Eighty-six (a.k.a. 86 – Eighty-Six) is a surprisingly good anime series which didn’t get enough attention. This review will examine this overlooked and underrated anime series.
Table of Contents
- 86 Basics
- Racism and Politics
- Complex Plotlines
- Artwork, Music, and Voice Acting
- Final Verdict
At first glance, Eighty-Six may seem like just another science-fiction mecha war series.
But it would be a mistake to dismiss it as such. Yes, the series features mecha. You have a relentless enemy, and brave ace mecha pilots.
But underneath the battles and the horrors of war, Eighty-Six is a socially-relevant anime about real-world issues.
With its racist society, dehumanizing war, and lies, 86 has more in common with political fiction such as 1984 than it does with Gundam. (Admittedly, Gundam can get political, but here it really takes center stage.)
Eighty-Six started out in 2017 as a light novel series by Asato Asato (her pen name). The first season of the anime series ran in two cours from April 2021 to March 2022.
Racism and Politics
The series starts out in the Republic of San Magnolia, a fictional country under attack by the Empire of Giad. Giad uses robotic drones known as the Legion, while the Republic fights back with its own unmanned Juggernauts.
The official, sanitized news broadcast version of the war, as served up by the government, is that the war has been completely bloodless.
Major Vladiena “Lena” Milizé knows better, and she’s angry about it. The young major is the “Handler,” or remote commander, of an elite Juggernaut team, the Spearhead Squadron.
Most people either don’t know or don’t care that humans are fighting suicidal battles on the front lines. These pilots have had their rights taken away — because of their race. Hypocritically, they’ve been told to fight and die for “their” country.
The government calls these marginalized people “86” (after the 86th District where they live). And the 86s are treated like subhuman “pigs.” That’s how the military can get away with claiming “no human injuries.”
The plot echoes real history. Unfortunately, racism in the military is nothing new.
One obvious comparison would be the segregated Tuskegee Airmen. However, as a Japanese American, the story also reminded me of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a Japanese American battalion from World War II. The 86s were even sent to internment camps.
It’s not a perfect analogy — while the 442nd soldiers earned medals and recognition, the 86s get no respect until they essentially change allegiances.
Admittedly, this may be too much politics for some viewers, but it felt just about right to me.
Indeed, there’s more to the series than just social justice issues.
For example, the squadron’s captain, Shin, a.k.a. Undertaker, has a reputation for making Handlers quit (or worse). And indeed, these downtrodden and mistreated soldiers seem to enjoy getting a little psychological revenge on their callous, privileged leaders. But, the full story is a lot worse than that.
By the end of the series, the story gets a bit complicated, as governments fall and things change.
Shin’s elite squadron arrives in Giad, where they receive the warm welcome they never got at home. It seems that Giad has changed since a revolution toppled the empire.
But the Legion is now fighting all humans, and the squadron wants to return to the battlefield.
The series has some neat settings. Take San Magnolia, for example. The urban areas feature typical European (mostly French) architecture, sidewalk cafes, streetcars, tree-lined boulevards, and so on.
This highlights the unfairness of it all, but it is nice looking.
The technology is slightly schizophrenic in an appealing way. An old-fashioned record player is shown, but they also have video billboards.
Of course, because this is a war series, the scene soon shifts to the battlefield. And here we get abandoned, war-torn areas, along with some empty countryside.
Artwork, Music, and Voice Acting
The artwork is excellent. The battles are CGI, but it’s not jarring. CGI feels like the only way to go for mecha/ robot/ battle drone scenes.
The warzone is perfectly stark and desolate. The cities look like someplace I’d want to live (but I’m an urbanist).
The series also has some pretty good music. The opening themes — 3 min 29 sec by Hitorie, and Boundary Lines by Amazarashi — are both decent, appropriate anime songs. But if I wanted something to listen to, I’d go with one of the soulful ending themes — especially Avid or LilaS by Hiroyuki Sawano.
The background music is quite good. There’s some rousing, theatrical battle music in there, as well as some reflective music for the sadder moments.
I don’t have much to say about the voice acting. It’s good, but the squadron’s ensemble cast prevents anyone from standing out.
But Ikumi Hasegawa as Lena Milizé is great. Lena’s complex personality — initially idealistic, naive, and passionate; and later more stoic as events wear her down — is certainly different from her relentlessly cheerful Ikuyo Kita in Bocchi the Rock!
86 Anime Review, Final Verdict: 9/10
The depth of this series surprised me. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t do better when it first arrived.
However, the series finds the right mixture of war and politics. It can also get you right in the feels, as the characters struggle with war trauma and death.
How to Watch 86 on Netflix Anywhere in the World
This method works on both desktop PCs and mobile phones or tablets.
- Purchase (or start a free trial) of a VPN. I can confirm that NordVPN works for this purpose.
- In the settings, choose Hong Kong as your location.
- Fire up the VPN and wait for it to do its magic
- Once you’re connected, navigate to Netflix (browser or app)
- Search “86” in the Netflix search bar and you should see the anime pop up.
Enjoy! Please note that if your Netflix library doesn’t update to reflect the country you selected in your VPN, you may have to clear the Netflix cache first and try again.
To do this on mobile, go to settings -> apps -> Netflix -> clear cache. To do this on PC, you have to clear the cache in your web browser.
I’ve had no trouble using this method and I still use NordVPN to watch anime from various Netflix country libraries daily.
I hope this review helps you to better understand 86. If you are looking for a realistic and complex look at war, racism, and how these things interact, I highly recommend this series.