Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today you will have to forgive me, as we’re stepping back into the world of 86, and almost certainly have a tragic journey ahead of us. 86’s last episode certainly didn’t pull any punches; a momentary tactical error resulted in Daiya’s senseless death, while even before the fresh tragedy, flashbacks to our unit’s first deployment offered a melancholy reminder of all that we’ve lost.
That episode exemplified 86’s thoughtful, compassionate approach towards portraying the horrors of war. While many stories use the depiction of graphic violence as their central markers of horror and tragedy, 86 understands that how these characters die is only noteworthy in how pointless it is, not how graphic. Rather than laboring over gore, 86 celebrates its characters for how they lived, focusing chiefly on the vibrant characters we’ve lost and the empty spaces they leave in their communities. It can be difficult to convey violence without in some way glamorizing it, particularly since the excitement of high-stakes action is one of anime’s chief exports. But 86 is determined to celebrate its characters as multifaceted people, not simply effective warriors, and thus both its lack of glamorous action and resultantly mournful tone are intentional and essential to its purpose.
Last episode also served as an aesthetic high water mark for the series so far, proving that young director Kuniyasu Nishina is a talent to look out for. I’m looking forward to seeing more of their work in a few episodes, but for now, I’m eager to see how Spearhead handle their doomed current assignment. Let’s return to the world of 86!
We open on August 25th, Stellar Year 2148. Just short of a month has passed since Lena’s birthday, our last established point on the timeline
A gentle piano melody accompanies our unit setting off fireworks and dancing in an abandoned field. The replacement of any in-universe sound effects with this overbearing, melancholy piano actually enhances our ability to feel this moment in the way the characters do. Aside from the few who are making a show of playing with fireworks, everyone here is lost deep in their thoughts, with Anju unable to hold back her tears. They’ve lost too much at this point to even keep up the show of play-acting childhood
Up in the stands, we see Shin talking on his headset, emphasizing how he’s gotten even more accustomed to constant contact with Lena
And the scene ends on a gorgeous shower of fireworks, a clear echo of the beautiful ephemerality Kaie saw in the cherry blossoms last episode. Which, of course, all serves as a metaphor for the 86 themselves, who dance brightly for a brief moment before their light is extinguished
Back on August 15th, we see Lena requesting special supplies for Spearhead. Presumably that means the 25th is the night directly before the battle, with most of the 86 too preoccupied to participate in the party
She’s securing what she calls “Special Ammunition,” but it’s clearly something else. The box she picks up is the same one we saw on the ground in the first scene, so presumably these are the fireworks
Ah, I see. She secured fireworks so that Spearhead could celebrate in their own way on the day of the Revolution Festival
This episode’s pacing feels quite different from last episode. The cuts and scene changes here are much quicker, almost disorienting the audience, as if we’re rushing behind Lena as she carries out a diverse array of errands. It’s like we’re caught in the confusing bustle of the festival preparations
Flashing lights catch Lena’s attention, and that refrain of “if it’s that hard, you should just quit” plays in her ears. It also seems like these aggressive cuts and flashing lights are meant to evoke Lena’s own disorientation; with the sounds of the battlefield still fresh in her mind, the cacophony of the festival is triggering her trauma
Yeah, she’s losing track of herself, and this episode is conveying it beautifully. A scream of “it hurts!” jolts her out of her reflections, and she actually drops her flowers before realizing it’s just a child who fell down, not a dying soldier
86 returns to its somewhat less-than-subtle contrast of life experiences, as Lena’s soldiers talking about their familiarity with horror and bloodshed is contrasted against shots of the capitol citizens thoughtfully stuffing themselves with rich foods. It’s as if they’re literally eating the 86, which isn’t that far from the truth
I like how these shots emphasize the sauces and tactile, yielding physicality of these foods, making them seem even more like raw organs, and thereby helping to convey Lena’s sense of disgust
Our good friend Symbolism Balloon even makes an appearance, floating off above the festivities. Anime’s most consistent symbol of innocence lost
Lena reveals that the unit hasn’t received one new member since she came on as commander. The stress of making up for all their casualties is wearing her soldiers down
Love all these quiet indicators of the people they’ve lost, like all the pins that now lack portraits on her board
