According to the Republic of San Magnolia, their ongoing war against the Giadian Empire has no casualties—however, that is mere propaganda. While the silver-haired Alba of the Republic’s eighty-five sectors live safely behind protective walls, those of different appearances are interned in a secret Eighty-sixth faction. Known within the military as the Eighty-Six, they are forced to fight against the Empire’s autonomous Legion under the command of the Republican “Handlers.”
Vladilena Milizé is assigned to the Spearhead squadron to replace their previous Handler. Shunned by her peers for being a fellow Eighty-Six supporter, she continues to fight against their inhumane discrimination. Shinei Nouzen is the captain of the Spearhead squadron. Infamous for being the sole survivor of every squadron he’s been in, he insists on shouldering the names and wishes of his fallen comrades. When the fates of these young souls from two different worlds collide, will it ignite the spark that lights their path to salvation, or will they burn themselves in the flames of despair?
To say that Eighty Six is a good looking show would be an understatement. It is, in my humble opinion, the best looking show of the Spring 2021 season. Not in animation or CGI, though we will talk about those later, but in terms of editing, shot composition and overall direction Eighty Six is second to none. From raindrops hitting leaves in time with the music to smash cuts of an object breaking to a characters face. Gunshots to scenic views, positioning characters in specific ways, blocking a scene so two characters within 5 feet of each other feel miles apart.
All in all the best way I can describe Eighty Six, to steal a word from a thesaurus, is picturesque. You won’t see it appearing high on Sakugabooru nor winning any animation awards. In 6 months time no one is going to talk about how the drones moved or the smoke effects in the field. Instead it will be still shots. Backgrounds on peoples computers, Youtube clips so you can listen to the audio as it matches with the visual cuts. Eighty Six may not be an incredibly animated show but it is certainly an incredibly directed one. And that’s arguably more impressive and harder to find.
This brings me to the narrative where Eighty Six starts to fall off. Not because its necessarily bad, if anything it executes an average “Sci-fi proxy war” story. But where it falls short is in the world-building and the way the characters fit into said world. Who leads the Alba? How do you get institutionalized racism on a national scale where there was none within 10 years? What does the rest of the world think about this, where are all the objectors, etc etc. Eighty Six does attempt to answer some of these questions. We learn about halfway through that our lead, Vladilena Milizé (henceforth called Lena), isn’t alone in her objections. Others feel the same way, they simply choose to either not speak or end up dying on the battlefield. It’s similar for the state of the world, etc. But it’s not enough to feel like a real world.
Moving on, with how large a place they took in the critique of the narrative how about we talk characters? And by characters I mean 2. Maybe 3 if you’re generous. I am of course talking about Major Vladilena Milizé and Shinei Nouzen AKA Undertaker. These two characters basically are Eighty Six. Every plot point, every scene, every major development, comes from these two. This isn’t to say other character’s don’t exist. Raiden, Theo, Kurena, Anju, Henrietta, etc. Eighty Six has a rather large cast in terms of “names on a chalkboard”. But I wouldn’t call many of them… developed. Of those there is no doubt that Henrietta gets the most attention but I couldn’t buy her story. Like many characters, it relied too heavily on the setting and the history of racism in the country. But as I talked about above, that racism is never properly explored or expanded.
When all is said and done I enjoyed Eighty Six. It’s not perfect, it has a lot of problems and it’s writing certainly belays its Light Novel origins. But the visual presentation was such that even mediocre writing such as this became engaging. Eighty Six stands as a testament to the power of a skilled Director.