Light novel adaptations don’t always have to be harems or isekai or harem isekai—sometimes they can be gritty dystopian dramas that force us to confront tough issues like systemic inequality and the horrors of war. 86 is exactly that, and even more besides. Here are our impressions of the first few episodes of this hotly anticipated series!
Pointed Social Commentary
86 takes place in a world where “perfect” citizens with silver hair and eyes live in the pristine Republic of San Magnolia, protected on all sides by unmanned drones that fight off waves of robots sent by enemy nations. Little do they know (and those who do know don’t seem to care) that the “drones” are actually piloted by people who don’t fit the San Magnolia aesthetic, stripped of their rights and forced to fight an endless battle for no greater purpose than to protect those who don’t even see them as human. The only one who has any sympathy for their plight is Lena, a young officer tasked with remotely leading an elite group of soldiers through voice commands and digital interfaces. She makes an effort to get to know them, procures up-to-date maps to better assist them, and attempts to convince the other Magnolian military members that their treatment is inhumane.
Unfortunately, Lena’s bleeding-heart idealism isn’t enough to make a difference to either side... at least not yet. Her peers just brush off the human rights violations as a necessary evil, while the Spearhead squadron she commands calls her a hypocrite for still sending them out to die from the safety of her own office. It’s pretty pointed social commentary, reminding us that even if we stand for justice in the world, we still benefit from systems that were built on other people’s suffering. Lena means well, but if she can’t leave her comfort zone, she’ll never make a real difference.
Masterful Tonal Shifts
Of course, no matter how important the message is, it’ll fall completely flat if it isn’t properly integrated into the story. Luckily, this anime employs some masterful gut-punching tonal shifts that drive home just how much danger these characters are in at all times. One scene lulls you into a false sense of security with a cute exchange about desserts between Lena and her doctor friend, and then immediately cuts to a harrowing battle where the Spearhead soldiers struggle for survival in outdated machines that can barely protect them. A cliché “boys peeking at the girls bathing” scene with the squadron gains a frightening sense of reality when the girls pull their guns on the intruders in less than a second and you remember that they’re trained killers. Even the official 86 website updates the character roster after each episode to show who’s been “destroyed”. By deftly interweaving traditional anime antics with sobering wake-up calls, this anime is shockingly effective at delivering its anti-war and anti-racism themes.
This is just the beginning of 86’s story, and we’re looking forward to riding its emotional rollercoaster all the way to the end. But what about you? Have you been watching 86 this season? What do you think of its message? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!