86 – 14 – Northern Lights

We rejoin Shin as he’s in the midst of officer training where he’s paired with Eugene. Two of their comrades almost crash into him, so he jumps and backflips out of the way. It’s cool as hell, and it did save the mech, but the drill sergeant still gives him a zero score. It hardly matters; Shin, like the other former Eighty-Six, are shoo-ins for the next officer class.

Lt. Colonel Grethe Wenzel, commander of the 1028th Test Unit, Nordlicht (Northern Lights) squadron, introduces herself by taking them to the now silent battlefield where they were found. It had been under Legion control, but Giad won it back, and built a memorial to the fallen, including a wall of granite engraved with all 575 of the names they found in the toolbox.

Shin and the others must feel odd, seeing the wreckage of their machines of war encased in a jeweled glass and iron gazebo. They loosen up a little more when Frederica presents a resurrected and better-than-ever Fido, who immediately demonstrates that he is indeed the original Fido by recognizing Shin and running around him like a four-ton excited metal puppy.

The third and final “gift” presented to Shin is his pistol—the scythe of the proverbial grim reaper. Ernst can’t very much keep it out of Shin’s hands now that he’s officially an officer in the Giadian military. That the gun is presented by Frederica, who announces she’s officially Nordlicht’s “mascot” (an old Giadian tradition) and will be accompanying them on their tour.

Time passes, and as elite battle-hardened veterans of the war with the Legion, there is absolutely no shortage of work for Shin and the others. So much so that Nordlict has to be split up in order to answer all the calls for their tactical assistance. Eugene just happens to be in a unit that calls for their help, and he is a second or two from being obliterated by a Legion tank when Shin swoops in aboard his new state-of-the-art rig and mows the Legion down.

Despite singlehandedly saving dozens if not hundreds of soldiers, they still regard him with disdain and even suspicion, as with all his superiors dying he’s now the commander of an entire battalion. Despite others warning him to stay away, Eugene has lunch with Shin and Frederica, so he can toss all manner of death flags out.

This sequence could have come off as cliché, but I cared enough about Eugene and his adorable sister that when there’s a smash cut from him saying goodbye to Shin to that same hand holding the locket lying bloodied, it hits hard, in true unblinking 86 fashion. Then we learn that arm isn’t even attached to Eugene anymore.

The last two weeks were hardly all about Shin and Eugene bonding as comrades, and yet his arrival and sudden departure from Shin’s life echoes what has happened 575 times already. The grim repetition of war rears its ugly head, and Shin is already sending off Number 576.

When another soldier uses “86” as a racial slur, his commanding officer scolds him, apologizes to Shin, and tells him he still has a chance to leave the military and “live a happier life.” Giad, after all, doesn’t force children to fight.

Shin waves off the offer as if it was never given. Never mind that with the war going as badly as it is, Giad needs Shin more than he needs them. Shin has his own reasons for staying on the battlefield. Among them may be an utter visceral inability to not inhabit the battlefield as long as it exists.

Even so, there’s a distinct Hello darkness my old friend look to Shin as he hesitates for a moment after Frederica asks if he’s “okay”. It’s not that he’s lying about being “okay”. It’s that he’s never really known “okay.”

86 – 13 – Tired of Resting

In a wonderful, succinct yet detailed montage, we see that the surviving members of Spearhead have settled into normal life in the Giad Federacy.

Raiden got a job with a moving company and made some buds; Theo draws his surroundings and gains praise from passersby; Kurena frequents the shops and boutiques, Anju takes up cooking classes, and Shin studies up in the library. There he meets Eugene Rantz and his little sister Nina, who has befriended Frederica.

After their horrible ordeal getting to the Federacy, followed by the roller coaster of being confined to a facility until being adopted by Zimmerman, the five former child soldiers have certainly earned some peace and respite.

But while they’re living in peace, they’re still not at peace. There’s a restlessness lurking behind their mundane days in Giad. These are kids who never considered what their futures might be, suddenly being given the opportunity to choose whatever futures they want.

But especially for Shin, it’s a false choice. At least his immediate future seems to be returning to the battlefield, for many reasons, not the least of which is freeing all of his colleagues whose souls remain at the mercy of the Legion. They call to him in his dreams, but when he raises the pistol he used to end their lives and spare them further torment, his hand is empty; Ernst returned his scarf, but not his pistol.

Shins new friend Eugene is poor, and in order to provide for and protect Nina, he’s enlisting in the service. The military is lauded in Giad the same as San Magnolia, and Eugene is eager to see the new mechs in the Christmas Eve military parade.

In a wonderful piece of cinematography, Shin looks down at The Skull Knight book, then looks up, and we see laundry flowing behind him through the window, emulating the knight’s cape. There is no pageantry to the military for Shin or the others; only necessity, purpose, pride, and obligation.

After each of them witness the military parade and are each quite put off by the pageantry, it’s Kurena who firsts breaks the dam of complacency. She’s seen and heard enough of this “peace,” and now it’s time to return to where she belongs: the battlefield. The other four quickly concur, glad someone was able to finally vocalize that they’ve all simply spent to much time “resting.”

Ernst objects to their sudden decision, but there’s nothing sudden about it, the five have said from the beginning that this is they always intended. And we the audience can play the concerned parent figure like Ernst and say that they only feel that is all they can do because it’s all they’ve done, and because the Republic and the Legion took everything else.

It’s the precocious Frederica, exhibiting surprising maturity and clarity, who tells Ernst that if he keeps these kids from doing what they want to do he’d be no different than the Republic. She also decides to reveal that she is the last surviving Empress of Giad and carries the responsibility for unleashing the Legion in the first place.

The thing is, that was ten years ago when she was even wee-er than she is now, so Shin and the others don’t hold it against her. It was really the Republic that took everything from them. Ernst grudgingly agrees to allow the five to do as they please, but only if they enter officer training, so that they’ll have more options when the war is over.

Of course, none of them were thinking about that possibility, even though he says it’s a certainty that the war will end. As for Frederica, she’s determined to join them, that they might help her find and put to rest her valliant Knight Kiriya, who was taken by the Legion just like Shin’s brother.

Lena takes the week off, and that’s a boon here in terms of portraying Shin, Anju, Kurena, Raiden and Theo’s transition from acceptance of their new lives to the realization that here, for once, they can choose what to do and where to go, and a mundane peaceful life in the Giadian capital just isnt’ their scene.

Whether next week focuses solely on Lena or is another split episode of the kind the last cour did so well, I’m simultaneously happy and terribly worried for our Eighty-Six. Part of me wishes they would just stay in that capital and live quiet peaceful lives…but that’s not up to me, or anyone else but them.

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