Wed. Dec 8th, 2021

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I’m immensely eager to dive back into 86, given how its last episode upended everything we thought we knew. First off, we at last learned the full truth regarding what happened to Lena’s father, as well as her connection with Shin’s brother Rei. The consequences of Lena’s childhood journey to the front lines basically set the course of her life until now – having lost her father, but gained a lift debt to the 86, it seems only natural that she’d attempt to live up to Rei’s example.

But as it turns out, Rei is also still guiding Shin’s actions, in the most morbid way possible. As the episode’s second half revealed, the Legion have been using the brains of dead soldiers to replace their mechs’ aging processing units, and thus prolonging their fighting capacity. As a result, the Alba’s confidence in the Legion’s obsolescence is entirely unfounded, and they’re quite likely on track to lose this war. And on a more personal level, it seems clear that Shin’s brother is serving as one of the “Shepherds” with fully working brains, directing the battle against his own former teammates.

At the moment, Shin seems determined to live only long enough to ensure his brother can rest in peace. He has no unrealistic pretensions of escaping his fate as a soldier, and no hope of this war ever ending. Shin’s perspective is frankly reasonable – but in a situation like this, you sometimes need an unreasonable person like Lena to keep you going. Her entirely unwarranted optimism and idealism are a precious resource, a hope flowering in the most inhospitable soil. With so much of their past now revealed, I’m eager to see how Lena and Shin’s relationship develops from here!

Episode 6

“December 17th, Stellar Year 2144.” Two years after the death of Lena’s father, but four years before her current assignment. I’d initially wondered if these time stamps were just a sort of military culture affectation, but the show is actually making the most of its extended timeline, establishing a series of years populated by a variety of key events

I also like how the emphasis on the specific time frames involved emphasize the unique concept of “growing up through a war.” We can hear “the war lasted six years” without necessarily considering how that war would entirely define the worldview of people whose childhood or adolescence took place during those years. Lena’s older superiors can reflect on better times and imagine they’ll soon return, but Lena and Shin have no reason to assume the future holds anything but more bloodshed. Kinda like how our own current elder generations assume global warming will just blow over, because it wasn’t a problem before, so it probably won’t be a problem later

Beautiful shots of a town in disrepair, covered in a blanket of snow. This show sure has lovely background art

Shin pops out of a mech in a library, then surveys the books and corpses around him. They’re building an incredibly focused atmosphere through this sequence – the combination of this gently progressing piano melody and shots of the wintry sky creating a profound sense of stillness, along with a subtle stir of anticipation. As can happen on wintry nights like this, it feels like the whole world is either asleep or holding its breath

As Shin walks outside, long shots emphasize his isolation in this environment, casting him as a tiny blot in a vast white canvas. These shots are complemented by compositions framed to peer at Shin through rubble or windows, creating a sense that someone might be watching him

In front of a cathedral, a single mech lies broken, bathed in a pillar of light

Also some nice partial body shots of actions like him breathing or discarding his rifle, which combine with a touch of soft focus to create a great sense of intimacy for this moment. This is basically a film-quality intro in terms of its direction and cinematography

This was the moment he found his brother’s headless body

Ah right, time for this horrible intro song

“July 27th, Stellar Year 2148.” So, most of a month beyond our most recent check-in

The 86 are heading off to battle, and reminiscing about old times in the summer heat. Terrific wipe cut here, as a tree in the foreground facilitates a sweep back to the last time they were here, when they’d just been deployed

“April 5th, Stellar Year 2148.” So they actually haven’t been at this location very long

Woof, this is brutal. What a way to confront us with the tragedy of war – by inviting us to a get-together from when this group was first established, where we can meet dozens of friends who’ve already died in our current timeline. This is how you convey the tragedy of war’s violence: not through an overbearing emphasis on the act of violence itself, but through a celebration of the lives that were lost as a result. Amateur writers frequently think violence itself conveys seriousness or tragedy, but without establishing and respecting the humanity of the characters involved, violence is just ugly noise

The layouts in general are just exceptional in this episode – lots of complex, multilayered compositions that nonetheless feel coherent and dynamic, assisted by a touch of well-employed post-processing

The group bond by mocking the new rich girl handler

“She’s obviously a goddess. She’s descended to the land of mortals to save us 86.” This show’s rejection of paternal pity for its underclass is consistent and very welcome

A guy we’ve never met, and thus is presumably dead, says that he’d like to meet Lena some day

And now Kaie herself walks up to chat with Shin. Another effective way of emphasizing the senseless loss of war – using flashbacks to simulate the ways these characters are still fresh in their friends’ minds, and still occupy irreplaceable positions in their memories. Just a little while ago, Kaie was fondly teasing Shin – how could any of them hope to forget, or forgive those who caused this?

