86 – 11 (Fin) – All Over but the Crying

We arrive at October 30th, the day the five remaining members of Spearhead get into a scrap with the Legion and lose Fido as well as all but Shin’s Juggernaut. Things are getting desperate and they’re running low on ammo, fuel, and food, which means soon their recon mission will be at an end. All of them know what that means, but rather than dwell on that, they simply keep living their lives until the time fate decides to take them.

This means taking shifts piloting the ‘naut while the others rest or watch the rear from the remaining cargo bot. Thanks to Shin’s instincts and a rainstorm they manage to evade another Legion patrol, but the Legion become more legion by the day. The group finds an abandoned town and decide to take shelter in a school—the first school Kurena’s ever been to. They take a final roll call, and “graduate” the next day.

When they hit a literal wall of sheer rock, Shin suddenly asks to switch with Anju, who is piloting, claiming he’s bored. Once they switch, he cuts the tether to split off from the others and uses his grappler to bring down some rocks so they won’t follow. He sensed more Legion were coming; Legion they wouldn’t escape unless he lured them away. The others aren’t okay with this. Raiden, Anju, Kurena and Theo all agree to go after him.

With no Juggernauts, they have to go on foot, and arrive just as Shin’s ride is trashed and a Legion prepares to crack it open like a tin of sardines and claim his head. Only the weakest of the charging Legion are susceptible to their small arms, and even then only headshots, and there are too many of them. First Theo, then everyone else goes down fighting. The light of the Legion prepares to take Shin’s head—but he has his sidearm. Does it succeed?

We finally check in on Lena, who is under house arrest for her little stunt with the mortars. Even so, she pays a visit to the front lines, and to Spearhead’s HQ. A new group of 86 are being processed. The cycle continues.

Lena is greeted by Lt. Albrecht, who reveals he’s an Alba like her whose wife and daughter were 86 and died in battle. Thanks to Shin, he was given a measure of solace in knowing they didn’t become Legion, as Shin never heard them call Albrecht’s name.

Lena then walks through the now abandoned living space like a ghost looking so out of place after having been in essentially another world the whole time. It’s just so heartbreaking that by the time she was finally able to make it here, everyone she spoke to over the Para-RAID was already gone.

While the cycle of using 86 as cannon fodder continues, there was at least a crucial change. Lena and Shin forged a genuine connection, and it rubbed off on the others too, as they left her a memento: Theo’s drawing of her with handwritten notes from him, Shin, Raiden, Kurena, and Anju. More importantly, they left a Polaroid of the whole group, helpfully labelled by Theo “so she wouldn’t cry” about not being able to tell who was who.

In the end, as a practical matter, all Lena was able to do by breaking protocol and getting in trouble was extend the five’s lives by a few more days. Instead of dying on one battlefield, they died on another. But with Fido gone and his records destroyed, Lena now holds some of the last remaining artifacts of their existence—other than the wrecks and bodies they left behind somewhere out there, after reaching their final destinations.

Lena will surely treasure these things, as well as the cat left in her care, but they’re also primed to fuel her continued rebellion against the broken evil system she’s blindly served for too long. She couldn’t end the injustice for Shin and the others, but perhaps with enough allies and some luck, she can end it for others. Or maybe not. But like them, she’ll fight until fate comes for her.

Maybe then they’ll all get to finally reunite…for the first time.

So ends the first cour of 86. What a powerful show. We’ve known since the start there would definitely be a second one, but now we know there will be a “Special Episode” in between the two. What I’m a little fuzzy on is what exactly became of Shin.

I’d like to hope he managed to shoot himself in the head, and that seems to be supported by the fact he reunites with his brother, whom we know he freed from the Legion. We also see Shin’s headless body. But nothing is certain, which is why I’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

86 – 10 – We’ve Come This Far

86 eschews dialogue and even diagetic sound, sticking with visuals and music to tell the story of Spearhead’s newfound freedom. Followed by their ever-trusty robot porter Fido, Raiden, Theo, Kurena, Anju and a far happier, less haunted Shin continue their “deep recon” mission by heading further and further from their Republic minders, camping out and keeping a low profile as columns of Legion pass by in the night.

