by Callum May,
How would you rate episode 5 of
I've frequently mentioned the directing and storyboarding talents of 86 and how they've succeeded in elevating every moment of the story, but not only has Episode 5's Satsuki Takahashi managed to deliver the plot beats in a compelling way, but she's also created a genuinely terrifying spectacle. I'll admit, despite the grim premise, I wasn't prepared for the show to become a sci-fi horror, but it's all the more gripping for it.
Like most good horror, the episode starts out light and fluffy. Henrietta's been baking again and Lena couldn't be happier. Suddenly, while discussing an upcoming party, a battle interrupts the calm, and she finally discovers the true nature of the Legion they've been fighting up until now. The focus so far has been on building up the complex relationship between these characters, but now they actually have a goal to achieve together. It's no longer just a fight between two nations, but a genuine zombie apocalypse made more terrifying with mechs.
As this revelation unfolds, the camera works overtime. We don't have to imagine how Lena is feeling reacting to all this new information, because we see it. Red glares, upside-down shots, extreme close-ups – every trick in the directing playbook is employed to get us to understand how Lena's feeling. Takahashi is rare among episode directors in that she got her start as a compositing artist, rather than an animator or production assistant. And because of this background, she's incredibly accomplished at creating a distinct atmosphere through colour, lighting, and digital camerawork.
At the same time, despite her relative inexperience in storyboarding, there's plenty of creativity on display here. Our first hints at romance stem from the voice of Shin synchronising with the shadows of a flirtatious couple on the stairwell. That same shot is also used to emphasise the fact that Lena has no idea what he looks like. Another favourite frame of mine is where the dummy's shadow and the cracks in the wall form the image of a ghost while they discuss the Legion.
There's a lot of merit to rewatching episodes of 86. It's an incredibly dense show with plenty of things that can be missed on first viewing. You won't miss anything in terms of the storytelling, but there are always plenty of clever visual ideas that are easy to overlook. At one point, Spearhead Squadron use an Alban propaganda poster to crush a bunch of Legion mechs and it's fun to think of all of the different messages that are being conveyed by this bit of action choreography.
For me, 86 is the overlooked best anime of the season. Even on the day of this episode's debut, it's listed as the 12th most popular show on Crunchyroll. It's behind people rewatching Naruto Shippūden! It's hard to say why the show is struggling to capture mainstream viewers. It could be that it's a mecha, which has a reputation for being a boomer genre, or it could also just be that people have lost interest in science fiction anime. Kadokawa produces an insane amount of shows, and has already committed to creating 40 animation works a year until 2023. However, so many of these series end up being largely based on trends, whether that's science-magic high schools or isekai adventures. But 86 is special because it's surprising. I have no idea what's going to happen next week, and that's both exciting and terrifying.
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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