Rating: 4.5 (of 5)
If the more serious parts of 86 ever fail the series, it has a good fallback plan: just depend on Lena being adorable. The way she gradually loses it in the scene right before the closer, as she realizes that what she just innocently said to Shin could be interpreted a whole different way, is precious. (And kudos to the adaptation team for fully animating that. Most series wouldn’t bother.) Fortunately for her, Shin is too distracted by other things to notice.
Part of why Shin is that distracted is made clearer by the rest of the episode, which opens with an exceptionally grim and graphic flashback to a younger Shin finding his brother’s wrecked Juggernaut with its desiccated, headless corpse still inside. (Other corpses are laying around in the ruined library as well if you look closely.) The irony that a soldier who uses a headless skeleton as his insignia ends up headless himself is quite thick, but more importantly, that scene is the visual affirmation of what Shin described to Lena last episode: about how the Legion is harvesting the brains of dead 86s. That, combined with the much later scene of the older Shin hearing his brother’s voice, reinforces the implication from last episode that his brother is still active out there as a Black Sheep – or, more likely, a Shepherd. Lena’s scene at the end is either a welcome or distracting counterbalance, depending on point of view.
The rest of the episode in between shows how the series may actually spend the whole first cour just adapting the first novel, as most the episode’s contents are either completely anime-original or else dramatically fleshing out scenes that are only briefly referenced in the novel. Despite that, nothing feels the slightest but superfluous about any of it. The party scene reinforces that, while the 86s are all soldiers, they’re still just teens at heart and just as prone to goofing around in their downtime as any normal teens. The most welcome aspect of that scene for me was giving Kaie a bit more screen time; I found her to be mostly forgettable as a character when reading the novel, but the anime gives her a much stronger and more appealing presence. The scene also does not forget the underlying racism of the setting, as they talk about a Lena that they have not even conversed with yet via para-RAID. Interestingly, that conversation also seems to pointedly skewer the “white savior” trope.
The battle scene maintains the series’ high technical standards so far, while also introducing an unsettling element not seen in previous battles: the vaguely humanoid Legion which are basically suicide bombers. Two characters die in this battle, of which one – Daiya – is a loss at least as major as Kaie. His death is just casually mentioned in the novel, but he gets significantly more attention in this version, so showing his demise is more warranted and, given the romance between him and Anju, has more impact. Meanwhile, Lecca is, I think, getting named for the first time, but goes out on an equally dramatic note with a suicide shot before a Legion can claim her head. Both that and the scene where Daiya has to be finished off by Shin stack up the grimness of the 86s’ situation. No real help is to be found with Lena’s uncle or Annette, either, although the cat plushie Annette gives her as a birthday gift creates another interesting parallel; it’s stuffed in the Republic, while the 86s’ cat is a live one. Certainly that’s not coincidental.
Again, I could probably go on for a while about the richness of the little details and visual cues, such as the way the 86s looking at Theo’s sketch steadily increased, or the leaf that fell from the plant as Lena remembered the sound of Shin shooting Daiya, but I’ll let that go for now. The short version is that, even with a lot of anime-original content, the series shows no sign of dropping off anytime soon.
OTHER SERIES I’M FOLLOWING:
Higehiro episode 6 – Man, that was edgy, but also every bit as ugly as expected. I honestly wasn’t too surprised that the series came to that, partly because predators like that – who can sense when a girl is vulnerable and box them into “consenting” to sex – are all too real, and Sayu still practically radiates vulnerability. Kudos to Sayu’s support team for coming through in her defense, and to Asami in particular for not wavering after learning about Sayu’s secret. This is arguably the second-best series this season after 86.
How NOT To Summon a Demon Lord Omega ep 6 – Diablo shows up and pwns everything. Yawn.
Vivy – Flourite’s Eye Song ep 8 – Have the to give the series’ creators credit here; that was a twist that I did not see coming, though in retrospect it makes a certain amount of sense. Very curious to see how this plays out.
Zombie Land Saga Revenge episode 7 – Fun episode with Tae as the focus, but what consequences will that ending having?