The Fall 2021 Preview Guide
86 Season 2
How would you rate episode 12 of
86 (TV 2) ?
What is this?
Called “Juggernaut,” these are the unmanned combat drones developed by the Republic of San Magnolia in answer to the attacks by the autonomous unmanned drones of the neighboring Empire of Giad, the “Legion”. But they're only unmanned in name. In reality, they are piloted by the Eighty-sixers—those considered to be less than human and treated as mere tools. Determined to achieve his own mysterious ends, Shin, the captain of Spearhead Squadron, which is comprised of Eighty-sixers, continues to fight a hopeless war on a battlefield where only death awaits him.
How was the first episode?
The first cour of 86 ended on an epic downer. Despite fighting on for weeks far behind enemy lines, Shin and his friends go to meet their final fate—with all of them seemingly ending up either killed or captured to be turned into the death machines they had spent their young lives fighting against. Luckily, this does not appear to not be the case. Rather, before being incorporated into the Legion, our heroes were rescued by the Federacy of Giad, the new nation born from the ashes of the country that built the Legion in the first place.
This turns the whole setting of 86 on its head. Up until this point, we were led to believe that The Republic of San Magnolia was likely the only local country remaining intact. However, we now learn that not only is there at least one other nation fighting the Legion, Shin and friends also fought through the entirety of Legion territory to reach them.
The majority of the episode is spent exploring this revelation from the Federacy side of things. While they have learned they are not alone, they have also learned that the Republic has been using the war to commit genocide. The big secret is out of the bag which will no doubt have big implications (should there ever be a post-war world).
Unlike the Republic, the Federacy is desperately trying to hold on to its idealism. They want to be a better country than the old empire—even if this means fighting the war less efficiently. Both the general populace and their leaders seem united in this. Even if the war has brought out the worst in one country, it has also brought out the best in another.
The other part of the episode centers Lena's story. With the almost certain death of her friends, she has given up on her high-minded idealism. She has no hopes for her people to come around and see the error of their ways. Nor does she believe she can convince them of the onslaught that is coming. She has taken it upon herself to save her country and as many of the eighty-sixes as she can—no matter what personal sacrifices she has to make.
Lena is no longer a major, and thus no longer has the protection she has enjoyed from the top brass. But with her demotion comes freedom. She can break rules and move with impunity as long as she ultimately makes her commanders look good with her battlefield results. After all, if they get promoted, she becomes someone else's problem.
All that said, it's good to see that, unlike last season where she talked the talk but didn't walk the walk, her new willingness to do what needs to be done has earned the respect of her allies. While the army is still mostly made up of assholes, the next generation of officers seem to have centered around Lena, granting her a kind of unofficial power—though whether that will be enough to save her country remains to be seen.
All in all, it's a fantastic start to the season. Still, I can't help but wonder why one would get the always amazing Sawano Hiroyuki to handle the show's score but not let him do the opening theme song. Truly baffling.
Narratives always walk a tricky tightrope after a fake-out death because they risk making death feel cheap, but 86 manages its transition into a new arc as deftly as one could reasonably expect. Shin and the others may have been granted a reprieve from death, but it's not as if the world they struggled against has suddenly become kind. This episode is a natural continuation of the first cour's themes that also opens up the setting to tell a larger narrative about the world.
Before we learn of Shin's fate, however, Lena has her own story to continue. The first third of the episode is a brief window into what the series would have been like if Shin really had died. Although there's a part of me that thinks the story might have been more interesting if it really had followed through with the character deaths, seeing her continue her fight with a new squadron makes me think that the series would have gotten repetitive if it had continued with such a narrow focus.
The anime doesn't keep up the pretense that Shin is dead for long; he opens his eyes in the very next scene. After all the fatalism in the final episodes of the first cour, where the characters accepted that they were doomed even though they won the climactic fight, my first impulse was to think that those final episodes were simply padding out time to end the cour on a cliffhanger. But as the episode progressed, it became evident that those themes still carry a strong weight, as the 86ers find themselves unable to accept the reprieve they've been given.
If the first cour was a story about children finding personal meaning in their lives on the battlefield, then this second cour asks the very confronting question: What happens after the war? Removed of the context of their oppression, who are the 86? This is a fascinating direction to take the story, as it continues to explore issues of war and racism unflinchingly. Even if you were satisfied with how the first cour ended, this series is definitely well worth sticking with.
The enormous question hanging over this continuation of spring's surprise sci-fi masterpiece was what, exactly, is there left to show? Sure, the way the first cour of 86 ended there were story beats you could imagine, important loose ends that you could fill time tying together before calling it a day, but by the end of that final episode it very much felt like the show had said everything it needed to about its world and characters, and wrapped the whole thing up with a brutally effective final image for good measure. So what could this continuation do that wouldn't just become diminishing returns trying to follow an ending that strong?
We find out that answer by the end of this episode, but it definitely lingers across the first third of its return. Sure, it's cool to see Lena in her new status quo, decked out with a sleek red highlight in her hair and a snazzy black uniform to mark her “demotion” following season one's climax. It's also nice to see her developing a very different relationship with her new platoon, as well as more deftly navigating the internal politics of the military to keep them alive as long as possible. But that's all stuff that could have just as easily been tacked on as an epilogue. The real meat of 86 was always with its titular frontline soldiers, the kids we grew to know and love across the season as they solemnly struggled against an impossible threat in a deeply unjust world. With those characters gone, what could the show do that wouldn't feel like retreading hallowed ground?
The answer is to rip the rug right out from under both the audience and the cast, tearing away that bittersweet, hard-fought closure of the previous entry's closing minutes and hurling everyone involved into a strange and equally uncertain new world. Because it turns out, through some level of providence, that Shin and his final companions didn't meet their ends being consumed by the Legion. They're very much alive, and find themselves being rescued and recruited by the new Federation of Giad, established out of the ashes of the Empire that built that army of berserk robots to begin with. It's a twist that could easily feel cheap, elongating these characters' journey beyond any satisfying conclusion, but thankfully the show wastes no time planting new seeds of intrigue, and assuring us that this miraculous second chance for our core 86s is destined to be just as complicated as their previous lives as conscripts.
For one, their new guardian and provisional president of Giad is about as trustworthy as his mustache, putting on an affable and obviously artificial persona towards Shin and the others that constantly dances around telling the whole truth. Just what he wants for or from them is impossible to discern, but the higher-ups in Giad's military are all too excited to draft these kids into their own high-tech spider-mechs if given the chance. Then there's the child “empress” they're meant to live with, who opens up a dozen cans of worms just by existing. Things are not as they seem in the Federation, and while not as outright hostile as the Republic, it's easy to imagine there's exploitation and danger waiting to swallow Shin and his friends again.
In all it's a great way to start a new story, twisting audience understanding and expectations on their heads while promising plenty more to come, all with the potential for more pointed and poignant themes to explore.
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