86 – 05 – Ghosts In the Machines

This week we learn the details of how Shin’s brother saved Lena’s life when the helicopter she and her father were on crashed. Despite having everything taken from him by the Alba, Shourei was still a proud soldier of the Republic, and saving Lena—and giving her chocolate to eat—was his solemn duty.

Lena had seen and heard from her father how her people had done horrible things to the 86, so when Shourei’s stomach grumbled, she split the chocolate with him. It’s just that by the end of this episode, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier for Lena if that approaching Legion had killed her, though even then, it wasn’t a sure thing she’d remain dead.

The morning after reliving the most traumatic experience of her life, Lena is once again approached by Annette, who once again has a tasty dessert for her to try, and shifts the talk to party dresses for the upcoming Revolution Festival. Even Annette’s “memorial” to all her past suitors on the wall remind Lena of the actual memorial she just visited, as well as Shin’s undertaker role.

Even Shin tells Lena to go have fun; she’s not expected to spend all her time with Handler duties. As she talks to Shin, she encounters two other soldiers flirting on the stairs and gets a little flustered herself, but any thoughts of kicking back and partying are dashed when Shin announces out of the blue that the Legion are coming—despite there not being any warnings on Lena’s end.

Shin also makes the unprecedented request that Lena switch off her Para-Raid for the coming battle, as there are a lot of “Black Sheep” approaching. Lena resolutely refuses to disconnect, and Shin makes it clear that he warned her. As Shin and the others engage, Lena starts to hear strange voices among the static: the sounds of peoples’ last moments…including Kaie’s “I don’t want to die.”

The voices keep repeating and echoing in Lena’s head, and immediately it becomes clear why so many other Handlers went mad; even in her bedroom with the Para-Raid deactivated, merely reaching for it causes all the voices to rush back into her head. But while no previous Handler ever called back after hearing the voices, Lena still calls Shin back. She had to; she needs answers to what the hell just happened.

Shin is happy to provide the answers, but they’re all horrific downers. He can always engage the Legion before Lena even gets an alert because he can always hear the voices of ghosts of those who have died, but are still there.

Despite the Republic’s official stance that the war will end in two years when the Legion’s AI will shut down, Shin knows better: the Legion have been taking the brains of fallen 86 and copying them to replace the function of the AI due to shut down, thus extending their operating time—and thus the war—indefinitely.

This means the Republic, whose Alba citizens are so keen to hold swanky parties and get drunk and bang, believe they have the war in the bag when in reality, their defeat is almost assured. Not only will the Legion not shut down, but they’ve been building up their numbers, all while the 86 have dwindled to a smattering of children. Soon, Shin says, all of them will be dead.

When that happens, will the Alba fight in their place? Shin doesn’t think it likely. Even if they did, they’d be outmatched, since some of the brains recovered by the Legion were undamaged enough to create “Shepherds”—ghost commanders who make their Legion units significantly more powerful and adaptive.

Lena says if all that is the case, they simply need to wipe out the Legion before the 86 are wiped out, and before Shin’s service time expires. She wants the two of them to win and survive. But as Shin reveals a huge scar around his neck and recalls his brother choking him and saying “It’s your fault!”, it doesn’t seem Shin is interested in surviving. It’s also looking like his brother’s brain is one of those Shepherds.

Lena’s struggle to bring justice and dignity to the 86 seemed quaint and woefully insufficient before we learned the Republic are actually massive underdogs in this war, which won’t end when they expect it. With all this new information, it almost seems like Lena attending that party with Annette and getting blackout drunk would be equally as productive as anything else she could do.

Maybe that’s why Annette warned Lena not to get too close to the 86: because she too knows the truth (or a measure of it), and that there’s nothing left for them to do but enjoy life while the living’s good.

86 – 04 – Your Names.

After Theo lays into Lena for her hypocrisy, Raiden asks that she cut the connection for now. While Theo went too far, no one is in the mood for another “friendly chat” with her. Theo ends up regretting his rant for “tainting” Kaie’s death, making him no different from the white pigs.

After Anju, Kurena and Rekka grab Theo and mend his jacket button, he heads to the hangar to ask Shin what the “Fox commander” would have said to the Handler, a white pig who thinks she’s a saint for getting all buddy-buddy with them. As he secures a scrap of Kaie’s Juggernaut, Shin simply says the commander wouldn’t have said that.

While Theo’s comrades help him to process his grief and rage, all Lena’s “best friend” Annette has for her is pudding and platitudes. I’m not here to say Annette is a coward or a monster—it’s not that simple—but she is an unapologetic cog in a monstrous machine, believes there’s “nothing she can do” to change that, and strongly suggests Lena give up on the 86, and join her at the lab.

