86 – 20 – Still Here

The airing of 86 has slowed to a crawl, and first episode since December 4 is primarily a slow and brooding resting episode. Still, with three episodes left to wrap up the story (or at least the story so far; the source material is ongoing) it can afford reflective episodes like this…but probably just this one more.

After a quick check-in with that Giad officer whose name I can’t recall, Raiden confronts Shin about his reckless behavior in the past battle, and a lot of familiar beats are repeated: Shin doesn’t seem to care if he goes back “home”; the others are worried about him and want to support him.

There’s even a moment of levity when Frederica is a bit too on-the-nose in her assessment of Shin’s present feelings towards Kurena, which is like a little sister and not a real woman. This invokes the ire of Anju, who would prefer if Frederica left things unsaid in that arena, but the humor of the exchange breaks through her, Kurena and Theo realizing that they’ve been relying on Shin all this time while he, the Reaper, fully expected them to leave him someday in death, like all the other Eighty-Six before them.

The group’s Reginleifs are looking particularly ratty at the moment, and everyone has problems that require replacement parts, repairs, or both. But they only need to hold together long enough to catch up to Morpho, which Shin estimates to happen before any of their rigs kick the bucket.

They pause their pursuit to admire the sun setting over a vast grassy plain that looks like the sea, which everyone in the group admits they’ve never actually seen before. Frederica wants to see the sea, and swim in it, with everyone there. Kurena and Anju second the idea, but Shin, set apart from the others as usual, doesn’t say anything.

That night while the others rest in an abandoned warehouse, Frederica hears Shin verbalize the fact that he feels like he should have died before reaching Giad, and still feels dead ever since. Because he feels dead, he hasn’t had anything he wants to do or anywhere he wants to go, like the others. He could smile an nod, but he can’t fake his disinterest.

Frederica calls Shin out as much warmer and softer than he lets on, while admitting that she herself doesn’t feel like she has much use as an empress in a republic, but felt she should at least stay alive long enough to deal with her knight Kiri. After that, who knows…but she’s convinced Shin is scared to move forward because he tried to see the future “for what it is”.

Kuno Misaki continues to do excellent work as the precocious and surprisingly wise and astute Frederica. I was also appreciative to see the five Eighty-Six get one more break before resuming their pursuit of Morpho. Unfortunately for them, Morpho learns that he’s being pursued, which means the element of surprise is out.

Either next week or the week after that, the showdown with Kiri will continue. Will Shin once again get “lost” in the ensuing confrontation, or will his comrades be able to keep him alive and himself?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 19 – No-Face and the Pale Rider

In a thrilling opening sequence, Nordlicht is parachuted en masse from the Nachzehrer’s hold as Lt. Col. Wenzel distracts the Legion. We hear a yelp and the last we see of the aircraft it is taking heavy fire. But Wenzel’s job was to get her troops in position to take out Morpho, and she did that job.

…That is, until it’s revealed that the damaged “Morpho” in the middle of town isn’t the Morpho, but a decoy. Rather than repaired, the active core was transferred to a spare Morpho still out of range of Shin & Co. As a result, they’re left as sitting ducks as the Real Morpho, the core of which is Kiri’s mad murderous head, fires its main railgun into the town.

All of the allied observers are wiped out, but Nordlicht manage to survive the blast. Back at the command center, the generals, who aren’t yet aware Shin and the others lived, recommend they fall back and regroup now that Nordlicht failed. Ernst says to do so would be amoral and cowardly. He adds that the people of Giad elected him to uphold a higher set of ideals, which means not abandoning the soldiers they sent in to save them.

While Ernst has Shin & Co’s back, there’s obviously something else going on with him. As Shin races to Morpho’s position, Kiri spots the headless reaper emblem and identifies Shin as a surviving member of the Nouzen Clan. Kiri wants nothing more than to destroy everything and everyone Shin knows and cares about, but his Legion superior “No-Face” orders him to stand down. When he won’t, the railgun is remotely deactivated.

