Over the past few years, there’s a style of work I’ve really come to love: the military-focused war story. Every time I see something fall into this category, I get excited: works like Tanya the Evil, Alderamin on the Sky, Altina The Sword Princess, and Muv-Luv, just to name a few, all quickly soared to become works that I adore. There’s something intrinsically cool about military works, and while they don’t usually have the heavy character focus I love in anime, they’re a breed of action shows with more depth than usual and excel at so many elements that it’s hard not to love. With amazing world building, a likable cast developed through the camaraderie of war, constantly rising tensions, the amazing action, and, of course, most importantly, the political discussions that come out from the work’s themes — there’s no shortage of reasons why I like these works.
So, when I first heard rumblings about 86 on the AniTAY chat and saw what kind of story it was, I was immediately on board. We decided to do 86 as one of our book club picks, and when I started reading the novels, I unsurprisingly fell in love. I did think, also, that it was definitely going to get an anime sometime in the near future… and wow did it ever.
The thing that strikes me the most about 86 is just how much care and attention that this adaptation is getting. The first thing that stands out is the soundtrack, which is something special… a Sawano score! The best hype man in anime himself is here, and boy has he delivered: Sawano’s soundtracks always make the action of an anime a highlight. Along with the choreography of the fights themselves, I always look forward to the action in this show because of the score. I often have issues with the pacing of fights in anime: oftentimes they can go by too fast and not feel substantial or important, and other times they take too long and the action ends up feeling unimpressive. In 86, the way they present the information in fights is great, the visual aesthetic that surrounds the legion and 86’s own juggernauts is very cool, and the animation of the scenes themselves is exhilarating — when paired with Sawano’s score it’s hard not to think of them as incredibly cool.
The production is absolutely top notch; great care was put into the visuals, presentation, and details of the anime to really help the show feel cohesive. There’s something about military works use highly detailed and stylized aesthetics everywhere to make it seem cool, and while the anime obviously can’t convey the amount of detail that a light novel illustration has, it definitely tries it’s best. One thing that irked me, though, is that the characters have a distinct “A-1” look that I don’t think really fits the rest of the show, but you take what you can get.
Most importantly, the direction is incredible — you can really feel the dedication and attention put into the adaptation, and that the director wants to treat Asato-sensei’s work with care. This anime adaptation really knows how to convey its themes in subtle ways while also hammering them home when it needs to. The way 86’s anime uses timing and effects to convey information as well as highlight important elements for lasting impact is always impressive. Also, the way that 86 conveys information feels very natural, which is something shows like this tend to struggle with.
86 is set in the Republic of San Magnolia, a country in the midst of war: attacked by an onslaught of autonomous drones called the “Legion”. How do you think this republic responded to this threat? Racism, that’s how: the nation built a wall around the prime 85 districts and anyone who wasn’t the dominant white-haired Alba race was kicked out and labeled an “86,” subhuman.
Such a focus on world-building and explicit political themes is rare to see in anime and light novels, and thanks to the directing, 86 is handling these elements pretty well. The way 86 conveys its core ideas is primarily by showing the contrast of the two societies, presenting the themes and ideas both in the background and explicitly when needed. Of course, there’s the focus on the tensions and differing qualities of life that San Magnolia’s entrenched racism brings about, but there’s also an inherent tension about citizenship — who gets or “deserves” rights. Even in the most moral, righteous democracies we have an “out group” that we reject basic rights to because they are seen as lesser or improper, so it’s nice to see that issue explored in a story like this. (Muv-Luv also explores this pretty well in The Day After, check that out too if interested)
One of the best ways that 86 conveys its themes is through its fantastic lead, Vladilena Milizé. Lena is one of my favorite lead characters: I love her steadfast, pure idealism, emphasis on morals, and strong personality. Lena’s perspective shows the rot of her society, one full of propaganda and lies. That said, so far Lena is still a flawed an innocent princess just trying to do the right thing. She can only care because she’s in a position of privilege, protected by her class and position in society. The way that 86 shows by contrasting her life with the 86 Spearhead Squadron is handled extremely well, capping with a fantastic end in episode 3 when this dynamic is brought to the forefront when the Squadron can’t handle her hypocrisy anymore. Also, I just really like her personality, and Lena’s very aesthetic to me 👀👀👀
86 is full of depth, and even in just the first three episodes you can see this shine through. I don’t think the anime gets to everything, given that we’re going from a hyper detailed light novel to a medium that’s inherently time-constrained, and I would prefer a slightly slower, slightly more detailed show, but I do feel that 86’s anime makes up for this through the more effective and dynamic ways it conveys information.
Though, there were things I’m worried about with the anime. When I started watching, I was wondering how they were going to handle the tone of the series. It’s lighter than the LN’s tone, which isn’t something I particularly like, but I think it helps with the show’s appeal, even if it’s not as engaging at every moment as a result.
As well, my biggest concern I had when starting 86’s anime was that each episode felt way too fast, that 20 minutes wasn’t enough for any individual episode to feel satisfying, given that the source wasn’t nearly as serialized. In the first two episodes, I really felt like there just wasn’t enough time, but episode three’s powerful, moving conclusion convinced me that it’ll be a solid weekly watch. This aspect still bothers me to some degree, and I think this 86’s anime will be better in a binge at the end of the season, but time constraints do not determine the quality of how a series adapts it, and 86 is a master class in adaptation so far.
It’s also remains to be seen if the anime will continue exploring its various aspects well and in an engaging manner, which is what will ultimately make or break the show, but I have confidence it’ll do it well. There’s also the matter of pacing, and the source itself — the first light novel is pretty self contained but the rest is more serialized. I have to wonder: will the ending of 86 be as satisfying, given the pace looks like they’ll adapt more than just the first light novel?
While there are still lingering questions after watching the first three episodes, but overall, I’m pretty impressed with 86’s anime so far; it’s a wonderful adaptation of a really compelling light novel. The premise is amazing, the political themes are handled well, the fight scenes are impeccable, the Sawano soundtrack is out of this world, and the direction is spot on. The goal of an adaptation shouldn’t be to replicate the work: different mediums have different rules. What an adaptation should aim for is to convey the experience of the source, and when you watch something and feel the care that the adaptation took to understand the original and make it as good as possible, it’s hard not to appreciate it.
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