Rating: 5 (of 5)
86 is finally back for its final two episodes, after its nearly three-month hiatus. Perhaps partly as an apology for the wait, the series delivers the finest and most emotionally potent episode of its second half. And a lot of that has to do with Lena finally being back in the picture, to the extent that this episode shows why the series works best when both are involved.
The episode is titled “Shin,” which is fitting because it serves as the climax to Shin’s personal journey through the second half – and really, the series as a whole as well. While the other 86s seemed to adjust relatively well to life in the Giad Federacy (even if they did ultimately opt to return to the battlefield), Shin never did. The combination of his ability, experiences, and personality have left him haunted and directionless. He can try to deny that the dead have no place and no voice among the living, but he cannot move past them himself. When he tries, he see nothing ahead of him – no point or meaning to moving forward. He is the Undertaker, the one who made sure that those who had died were not forgotten, but even his fellow surviving 86s – even Frederika, who understands him better than anyone else in the Giad Federacy – could not ease that burden or give him purpose, and it weighs even more because, as far as he knows, the few who had stayed with him are now dead. How could he not mock himself?
But as the first half showed, and the second half occasionally reminded us, there was one person he seemingly made a deeper connection to, even if he didn’t acknowledge it: Lena. Unlike with the 86s, he inspired her not to be comfortable with dying, but to live, and that was something he never appreciated before. She also was someone who would remember him. Shin desperately needed to understand both, which is why the scenes where he first recognizes her voice and then gets a verbal confirmation directly from her about the impact he had on her carry such an emotional punch. Lena isn’t dead after all, but rather a much stronger person for her efforts to pursue the 86s formerly under her command and reach the place that they reached, even if she also believes them to be dead. That admission – that acknowledgement – is what he needed to hear, and who he needed to hear it from, to finally be able to move on, as symbolized by the fragment from his brother’s Legion falling out of sight as the music hits its crescendo.
As dramatic execution and symbolism goes, this scene was everything that I had hoped it could be. The two seemingly-permanently parted ways with Lena in the midst of blossoming red spider lillies, which can symbolize death and separation. However, they can also symbolize both rebirth and star-crossed lovers, and having their reunion (such as it is) in a field of such flowers packs both meanings here. Lena first speaking silently, with Shin getting only subtitles (presumably because of a bust external mic) was a neat touch, as it allowed her instantly-recognizable voice coming over the Para-RAID to have much more impact, and using the white filter bars at the top and bottom of the screen gave the scene a greater feeling of intimacy. The sun emerging from behind the corner of the Reginleif as the scene builds to a crescendo was also a fitting, subtle bit of symbolism.
But the best part, unquestionably, was Shin’s changing expressions throughout the scene. He’s never been an emotive character, and while his stoicism has, at times, been a negative, it gives the flood of emotions he shows here all the more impact. The animation quality shown throughout demonstrates that the issues the series occasionally had back in November and December are now a thing of the past, too, and the musical choice for the crucial scene was outstanding. (And yes, the fact that Shin did not recognize Lena on sight is consistent. Just like Lena never actually saw his Undertaker logo, no one but Raiden among the 86s ever saw her face.)
The way the anime episode handled this content is a bit different in places than in the novel, and the first third or so of the episode was definitely padded out. However, nearly all of the choices here – including adding a scene from early in novel 4 as the credits scene here – were good ones. The only move I slightly disagree with is adding the last Legion that Lena (or, more likely Cyclops) blew away as it approached Shin’s damaged Reginleif. That felt like an unnecessary bit of extra drama. I did also like some of the little background touches, like the way Cyclops reacted when Lena handed over her gun to the Giad forces. The one other minor complaint on details is how Lena’s seemingly-smudged face seemed to clean up as the episode progressed. Whether Shin’s decision not to press the point on identifying himself to Lena was correct is more debatable, but in a storytelling sense his logic – that the proper reunion should happen when she’s reached their final destination, not on this battlefield – makes sense.
The stopping point of the episode is at the end of novel 3’s last chapter. All that is left is the epilogues to novels 1 and 3. The next episode’s title – “Handler One” – suggests that the finale will focus more on Lena’s viewpoint (i.e., novel 1’s take) on the common ending of both novels, but that’s perfectly fine, since it should also fill in some on what’s been happening in the Republic up to this point and what comes next for the Republic. That should make for a highly satisfying conclusion to this series, and I heartily look forward to it.