REVIEW: 86 EIGHTY-SIX Part 2, A Masterpiece of Storytelling

Season aired: Fall 2021

Number of episodes: 12

Genres: Drama, Mecha, Fantasy

Thoughts: Despite the production issues that plagued 86 EIGHTY-SIX Part 2, one thing is certain: a three month delay from its last two episodes did not dampen the anime’s abilities to convey its themes, characters, and plot. Not even an entire season break can wash out the original excitement and investment I felt when watching the series weekly.

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 cities. 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 the 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’m not going to beat a dead horse — the plot and themes of the anime are fantastic. This is powerful storytelling at its core from a source material that blends elements of human history with a different world in perfect combination. I’ve already written an analysis article about its nuanced take of discrimination of privilege, and the second cour of the anime expands that further through larger worldbuilding. 

More countries and characters

Unlike the first cour where we only know of the Republic of San Magnolia, the second cour introduces new countries and explores more of the complicated history each country has with the Legion. We see different cultures because of different governments and how no country is truly perfect. Most importantly, what defines a country as “good” or “bad” is whether the government, and by extension, its people, is willing to learn from their mistakester. This wider view of different societies builds more into the complications and nuances for its theme on privilege and discrimination.

However, what I want to focus on more in the review is what makes 86 EIGHTY-SIX stand out in comparison to many other anime series — its visual storytelling. Anime as a visual medium has become famous for its storytelling format, namely providing exposition through dialogue. Thoughts must all be voiced, narration must explain the entire world and systems, and there are very few action scenes that don’t involve fight sequences. 86 EIGHTY-SIX throws all that out of the window by favoring angle shots, colors, movement, and facial expressions to portray the story.

One particular scene that struck me in the second cour lasted only a few seconds. In the frame, we only see half of Shin’s face. We don’t even get to see his eyes. The piano plays softly, and he’s looking forward from the angle of his face. The tightened lips slightly relax to a more somber frown, and he slowly raises his face upwards with the tilt of his chin. In those few seconds, his longing and wondering for Lena’s wellbeing instantly hit me. I didn’t need to hear his thoughts, and I didn’t need to hear another character observing out loud. I knew because the framing showed me.

The aforementioned scene that struck me without dialogue

This is just one tiny example of the type of visual storytelling the anime employs. The entire last two episodes were just an outpour of using the visual medium of anime to its best capabilities without the usual anime styles. At the end of a long fought battle, one of the characters broke down having survived yet another war that he thought he would finally die in. His survivor’s guilt, a theme that’s fully explored through the second cour, takes form not in his ranting about why he survived and how much he wanted to die. Instead, black bars crept in to tighten the width of the screen, squeezing his world and suffocating him. His memories replay of the friends he lost. While they smiled and showed affection for him, his shadow used their dead voices to blame him for surviving. The heartwrenching display displays exactly what makes trauma so devastating and hard to escape — your own mind distorts happier memories to blame you for things outside your control.

This successful storytelling simply cannot be overstated enough. Shin’s mirrored reflection, the darkened backs of kids who survived war, a sea of blue that transitions to red — meticulous thought was put into every action, sound, and color in the adaptation. This will be the reason why 86 EIGHTY-SIX soars as many other well watched anime reach a moment of popularity only to be forgotten a season later.

Voice acting, soundtrack, and animation quality from the first cour continued to carry over to the second. The voice acting overall is stupendous, but the ultimate praise goes to Shoya Chiba for voicing protagonist Shin. In the first cour, the plot focuses on Lena and her development, while Shin is muted in both voice and personality. In the second cour, Shin gets his chance to grow. His monotonous voice continues throughout, but cracks start to form in Shin’s apathetic demeanor. He laughs in irony, he lashes out in moments of emotional despair, and at the end, he was screaming in pain and fear. Shoya Chiba embodies all of that inside Shin, and his performance sparked tears in my eyes at every of Shin’s emotional struggle throughout. This is not Shoya Chiba’s first protagonist role, but this is by far his best performance. I cannot wait for what else the voice actor can bring to the table after breathing such life into Shin.

Shoya Chiba deserves praise as Shin

Music composer legend, Hiroyuki Sawano, and co-composer, Kohta Yamamoto, won the 8th Anime Trending Awards for Best in Soundtrack, and the second cour shows exactly why they deserved the win. Sawano-san’s distinctive electronic sound still remains effective in its ability to portray mechanical weaponry and titillating fight sequences. However, it’s the somber piano composition that leaves the most effect on audience minds. It is utilized to its best degree with clever changes in key and playstyle depending on the context of emotional scenes.

86 EIGHTY-SIX is a representation of powerful anime. The production team took a strong core of riveting characters, worldbuilding, and plot and extended it further into artwork through its strong vision, music, and voice acting. The production issues it faced in the second cour is a painful reminder to the issues plaguing the anime industry as a whole.

However, if there’s one thing that’s concluded from this, I hope it’s that people realize that masterful storytelling like this is worth creating. Give the staff time, allow their passion to flow, and let them tell the story the way they want to tell it. Let us show our love for the love, skill, and dedication they put into this series in hopes for a future where anime like this has become even more plentiful for us to witness and experience.  

Rating

Plot: 9 (Multiplier 3.5)

Characters: 8 (Multiplier 3.5)

Voice acting: 8

Art/Animation: 9

Soundtrack: 9

FINAL SCORE: 85.5

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