War, what is it good for?
What’s the Story?
Called ‘Juggernauts’, these unmanned combat drones are the main fighting force of the Republic of San Magnolia in their constant battle against the ‘Legion’. Of course this is a lie. The Juggernauts aren’t unmanned, they’re piloted by people, specifically people that the Republic have deemed not to be ‘human’, at least by their standards. Anyone who doesn’t fit the ‘ideals’ of the Republic, i.e. blue hair and blue eyes, is marked as an Eighty-sixer and forced to fight in this hopeless war. One such fighter is Shin, captain of the Spearhead Squadron, a veteran squad with an impressive survival rate. Unfortunately the Eighty-sixers can only survive for so long and Shin is convinced that something big is coming. Can his new Handler, Lena, offer any kind of help? Or is she only able to listen as other people fight and die for her? And even if Shin and co do survive this current battlefield, what waits for them on the other side?
I don’t like to use the word perfect, for me there’s really no such thing and that’s okay. As long as we all try to be the best that we can be then that’s more than enough. All that being said, I can’t think of a single thing that I’d change about this series so maybe it’s okay to call this perfect? From the compelling story-telling, the engaging cast of characters and, my god, that animation at times, I just devoured this whole series and I loved every second of it. I didn’t even mind waiting months on end for the final two episodes because if that’s what they needed to get everything just right, then I’ll take it. Just promise me there’ll be a season 2, please. Pretty please.
True, a lot of the elements of this story have been used in other series, the cast of teenagers forced to fight for their lives on a bloody battlefield, the A.I. run amok, even the psychic powers and deeply racist nation victimising a whole group of people for no reason. Think Gundam meets Attack on Titan and you should have some idea of what I’m getting at. Still, you don’t need original elements to be truly great, you just need to make the best use of what you’ve got and that’s exactly what this show does. It understands each and every piece it’s playing with and it knows how to ring every last ounce of drama and emotion out of them.
Let’s talk about the characters for a minute. Our leads are Lena and Shin, they’re two characters that could so easily go wrong in hands that don’t know what they’re doing and yet this series pulls them off with ease. Lena is our naive, privileged viewpoint for the first cour of this series. She has a good heart and she means well, but she doesn’t truly understand the plight of the people she’s trying to help. Now this type of character could very easily come off as condescending or idiotic, but the show walks a brilliant tightrope keeping Lena sympathetic while also not letting her off the hook. We see her exposed to the true horror of what’s going on and transform from a naive young girl to a battle-hardened young woman. It’s a master stroke of character development without ever getting too preachy.
That brings me to Shin. At first he appears to be the archetypal brooding silent type that you find in so many mecha/war anime. What makes him work in this though is that we get to see the occasional crack in his facade, the odd smile or witty comeback and before long we’re exposed to the real trauma that made him the way he is. Then in the second cour he takes over the lead character role in its entirety and that’s where his character becomes really interesting to me. That’s where we really get to dig into Shin and ask the bigger questions. What’s really driving him? Where is he headed by the end of this? Why does he keep going on? I’ll warn you now it gets pretty intense as Shin loses himself and then finds his way back and I was on the edge of my seat throughout.
Those two characters alone would make this series something special and have me singing it’s praises all day long, but when you throw in the animation, music, direction and the rest of the cast, well, then you’re on to something truly fantastic. This show is shockingly well put together, I don’t know what the source material is like, but you can tell that everyone who worked on this series came into it with a clear plan. There’s not a foot put wrong, every plot thread, every character, every shot, is crafted to get the maximum reaction out of you, but without feeling like it’s manipulating you. I realise I’m probably hyping this show up way too much, but I’m just astounded by how well constructed this series is. If you’re interested in how to tell a compelling story then you need to study this show, heck, if you’re just after a supremely solid sci-fi series then you need to check this out. Well? What are you waiting for?!
All in all, 86 is an extremely well put together sci-fi series. It makes the best use of what it has, from compelling character arcs, a solid premise, great animation and direction, what more could you really ask for? True it’s not working with the most original components, but when a show is this good it doesn’t really need them. I was riveted to my seat each and every week and I couldn’t wait for each new episode. I can’t praise this show enough and if you haven’t already check it out then you need to, right now. Get to it!
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.