Whatever your preference in art and entertainment, every now and then you come across something that really has a ‘wow’ factor. Maybe it’s a book that keeps you turning every page; a movie that glues you to your seat ’til the last of the credits rolls; a painting you can’t tear your eyes away from. I recently finished reading ‘Clara and the Sun‘ by Kazuo Ishiguro… and that book will live with me for a long time.
Now, I also enjoy the art form called anime. (“Really, we hadn’t noticed,” I hear some of you say!) Still, it’s rare that I come across a series in the medium that is truly outstanding. But 2021’s production of 86 Eighty Six is just that. The writing, detail, music and symbolism are so good it deserves a blog of its own.
“Walk through the streets
and you’ll see that the first modern republic in the world
is just an empty shell.”
Synopsis (no spoilers)
86 Eighty Six is set sometime and somewhere in the future, although it feels like it could be central Europe. The republic of San Magnolia is at war. Cheery newsreaders assure citizens there have been no casualties, for the battles are fought by unmanned drones. Except that isn’t quite true…
The drones are manned by members of the 86th District, who do not share the same physical characteristics as other citizens (white hair, grey eyes). Indeed, the ’86’ are looked down on by the San Magnolians, who see them as sub-human. Still, their task is simple: fight for their assigned number of days and they will have won their freedom. But of course, things aren’t quite that easy.
The story centres around the elite Spearhead squadron. These young veterans are led on the battlefield by Shinei Nouzen, who goes by the ominous callsign of ‘Undertaker‘. Meanwhile, a handler watches their battles remotely, back in San Magnolia. ‘Handler One‘ is the newly appointed Major Vladilena Mirize. Lena is mocked by her own people for showing concern for the 86, whilst in turn the 86 scorn her for being little more than a naïve do-gooder.
“The news you see every morning isn’t true.
People are dying!”
Why you should watch this show
If that synopsis made 86 Eighty Six sound like a battle-focussed show with a thin veneer of other stuff, you couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, there are battles – but they are part of the canvas, not what the story is about.
This isn’t a show just about racism either, but it does have a lot to say on it, and that feels very relevant. It also has a lot to say about the horrors of war – and that too feels very relevant. But 86 Eighty Six is more than all that, as you will discover if you watch it.
‘Show don’t tell’ is a familiar maxim in writing. This is something that 86 Eighty Six delivers by the bucket-load. For example, attitudes are shown through graffiti on city walls, and in the way the 86 react to their new handler. This show is packed with visual details which help flesh out the story and its characters.
The series opens with a large cast, but quickly hones in on just a few. Each is well thought out, with their own ‘backstory’ and – importantly – they grow and change as events affect them. Oh, and there is a ‘dog’ called Fido. Admittedly he goes “beep” rather than “woof“, and he looks nothing like a dog, but trust me: he is man’s best friend.
Most anime series don’t have the budget of an anime film (think £200k per episode rather than £25m). Despite this, much of the animation in 86 Eighty Six is extremely well done, whether in battle or the quieter moments. In one of my favourite scenes, Lena and Shin are each walking alone at night. ‘Handler One’ is in the open air, beneath a moonlit sky filled with scudding clouds. ‘Undertaker’ is in the corridors of a dusty building, but bathed by the same moonlight. As mentioned above, watch closely for all the details!
And if this has made 86 Eighty Six sound all doom and gloom, again you couldn’t be more wrong. There are times the emotions hit hard, but also times you will laugh!
Finally, 86 Eighty Six is peppered with a solid soundtrack. There’s some great opening / ending songs too, including the hauntingly beautiful ‘Avid‘ by Sawano Hiroyuki.
“Dreaming is a privilege afforded by youth,
86 Eighty Six is a stunning anime, with a distinctive story and a cast of well-drawn characters. (Yep, pun fully intended.) ‘Masterpiece’ is a word over-used in any review, but so much thought has gone into this show at all levels that it truly is appropriate.
All told, 86 Eighty Six joins the ranks of those few anime series or films that I recommend without reserve. Even to those who don’t watch anime! If you can get over the fact that Yes, this is a cartoon you are watching, you will discover a deep and moving show with some of the very best storytelling.
“If, one day, you make it to our final destination,
would you please leave flowers?”
- Rated 8.2/10 on IMDB
- 23 episodes, each 24 minutes
- Watch the trailer on Youtube.
- Currently on Crunchyroll (free with repetitive ads, or without ads via subscription / free trial). Hopefully soon to be on other streaming services. No disrespect to Crunchyroll, but this show deserves wider exposure to a much larger audience.
- Definitely not one for younger children. The violence is more often implied than graphic, but the series touches on some dark topics.
- I recommend watching with subtitles, rather than dubbed. The Japanese voice actors put so much work into getting to know their characters, and it shows.
Article posted 30/12/22