It seems the Legion brass doesn’t want Shin dead…and part of me also suspects that “No-Face” is really Ernst Zimmerman. Why he’d send his nation and all other surviving nations to the brink like he is may be explained by his desire to uphold ideals humanity has abandoned. Meanwhile, on his way back to his designated district, Kiri spots a red flag and is reminded of the robe of the young Empress he once protected.

Nordlicht regroups at an abandoned forward base, remaining deep in Legion territory and preparing to pierce even deeper to finish Morpho off. Shin’s briefing is interrupted by weird sounds emanating from one of Fido’s cargo containers. Turns out Frederica stowed away to serve as the unit’s “hostage”, ensuring they upheld their duty to come back alive.

Raiden agrees to take her back to safety, and tells Frederica that there was no reason to put herself in danger; they don’t want to die and are planning not to. But as Shin told his superior during the briefing, retreating now to die tomorrow is pointless. Morpho is on the run, and pissed off by its pragmatic boss to boot. The only way everyone goes home—or even has a home—is to finish what they’ve started.

86 – 18 – A Bat Into Hell

There was no new episode of 86 last week, nor will a new episode air next week. Instead, this eighteenth episode whets our appetite for the final desperate struggle of an alliance of human nations to defeat the apocalyptic Legion the Empire of Giad created. It starts out pretty subdued, with a pair of conversations, once again underscoring the unfortunate production issues apparently plaguing the show just as it nears the home stretch.

Ernst wants the commander’s promise he’s not sending the Eighty-Six to their potential deaths simply because he said they were too dangerous to keep around to begin with. In this particular case, it’s more that they have no one better for a mission that must succeed, or everyone dies. We also learn that Wenzel, who lost someone dear in the war (a spouse, perhaps), isn’t ready to give up on the kids living normal lives after surviving this.

Part of surviving means having the best equipment available, and both Wenzel and her boss know the slow military helicopters won’t get the job done. Instead, she requests and is granted access to an old prototype ground-effect vehicle or ekranoplan, one of the strangest and most nerdy of aerospace inventions.

I believe this is the first time I’ve seen one of these contraptions depicted in anime (if anyone knows of another, shout it out in the comments), but the long, foreboding journey through darkness into its hangar feels like Wenzel and the Nordlicht are descending into a dungeon to wake a dragon that may either help or kill them. It’s also named after a Giadian legend of yore: Nachzehrer, a vampire that drags its shadow along the ground.

Ekranoplan or no ekranoplan, Frederica wants to know what the plan is for getting out of enemy territory if and when they destroy Morpho. Everyone loos around until Shin says getting home alive is secondary to destroying the target and saving human civilization as they know it.

That’s not enough for Frederica, who refuses to return to the rear lines and has a “tantrum” in her room. Shin visits her, and is not particularly sympathetic, saying he’s not her knight, and even expressing doubt she wants him to kill her old one. Frederica hits back that she simply doesn’t want Shin going down the same path as Kiri. She doesn’t want to lose another brother.

But Frederica doesn’t convince Shin not to go, and probably never would have succeeded. He and the other four Eighty-Six might only be doing this for their own pride and because they known nothing else but being bloody swords on the battlefield, but in this case there is literally no alternative; the enemy isn’t someone that can be surrendered to or asked for quarter.

Ernst, donning his army uniform and taking command of the operation, gives the Eighty-Six a pep talk, telling them no one in Giad wants them to die, and that their most important mission is to come back alive. It’s at this point I was almost ready to say “Hey, he’s not such a bad guy after all”…but then the lighting changes, his smile vanishes, and he adds that if they don’t come back alive, he’lls “destroy this world.” So yeah…still evil.

