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86 Episode 1 Review

We dive straight into an all out battle, with mechanized spider looking drones tearing each other to shreds. A commander is talking into the background, giving orders to soldiers, but is then begging for his life at the end as we catch a glimpse into one of our main characters. Welcome to the front lines. This ain’t no slice of life anime. It’s 86. 

The last thing you see, before you die a forgettable death. 

The scene changes to our other main character, Lena a young female military commander waking up to another day. 

As she walks to the headquarters, we are introduced to the background of this world. This nation, San Magnolia, has been at war with their belligerent neighbor the Giadian Empire, except both sides employ unmanned combat drones to fight their wars. Hence, why Magnolia looks so peaceful, with everyone going about their daily lives. The news spits propaganda that due to the advancements of unmanned robots fighting their war, no casualties have occurred for a long time now. In fact, the entire vibe at headquarters is the officers lazing about, seeing their military roles as glorified desk jobs. But the raw truth is, the Magnolia’s robot are NOT unmanned, containing expendable soldiers from the 86th district, considered the lowest of society. Lena, however, doesn’t see them as expendable cannon fodder. 

Lena then walks to her station, ready to operate her unit. From what it appears, the officers act as Handlers, monitoring the drones and ensuring the pilots, called Processors, operate as normally. Unfortunately, it dehumanizes the Processors as just robots, similar to in real time strategy games how we the players, control our units and just see them as a means to an end. Do we shed tears if we lose in game soldier units? No, and that’s how the Handlers see the 86 pilots. Lena is just a special exception in caring for the Processors under her command. And it is very traumatic, hearing the soldiers under your command in their last living moments, and being absolutely powerless to stop it, just sitting behind a holographic screen. 

MFW when I lost my best unit

Even the screen looks straight out of a video game, with each unit having specific parameters and showing their locations on a map. But with each “destroyed”, is a live human being perished. 

A great point I noticed, is this anime does a fantastic job of using show vs. tell. There isn’t unnecessary dialogue, and its visuals do a subtle yet superb method of storytelling. One heartbreaking part, is when Lena is talking and eating desserts with her co-worker, when Lena drops the cream puff (lol), the sound it makes, immediately transitions to one of the soldiers under Lena’s command dying. The transition is jarring, as it reminds you that this is not a cutesy anime with waifus, it’s an anime about war. 

Why does everyone in this country have the same hair color and eye color?

But here’s a cute moment anyway for you degenerates.

We later learn, that Lena is being reassigned to a different unit, known as Spearhead Squadron, Apparently, this unit is infamous for driving their Handler away, whether of resignation or even suicide. An extremely troublesome unit, with their field commander having the nickname, “Undertaker”. And Lena’s previous unit, grimly congratulates her, wishing her luck with tackling that beast. 

The episode then transitions to our other MC, Shin, known as the Undertaker. Despite our being told that the 86 are the lowest of society, they appear as normal people, goofing off despite being conscripted soldiers to fight and die nameless. They even banter about having driven their previous Handler crazy. (we then realize that the opening cinematic was Spearhead squadron driving their Handler insane, and not an enemy soldier dying). 

Place your bets on who will be alive by the end of the season

They look so happy, like a family. Until it cuts to the middle of a heated battle. And we are dragged back into the cruel reality, when one of the characters that was so happy earlier, is fatally wounded. And Shin puts him out of his misery. 

After Shin mercifully kills his comrade, the comrade’s face is…disfigured. You can’t even tell their facial shape after being shot. It’s really grim and sick, but that is war. Shin then holds good on his promise to not forget him, and scratches out a metal piece from his comrade’s robot and etches his name onto it. Then the rest of the squadron returns to their normal lives, preparing for the next battle. 

:/ not sure if I should be crying or laughing upon seeing this. 

The last scene is Lena calling the entire Spearhead Squadron, introducing herself and hoping they get along. And Shin doesn’t seem too impressed, most likely thinking of how to get this Handler kicked out too. And honestly, who could blame him, when all Handlers discard the 86 lives away like cheap change?

This was a strong kick off to an anime that I went in blind to. Ironically, I have the later light novels for 86, because the cover art looked cool, but didn’t spoil myself (yet). The world setting and the characters are already incredibly interesting, and I look forward to seeing how Lena and the Spearhead Squadron interact.

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