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The Fall 2020 Manga Guide

What's It About? 

The Republic of San Magnolia has been attacked by its neighbor, the Empire. Outside the 85 districts of the Republic there is the 'non-existent 86th district,' where young men and women continue to fight. Sheen directs the actions of young suicide bombers, while Lena is a “curator” who commands a detachment from a remote rear (from light novel)

86—EIGHTY-SIX is based on the light novel by Asato Asato, the digital version of which is currently being released by Yen Press. The manga is drawn by Motoki Yoshihara and Yen Press has released digital and print versions of its first volume for $6.99 and $13.00 respectively

Is It Worth Reading?

Rebecca Silverman


I think that there's no story sadder than a war story. 86's first manga volume, based on the light novels of the same name (and which I admit to avoiding) certainly seems like it could carry on that tradition, which necessitates being well-written and having recognizable parallels to actual war horrors. At this point the manga definitely looks like it knows how to play its cards well: after a first chapter of almost an entire squadron in spider-like mechs being wiped out in a battle, the scene shifts to a peaceful city where a loudspeaker recounts the latest news of the war and delivers a report of “no casualties.” So either what we just read is some sort of nightmare or scene of a battle long-since over…or someone is lying to the citizens.

It's not hard to guess which it is, and things only get darker from there. The reason why a whole group of soldiers being killed counts as “no casualties” is because the soldiers are exclusively drawn from a marginalized group among the citizenry. Nine years ago when one country launched its war effort, all of those who had immigrated to its enemy were rounded up and sent to what amounts to an internment camp. Branded “subhuman” for their heritage, they became the cannon fodder for the war, and even though there's talk later in the volume of “enlisting,” it doesn't feel like anything so voluntary. Whether or not the general population is aware of this or not feels up in the air, but if they do know, they've definitely drunk the governmental kool-aid and buy the story that these “86s” (so named because of their ward number) are animals, not people.

So yeah, with my cultural heritage, this was an especially difficult book for me to read. I will say that it is done fairly well – the callous attitude of the higher-ups who insist upon the narrative that the 86s aren't really people so it doesn't matter if they die juxtaposes well with the evidence to the contrary we see in Shin's battlefield brilliance and emotional pain, and the very fact that he's gone through so many handlers indicates that those who know the truth have a hard time living with it. Lena, the heroine of the piece, looks like she's not going to just sit back and play the war game that the commanding officers want her to, and I suspect that she and Shin are going to charge full steam ahead into a way to make their nightmare end. But it won't be easy or pretty, and this may not be a story with a truly happy ending – nor should it be.

86 isn't a story about glorifying war. That's what makes this volume good, and the lack of gruesomeness in the art also works in its favor, because it's going for emotional impact, not physical horror. I don't know how this compares to the light novel, but if you're looking for a statement piece on the lessons we never seem to learn, this may be it.

Caitlin Moore


86 is one of those manga where I throw up my hands and declare it just not for me. It's not bad, and I'm sure there's plenty of people out there it works for, but to me, it just doesn't hit right.

Part of it, no doubt, is that over half the volume is military battles and exposition, without a human visible on the page. My eyes tend to glaze over at big, two-page spreads of machines duking it out; I just don't find it engaging. That the only dialogue for most of those pages is about tactics and orders being given and accepted only compounds the issue. I'm only interested in such scenes insofar as they advance the characters and their emotional state; otherwise, it loses me quickly.

Plus, I just don't find Lena engaging. Stories about a lone member of the ruling class sympathizing with the oppressed people are as common as dirt and rarely have the impact they want to, even if they may be well-meaning. I'm willing to buy that the 86 are so dehumanized that they're not even considered casualties in the war, since humans have historically treated other people terribly, but I don't buy Lena being the only one in the whole city that sympathizes with them. Plus, her perspective just isn't interesting.

I'm much more interested in the perspective of the 86's, forced to live on the literal margins and regarded as nothing more than cannon fodder in the war. However, the time we spend with them is brief, just a scant couple dozen pages to establish a large supporting cast and, presumably, the deuteragonist Shin. These glimpses are tantalizing, but are dwarfed by the amount of space devoted to Lena and military battles.

Thus far, I don't see anything wrong with 86; it's just, like I said, not for me. If what I've described sounds good to you, go ahead.

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