It’s so nice to finally see these good kids get to live like the kids they are, not always having to worry about going into battle or being killed or being turned into a Legion. Being in the vivid blues, greens, and purples of nature make for a nice change of pace from their usual gunmetal grays and blood reds. They wash their uniforms, and trip to an old Imperial town nets them a boiler in which to heat a much-appreciated bath.

Shin is smiling and laughing the whole time, but still seems distracted by something, though it’s no longer his brother, whom he’s satisfied is now at rest. Like the others, I feared the worst when they woke up to find him gone, but Raiden remembered the tunnel in the town Shin took a good look at, and it leads them to a zoo where he’s found an immobile Legion with the brain of an 86, which Shin puts out of its misery.

The five stare for a long time at the skeleton of an elephant and other beasts who died locked behind bars, and wonder if they’ll end up the same way. It’s Fido, of all of them, who tells them to stop talking about such things and keep moving forward. While Raiden withdraws his question of whether Shin will be going across the water by himself—and possibly to the good Major, who doesn’t appear this week—he probably already knows the answer.

After the credits roll with almost ten minutes left, we get a retrospective of sorts of the life of Fido, starting with him finding and befriending Shin. He’s been there since this most recent cycle of Spearhead began, and probably before that, and all this time has been capturing all of these small moments of joy and grief. Shots of characters long gone smiling and playing are shown, then immediately juxtaposed of images from the day they died.

The most foreboding and indeed deeply upsetting moment we see happens at the very end, with Fido, and all of the memories he contained that for many of the 86 represented their only record of having existed on this earth, is blown up, most likely by Legion, on October 30, the latest date we’ve seen so far.

On one level, I have to think Shin and the others will be alright, even if Fido very clearly isn’t. And even with Fido’s stored “memories” have gone up in smoke, those five still carry memories of the fallen—all 576 of them, including Shin’s brother. The question is, assuming they’re alright, what will become of them? Will Shin find a way to get to Lena? I suspect next week’s season one finale will focus exclusively on her, and what progress if any she’s made in her one-woman crusade to save the soul of her nation.

86 – 09 – No Signal

“If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled…for you are in Elysium, and you are already dead!”—Maximus

This week, Spearhead, whose living members now consist only of Kurena, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Shin, ride out into a vast, dark, and bleak battlefield, where the five of them must face hundreds if not thousands of Legion, because they were never even meant to make it thisfar in their military “careers”.

Of course, Shin has something else in mind: he’s singularly invested in finding his brother and putting him out of his misery. He orders Raiden to take over the unit and find cover in the nearby forest, but his four comrades aren’t about to leave him. Instead, they do what they can to give Shin a clear shot at Shourei.

As it turns out, Lena has a surprise in store for all of them: she managed to get access to the republic mortars, while also being able to swap vision in one of her eyes with Raiden so she can target more precisely. In that split second, Raiden—and only Raiden—catches a glimpse of their “pig princess” Handler.

When Lena prepares to launch a massive mortar attack on Shourei Legion’s position—which is also where Shin is, dodging and grappling—the others are apprehensive: doe she mean to kill Shin too? Far from it; instead, she’s giving Shin the opening he needs.

The impacting mortars are represented in Shourei’s mind by the young Lena slapping him into something resembling coherence, and acceptance that Shin no longer needs his brother to look after him. Instead, his brother needs to know that he’ll be at rest.

The opening is created, and Shin takes his shot, saying goodbye to his brother and then sobbing his eyes out both in grief over his brother’s loss and relief that he’s no longer a technological abomination who wasn’t allowed to die naturally.

From here we shift to Lena’s little control room, and she heeds Raiden’s call to shut off the link for now, as Shin wouldn’t want anyone hearing him cry. She then turns to a sullen-looking Annette sitting in the corner with laptops. We go back a bit to before the battle, when Lena visits Annette despite Annette saying she didn’t want to see her again.

