The Republic of San Magnolia was at war against the Giadian Empire and had been for multiple years. They were proud to announce that they had suffered zero casualties whatsoever, but the truth was far darker than that.
At the surface level, the war looked like a little more than a battle between machines, which was partly true. The Giadian Empire’s forces were entirely autonomous battle vehicles. Meanwhile, the Republic’s were piloted by what was known as the Eighty-Six, a name derived from their habitat in the eighty-sixth sector outside the city walls. They did indeed suffer casualties, which raises the question of why the Alba in the Republic would say otherwise.
The answer was simple. The Alba were fair-skinned and silver-haired. The Eighty-Six were not. The latter was deemed subhuman and thus they didn’t count as human casualties. With few exceptions, the Alba sat protected in their city and lived in luxury, totally oblivious to the struggles outside their walls — not that they would likely care.
Among the Eighty-Six is the Spearhead Squadron, composed of only the best soldiers that the Eighty-Six could muster. Simply put, they refused to die. They are led by Shinei Nouzen (Codename: Undertaker), a mysterious man who keeps a tub of stones with the names of his fallen comrades carved on them. His goal runs deeper than just surviving; his brother hides somewhere within the Empire, and Shin wants him dead. His main supporters are Anju Emma (Snow Witch), Raiden Shuga (Wehrwolf), Kurena Kukumila (Gunslinger) and Theoto Rikka (Laughing Fox). They all have their reasons to hate the Alba who trapped them on the battlefield, but they also have their own reasons to push forward and survive.
Enter Vladilena (Lina) Milizé, an Alba assigned to be Spearhead’s new handler after they had driven away their previous three. She knows the horrors that the government keeps quiet, and she is shunned by her peers for being a sympathizer to the Eighty-Six. Still, her range of influence as an Alba within the Republic is limited, which she has to come to terms with.
Thus the story of Eighty-Six begins with a group of battle-hardened veterans and someone who desires nothing more than to save them. It is a masterfully crafted story that hides intrigue and mystery within the guise of a battle shounen anime. The hints are everywhere, and the show might be entirely predictable if you know what to look for.
Lena is an impeccable character who actively stands up for the rights of the Eighty-Six despite constant pushback from Alba leadership. But realistically, what can she do to help while hiding within the Republic’s walls?
All of the Spearhead are also fantastic characters. The motherly Anju, the spiteful Theoto, the carefree Raiden and the slightly naïve Kurena have a dynamic that simply cannot be replicated. The way their relationship ebbs and flows is written so incredibly well. Of course, they revolve around Shin, the undisputed leader of the group and best soldier that the Eighty-Six could ever hope to muster. He is nigh unkillable and never lets anybody see what’s truly on his mind. Watching the others try to pick his brain as things slowly become clear is a truly pleasant experience.
The show is also supported by none other than Hiroyuki Sawano, one of the all-time greats in music composition. Responsible for his iconic work in Aldnoah.Zero, Kill la Kill, Attack on Titan and others, his influence is easy to recognize. It’s almost like A-1 Pictures crafts the animation around the music, as opposed to the other way around. Most importantly, the show carries itself with what feels like extreme confidence. Like it knows that the story is worth telling and is going to be fun to watch, and it never questions that fact.
And most importantly, it works! Eighty-Six is an incredible anime from characters to tone and maintains a steady level of excellence throughout its 11 episodes. In a stacked Spring 2021 anime season, Eighty-Six still came out well ahead of everybody else and is a must-watch for anime fans. It is currently available on Crunchyroll.