime. Shin, in particular, is a very logical, practical, and single-minded individual who does not spare many emotions towards anyone or anything. When the more emotional moments hit, his expression only slightly changes with the tilt of a different smile or a different light in his eyes. Yet, it comes across so powerfully that the viewer knows exactly what he’s feeling the second his expression changes in that minute way. Other characters get the same attention for their faces, and even Lena, who’s arguably the most expressive and open of the characters, gets illustrated with the small changes in her reactions as she matures and grows.
Lena’s character arc also proceeds well-paced with emotional punches. By the end of the series, she is still the same character as you meet her but also different — wiser, more strategic, and far more rebellious and understanding than before. Her voice actress, Ikumi Hasegawa, does an amazing job at Lena’s transformation — made even more impressive by the fact that she is a newbie to the voice acting industry. Her sweet, optimistic voice never fully changes, but it also becomes heavier with more subtle intonations to reflect the gradual changes that Lena undergoes as she grows. Shoya Chiba, the voice actor for Shin, does just as powerful of a job with portraying Shin’s small and large emotional moments on top of matching Shin’s flat voice tone for the majority of his dialogue.
The technical aspects of the anime raised the anime high above many of this season’s other anime. Its integration of CGI on the battlefields with the normal 2D animation was seamless from start to finish, and its purposeful detail of coloration differences (white, cold Alba society contrasting with the more colorful, warmer 86 environments) only elevates the storytelling even more. Sawano Hiroyuki’s soundtrack could not have been a better choice for this complicated story — hype, electronic music ramps up the adrenaline of a fight sequence, while a haunting melancholy piano plays whenever Shin mercy kills a comrade. Nothing could make this anime a more powerful piece of media.
Needless to say, I adored 86 EIGHTY-SIX. Its powerful themes, wonderful character arcs, and all its technical aspects blended to a formula of perfection, and I sit now waiting — waiting for the fates of the characters I have grown to love and hoping they all find the freedom and happiness they all yearn for in a country that functions on discrimination.
Plot: 9 (Multiplier 3.5)
Characters: 9 (Multiplier 3.5)
Voice acting: 8
FINAL SCORE: 87