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86
Episode 4

by Callum May,

How would you rate episode 4 of
86 ?

In my last review, I concluded by saying that nothing would be the same again, and that was true in multiple ways. Not only has the facade of friendliness broken down, but Episode 4's structure was the first to not be split evenly between Spearhead Squadron and San Magnolia. Script adaptation is a difficult process; light novels aren't written to be slotted cleanly into 20-minute episodes, but Episode 4 proves the team's capabilities in delivering a satisfying sequence that features conflict, climax, and hints of a potential resolution down the road.

As always, 86 is an impressively well-crafted show, and we're seeing no hints of that slowing down. While the first two episodes were storyboarded by series director Toshimasa Ishii, both Episode 3's Ryo Ando and Episode 4's Ayako Kohno have proved that he's far from the only one that's able to deliver compelling character drama visually. I've never been so engaged by button-based storytelling before. This episode was about as gripping as it was uncomfortable, showing Lena finally understanding how she's complicit in this multigenerational oppression.

A couple years back, my fiancee brought home an acrylic stand of Lena and placed it next to the TV. I have seen her every single day since, but I never imagined I'd end up having such complicated feelings about her. Episode 4 proved that she's not all that different from the rest of San Magnolia, but unlike her best friend, she's actually become willing to change that. Just as we get a flashback explaining her motivations, her uncle immediately breaks down that hypocrisy. I'm not entirely convinced it'll nail the ending (especially since the light novels are still going), but it's heavily implied that we'll see her on the battlefield soon.

Much like Lena, I hadn't really managed to learn the names of Spearhead Squadron early on, but now we're finally getting to know them as individuals. We've now seen Theo's (excellently voice-acted) speech from both sides, once from the perspective of Lena at the end of Episode 3, and again at the start of Episode 4 from Theo himself. The aftermath of this scene has firmly made him my favourite character so far. He doesn't regret anything he said; he's entirely correct, after all. But he's not exactly happy with the way he said it, and his reverence for the “Fox Commander” ties into this.

In a way, I feel a little bad for Bandai Spirits. They helped fund 86 on the premise that it would push sales for their model kits of the Juggernaut mechs. But not only have we not seen all that many battles, but they're not even close to the main appeal of the show right now. I was tempted to buy one myself, but it would feel like buying a prison cell. Spearhead Squadron are making the best of the situation they're in, but there's no joy to be had in the field of battle. I thought I'd be excited to see a bunch of cool action scenes by the 3D experts at Shirogumi, but instead I'm just anxious to see them all return home safely.

Rating:

86 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Callum is the host and creator of the YouTube channel The Canipa Effect where he explores topics within the anime industry. He also serves as Video Editor at OTAQUEST, discussing the art and creation of Japanese pop culture. You can also find him talking nonsense on Twitter.


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