Regardless, Ernst gives a stirring speech to rally the troops as the clock counts down to zero. The always-on point Sawano Hiroyuki score swells, the diversionary forces successfully clear a path,  Wenzel hits the throttle, and the bat-shaped Nachzehrer blasts out of its hanger like, well, a bat out of hell.

Only they’re actually heading into hell. Regal Lily’s “Alchemila” hits different when the sounds of weaponry the diversionary units holding their ground and being massacred mixed in. This heartens the Eighty-Six, as the soldiers of their adopted nation aren’t turning tail and fleeing like the drunk and arrogant San Magnolians almost certainly would. They’re not giving up, so they can’t let them down.

Ernst’s under-his-breath threat aside (does the blue light hint that he’s somehow secretly controlling the Legion?) this battle really is for all the marbles. As the voices of the damned fill Shin’s head and a smirk grows on his face, will he be able to keep his and lead Raiden, Anju, Kurena, Theo, and Giad to victory?

Unfortunately we’ll have to wait at least two weeks to find out. But I’m not bitter over the lack of an episode last week or next. I’m just happy we got this one, and all things considered, it ruled pretty damn hard.

86 – 17 – A Certain Apocalyptic Railgun

The episode begins at San Magnolia’s darkest and most desperate hour. While most of the military forces are presumably turning tail along with the civilians, Lena is standing her ground and commanding what forces she can bring to bear against an overwhelmingly superior Legion force.

While the usual blue lights of her sterile remote command station have been replaced by red flames and burning embers, Lena does not shrink from her duty. There’s an explosion quite close to her position, but scene ends without irrefutable proof she comes out of this either alive, dead…or turned into a Legion.

Meanwhlie, four large Federacy bases were attacked in sequence, resulting in the loss of 20,000 troops, or over a quarter of their forces. The culprit is an ultra-long-range (over 400km) train-mounted railgun code-named Morpho (presumably after the butterfly genus). Shin & Co. are lucky; their base takes an indirect hit.

Morpho is damaged by a concerted attack by three nations whose names don’t rhyme with Man Sagnolia, and it’s believed that repairs will take eight weeks. That’s how long humanity has to take Morpho out, because once it’s back online it can use the continental high speed rail system to hit any capital it wants.

Ergo, in eight weeks, It’s All Over. Giad, Roa Gracia, and Wald all commit to doing whatever it takes to destroy Morpho before that happens. But with the losses they’ve sustained and the multiple battle fronts they must maintain, and untouched Legion factories working at full capacity, eight or eighty weeks might not make any difference.

Additionally, even the combined air forces of the three nations simply don’t have the firepower or range to do anything about Morpho, which means the only possible way to take it out is with a ground assault…over 100km into Legion territory.

Suddenly backed into a wall, Giad no longer has the luxury of keeping the Eighty-Six out of the fighting (if they wanted out; they of course don’t). I doubt any of the five of them are the slightest bit surprised it’s come to this. Could Giad have had more options now had they taken Shin’s warnings about the Legion seriously?

Perhaps, but the sheer scale and scope of their utter hosedness means any positive benefit probably wouldn’t have been enough. The Eighty-Six remark how Giad has a well-trained military, who are holding together in spite of the dire situation—unlike San Magnolia, which they imagine would fold like a bad poker hand).

But Giad has no one in their military as good at doing This Kind of Thing as the Eighty-Six and Lt. Shinei Nouzen. When brought before the general and told to point out where the Legion currently are on a map, Shin obeys, officially confirming his psychic powers. Lt. Col. Wenzel goes to bat for Shin and his comrades, yelling on his behalf about how unfair this is.

But the general, and indeed the entire Federacy’s hands are tied. In this situation, the Eighty-Six are all they’ve got. Were they to send their own forces into such a mission, not only would it definitely be suicide, but it would undermine what little morale remains in the military. They can’t afford that kind of storm of resentment that could lead to widespread mutiny and chaos, even in a force as disciplined as Giad’s.