Lena tells Annette that her old neighbor Shin is none other than Undertaker of the Spearhead unit, that she speaks to him every day, and that this is now Annette’s third chance to save him, the first two times having run away. While at first apathetic, knowing it’s Shin forces Annette’s hand. She calls Lena “the devil” for pulling such a stunt, but Lena simply says “that’s right; I am…and so are you.” Better to be devils who care.

With what was supposed to be the battle that should have wiped out Spearhead once and for all ending in unlikely victory thanks in large part to Annette’s hacking, Shin and the others give their heartfelt thanks to Lena, as well as tease her for having turned into a “bad girl” by breaking the rules to save them.

But after that, the group continues their advance without further input from Lena. In fact, all she can say as they head closer and closer to a foreboding “UNKNOWN” area is “please don’t leave me!” It occurs to her that while she made little drawings of them, her only connection to them is the Para-RAID, and soon the distance between them will grow too great to maintain that connection.

Lena bolts out of her control room and runs out of the headquarters, out into the streets, and just keeps running, all while Kurena, Raiden, Anju, Theo, and Shin describe their surroundings, mentioning a “cathedral” the same time we see the one in Lena’s capital, and describing flowers that fall when you touch them carpeting the ground.

As they approach at the barrier of District 86 and the limits of the Republic’s control area, Lena’s desperate dash to maintain reception ends with her losing a heel and ending up collapsed on a lonely cobblestone bridge, suddenly, heartbreakingly alone. Her Para-RAID blinks out, and back at HQ the signals of the five remaining members of Spearhead are lost.

Losing  Spearhead is just one of many burdens Lena will have to bear if she’s truly serious about helping all Eighty Six—not just the ones with which she cultivated a quasi-friendship. Her resolute insistence on Doing What’s Right despite being a devil demands she keep doing what she can—as long as she is able—to end the unjust suffering of the oppressed.

86 – 08 – We Weren’t Ready

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.—Kay, Men In Black

The Alba are right: the Eighty Six aren’t human. They’re better than that. The humans who populate the serene Republic of San Magnolia blindly accept the government’s policy of ethnic cleansing as the cost of peace, order, and harmony. Lena, like the Eighty Six, knows there’s a wrong, but isn’t prepared to do more wrong to right it.

It’s why when Lena discovers the orders basically sentencing what’s left of Spearhead to their almost certain deaths, she wants to rescind them. Annette pulls her out of the records room for some tea and biscuits, but when Lena once again says it’s wrong not to try to do anything, all of the simmering resentment within Annette finally comes to a caustic boil.

Annette isn’t merely “pretending” to be a bad person; she’s fully embraced the role, heart and soul. She doesn’t need an excuse to do nothing; her inaction has already caused the death of her former neighbor and friend (who it’s pretty clear from the suspenders was none other than Nouzen Shinei) while her research is built upon the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Eighty Six.

Like the vast majority of people would in such a situation, Annette chose not to fight a force that could not be beaten, but to join them. Even though her father committed suicide after the suffering he caused developing the Para-Raid, Annette carried on his work. She might’ve scared herself when she first called her friend a “filthy colored” like her classmates did, but that fear soon dissipated into acceptance.

After everything she’s been through and done in the name of not being able to do anything else, Annette doesn’t want to hear one more idealistic word out of Lena’s mouth. After all, the Para-Raid that enables Lena to speak to Shin and the other members of Spearhead was the product of involuntary human experimentation and state-sanctioned suffering. So is her comfy bed, her crisp uniform, her tasty coffee and sweets. It’s all tainted by evil.

Annette tells Lena she hates her and never wants to see her again. I mean, we already new full well Annette wouldn’t join any potential crusade against injustice Lena might concoct, but this really twists the knife, as Lena doesn’t even have a pretend friend in the capital in which to confide.

When she confronts her uncle before the statue of San Magnolia, he tells her the orders sending Spearhead to their deaths cant be recinded because it is the will of the republic that evry Eighty Six not only die, but be forgotten and erased from having ever existed. The only way San Magnolia will avoid becoming a pariah state after the war is if the atrocities they committed against the Eighty Six never come to light.