Lena goes directly to her uncle to request resupplies and new soldiers, and he tells he’s already made the request, and that “the resupply of the Eastern theater is a settled matter.” Lena, predictably, interprets this as meaning the request will soon be fulfilled – of course, the truth is more likely that they’ve decided there will be no resupplies, and this unit will simply fight until it falls
“Are you ready for the Revolution Festival party? Attend it in a fancy dress. Isn’t that the real job of a daughter of the Milize family?” He still sees her current job as essentially play-acting, the idle fancy of a noble whose true responsibilities lie in representing her bloodline
Clever match cut from the sash on his wine bottle to the sash on Lena’s dress, implying the contents of both are property of this noble system
Lots of great character acting as Henrietta chides Lena for wearing a black mourning dress to the festival party
Lena is relieved to get a call from Shin, wondering why she didn’t make contact at her usual time
“I’m sure the fireworks where you are are beautiful. The air is dark, and the sky is clean.” Lena continues 86’s general trend of contrasting the artificiality of the capital with the authentic, flavorful lives of the 86
Shin mentions Anju’s tears, but as a good thing: she was finally able to cry for the first time, instead of just holding in her grief
Shin is thankful that Lena remembers her brother. Shin’s brother has ultimately brought these two much closer together
“Will you remember us as well, Major?” His words are met by a grand burst of fireworks; all the beauty the capital can muster, carried by the sacrifices of the 86. Like with the food before, it is as if their very lives are being consumed directly, turned into sustenance and pleasure for those who command them
Kurena seems to be turning around on Lena. The fireworks made an impression
This show is generally so good that it’s actually a bit of a shock when we get these standard lowbrow anime moments, like Kurena getting flustered while discussing boys in the shower
Spearhead is apparently hiding something from Lena – by the sound of it, it seems like they might actually be secretly betraying the Republic in some way
Looks like Anju has some kind of writing scarred into her back, that she generally tries to hide from others. Given she has the same color hair as the people of the capital, it’s clear her history is a bit more complex than the other 86
“Even if we die, our Reaper will take us there.” God, what a sad hope they have to cling to! Kurena flashes back to a memory of Reaper executing another irreparably wounded teammate, which is immediately followed by the light piercing through the clouds above. The intent is as clear as it is heartbreaking: the only salvation they can hope for is death by Reaper, a moment of grace at the end of their suffering. Reaper’s mercy killings are the kindest things that ever happen to them
We jump forward to the day of the assault, the 27th. In spite of the team’s preparation for an ambush, the enemy’s incredible new artillery weapons catch them off guard. Bombs fall like the fireworks of the festival, as the bright lights of the teammates we just saw celebrating are extinguished one by one. What a sequence!
This show is so, so good at making you genuinely hate war, and those who’d willfully pursue it. There is nothing grand or glorious in battle, only tragedy inflicted on the innocent for the purposes of the arrogant
After the battle, Shin reveals the truth: no replacements are ever coming. Their unit is intended as an execution ground
It “makes sense,” according to their utterly inhumane logic. Rather than allowing for 86 to complete their five-year term and emerge as heroes who might prompt a rebellion, anyone whose term is nearing their end is sent to progressively more dangerous combat zones, ensuring there are no survivors
“Is there anyone stupid enough to hang themselves because they know they’ll die tomorrow?” Raiden explains their impossible situation to Lena. With no purpose in rebellion but spite and no hope of escape, all they can do is fight for this particular day
Goddamn this show. It feels like it’s actually getting better all the time! I figured it’d be a while before we hit another highlight on the scale of last episode, but this episode came out swinging and just never stopped. This was just as emotionally impactful as last episode, while also offering a very different aesthetic approach to the material. In contrast with last episode’s wide-open compositions and intimate partial body shots, this episode was designed all around its rapid cuts, using its frenetic pacing to evoke Lena’s frantic mindspace, as well as elevating its symbolism through the consistent use of match cuts. This whole episode was essentially constructed around using fireworks as a symbol of the doomed 86, all leading into that devastating finale of artillery contrasted against the festivities of the previous night. What a beautiful episode, and what well-articulated, profoundly righteous fury!
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