It also seems like her patience with Lena’s idealism is wearing thin. Even if she’s not a true believer and sees the injustice in their world, she resents Lena’s continued insistence the worlds can and should be bridged. “There’s pudding here, and not there” is as chillingly banal a defense of slavery ethnic cleansing as I’ve ever heard.

Not satisfied to eat away her pain, the evening light from the windows of HQ  calls to Lena’s mind a memory of riding with her father in a helicopter over the 86 concentration camps. She doesn’t remember much of what happened afterwards, but we can see the chopper was shot down and he tried to protect her from an attacking Legion mecha.

Lena tells her uncle about that memory, and how it allowed her to hold the ideals that the Republic threw away (as she says this, we see the statue of the gorgeous Wagnerian Valkyrie representing those ideals, while the fountain below is fouled with empty bottles and trash. 86’s visuals are rarely subtle, but they are damned effective!

Her uncle dispenses with the pudding analogies and tells Lena straight up that her father was a kind man and a good father, but at the end of the day he was doing nothing more than watching and talking about making it a better place. All he ended up achieving was getting himself killed and planting a potentially equally fatal seed of idealism in Lena. Her uncle probably wishes his niece wasn’t so intent on making those ideals real, as her father was, because the whole point of ideals are that they are unattainable, and trying to achieve the impossible is “foolish and cowardly.”

Still, she refuses to step down as Spearhead’s Handler. Her talks with Annette and her uncle leave her as frustrated as ever, and as she overhears another propaganda report on the public monitor, she hears Theo’s truer words over the reporter’s, reaches a breaking point, and initializes synchronization with Undertaker.

Lena runs to the War Casualties Cemetery, where not a single one of the 86 who have fallen has a grave. She begins by apologizing to Undertaker, then asking if she can learn the names of the members of Spearhead. Shin assures her that what Theo said wasn’t what they all thought, and they realize she didn’t create this world and can’t fix it on her own, so she doesn’t have to blame herself for “not doing the impossible”.

He continues by asserting that callsigns are used and Processor files locked so that Handlers won’t get too attached to them, or become overwhelmed by all the inevitable loss. But Lena doesn’t care; she doesn’t want to be a coward anymore. She asks again for their names, and writes them down as Shin gives them to her.

Then she hears him carving into the scrap of metal for Kaie, and he explains his duty of ensuring those who have been lost are remembered through the ritual, which is partly how he got the name “Undertaker”. He tells her Kaie was the 561st person for whom he’s carved a name, meaning he’s faced each and every one of the people who died beside him. Lena laments having never faced the deaths that occurred under her watch—only felt vaguely bad about them.

Lena then asks for Shin to broadcast her to everyone in the unit so she can apologize to them for not treating them as humans and not even realizing it. She learns from Theo that the previous Laughing Fox was an Alba like her. He was one of them, but as long as she’s inside the walls, they’ll never accept her as one of theirs. Raiden adds that while they’re sorry for thinking she was a “wannabie saint” and “hypocrite pig”, he still doesn’t think she’s cut out to be a Handler.

In a private chat with Shin later, Lena gets his name: Shinei Nouzen, and asks him if he knew a Shourei Nouzen, AKA Dullahan. Shin’s memories of Shourei (with his face scratched out) flood his head, leading him to crack an exceedingly rare smile as he tells her he was his brother.

Throughout all of this, we see the past structure of the series begin to break down, with far more cuts back and forth between Lena and Shin’s worlds. Now that she knows the real names of her unit, she’s rejected the cold complicity of her so-called best friend and jaded uncle.

They told her to extricate herself from this mess, but she decided to dive in deeper, and the more frequent cuts between the worlds is a sign of that fresh devotion to living a more honest life and not giving up on the ideals everyone else has. This episode lacked any battle action and was essentially a simple sequence of discussions.

Despite that, I was never once bored by the visuals that accompanied those talks, which more often than not were arresting both in the reality of the images presented and the interplay between them and the subject matter. I said last week Lena would have to do more to reconcile her ideals and actions, and she took the first steps here. A hard road lies ahead, but as her father’s daughter she’s determined to walk it. She’s had enough of pudding.

86 – 03 – The Bitter Truth

The third episode of Eighty Six begins ominously, with Lena apologizing for the loss of Kirschblüte, and another pilot looking ready to explode into a tirade. But before we hear that we’re sent back to happier times, with the female members of Spearhead bathing and having fun in the river

In a scenario typical of high school camping trip, three lads try to catch a glimpse of “heaven on earth”,  only the women they’re peeping on happen to be ready to switch from laughing and playing to having their weapons drawn and trained on them in no time.

