When I set out to start a series, I’m normally not looking for an experience that invokes real life. Mostly because anime can’t really capture the feelings I have accurately, simply because it doesn’t originate from where I am from. It can’t represent my experience accurately, and, besides, anime is supposed to be an escapist fantasy for a lot of us. Sure, I indulge in a few tearjerkers that circle around topics such as depression and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), such as Given and Violet Evergarden. But I hadn’t really partaken in a serious anime quite like 86 – Eighty-Six before.
I think 86 – Eighty Six is worth your time. Why you may ask? Well, there have been a number of great anime that work around themes such as political instability. But rarely do they veer into tackling the even heavier topics of racism and oppression, and how segregation leads to division and weakening. All set in an immaculate sci-fi world with the added finesse of mecha robots.
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had good political mecha on similar topics before. Discrimination against a conquered populace by its colonizers was basically the plot of Code Geass, a cult classic. Since then, we have had more stories come out that are similar, but either they didn’t fully commit to the grit of what they were implying or fizzled out completely. I remember being so excited for ALDNOAH.ZERO, with the first three episodes being directed by Gen Urobuchi. However, it was a major letdown.
So going into 86 – Eighty Six, I was cautiously wary. Despite how interesting the premise was, the anime adaptation by A-1 Pictures was uncharted territory. However, the original light novel for the show, by the writer Asato Asato, is very well written so I hoped that the anime would do it justice. But did it end up being worth investing your time into watching, or should you keep it at the light novel? Let’s discuss!
The Premise: A Gritty Tale Of Supremacy And Unlikely Allies
For nearly a decade, the two nations of the Republic of San Magnolia and the Empire of Giad have been at war, with giant machines called Juggernauts at their disposal. The civilians are led to believe that these Juggernauts are remote-piloted weapons, minimizing casualties. However, the truth is that the Juggernauts are piloted by a group of humans known as the “86”— a term mainly used for the Colorata minority of San Magnolia, who are classified as second-class citizens and treated as such.
But it is in San Magnolia where we get introduced to Major Vladilena “Lena” Milizé, a noble of the dominant Alba race and an officer in the San Magnolian Military. Despite her status, she is an activist for the fair treatment of the Colorataminority and has pushed for the public to be told the truth about the war.
To shut her down, she is assigned as the Handler of the Spearhead Squadron of the Eastern Front, led by Shinei “The Undertaker” Nouzen. The squad is notorious for driving their handlers insane. However, with Lena, they form an alliance. Together with Shinei, they uncover a conspiracy where the Kingdom and the Empire are not what they seem.
The Breakdown: A Nuanced Take On Oppression And Privilege. Plus Mechs!
This is not the kind of story you take lightly. And I’m glad the anime didn’t downplay it either. 86 – Eighty Six is a heavy take on race supremacy and behavior that rewards bigotry. And I’m surprised how delicately it approaches topics that, in this current climate, are extremely charged.
Too often, we hear about the Saviour Complex, which is what this could’ve easily delved into if it had romanticized Lena’s character arc. But it didn’t. Lena comes from a place of privilege, and she knows that. But instead of the plot going the usual route and placing her on a pedestal, they seamlessly weave her into the story that centers on the Colorata.
On the other hand, the Colorata aren’t painted as victims who need saving. They are full-fledged humans who are demanding their rights, asking for allies who’d raise their voices up instead of speaking over them. This is, again, where character dynamics between Lena and Shin really shine through. The topic of racism and a tainted legacy is well done, without any hero worship involved.
You don’t get rewarded for basic human decency, and that is not a take I expected from a mech anime.
The Verdict: Worth The Watch!
This is one of the best mecha anime to come out in a while. You might think I’m exaggerating, but that makes it even more imperative for you to watch it for yourself. In addition to a stellar story, there is a genuinely enjoyable anime to experience here.
We are living in some strange times, and that’s why an anime like 86 – Eighty Six is much welcome.