On the ride back to base, Wenzel tells Shin that it’s not too late to back out of this, and even if he does participate and emerge victorious, he should quit the military immediately after. Shin doesn’t want to hear it. The one thing he and no other Eighty-Six wants is anyone’s pity, especially if that pity and vanity is being used to dictate how they should live their lives.

If Shin and the others are monsters, they’d rather remain monsters than become something else, for as young as they are, it’s too late to be anything else. They learned that well enough during their “honeymoon” period in the Giad capital, trying to live “normal” lives.

With the voices of all the Eighty-Six he mercy-killed as well as the Major always in his head, Shin will never, ever let someone fight or die in his place, they way the Republic did with him and his friends. Oh, and did I mention lil’ Lena has been sending Shin searing hate mail with her cutesy kid stationary for killing her brother? Yeah…that’s happening too.

Not surprisingly, Raiden, Anju, Theo and Kurena feel the same way as Shin: If they run, they’ll be no different from the white pigs. While the rest of Nordlicht squadron skulks out of the ready room after the briefing, the five Eighty-Six basically shrug it off as Just Another Job, and then laugh and joke on their way to dinner.

This newest development is simply nothing new for them. They’ve been sent on suicide missions their whole lives. Nothing to be done here but wait for zero hour, strap into their Juggernauts, and get to work. Only this time, at least, it’s for the sake of a country that might just be worth saving.

That same day, September 2, we see the aftermath of the Legion assault on the capital of San Magnolia, which is a smoking, crumbling ruin devoid of life, as well as one big obvious metaphor for the cost of hubris. The final gut-wrenching shot is one we’ve seen dozens of times throughout 86’s run: that of Lena’s bedchamber.

The glass box containing the little drawings of the Eighty-Six lost under her command remains on the windowsill, but that’s not necessarily a sure sign that she’s dead somewhere in the city. More concerning is the fact Shin had a brief encounter with her in his visions.

Still, the show is officially being coy about her fate, and I for one am holding out hope that she and her sciencey frenemy are still breathing out there somewhere…and maybe, just maybe she and Shin will finally meet in person someday, when all this Legion unpleasantness is over.

86 – 16 – A Child’s Right to Dream

Hours before Giad’s command structure realizes the full extent of the Legion assault not just on the Federacy, but on the three other major powers, and fully mobilizes its forces, Shinei snatches Raiden’s pillow. It’s time to go to work. He gave Giad all the warnings he could to make their situation more tenable, but now it’s up to Nordlicht squadron to shore up the front lines.

Giad’s woefully inadequate defenses fold like a cheap plug suit before the sheer volume of Legion hardware brought to bear against them. The fleeting beauty of their glittering forms rising over the horizon gives way to carnage, fire, twisted metal, and blood. In other words, where Shin, Raiden, Kurena and Anju feel most at home…as awful as that is.

Despite being outnumbered hundreds-to-one, the four of them do what they do best and lay waste to the Legion, who don’t really have any tactics beyond “run straight at the enemy and kill”. They’re mechanized zombies, after all. Back at base, Frederica wishes she could be with Shin and the others, then wishes even more when she detects Shin…starting to lose it.

Shin wears an unsettling smirk in his eerily-lit cockpit as he goes totally bonkers berserk against any and all Legion in his path. He resembles more a ravenous beast killing for sport, not an elite soldier carrying out his duty. This is exactly what happened to Frederica’s knight, Kiri: he went too far, in his case trying to protect her, and completely lost himself.

Fortunately, apocalypse is postponed, as the Giad lines behind Nordlicht get their shit together, and the Legion withdraw. Immediately upon Shin’s return to base, Frederica is knocking on his cockpit, demanding he come out so she can berate him for being so foolish, then cry into his chest. This battle was a little too much for this child who carries such a heavy weight.