During the bathing scene we learn that Kurena likes Shin, and is also jealous and angry that Shin is always talking with Handler One. When she storms off in the middle of a group chat with Lena, Daiya chases her down, and when she says she hates her and wants Shin to “break” her like the others, Daiya asks her if that’s really what she wants Shin to think she truly believes.

Kurena comes back to join the rest of the group, who are describing a recent meteor shower to Lena, who doesn’t get to see the stars due to the lights of the city. Kirschblüte, AKA Kaie, admits to Lena that she doesn’t believe all Alba are bad, just as not all Eighty Six are good. She just has one question for Lena.

Before we hear what Kaie’s question is, we go back a bit to before the conversation, this time in Lena’s world as she searches for maps to help her unit. While Spearhead are all gathered in the common room of their dingy makeshift barracks, Lena is all alone at her desk in her immaculate and ornate bedchamber. Even so, it feels like she’s remotely enjoying their company, reacting and laughing along with them.

That’s when Kaie asks: Why do you care about us so much? Lena answers: she was saved on the battlefield by a Processor, who told her they were members of the Republic, born and raised. For him it was an honor to serve that Republic. Since then, she’s made a point to live up to the example set by his words. Kaie first calls her an idealist virgin, then assures her she’s not a bad person, which is why she believes Lena isn’t cut out to be a Handler. She warns her not to get too involved with them.

Still, Lena has her code of honor, and she continues to follow it, making immediate use of the maps she found to aid Shin and Spearhead during their next engagement. Then it becomes clear we’re about to arrive at the foreboding moment in the cold open, as Kirschblüte ends up immobilized by an unexpected bog, where she becomes easy prey to a Legion unit.

Kaie’s last words are No. I don’t want to die, but what’s so haunting is how she says them. I’d describe her tone as…miffed? Frustrated, not panicked. It’s a harrowing, claustrophobic moment, and it’s heartwrenching to watch Lena squirm in her seat, forced to watch the inevitable unfold via sterile, abstract graphics on a glowing monitor, powerless to stop it.

The mission ends in success, but the loss of Kirschblüte hangs heavily on Lena’s conscience. But Theo, the pissed-off kid who unloads on her, doesn’t have time for her act. Not when he just lost his comrade. He makes it clear to her that not a single one of them has time to deal with her hypocrisy, sending them out to fight and die against their will from her warm safe place. Lena’s face contorts with reactions to his words, which are, by the way, absolutely correct.

Lena is a hypocrite. At the end of the day, she wears the uniform of a nation that treats the Eighty Six as inhuman chattel. Just because she’s nice to them doesn’t change that. Her empathy and good intentions aren’t enough to bridge the gap between them.

If she truly wants to live up to the ideals of the Processor who saved her, Major Vladilena Mirizé will have to reject them, because they were false. She can either let Theo’s harsh words break her, or she can hear them, accept them, and start to do more—much more—to fight against the intolerable injustice.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Yuri Kuma Arashi – 06

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This rich, immersive episode took many a skip back and forth through time, and was a little disorienting at times, but it slowly, steadily built something revelatory from all the myriad pieces scattered about the past five weeks, all centering around the letter Sumiko wrote to Kureha, to have her open on her birthday. We learn why she wrote it, what its contents mean for the future of the characters who are still alive, and just how wide Koaru’s web of deception extends.

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Sumiko never forgot a single detail of the day she met Kureha at the opening ceremony, or the night they protected the flowerbed from a literal storm, and the night they spent together afterwards, reading Kureha’s mother’s unfinished story of the moon girl and forest girl, which is a dead ringer for the Kureha/Ginko arc.

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Sumiko treasures those memories. They’re good memories, happy and loving, and to her, it was enough. With the invisible storm imminent, Sumiko does what she feels she has to and sacrifices herself to it, placing her faith in Harishima Kaoru that Kureha will be spared. It’s the ultimate expression of the love Sumiko is so fond of saying she’ll never back down on.

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Sumiko won’t let the storm destroy Kureha, even if it means she’ll be the one destroyed. Nor does she let Kureha in on her plan, because she knows Kureha will try to stop her. Her only accomplice in this plan is Kaoru, who assures Sumiko she will be Kureha’s new friend…and seems to be in quite the hurry to get that letter.

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But since we know Harishima Kaoru to be one who cannot be trusted from the start of this episode, it really comes down to how exactly she’s going to screw Sumiko and Kureha over, not if. I also appreciate the fact that Kaoru doesn’t play by her own rules of abiding by social norms, as it’s revealed she’s sleeping with a woman (probably Yuriika) which opens a whole other can of worms with regard to whether Kaoru herself is being used or deceived. It’s a dangerous game.

