86 introduces itself with a bang as it starts in a battlefield where a mean-spirited handler yells commands and insults to a mech unit known as the Spearhead shortly before going insane, the reason to which isn’t fully explained in the episode. Afterward, the anime sets up the republic of San Magnolia and its 85 districts. A well-known fact about the republic is that it is in the middle of an ongoing war with its neighbor, the Giadian Empire. This war is fought with a series of unmanned drones to boast a feud with no casualties. The republic is quite proud about this, too, and makes viewers know by boasting how humane the war is and how they’re winning due to a lack of resources on the opposing team’s side.
A War With History
Another very noticeable fact about the republic that isn’t clearly stated to viewers is how all of its inhabitants have white skin, white hair, and blue eyes, which already sets off alarms and suggest that this war may be more sinister than it seems, like ethnic cleansing. This would explain why all citizens of the 85 look similar and would also explain the odd marital system stated in the first episode.
But it gets worse as the episode then reveals that these so-called unmanned drones are actually manned by soldiers of the 86, an extra district hidden from the public. These young men and women are treated as less than humans, seen in how the members of the 85 military refer to them as “processors” or pigs and regard them as just insignificant cogs in a machine.
The only person who seemingly cares about the 86 is new handler Lena Miizè who’s noticeably disgusted with how the rest of the military treats them. She shows them respect whenever she’s on-seat and even gives them words of encouragement which members of the 86 notice with disdain, as they’re used to their being handlers mean, disrespectful, and outright antagonistic. These guys have long accepted their fates as cogs and even look forward to their “end of service”. Regardless, Lena enthusiastically takes the responsibility of being the new handler for the Spearhead Squadron, an infamous unit of the 86 known to make its handler run mad or kill themselves.
The Other Side
However, the episode isn’t just focused on the 85 as it also gives us a glimpse into a day in the life of the 86 district, more specifically, the Spearhead group. These soldiers are of varying ages, skin colors, and descent compared to their neighbor districts which might explain why they are treated as mere tools of war.
We see them relate with one other like a family, which makes it all the more depressing when we see one of them get gravely injured and mercy killed by their leader Shin nicknamed the “Undertaker”. The episode ends with Lena forming a Sensory Link with the squadron (which probably has something to do with the handlers going mad…. just a wild guess) announcing her assignment as their new handler. This ending left an impact on both me as a viewer and the characters, as it suggests the beginning of an eventful yet grim relationship between the characters, and I can’t wait to see how that plays out.
Animation & Direction
85 is one of the few anime this season that’s both intrigued and entertained me so far. While its central premise and themes are a little on the nose and lack a bit of tact, it’s executed well enough to grab the viewers’ attention and leave them in anticipation. It also doesn’t hurt that the anime is objectively one of the better-looking ones this season, as the visuals are stunning and detailed. The little direction seen with the opening scene proves how quick and impactful the action scenes are (despite the mechs being fully CG).
86 has succeeded in leaving quite the impression on me, so hopefully, its narrative potential isn’t squandered, as lord knows how easy it is for things to go badly.
86 is now streaming on Crunchyroll
Have you seen the first episode of 86? What’s your favorite war-themed anime? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.