Despite production issues and delays, season two of 86 remains just as engaging as its predecessor. Steve and Nicky check in on the military drama to see whether peace will ever be an option for the 86.
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the film ahead.
Nicky, I have to admit, I had no idea how 86
was going to follow up the devastating emotional landmine of its first season's finale. There were just so many directions this complex and character-rich meditation on war and bigotry could follow. But silly me, I failed to anticipate the most obvious, and most powerful, innovation to be found in any anime: a brand new gremlin.
Every anime needs a gremlin. What else is better than to lighten the mood? They need it too. The gang may have successfully escaped the eighty-sixth district and found refuge in a new country but with the legion still out there they're not anywhere near out of the woods yet.
And damn, the first season had a banger theme song but the second one went out after my heart by using one of my favorite bands, amazarashi
Yours and mine! Always happy to hear them, and I'm also happy—with caveats—to be knee deep in 86
's bloody trenches again.
Jokes aside, I did genuinely have no idea how they would follow up an episode that killed off the majority of its main cast. But throwing the audience one big "Sike!" is certainly one way to do it.
This could've felt like a cop-out but I'm in favor of this more optimistic outcome. It also gives the 86 kids a much needed break from it all, which is how we settle into the first few episodes. Not having to fight for their own survival anymore and taken into the president's household, the kids take some time to accustom to normal citizenry life. They can get jobs, take classes, go shopping, and even enjoy parks and books at their own leisure.
Yeah, honestly, I was torn about it at the beginning, because the first season stands on its own so well as this powerful and bleak (but not entirely so!) statement about the inherent nihilism of people killing each other. But now that we've had plenty of time with our old friends in this new setting, I'm pretty happy with the result. We've swapped the obvious hypocrisies of a fascist state with the more insidious hypocrisies of a supposedly free one, and that's plenty juicy for me.
It's heartbreaking! And these early moments are a place where 86
's direction, under the precise eye of Toshimasa Ishii
, really shines. It takes several episodes until we see the frontlines and return to the action, but 86
for me has always been about the interiorities of its characters and the broader society they find themselves in. These "quieter" moments are great for that.
Like you said, despite the best wishes of their new peers, you can't just undo a trauma. No matter how much the president wants to be your dad.
These first few eps are great and they really reminded me why I cared about the kids so much. The character writing continues to be an overall bright spot for 86
. I even ended up liking the gremlin as she forces Shin into a surrogate older brother position, even if he thinks it's annoying.
Though, these episodes are also conspicuously missing Lena and her iconic sock-garters, and are wholly focused on the 8
It's the right call, tbh. No offense to Lena or her thighs, but Shin's crew were the more interesting part of the first season, and their story's continuation also has more going for it than the Republic's, whose doom was spelled out in season one. Still, though, I wouldn't have minded seeing more of some of Lena's new liaisons, namely Her.
I'd also be remiss to forget that Lena shows up with a new edgy black uniform and cool red streak in her hair, so she's only a few steps removed from fully embracing that VTuber life.
Additionally, I think it was better for both Lena and the 86 that the audience felt the distance between them and their stories. Lena is dealing with a lot right now. She may have been demoted but she's still fighting just as hard as ever and it's more interesting that we're not privy with everything going on with her now that she's giving it her all to protect her own stupidly proud and uncompliant country through whatever means possible.
Furthermore, I appreciate that this direction gives us space to focus on how the Federacy of Giad works, and more specifically, how it perceives and treats Shin's team. Having overthrown their monarchy, Giad now sports shiny new concepts like liberty and social justice. Nothing wrong there!
Until you start literally infantilizing the outside group, that is. And that's not the worst of it.
I wasn't sure of all of them at first, especially El President, but some of the people of Giad seem like generally good folk who are trying hard to separate themselves from the former country that spawned the legion and threw everyone into a world of conflict as best as they can. At the same time, clear they have no idea how to talk to those who were on the receiving end of those actions and yet still recognize their own agency as skilled individuals. It's not the same as how they were treated by the San Magnolians but it's the difference between outright aggression and what most people would call micro-aggressions. Just because they are safer doesn't change the situation when they're not socially accepted.