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Ginko certainly learned that when she got caught in the trap. Oh yeah, about that cliffhanger: Lulu has a “Bear Flash” bomb that allows her them to escape, and then she treats Ginko’s wounds through the night. This is Lulu at her loving best: playing the only role she feels she deserves in keeping supporting Ginko and keeping Ginko’s dream alive.

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When the Yuri Court Judges show up in town and call a ‘bearly’-healed Ginko, telling her to go the flowerbed “if her love is the real thing”, I got the feeling that they might just be more invested in Ginko’s quest than their aloof attitudes in court suggested.

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The flowerbed is the site of a creepy nighttime birthday celebration just teeming with dread, even though Kureha doesn’t sense it until it’s too late and Kaoru shows her true colors. Sumiko trusted her to be Kureha’s friend, but Kaoru has no intention of befriending the “Evil” Kureha. Kaoru explains Sumiko’s letter as a break-up letter, which she hopes will destroy the love Kureha is clinging to that’s keeping her visible.

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With that, Kaoru and her minions set the flowerbed ablaze, just to facilitate Kureha’s psychological ruin. Kaoru is pretty damn villainous here, but what’s even scarier is that she has the look and tone of a true believer, who believes “love” is nothing but a weakness, with the outwitted and defeated Sumiko and Kureha as proof.

At the same time, knowing Kaoru herself is a lesbian lends a certain degree of self-preservation to the sadism on display; by feeding these two lovers to the storm, she detracts attention from herself.

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But Kaoru’s triumph is short-lived and incomplete, as Ginko arrives in time to save Sumiko’s letter from the flames. By diving in, she is demonstrating the same potentially fatal gesture as the Forest and Moon Girls in Kureha’s mom’s book having to break through the mirror, break through themselves to get to the one they love.

After reading the story, Kureha told Sumiko she’d break the mirror. Sumiko did break it, by sacrificing herself. And now Ginko has proven her love by risking incineration to protect the letter Kureha’s beloved Sumiko wrote to her. It was a “false start” of sorts when Kureha read it in front of Kaoru, suggesting Kaoru would be her new friend. Now she reads it before a bruised and singed Ginko, and it’s almost as if fate and Sumiko won out over Kaoru…at least for now.

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But of course, that’s not the only layer to this Lady Baltimore Cake. We also learn what Ginko’s grave crime was, that even Lulu doesn’t know about. Sumiko outright dying wasn’t part of Kaoru’s original plan, you see; she and her unknown accomplice (again, probably Yuriika) merely used that occurrence to their advantage.

Yurizono was the one who killed and ate Sumiko…but it was Ginko who arranged for it to happen, so she could have Kureha all to herself. She killed for the sake of her love, but then risked her own life for that same love. The latter will certainly ingratiate her with Kureha (who was going to apologize for being so mean before anyway), but the former will haunt her. The full truth may be the best option; no point in proceeding if she’s convinced Kureha would never forgive her.

This was another brisk, gorgeous, rewarding Yurikuma that was at turns both glowing with warmth and crackling with menace. That the story has gotten more straightforward hasn’t taken away at all from the show’s inherent appeal. On the contrary, it’s only becoming stronger as symbols and specifics converge and complement each other.

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Oigakkosan’s Take:

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Zane and I only diverge on two points this week. First, I took Kureha’s mother’s unfinished story as an autobiographical tale of how she met Yuriika and second, that Ginko’s crime was witnessing-but-not-stopping Sumika’s murder, rather than outright planning it.

In the picture book’s case, I’d placed more emphasis on the Sky Goddess’ warning that to ‘break the glass for love risks death’ and less on the fact that the star pendant is said to belong to the moon-girl’s mother. In hindsight, Zane probably has the truth of it but I wouldn’t be surprised of Reia’s story blends her own experiences with what she witnessed or gleaned from her daughter’s own adventure.

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In the case of Ginko’s crime, I don’t feel like we have enough context to assume either way. Sure, I agree she’s guilty of not stopping the murder/eating for her own selfish love but Ginko wasn’t around long enough or connected enough with Yurizono or Sumika to be able to put them in the same spot at the same time and seal the deed.

I’m not even sure Ginko knew Yurizono was a bear at that point, which would make the death-scenario impossible to have plotted.

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Ultimately our differences are unimportant and I appreciate that Yuri Kuma can generate different reads in the first place. Water cooler arguments about twists and turns are part of what make a mystery show fun to follow. A big part, really.

Still, my favorite parts of this week were how much it made me suspicious of Yuriika without actually showing her. We see her office and a tall seductress who is probably her, but no face and she isn’t involved in any scene. (except to talk vaguely while looking at Reia’s photo) Maybe that conspicuous lack of presence was the hook?

Who knows and really I don’t even care what the answers are. The trip — and it is trippy — is the best part. YURI APPROVED!

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