“The flowers have a short lifespan. They all bloom at the same time, and all fall at the same time. They leave the branches behind easily, as if there’s nothing holding them back at all. But I like that they’re so bold.” This speech hits doubly hard from Kaie, who’s already fluttered off the branch

“The headless Reaper, searching for his head.” Shin’s search for his brother has mutated as it spread through the ranks

And they rush off chasing shooting stars, another symbol of ephemeral life and beauty

Lena is a bit late, but still shows up, and seems determined to remain unrattled by her new knowledge

The Legion units seem to be adapting their strategies – they’ve gotten wise to the 86’s ambush strategies, and thus begin the battle by flushing them out with artillery

Aw jeez. We meet the girl who Shin was talking to at the cherry blossom celebration, just in time for her to be knocked into an impossible-to-defend position. And then Daiya chases after her, and ends up getting killed himself

Once again, 86 is elevated by its refusal to make death on the battlefield glamorous in any way. Normally, a character who we know as well as Daiya would be afforded a hero’s death, a meaningful exit that ties a bow on his character arc. That’s generally the way narratives work, because that provides a sense of inherent satisfaction for the audience – but for this story, the fact that Daiya’s death feels dramatically unsatisfying is actually the point. There is no purpose to any of these deaths, and no glory to be found in throwing your life away. 86 is willing to abandon the general rules of crowd-pleasing drama to truly shake the audience with its points

And then we cut to after the battle, with Shin calmly asking Lena if she wants to cut the feed before he mercy kills Daiya

“This is all I can do, but it’s my responsibility as a Handler.” Lena will no longer look away from the truth, here or elsewhere. The least she can do is bear witness

Anju is hiding her pain over Daiya’s death. Some unusually fluid character animation as the group all decompress after battle

“My brother hasn’t forgiven me.” So can Shin even feel emotions over his link, or is this just his own guilt talking?

Shin has painful visions of his brother’s hatred, then the episode break cuts us back to an image of a tiny birthday cake. 86 never misses a chance to emphasize the difference between Lena and Shin’s realities

July 27th, Lena’s birthday

Annette dates older men, because “the men my age are too childish.” She hesitates before offering that explanation, though – perhaps it has more to do with their perspective on the war

Lena asks what would happen if the Para-RAIDs impacted someone’s mind, and Annette idly explains that they’d pop out the Processor’s brain to examine it. It’s no wonder their information is so bad – the 86 have no reason to report any information to their superiors, because the only possible result is they get punished or killed for it

Lena’s set up a little board of all her subordinates. Their deaths are immediately more real to her – and when she pulls off Daiya’s picture, the bullet that ended his life still rings in her mind. The sound is accompanied by a petal falling from the vase, echoing Kaie’s words

More dynamic layouts as Lena reports on the battle, along with a ridiculously ambitious spinning pan up Lena’s body. The show frankly can’t quite manage the animation fluidity necessary to make this shot look graceful, but I still appreciate this episode’s director making so many ambitious choices

Apparently this episode was both boarded and directed by Kuniyasu Nishina, who also directed episode ten. Their staff credits only stretch back a couple years, but this episode alone demonstrates they’re a remarkable rising talent. Even by 86’s high standard, this is an impressive-looking episode

Lena immediately reframes her recommendation of using mortars from “it will save the 86” to “it will help defend the nation more efficiently.” She’s moved on from starry-eyed shock at the military not caring about the lives of the 86, and now understands she must play by their rules to achieve her own aims

“Both the military and the people want a homeland defense that’s technologically advanced and ethical, with zero casualties.” This sounds absurd, but this is basically the same exact tactic the United States government has embraced through drone warfare. By “sanitizing” war through robots, and preventing the sort of on-the-ground reporting of casualties that made Vietnam a public liability, the United States can now kill both military and non-military targets with relative impunity. So what if we bomb a few weddings, just so long as the public doesn’t see us do it

Lena’s commander turns her charity around on her, telling her that Spearhead must destroy an advance production base, or her own soldiers will suffer

Shin knows about the base, and suspects it’s a trap. It feels like only the 86 are even really trying to win this war – the actual higher-ups assume it’s already won, and are basically going through the motions of battle in order to keep the people happy

Shin notices an edge in Lena’s voice, and urges her to get some rest

And Done

Whoof, what a heavy fucking episode! That journey from their carefree cherry blossom viewing to their current battle was devastating, emphasizing the senseless tragedy of this battle from every possible angle. The initial flashback reveled in an all-new form of torture for us in the audience, as we watched characters who’ve already passed enjoy some of the last happy moments of their lives. And then the death of Daiya came suddenly and without reason, shattering the team dynamic we’ve come to know. Additionally, this was far and away one of the best-directed episodes of 86 so far, benefiting greatly from Nishina’s eye for cinema. The diverse selection of shot styles, the ambitious use of camera movement, the clever integration of animation and post-processing – this episode was brimming with well-employed visual ingenuity, elevating some of the show’s most gripping sequences yet. Another feather in the cap of this impressive production!

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