Anime Review: 86

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Welcome once more to our little corner of the internet!  I am Frost of the Demented Ferrets, and it’s time once again for another anime review. This is one of the ones that I have wanted to do for some time, ever since I saw the first episode, in fact.  I am a huge fan of mecha anime, and when you throw in such things as child soldiers, morally questionable practices, and the search for what you truly care for you have an explosive powder keg of potential.

Of course, spoiler warnings do apply.

86 is an anime adaptation of the light novel series that was written by Asato Asato in 2017.  It follows the events of a war that is being fought between the unmanned weapons of two warring nations.  

At least, that is what is being said.

The truth is something far darker, and with much more dire meanings for all those that are involved.

The Republic of San Magnolia has been locked in a dire war for its very existence against the unrelenting machines of the Legion for years, but if you looked around the neat streets and carefully maintained parks of the 85 districts, you would be hard pressed to believe it.  The people go about their daily lives, their silver hair blowing in the wind and their silver eyes without a care in the world while propaganda plays behind them on every screen.

It is a strange disconnect from the hellish battlefield that lies just beyond the massive wall that protects them.

Outside, in the 86th district, the Juggernauts that compromise the Republic’s defense fight against the superior machines of the AI controlled Legion, in a bloody war that sees no ‘human’ deaths.

Regardless of how much blood is spilled by the 86, the people who are actually fighting the war.

The truth is far darker, and one that even those that know look away from for the most part.  The Juggernauts are piloted by those that have had their rights stripped away from them, the ones that have been declared to be ‘unevolved pigs’ by the government of the Republic.  Overseen by “Handlers” who have never once stepped foot on the battlefield, the people of the 86th district fight and die for little more than their pride, their determination to live another day serving as the one thing that they have to keep pushing forward.

This is the horrible truth of the ‘unmanned’ drones that fight to stop the implacable advance of the Legion.

The animation itself can easily be broken into two sections, the battles in the Juggernauts and the events that take place outside of them.  Where sometimes the production of the rest did fall flat at times, the CGI battle scenes always impressed.  It was clear that the production issues that plagued the series in the wake of COVID and other issues had not impacted that side of the anime as much as it did the rest.  

The designs of the mecha were inspired, and did not fall into the usual lanes of most other anime.  There were no massive, humanoid battle machines.  Instead, we saw designs drawn more from a practical viewpoint.  Multi-legged walkers that took a far more practical outlook on warfare, but still delivered a truly dynamic visual experience.  Honestly, it reminded me in parts of the spider tanks of another certain franchise.  Or even the quads of Battletech.

As a fan of mecha, I approve.

The music and visual style of the series have always been spot on, if you ask me.  The music and art have always set the stage very well, from the opening to the ending they did an amazing job of conveying the feel of the series, and the weight of it all.  The choice of using CGI for a good portion of the battle sequences was certainly the right thing to do, as it made the battles very fast, very fluid and incredibly dynamic.

The adaptation is where I think they really hit a home run.  The light novels don’t actually focus on the 86’s lives all that much, not in the first volume or two, at least.  There are also the usual issues with English translations of Japanese light novels, mostly keeping track of who is talking and doing what in a scene.  That was resolved very well in the anime, as were a lot of the ‘blank’ spots in the lives of the 86.  I have read the light novels, and watched the anime, and I have to say that I really do love the anime.

I just wish that they had adapted more of it.

I am pretty sure I could write another entire blog just about the world building, and the surprising depths that lie there.  From the decadent, hedonistic lifestyle of the Republic where the only real impact that they seem to be feeling from the war itself is a lack of real foodstuffs and resources, to the relative freedom of the 86 outside of the walls.  The existence of psychic phenomena, the existence and structure of the other countries, and even the horrifying truth of the Legion and the Empire that spawned them.  Honestly, I could read the series just for the world building alone.

Another reason I keep hoping that they will adapt the next arc of the story, since things get really wild from where they left off. 

If you are a fan of realistic, gritty war anime where death is waiting around every corner and very few characters have ‘plot armor’, where the characters are very much at a disadvantage and have very real, very living personalities to them, then I hope that you will give 86 a shot.

Just don’t lose your head.

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