Like how it's never mentioned in the dialogue, but as you can see there, they have at least a table's worth of separation from everyone else. As with the first season, 86
exhibits a surprisingly granular and perceptive awareness of how prejudice manifests, reinforced by and swept up into existing power structures. You can't protect someone from something that ingrained. That's part of why Shin and his friends feel just as alienated by Ernst's attempts to bring them into the fold. Even a president can't change an entire country's attitude, and he certainly can't protect them from it. And they wouldn't want him to anyway.
And since most people will never go through the same experience as they have, it's hard to get people to recognize how hurt changes you without looking at you like you're some malformed human. The 8
6 need accommodations but don't want to be treated as special, they want to be listened to, not talked down to.
And most important to our story purposes, they still want to fight. Even when nobody else wants them to. Even if they might be considered disposable. It's just the best thing they can do for themselves.
It bears repeating that just because they're not doing full genocide of their underclass doesn't mean they aren't exploiting them. The 8
6 recognize this and are content that those higher-up only value them as tools. It's just that they don't mind as much because they're used to being in that position. They're numb to the pain, the looks, the isolation. They've shouldered everything with only themselves and their own abilities to carry them this long, why should things be any different?
But, that's also not the whole story! It's not about it just being the kids against the world like before. The people of Giad are flawed but there's also some genuine support. I really like their new handler, for example. And even though the kids have the right to expect the worst from everyone, to believe that their lives have no value outside of their own niche, the story interrogates this as an unhealthy defense mechanism of people who haven't been able to move on.
Yeah, out of all the Giad citizens, I think Grethe does the best job seeing the 8
6 not as monsters or victims, but as complicated people in between those two extremes. Like, she simultaneously respects the autonomy they've earned for themselves on the battlefield, while also recognizing that they're kids who have room to grow up into different people, as we all must someday.
Frederica also grasps—and embodies—a lot of their nuances thanks to the strong connection she shares with Shin. Although her presence in the story comes with its own set of complications.
Seriously, Giad, what the hell.
I just assumed she was making that up! Hopefully! She is a kid who does watch a lot of TV.
That's a nice thought but I can't say it doesn't slot into my presumptions about Giad's prior military practices, based on the whole "built a self-aware killer robot army that is on its way to world domination" thing.
Questionable things Frederica says aside, (of which there are many as a former baby-queen who declared war when she was FIVE) I think the thing that sets Frederica and Grethe apart from the bigwigs or the other less experienced soldiers is that they've "been there". They're no strangers to loss. They may not know the extent of the experiences of what the 8
6 have gone through, but they're not unfamiliar to the emotional processes that they're going through now. And that's part of why they're so persistent in trying to get someone like Shin, who still yearns for death, to stop and think for a minute what that means to others.
It's a fair assumption to make. The Republic has certainly seen better days.
Turns out trying to get your own side killed all the time is a losing battle. Whodathunk?
Again, we might not spend much time with her, but Lena's conversation with her uncle right before their country gets its comeuppance is one of the meatiest parts of the new season.
God, I hope she's okay. Please be okay, girl.
Oh I've learned my lesson from the first season cliffhanger. I presume nobody is dead until we've seen their body, and even then it might be up the in air. I'm sure she's hanging in there.
I'm partially exaggerating, if she wasn't okay there wouldn't be as much reason to keep us in the dark about it. Plus, she's competent. But it doesn't change my feelings or how badly I want to see her and the 86 reunited in some way.
Spite is also a very powerful motivation for survival.
I just love how much of a bastard utilitarian pessimist her uncle is. These are the thoughts and words of a man who would rather reap what he's sown than consider for a single instant that he never had to sow them in the first place.
In that regard, Ernst is a compelling foil for him—a staunch idealist who would rather see his country burn than compromise his morals.
This also makes Ernst kinda based.
