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Entry updated 16 January 2023. Tagged: TV.

Japanese Anime tv series (2021-2022; vt 86 EIGHTY-SIX). A-1 Pictures. Based on the Light Novel by Asato Asato. Directed by Toshimasa Ishii. Written by Toshiya Ōno. Voice cast includes Shōya Chiba, Ikumi Hasegawa, Misaki Kuno and Yūya Uchida. 23 24-minute episodes (plus four recap episodes). Colour.

In 2139 the Empire of Giad declared War on the Republic of San Magnolia, and carried out an Invasion with their spiderlike "autonomous combat machines, the Legion". In 2144 the Legion went rogue and turned on the Empire, though continuing to attack the Republic. Now, in 2148, believing the Legion units have an operating lifespan of only six years, the Republic assumes they only have to hold them off for another two. They do so using their own "autonomous" machines, the Juggernauts, proudly boasting that "not one fatality has taken place since their introduction".

The Republic's government has withdrawn its citizens into 85 districts and passed the Special Wartime Peacetime Preservation Act (see Politics), stripping citizenship rights from those who were not the silver-haired and silver-eyed Alba. These non-Alba were put into internment camps in the 86th district: conscripted for five years, they pilot the Juggernauts; their deaths, totalling millions, are not considered fatalities as they are officially "humanoid pigs that failed to evolve" (see Pseudoscience). It is clear that most of the Alba populace tacitly accepted this.

Major Vladilena Milizé (Hasegawa) is appointed the Handler of the Spearhead Juggernaut squadron, led by Shinei Nouzen (Chiba). Though communicating only through advanced wireless Technology, Vladilena seems to befriend Shinei and the rest of his squadron: however, when a member dies in action and she tries to commiserate, one of them angrily points out she has not even bothered to learn their real names. Later, Shinei partially apologizes for his colleague's outburst, also explaining the war is lost: the Republic is running out of 86, reduced to using child soldiers (Shinei is a veteran at 16). Furthermore, the Legion will not expire in two years: their central processing units are based on the human mind, so before expiry they copy the minds (see Upload) of the 86 they kill: some copies retain sentience (though not their sanity) and now control the Legion; one such is his brother. A near-death experience left Sinei able to hear the voices of the dead (see Psi Powers) inhabiting the Legion, as do his Handlers through their comms link; Vladilena's predecessors had breakdowns or committed Suicide, though she endures it.

Shinei explains the five-year conscription period is a lie: those 86 who survive for any length of time are transferred to Spearhead, who are sent on suicide missions – the end result will be, intentionally, genocide (see Holocaust Fiction). At the end of season one, Shinei has destroyed the Legion machine holding his brother's mind; then, with Vladilena's unwitting help, escaped the warzone with the four other remaining Spearhead members (and an AI Robot called Fido), entering deserted Giad territory. They do not expect to survive for any length of time – and, in the final scenes, they seem to die.

Season 2 reveals Shinei and his friends survived, rescued by the Giad Federacy – which replaced the Empire. The Federacy battle the Legion – who have now invaded two other neighbouring states, as well as the Republic. The Provisional President of the Federacy, the idealistic Ernst Zimmerman (Uchida), takes the five under his wing; he has also adopted the bratty last Empress of Giad, Frederica Rosenfort (Kuno), who can see people's pasts and futures (see Precognition). After confirming the Federacy are reasonably good – though some of its military are concerned the five's experiences have made them monsters – they join its army, manning their combat machines. They are sent deep into Legion-held territory to destroy a powerful railgun, Morpho (see Weapons): they succeed. To prevent a Legion victory it is realized that more such strategic raids are needed, so the Spearhead team are made into a mobile strike force and told they will be commanded by an experienced foreign officer.

Little is seen of Vladilena for most of season 2, though we learn she was demoted to Captain and battled side by side with fighters from the 86th District when the Legion broke into the 85 districts. With Morpho's destruction, the Giad Federacy is able to reach the Republic, providing humanitarian relief. Because of her experience and actions, they transfer Vladilena to the Federacy to lead the new mobile strike force. In the final episode her meeting with the members of her former squadron, whom she has never seen before, is heartwarming

This is a densely plotted series; much is omitted from the preceding summary, particularly character matters such as Shinei's survivor guilt and PTSD and his complicated relationship with his brother – who also had a Vladilena connection (rescuing her when her father's naivety got himself, and nearly her, killed). Vladilena loudly criticizes the Republic's policies, but escapes punishment through privilege, coming from a noble family; though we meet other Alba with qualms, they are mostly silent, complicit through shame and fear:

Overall, this anime is a very good example of thoughtful and action-packed Military SF, with the bleak first season being the stand-out. The second, though having dark moments, is generally lighter in feel: the reveal of the Spearhead members' survival perhaps undermines the first's finale, whilst Frederica's cuteness seems out of place. Nevertheless it is still an entertaining season, despite production difficulties that led to three recap episodes. Naturally, World War Two and Race in SF are relevant. The original Light Novel includes Shinei reading Philip K Dick's "Second Variety" (May 1953 Space Science Fiction), which has some similarity to the broad plot of 86. [SP]


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