Series Recommendation: Eighty Six season 1 [Anime]

Across the battlefield soaked with metallic blood and silver,
a group of young people struggle to survive as livestock of war.

As we’ve mentioned before, mecha is a very visual genre. But that doesn’t mean other literature works aren’t as interesting or exciting, and one of them is Asato’s 86 light novel series. The novels generated a lot of clout and had good reception amongst readers. And sooner or later it will be adapted into an anime. And in 2021, a studio picked up the task to make 86 an anime phenomenon, and they succeeded. It was none other than A-1 Studio – a perfect choice for a dramatic and emotional series like 86.

The 86 anime has 2 seasons – the first in Spring 2021 and the next in Fall 2021. Due to popularity, the series was continued almost immediately with just one cour of break. However, the series’ 2nd season ran into production issues and the last 2 episodes were delayed for 3 months straight, which really affected the viewer’s enjoyment. But if you start the anime now, you can enjoy the whole series with perfect fulfilment.

+ Plot: 86 is the story about outcasts whose nation have abandoned them to their fate on a deadly battlefield and the only privileged person that cares for them. It is quite reminiscent of Code Geass when entire races of people are discriminated against, but 86 pushed it to the extreme with how the “pigs” are treated. The privileged race are the people with white hair and white eyes – and the rest are sub-human creatures stuffed inside moving coffins and pushed into a war with AI killing machines. Vladilena Miliz√© – a daughter of the Magnolian’s general – decides to lead and protect the “eighty sixes” – the people exiled in the eight sixth district of the Republic. Lena’s quest and intention is unique amongst her peers – since she is the only one that actually care and stand up for the Eighty Sixes – particularly the Spearhead Squadron – where our other protagonist is. Shinei Nouzen – nicknamed the Reaper – was a young teenager that survived the bloody war for years. Formally known as the “Undertaker”, he took it upon himself to deliver every single one of his comrades to the place where they belong.

A story about social opposites on all fronts – a girl pampered in luxury behind the safety of the rear and a boy that struggle every second because he can hear the screams of the death and constantly on the battlefield. Yet they found a way to connect – even though they have never seen each other’s faces. Lena’s unconditional empathy has touched the hearts of the Spearheads – however it is also her naivete that caused herself and the Eighty Sixes much pain. This is a story about a girl maturing and see the world for what it really is, and supporting the people that has become so jaded that they have lost their reasons to survive.

As an anime and series in general, Eighty Six is more of a character drama that focuses a lot on the lives of the Spearheads and Lena and the social structure of the Sans Magnolia Republic. The excessive treatment of the Eighty Sixes in contrast with the ignorance of the Republic’s Albas make Code Geass’ discrimination look like child’s play. And 86 actually didn’t really focus on the political aspect until season 2, so there’s not much to concern with any power play. In season 2, the vibes of the series change quite a bit, and the political aspect took on a new direction.

+ Animation: It’s A-1 – if their story writing skills are lacking, they make it up with their beautiful animation. And thankfully 86 already has an amazing plot to go with their talented animators. The 86 anime looks beautiful in all shots. One of the best part of the series is their atmospheric environment and character’s expressions. We can see Lena’s cheerfulness, resolution and pain very clearly. Even Shin – who is as stoic as Sagara Sousuke or Heero Yuy – is also super expressive through his eyes and micro expressions on his face. Furthermore, A-1 Studio has a lot of sequence that give life to a character’s inner monologue or emotion, those impactful imagery contribute greatly to the psychological aspect of the series, as everyone is deeply affected by the rampant discrimination and racism in here.

The 3D department is handled by Shirogumi, which did the job very well. The weight of the units are portrayed very well and you can feel their actual heaviness and the difference in their weight class. The smaller units move much more agile and the clunky chonks are much slower and kick up a lot more dust. The depiction of the Spearhead’s unit are also very well done as they are high-mobility units and their “zipzapping” around is very cool. There’s not a lot of “dynamic camera works” like Orange or Graphinica but the fight scenes are still way above average.

+ Mecha Design: Eighty Six’s mecha designs are handled by I-IV (pronounced I-Four). The main aesthetic of the mechas is multi-legged mechas – quadruple, sextuple or octuple walking tanks. The first season’s main mecha – the Juggernauts – are spider-like in appearance, but only with 4 legs. It is quite unusual for walkers to show up in Japanese mecha – with some previous examples being Ghost in the Shell, Metal Gear, etc… but in the world of 86, they fit right in. And Shirogumi did a very great job making them move on the screen and the textures on them look gritty and battleworn, which is perfect.

The enemy design is basically a faceless CGI army of various bug-like creatures with 4, 6, and even more legs with cannons strapped into their backs. The metallic sheen and silvery textures on their armor perfectly demonstrate their hivemind structure. The “Legion” – an appropriate name – bears many resemblance to alien armies like the Vajra, the Zerg and the BETA in sci-fi, but in this case, they are fully mechanical and, in a sense, man-made.

+ Music: After the amazing art direction, 86 once again went for the top with some insane heavy hitters in the OST department. The one and only Sawano Hiroyuki along with his protege – Kohta Yamamoto. The tune for 86 is very reminiscent to Re:Creators and Gundam Unicorn. The songs are mixed between slow and epic sequence with upbeat and energetic ones. It doesn’t have the crazy impactful beat drop like Promare’s Inferno but rather the somber atmosphere of 86’s world. A desperate world with many people clinging onto the last sliver of hope that they didn’t even realise. The emotion that the OST delivered in accordance with the great screenplay really highlight the series’ strong points – which is character drama.

+ Conclusion: Eighty Six has already been really great even with the novels, and the anime brought Asato’s idea of a unique dystopian world into motion. Furthermore, while the anime doesn’t “narrate” each character’s inner thoughts like the novel, it “showed” those monologues on screen with some amazing visual cues. The production quality is also very amazing, and it was a shame that season 2’s production was hit with some serious issues. 86 is definitely a series that you should binge completely, and you should definitely check it out. In my opinion, if 2021 didn’t screw with the release schedule, the series would have been one of the best that year.

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