Based, if naïve—as we've already discussed, Giad is hardly the sacrosanct beacon of democracy he wants it to be. But I love him throwing a chaotic self-destruct button into an already-boiling pot of international warfare and cooperation. They are, truly, living in society.
I'm with him mostly because he cares for the kids and wants to see them come back alive. Which is also my wish. If only Shin could stop being creepy and sad for just ONE MINUTE.
Well perhaps Shin believes that the only way to take down a creepy and sad railgun robot is to be even creepier and sadder than it is.
Kiri/Pale Rider certainly isn't making it easy for him if that's the case.
Especially when you're having a psychic attack using your ghost-hearing powers and you're fighting a psychic zombie brain in a robot.
We haven't talked about the actual fighting at all, cuz that's really just the spectacle. It's cool and I still really like the little spider-bots. They got upgraded machines but they're still basically just experimental glass cannons one foot away from death. It's also probably the most I've enjoyed military talk in a show, even going into the nitty-gritty of stuff like anti-air tactics, clearly a lot of it is well researched to bring stakes and plausibility to this fictional war. But the part I care most about is just the conversations and the character.
However, I will embrace EMP RAIL GUN BUG CANNON! The legion technology is really freaky.
Still a little wannabe bitch when it comes to long-range superweapons, though. Oh you destroyed a few city blocks? How cute. Call me when you're a giant screaming octahedron that can obliterate an entire mountain with a single laser beam.
Unfortunately (fortunately?), we don't have anyone's dead mom to pilot here, so having to deal with a giant moth with only tiny little robos is scary enough.
Don't give 86
any more ideas. Considering we have more than one quasi-telepathic main character now, I wouldn't count anybody's dead mother out of the game.
Though recently we did get a flying bus. Also, I'm unsure what the magic psychic blood implies? It works for Shin as a metaphor for his mental stuff but with Fredericka and Kiri's power it's a little more literal and screwed up. And the reason the Legion wants Shin back "alive", for his blood brain. I also have a feeling the Para-raid that Lena still wears, even though that's dangerous, will also tie into all of this somehow.
At least this time it's more on their own terms. No one is really forcing them to do it. Though, it's also not like they had a choice.
This is all, of course, assuming the rest of the season gets finished and the production crew doesn't collapse from overwork, which I don't think we can take for granted.
I was actually surprised when episodes started getting delayed because the direction is so good. I may not have picked up on some of the production issues but some of the dialogues do have a bit of a "talking heads" quality, and there are fewer moments that are as good as some of the material in the first season.
Does that mean I like this season any less? Not really, I still enjoy the subject matter, the characters, and I'm glad that the production crew is taking their time with the delays to make sure it looks good rather than putting out something worse.
It's frustrating! Because this clearly is a team that cares a lot about the material and went through great, transformative lengths to make the first season feel so poignant and tragic. But with increasing frequency, we're seeing ambitious creative efforts collapse under the impossible working conditions foisted on them by the industry at large. This is endemic, and it isn't getting better, yet publishers just want to push out more anime, to the detriment of the shows and the people who work on them. It sucks.
And I'm still enjoying this season overall too. I just wish the people making it were afforded the opportunity to make it the way they want. Playing catchup every other week has got to be miserable for everyone on that crew.
Obviously, I would rather whole seasons be delayed by months, years, even, if it meant that we wouldn't have to compromise the health and happiness of the people who work so hard to bring us good anime. And the staff working on 86 are clearly capable of making great things. It's rare we get a show that is as entertaining and engaging as 86, and I'd like it to maintain that kind of momentum even if I want to see more. Like 86 is a good fix, but I want to be able to savor it too rather than get a lesser version every other season because the publisher demands it.
Alright, it's too much of a downer to ponder industry-wide labor issues, so before we wrap up, here's a good goofy picture of Frederica.
Haha, that little scamp, sneaking into an active warzone on the back of an almost-certain death march.
Please, protect her, along with our extremely cynical (but passionate) hearts.
Til next time! Byeeeee!