When Lena begs her uncle to remember the spirit of Saint Magnolia, he tells her their republic was never anything other than a country full of fools and villains who executed Magnolia for their wealth and greed. She says that’s just his despair talking, but he doesn’t consider his despair any different from her hope.

If Lena werent already having one of the worst days of her life, Shin also bids her farewell, fully accepting his suicide mission. Lena deduces he’s going after his brother, but Shin doens’t want her to hear his last words. Instead, he warns her that once the Shepherd is destroyed, the Legion is temporarily thrown into chaos, .

He urges her to head for the Eastern border, where she won’t hear the Legion’s voices and go mad. He and the others will buy her some time. With that, he signs off, for what seems like the last time. Now all Lena has is her tears.

With Lena left very much at rock bottom, we return to Spearhead, now only five strong: Kurena, Anju, Theo, Raiden, and Shin. They clean up their barracks, polish up their Juggernauts, have a final meal, and then set off on their deep recon mission with their heads held high.

As we’ve learned, they’re not just doing this because the alternative is summary execution. They’re doing it for their fallen comrades, and because just because they were always called pigs doesn’t mean they’ll become them. There’s a biting sense of inescapable dread and crushing unfairness to their scenes. More than anything, they feel like five kids who shouldn’t have to be anywhere near a battlefield.

Post-credits, we get one more taste of despair in the absence of anything else, in the form of the complete flashback of Shourei choking Shinei. He had been barely keeping it together before that point, crushed by his powerlessness to do anything about the loss of his parents. In a moment of weakness, he let himself blame Shinei for everything, and nearly killing him until someone pulls them apart.

A roboticized, Legionized Shourei narrates this final scene, lamenting that he couldn’t protect Shinei before. But this time, as Shin and his four companions approach him and his Legion unit, Shourei says he’ll protect his brother forever. All he has to do is come to him…which is what he’s doing.

All I can say to any of this is damn…this is some good shit, but it is also incredibly heavy and upsetting. I can only hope that we’ll get some glimmer of light at some point before the end…but that’s hardly a sure thing.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 07 – Nobody Comes Back

86’s structure returns to more of a mix of the processors’ and Lena’s perspectives rather than being split evenly, starting with the unit launching fireworks on the anniversary of the Republic’s Great Revolution. Some are playing with sparklers, Anju is finally crying, and Kurena watches Shin off by himself talking to Lena.

Lena is the one who sent them the “special ammunition”, emptying her wallet to bribe the quartermaster. It’s a small gesture, but she can do it, so she does, and it also highlights her increasing disillusionment with the shallow material world she lives in. If it can soothe the hearts of those soldiers for just a few moments, it’s worth all the money she has.

The superb juxtaposition of the fantasy world she inhabits with the realities of how it’s maintained continues as Lena walks alone in a bustling plaza. Celebrating Alba citizens are stuffing their faces with fine food and wine and couples are whispering sweet nothings, and little kids are crying about something as little as tripping and falling (something Lena herself does in front of subordinates earlier, so nervous she was about the fireworks).

All the while, Lena is on her Para-RAID, listening to Kuren describe in unsparing detail all of the horrors processor see every day.  Compared to watching their friends lose limbs, get their faces shredded, their bodies burned, their guts ripped open, and screaming in pain as they die, the voices of the long dead are nothing.

Because Lena is a kind and virtuous person, she never stops requesting reinforcements from the surrounding units, even “overstepping herself” in the eyes of her Uncle Jerome to complain directly to him about the lack of progress in her request. He assures her “the resupply and Processor replacement plans for the Eastern Theater are a settled matter.”

She takes that to mean resupply reinforcements are on their way to Spearhead, and Jerome pointedly doesn’t dispel that misconception. Despite what she takes as good news, she obeys the letter of her uncle’s order to attend the Revolution gala in an “appropriate dress”—which for Lena, can only be mourning black.

