Rating: 4.5 (of 5)
The most predominant underlying theme of the first part of 86 is racism, especially the self-destructive (or at the very least self-limiting) impact of it on a country as a whole. However, the series will have other themes as well, and another of those starts to come more sharply into focus in this episode: the great divide which can lay between two groups of people, even when they ostensibly work together.
In this episode, that shows through in many ways, and one of them lies in the vocal performances so far. In the novels, Lena’s voice is repeatedly described as having the quality of a silver bell; in anime form, seiyuu Ikumi Hasegawa (in her first co-starring role) portrays that by making her sound lilting, bright, and optimistic. By sharp contrast, Shoya Chiba’s rendition of Shin is constantly monotonous and businesslike. He does not so much give the impression of being cold or emotionless, but rather like he must remain perpetually focused; indeed, one scene in this episode suggests that he is doing so to shut something else out. Even if I wasn’t familiar with the source material, and so didn’t know the revelation that is coming next episode, this having something to do with what has forced other Handlers away would be a reasonable assumption.
But it comes through in other ways as well. Lena is clearly well-meaning, and seems determined to fight against the racist attitude that has become so institutionalized that it is even promoted in classes and textbooks. (Historical precedence for this exists.) That she is using her uncle to keep herself from getting in too much trouble for defying official government policy makes her less brave about it, but her heart is clearly in the right place. However, as the 86s’ reactions to her indicate, she does not truly understand them and their situation even though she wants to be on their side and does not regard them as pigs. They do not bad-mouth her because the series does not need to do that to convey their disdain; it is plain in their body language that they consider her naïve at best. Though Lena shows good intent and at least some real tactical acumen, their appreciation of her will not be won so easily.
This episode also lays out the backstory a bit better. It uses an anime-original classroom scene to summarize some details sprinkled through the content covered in episode 1 in the novel: that the invasion from the Empire of Giad started nine years ago, that the enemy Legion are all autonomous, that the Legion is presumed to have wiped out the Empire’s humans before initiating the attacks on the Republic, and that the Republic’s military was quickly devastated early on, which is likely why Lena is in such a position at such a young age. The war is only expected to last two more years because the Legion shouldn’t last longer than that before their operational time runs out, hence the reason why none of the Alba seem to be taking this too seriously. That 50,000 hour figure sounds fishy, since simple math indicates that new Legion have to have been made in the last 13 years, but the government is clearly fudging on other details (such as how the Juggernauts are supposedly higher-spec than the Legion), so that two year estimate also has to be considered unreliable. The presentation of the information in a classroom setting does allow for the show to demonstrate how deeply-ingrained the racism is, though even with that it cannot escape the impression of being an infodump.
The real feature of the episode, though, is the first true all-out fight scene, and it is worth watching the episode for that alone. I loved the effect of the day swiftly turning to twilight as the cloud of butterfly-like Legion swarmed over the sky, but that is merely the first visually impressive shot. A driving musical score backs some of the best CG-heavy battle animation I have yet seen in series animation, but that would mean nothing without excellent camera usage and battle flow, which allow the viewer to fully follow everything that transpires. Comparing this scene to any major action scene in, say, So I’m a Spider, So What? is like comparing a pro team to a collegiate team in sports, and it’s all the more impressive because this is Toshimasa Ishii’s first time in the director’s chair. If the series can produce future action scenes at this quality level then this could be remembered as one of the top action series in many years.
Almost lost in all of this is the episode’s most poignant scene, and the one which most speaks to why Shin has the nickname that he does: the chest containing scraps of Juggernaut armor, each etched with the name of a former comrade who (presumably) died in battle. That is the most harrowing reminder of what the stakes are for the 86.
SOME OTHER SERIES I’M FOLLOWING:
This is not all the series that I am following, but the others simply didn’t do much worth commenting on this past week.
Combatants Will Be Dispatched ep 2 – This series is shaping up to be nearly as much fun as KONOSUBA was. The salacious and occasionally mean-spirited flavor of the humor is similar to KONOSUBA’s, so if you found it off-putting in that title then you probably won’t like it any more here, but the characters will not lack for personality. A favorite moment in this episode was Snow’s comment about having to make payments on her magic sword.
Fruits Basket The Final ep 2 – I’ve heard ever since the first anime series about how Shigure was a far more twisted character than what the first series revealed, and this episode shows it better than any previous one. He may be a dog in more senses than just the Zodiac curse.
Higehiro ep 2 – This one continues to walk a really delicate line, as there is all sort of inappropriateness to the living situation here, but so far the series is still careful to cross the line and Yoshida seems to be serious about the fatherly role he’s taking on here (even if he does not want to admit that’s what he is doing). Enticing hints continue to be dropped about how Sayu ended up in this situation, especially how unperturbed she seems about not being in contact with former friends. I am fully on board for seeing how this plays out.
Vivy – Flourite Eye’s Song ep 4 – Though the last two episodes have not impressed me as much as the first two did, I still like the concept here – of an AI progressing through the years to tackle different potential triggers for a bad outcome – quite a bit, especially the way episodes 3 and 4 both draw connections across the 15 year span back to episode 2.
Zombie Land Saga Revenge ep 2 – Maybe my favorite episode of the week beside 86. As corny and outlandish as the radio host’s behavior and appearance were, his message still resonated: you don’t necessarily need to go far from home to find the answers you seek. I can easily understand how his words could speak to a troubled adolescent like Saki, and that he decided to name Saki as his successor was quite fitting, as she is the one he has met who most “gets” the spirit of Saga that he has always espoused.