86 episode 16

Rating: 5 (of 5)

Ever since midway through last season, the series has been foreshadowing the coming of a large-scale offensive. Shin warned Lena about it, and in the year or so since the 86 left the Republic, Lena has been preparing for it. The Federacy also knew it was coming, but not how big. In a meta sense, the series has also seemed to be conserving on its animation the last couple of episodes. If that was, indeed, being done deliberately, then episode 16 – where the offensive finally happens – is what the staff was conserving for. The payoff is every bit the spectacle that novel readers had been anticipating, making this episode easily the strongest of this half – if not one of the strongest of the whole Fall 2021 season – to date.

A big part of that spectacle is, of course, the formal debut of the Reigenleifs in battle against the Legion. (I consider the one brief previous scene to be just a teaser.) I have said before that the staging and animation of the battles in this series may be the best ever for an anime title, and the first 60% of the episode powerfully reinforces that claim. Though Shin gets the feature moves, all of the 86s get to show off to some degree, and the result is glorious. Every battle scene – whether it was Anju’s missile batteries unloading, Kurena’s artillery, Theo scaling the building, or even Raiden just mowing down small fry – dazzled, and Shin’s scenes in particular gave ample backing to the impression that he was losing himself to a kind of combat madness. What would the commanders, who called the 86s “monsters” based just on the blips as they pushed back the Legion, have thought if they could have seen Shin’s actions in person? Did Colonel Wenzel have some apprehension about just what she had unleashed?

The parts involving Frederica were also handled even better than I had hoped. She has mentioned before that she sees a bit of her former knight, Kiriya, in Shin, but never before now has that parallel been laid so bare to her. She’s scared for Shin, and she should be; even the other 86s notice that something is off with him. Frederica is the “mascot” of the squadron by assigned role, but here her role as Shin’s emotional anchor starts to come into play as well. (And speaking of the quality animation in this episode, the scene of Shin getting cut by the glass shard was phenomenal, as was his body language as he finally shakes out of his berserker madness.)

The latter third of the episode also gives Lena an extended scene for the first time since episode 12. The large-scale offensive also struck the Republic, with the railgun’s fire piercing the Grand Mur, the wall which had protected them, and Lena was among the few at HQ who immediately understood what that warning siren and image meant. Things are about to get very, very bad for the Republic, and Lena is really the only hope the Republic has; thanks to the groundwork she’s laid over the past year, she is the one person who can rally a real defense, who can convince the 86s to unite and fight because the alternative is even worse and because honor demands fighting to the bitter end. The fact that she’s committed to doing so herself may be the most important point of all and what most sets her apart from other Alba.

That sets up her final meeting with her uncle. This is an anime-original scene, but it fits so well that I have to wonder if original writer Asato Asato requested its inclusion. It’s certainly a necessary scene, as it fills in the most notable gap in the original novel and continues the theme of her uncle’s fatalistic attitude about his own people. He has implied before that he fully understands that the persecution of the 86s is not right, and that doing anything about it is beyond him because of the inexorable forces within the government and military. He has tried to discourage Lena from getting trapped like her did by this ugly machine, and he is so disgusted by what has been wrought that he feels the Alba deserve to get wiped out. I can’t shake the impression that this confrontation was his final test to see if she was just playing around or truly had the resolve and understanding to dig in and fight, both for the nation as a physical entity and for its very soul. But unlike the Lena he tried to talk down back in episode 8, this Lena is no longer a naive idealist. He was likely going to go out fighting anyway, but Lena’s determination gives him the chance to utter maybe the series’ best lines so far: “It’s a child’s right to dream. . . and until that child wakes up from her dream and is crushed against the rocks of a merciless reality, it’s an adult’s job to protect her.” Cool way to go out, General Karlstahl.

All of that builds to a fantastic final Republic-side scene were Lena formally calls out all of the Processors and those in HQ who support her. I loved the reuse of the closing theme from episode 9 here, as it marks the point where Lena truly starts following in the path the 86s left down, and hey, we get another gratuitous shot of garters, right? Other little details about here, such as how the confrontation scene makes a point of showing that Lena is able to look her uncle in the eyes because she’s standing up one step (a scene which packs some interesting symbolic meaning).

And going back to the beginning episode, we finally have the introduction of No-Face, too; it first popped up in the first novel, but I believe that No-Face’s scenes in that were skipped. Perhaps that was because the trick the production team is playing here would have been too obvious then? Even now, the implication is pretty heady, as it’s something that has not been revealed through volume 8 in the novels. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, consider how familiar No-Face’s voice should sound. I’m certain it has to be the same seiyuu. Granted, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, as actors get reused for bit parts all the time, but this seems too significant to ignore.)

The dramatic epilogue scene brings to an end the series’ adaptation of the second novel; only one brief scene, which will probably be in the next episode, remains. The adaptation effort here is exceptional once again, with the only minor change (aside from Karlstahl’s addition) being that the scene where Shin pulls the gun on the alert center people being shown in context rather than referred back to later.

Overall, the episode succeeds on every possible front. It exemplifies why this is my favorite series of the year.

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