Throughout its run, 86 has occasionally stretched its narrative a bit to end episodes on certain dramatic beats. For the most part, the series has successfully pulled that off because of the skillful way that it has staged these scenes and the seamless addition of new content. In the case of this episode, however, the stretching is more obvious. Nothing new was added – in fact, this episode plays as purely to the source material as any part of the story has so far – but I cannot shake the impression that this all could have been handle a little more succinctly.
Even so, the content is still effective, and the star performer this time around may be President Ernst. He has sometimes given the impression of disguising some agenda behind his platitudes, light-spirited delivery, and minor bouts of goofiness, but he has also shown an earnestness in his dealings with the 86s which doesn’t seem in line with darker motives. This episode firms up the truth of the matter: there is actually nothing disingenuous about Ernst’s motives, just his intensity. When he drops his politician’s voice and smile (as he does at the 1:15 mark in the episode), the smoldering passion behind his convictions come through powerfully; kudos to voice actor Yuya Uchida (Henrickson in The Seven Deadly Sins titles) for this and other strong moments throughout the episode. Even those around him seem to forget that you don’t successfully lead a nation out of a revolution and through a major transformation of government – and remain popular in the process – without powerful convictions and a core of steel. He mentioned back in episode 12 that a nation which cannot take in a bunch of refugee children doesn’t deserve to exist, which makes his words in the later scene – where he states that he will destroy this country if the 86s must die to protect it – all the more impactful. He will lead a nation based on human decency, or there will be no nation at all. The motivational speech he gives to the troops on the verge of the offensive also speaks to his pride and convictions as well.
Grethe also gets some star points here. She may seem a bit too chipper for the role she plays, but maybe she’s just following Ernst’s leads. There’s a strength and conviction underlying her cheery exterior as well, and if her motives for doing so are not exactly pure, who cares? She certainly doesn’t think it matters. Fredericka also gets another pass, another opportunity to show off her intriguing mix of maturity and natural childishness, with her last impassioned attempt to dissuade Shin from going to battle. She certainly does not pull any punches in her desperate rant, and unlike with everyone else who tries to insist that the 86s shouldn’t fight, her comments bypass the pride of the 86s and strike home because she has seen first-hand what battling for little but your pride can lead to. With Grethe and Ernst, she rounds out the trio of Federacy representatives who all care about the 86s in part because of people that they have lost in the past, but their concern is no less real.
All of this, of course, is the prelude to the grand offensive to take out the existential threat of the Morpho. Once again the 86s are going on a mission from which they’re not expected to return, but this time circumstances are different. Their direct commander is the one personally taking them to their destination, the whole of the Federacy wants to see them come back, and both the Federacy and other countries are fighting alongside them. Some may see the 86s as monsters for how finely-attuned they are to combat, but they’re still recognized as part of the cooperative effort. All of those are things they didn’t have before. That and the support of the series’ strongest musical number make the launching of the offensive into an impressive affair.
As for technical aspects. I continue to like the small gestures by Shin – the twitch of an eye when one of Frederica’s rants hits home, for instance – which betray emotional reactions. The launch sequence also looked impressive. However, the character art once again seemed shaky at times, and that is an ongoing concern. Does it have anything to do with why the series is having its second off episode (this time a “Special Edition”) in just three weeks next week? Much of the rest of the series is going to be action-intensive, so hopefully that will be enough to keep the series up to its lofty standards.