Meanwhile, in San Magnolia, three days earlier, apocalypse is looking a little more imminent, as military HQ is still an utterly ineffectual bacchanalian. Only Lena knows and cares about their impending doom, and prepares to mobilize all Processors, even pull them into the forbidden 85 Districts. General Karlstahl tries to stop her, saying if the Eighty-Six won’t fight the Legion for the Republic, and if they enter the districts, it will only hasten the rebellion that’s been a longg time coming.

Lena convinces Karlstahl to let her have her way, as he tells her the time has finally come for her childish, naïve dreams to shatter against hard, cold reality. He also intends to do what he wants, taking up a rifle and resolving to have her back until that shattering time comes. Lena, AKA Bloody Regina, rouses all Eighty-Six troops at once and orders them to battle. Like her Spearhead friends she’s convinced are dead, she’s going to go out fighting—for herself, and for them.

Roll credits and that sad, beautiful ending theme, and 86isn’t done torturing its characters, or us. Frederica reports to Shin & Co. that her Kiri, whom she can sense just as Shin could sense Kiriya, attacked the republic and entered the 85 Districts. As for his present whereabouts, that’s quickly answered when we see a flash of him saying he’ll kill Shin, and then the room where they’re in filling with a terrible light…perhaps the light of that dream-shattering reality Karlstahl mentioned.

86 – 15 – Tines Falling from a Comb

Shinei’s cordial, by-the-book adjutant is giving him a  report in the hallway of their base when a half-dressed Frederica half-sleepwalks right into Shin and calls him “Kiri”, short for Kiriya, her knight who she believes became a Legion because of her. Once she’s fully awake she’s mortified; a proper lady should never find herself in such a situation.

Of course, when we later learn she’s running around the barracks doing all the odd jobs the soldiers have no time to do, it tracks that she’d be exhausted. Meanwhile, the old Spearhead gang is back, but aside from some momentary cheeriness from Kurena, it’s a particularly dour affair. Frederica chalks it up to them getting worn down by their roles as lackeys of the army.

The start of the episode was the least interesting, with their unit commander Colonel Wenzel trying to make the strategic case for putting the 86 to “proper” use in her new prototype Reginsleifs. She seemingly gets her wish on the eve of a forecasted large-scale Legion attack that Shin knows is far, far larger than the conscientious federacy’s analysts predict.

After the briefing, Shin returns to his quarters to find Frederica there. He prepares coffee as she criticizes how empty his quarters are, comparing them unfavorably to those of Eugene, which she cleaned out after he died. Shin tells her she could have spared herself some pain by never getting to know Eugene, but Frederica doesn’t roll like that.

Some of Misaki Kuno’s best voice work is done as Frederica regales Shinei with the story of the siege that ended the empire, and Kiri’s fall as well. Even so, to her it’s always better to meet, know, love, and remember. If freeing Kiri of the Legion means losing Shinei or anyone else, she won’t have it.

Those connections are what make life living for most people, but Shinei has been living without a single thought about his future for so long, he’s never properly grasped that…until perhaps he met Lena and now Frederica. Just as the Shinei’s resemblance to Kiriya was a catalyst for her getting close to him, Frederica is like a subsitute Lena for Shinei right now, trying to keep him aware of the things in life other than war.

Frederica tells Shinei like Lena did to start thinking about his future; even if it’s just his next leave, that’s a start. As for Raiden, he’s a bit irked that Shinei unilaterally revealed to the military that he can hear the voices of the Legion, something they all agreed to keep secret lest it make things unpleasant for all of them.

Raiden and Shinei don’t feel like friends here, because they’re really more like brothers. Strained brothers, due to Shinei being his usual mostly opaque self and Raiden actually starting to think about a future himself. He’s worried for Shinei like a brother too, not due to the coming Legion threat, but becaue the Giadians are “no saints”.

The credits end with the first Lena sighting in what seems like forever. Whether this harkens a Lena-centric (or even half-Lena) episode next week obviously remains to be seen, but it’s clear the calm before the next coming storm is just about over.

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