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As episode one of 86 progressed, I thought I saw where this was going: Major Lena Milize will be the human controller ('Handler') of a unit composed largely of drones driven by super sophisticated AI programs. And somehow these drones had become so intelligent and self-aware that they had begun playing with the minds of their previous Handlers, even driving some of them to commit suicide. Lena, no doubt, would investigate and get to the bottom of this, and it seemed intriguing. But then I realized that I was reading too much into this and it would not be nearly as ambitious and unconventional as I had hoped. This 'Spearhead' unit that Lena is taking command of isn't composed of robots at all, no, it has quite human mecha pilots. They hate their superiors, apparently because while they often get killed the general public is told that this war is being fought by robots and casualties are minimal. This realization was a major let-down. One reason why I was able to misunderstand things so badly is because episode one doesn't explain them very well. I really had little idea who the good and bad guys would be afterwards. If my initial interpretation of 86 had been correct I would have eagerly watched episode two, but since it wasn't I was less enthusiastic.
The battles are wild and exciting, though it would be more fun if we knew whether the enemy really deserve to be killed. Who do the soldiers of Spearhead hate and fear the most: the enemy, or their own superiors? Why are they such an elite and effective unit if they are fighting for a cause they despise? Lena attempts to earn the trust of her subordinates, who are generally considered inferior, even subhuman (and therefore expendable) by the Alba aristocracy. But the Alba are more ignorant of these people than openly contemptuous of them, so things don't get all that riled up and it's hard to say who the good guys are. It was hard to get excited by the argument she has with one of them in episode three when their own behavior makes so little sense. Maybe what these discontented soldiers should do is defect to the other side.
Episode five threw me for a loop. Are the enemy, the 'Legion' (right?) actually not human at all, but some sort of robots whose programming is based in part on human brains recovered from corpses? I had assumed that their mecha have flesh-and-blood pilots just like those of the Republic do. Is this just being revealed for the first time, or did I miss it back in episode one or so? Lieutenant Shin Nouzen reveals that yes, he feels a duty to fight for the Republic, presumably because the Legion winning the war would be even worse than the unjust system that exists right now. I didn't know how seriously to take these sudden revelations. Does the overall scenario, and the motivations of the soldiers of Spearhead, make any more sense now? I think it was a mistake to not teach us right from the start that the Legion is very, very evil and must be resisted at all costs. In episode six we learn that (if I understood things correctly) Lt. Nouzen's brother had his head recovered by the enemy and a Legion robot is using it today. The enemy are indeed terrifying ghoul-like robots; why did the makers wait halfway through the series to reveal that? This is intriguing to a certain extent, but would have been a good deal more intriguing if it had been handled more skillfully. Who is the main enemy, the Legion or the Alba? What can Lena possibly do about either of them?
In episode seven Lena is finally informed of a strong belief which the personnel of Spearhead have held all along: that the unit is actually intended to get troublemakers killed by the Legion so that the Republic doesn't have to execute them itself. That's why it is given such dangerous missions yet gets so little support--because the brass wants them to fail and get killed. It's hard to believe that any army would put such a unit in a sector of utmost importance and provide them with cutting edge weaponry. Which is more important: getting rid of a few dissidents, or winning a war? Yet despite believing this, the soldiers of Spearhead fight loyally and effectively against the Legion. This was all seeming rather unrealistic. If the Legion is as horrific as we have been led to believe, there shouldn't be any shortage of determination and loyalty among Republic soldiers. The way the Republic doesn't even try to make these people believe they ought to support their government (because it's at least not as bad as the Legion) is bizarre. I suspect that in the end Lena will somehow inform the ignorant masses of this scandalous system and they will overthrow the Alba and restore justice (and the Legion will be decisively defeated by Spearhead). So, not terribly convincing and kind of predictable. On the other hand, Nouzen's conflict with his late brother is kind of neat. I think this show should have concentrated more on that and less on the politics of the Republic.
I would have guessed that the climactic fight between Shin Nouzen and his brother would come in the final episode, but it actually occurs in episode nine. It was bizarre; his brother's mecha can apparently assume a sort of liquid metal mode, like in Terminator II (IIRC). I was more confused than thrilled. Why did the rest of the Legion mecha seem to facilitate this duel between brothers? Why did all sorts of irrational emotions get preserved within the software of a Legion mecha? What is this God-like 'mortar' system which rained death upon the enemy? Why did Lena take off running through the streets of the city when the remainder of Spearhead proceeded with their near-suicidal mission? Where was she going? What had she wanted them to do?
In the next-to-last episode the remaining Spearhead pilots take a break between battles as they cross a lush but deserted zone. Being behind enemy lines and out of contact with their superiors, they could do whatever they choose, but seem too weary to make a definitive choice. Or maybe they have already made it. The impression I got was that they were merely on a reconnaissance mission, not a 'find-the-central-Legion-base-and-destroy-it' one (though I still suspected that that's what they would ultimately do).
I was under the impression that 86 would have only eleven episodes, so I was expecting a climax. We get a climax of sorts, but definitely nothing like what I was anticipating. Lena's visit to the Spearhead base was sort of moving, but at the end of the episode the unjust system is still in place, the Legion is undefeated, and apparently everybody but Lena winds up dead. Not exactly a cathartic conclusion. I was left thinking 'Is it really over? Was everything Lena and Spearhead accomplished ultimately futile?'. What with all its problems, 86 needed a really good conclusion and this didn't seem like one. But there was a mention of a 'special edition'--maybe effectively an additional episode--to make sense of things. But 'episode 11.5' turned out to be nothing more than a summary of the story to date--there was only one thing that was new within it, and that thing was an announcement that there would be a season two in October. Well, I suppose that would explain why season one had ended on such a dismal note. I wonder if Undertaker or any of the last five Spearhead personnel will be back as a result of some sci-fi miracle. Maybe this is why there was no 'suicide bombing' of the sort that the ANN synopsis mentioned. For all its problems, I really do want to know how this story ends, and whether a deeply ingrained (if hard to take seriously) system of bias and persecution will be overturned. I just hope season two will be a little better than season one.
Last updated Wednesday, June 30 2021. Created Thursday, April 15 2021.
|Official Japanese Series Web Site||https://anime-86.com/|