by Callum May,
How would you rate episode 9 of
I said I was waiting for Lena to turn up with a big gun, and she didn't disappoint!
Episode 9 would have made a perfect conclusion to the story of 86 thus far if the show isn't far from ending. Each week, we've seen Lena constantly getting pushed back whenever she tries to find ways to save the members of Spearhead Squadron. By last week, it got a little frustrating. The episode wasn't all that well-directed, and it was the same old apathy that had already been drilled into both her and the audience.
This week, Lena's got mettle and the show's split-perspective structure helped with that. Up until now, Lena's influence over her Spearhead's battles have been little more than aural. She'll chat with them and give advice, but it's generally acknowledged that she's not been all that helpful. So it is incredibly satisfying to see the sky light up in a blaze after so much radio silence. The mortars have been mentioned before, but it was neat to see Lena go through with using them despite not getting permission. She's finally acknowledged that working within the system will get her nowhere.
It's exactly as gratifying as I'd hoped, and the first half is complimented with plenty of excellent 3D action and compositing from the team at Shirogumi. Throughout the show, they've never failed to impress upon us that the Juggernaut mechs are incredibly fragile; instead, they showcased the ways in which the cast have had to get inventive to survive. Shin winding through the trees with the grapple to evade enemy fire was a really neat touch.
The episode could have ended with Shin's last stand, but we got to spend some time with Lena as well, for a different kind of finale. For her, their victory was an accomplishment, but to Spearhead Squadron, it was just the first step in their longer Suicide Squad™ campaign. With the use of the Para-RAID, communication hadn't been an issue up until now. She didn't need to know their faces, as long as she could hear their voices. But with them now going out of range, we get to see how deeply she's grown to care for Spearhead, and how much she's changed as a result. In her desperate attempt to stay in range, she drops her hat, runs a red light, and breaks any rule to help them. It's a brilliant setup for the future. Raiden now knows what she looks like after seeing her reflection in the monitor. Maybe it's about time they all get to meet each other face-to-face?
I generally prefer to watch original anime over adaptations and there are several reasons for this. One is that original series are crafted specifically to be told through the medium of animation, and they're often where you see the most interesting and inventive directing techniques. Thankfully, this hasn't been an issue for 86. Whether it's inserting new scenes, or finding clever new ways to deliver the story, the creative team have made this light novel adaptation their own.
However, the second reason is also my last remaining worry with 86. I prefer original series because they generally arrive at a definitive ending within their run. The 86 light novels are still ongoing and most light novels don't get the privileged Sword Art Online full adaptation treatment. Is this going to be another show where we all sit around hoping for a second season while light novel fans desperately try to get me to read the book? I realize there's still a second cour to come, but I'm hoping that every narrative arc gets a conclusion as satisfying as this one.
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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