When the time she usually contacts Shin passes, he ends up calling her, which may just be a first, and she’s clearly thankful to be called away from the boring festivities. She heads out into the courtyard to watch the city’s fireworks display, marred by light pollution, almost letting slip that she wishes she could watch the fireworks she sent with Shin, modifying her hope that all of them can watch them together when the war is over.

Lena knows Shin once watched fireworks with his brother, and Shin is happy Lena remembered her brother when he was still his brother, something he can’t do anymore. Shin also reports Anju was finally able to cry, making the fireworks a unique opportunity for 86 to have a memorial gun salute. When asked if she’ll remember them all, Lena says she will, but before that, she won’t let anyone else die.

Rewinding a bit to the morning Shin received the delivery of fireworks, Anju and Kurena, the last two girls left in Spearhead, discuss whether they should “tell” Lena a secret they still carry, now that it’s clear she’s a good person. Anju warns that Shin and Raiden probably aren’t telling her because she’s a good person they don’t want to hurt more than they need to.

We also learn Anju has words scarred into her back, and while she grew her hair out to hide them, Daiya thought she did it because her hair was so pretty. Now that it’s just her and Kurena, and Daiya is gone, she sees no reason to hide it anymore. As for Kurena, she knows when they die “their Reaper” Shin will make sure they’re properly sent off. What she fears most is when he’s the only one of them left…who will carry his heart?

Two days after the fireworks and Lena’s vow not to let anyone else to die, Spearhead attacks the forward base knowing full well it’s a trap, and are then assaulted by a new ultra-long range Legion artillery cannon. Within seconds, four more soldiers are killed. Hopefully they died instantly, because Shin obeys Lena’s retreat order, knowing if they stay they could be wiped out entirely.

When they manage to shake off their Legion pursuers, Lena launches into a diatribe about reinforcements and how it simply “doesn’t make sense” that a unit as important as Spearhead hasn’t received any in all the time she’s been their Handler. That’s when Shin asks the others if it’s okay to “tell her”, and they all agree. She’s earned enough trust to learn yet another horrible truth.

Shin, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Kurena all take turns telling Lena that nothing she does will change a single thing, ever. They’re going to get wiped out, because they’re supposed to get wiped out. The “replacements” Jerome told her about are the Processors that come after them, but they won’t come until every last one of them is dead. Nobody ever leaves the 86th District. The five-years thing is a lie…of course it is.

The higher-ups are able to determine which Eighty-Six are smart by how long they survive, and place them in increasingly dangerous positions until finally they arrive at the Spearhead. They’re not in an elite squad because they’re the best at fighting the Legion. They’re there to be killed off so no strong strategic or tactical Eighty-Six minds will ever be able to lead a rebellion against the Alba.

Now that she knows replacements won’t come until all of them are dead, Lena doesn’t want to believe it, but she believes them anyway. When she asks why they don’t simply run, or let the Legion through, it’s for many reasons. First, to honor those lost before them. Second: just as not all 86 are good, not all Alba are scum.

An Alba woman raised Raiden. Shin was raised by an Alba priest who refused to give up his land and was sent to the camps. Theo’s captain was an Alba. They knew some of the good Alba, while Kurena and Anju knew the very worst. They mention how Kaie was abused by other 86 for her skin color, while many of them have Alba blood.

Raiden says just because some of the Alba are scum who treat them like scum, doing the same doesn’t make them better. Even if they have no choice but to face the gallows, they can at least choose how they’ll climb up there. So they’ll keep surviving as long as they can. With increasingly advanced Legion—controlled by Shin’s brother’s brain—slowly advancing, that may not be long at all.

Now that Lena knows all of these things, simple gestures of kindness or little acts of resistance against her apathetic, hedonistic society probably won’t suffice anymore. All her hopes were riding on reinforcements that she now knows aren’t coming. And if Shin and the others are right, slaughtering their best frontline shoulders will eventually lead to the Legion invading the Alba districts.

So really, Lena can see the gallows in the distance as well. The difference is, she may still be do something other than merely decide how to climb up to them. With the help from what’s left of Spearhead, there’s a slight chance she can change all their fates.