「本当の名前を」 (Hontou no Namae o)
Well, not sure we can say it’s starting off on the right foot, but it’s sure starting off anew. Probably to no one’s surprise this episode is arguably the true start of 86 and the beginning of the real fun and games. The 86ers have established the ground rules, Lena has had a chance to recalibrate her approach, and both sides can now get properly back to the chaos of war. Or in other words, realize the suffering waiting in the wings.
Given how strongly Lena’s convictions last week were called out and pulled through the wringer, it was quite nice seeing how the complexity of her beliefs was now tackled in the follow up. Much as discussed here and elsewhere, Lena was very much naïve, ignorant, and arrogant: she thought the 86 as human when no one else would, but still failed to actually see them as such through her actions. It all came across to others as an unctuous way to absolve the guilt she as an Alba felt, something both her uncle and Henrietta wasted little politeness in getting across. While her uncle in particular might be somewhat incorrect in impossibility of ideals (never reaching them doesn’t mean you can never get asymptotically close to them), successfully fighting for those ideals will take more than what Lena thought they required. Lena may not have to go the distance as Theo’s previous Alban commander once did, yet names alone are just the first step on a long path she must walk if she truly wants to start making a difference.
As for the 86ers, it’s also not so cut and dry. Theo’s remarks sparking this debate are (as should be unsurprising given the above) not ubiquitous across the rest of Spearhead; Theo’s squad mates may see nothing in common with Lena and the other Alba, but they do recognize that the Alba are not monolithic in outlook. Such understanding, however, doesn’t mean they want to grow closer to Lena now that her intentions are fully in the open. As highlighted repeatedly both in the show and these posts the life of an 86er is one of a solider where they could die at any time. To build deep and lasting relationships would only risk harsher and more intense pain when those individuals could disappear in an instant. This is why you not only see them keeping Lena at a mental distance, but also San Magnolia’s military bureaucracy also keeping 86er records classified (albeit probably more to prevent any concerted questioning and criticism of how 86ers are treated). Lena’s heart may be in the right place, but this quintessential lesson of war is still lost on her and likely will keep being lost until she grows desensitized to the inevitable casualties or finally breaks from the pain.
I’m not sure I know which one of those outcomes to place my money on, but I’d wager we’ll get a better idea once we find out just how well Lena and Shin already know each other.
Although done in part for the pathos and catharsis, it’s always ironic for me hearing casualty rates in any modern war story (whether fictional or real). Modern sensibilities have us see five hundred or so deaths over five years as horrific, yet to be brutally frank that’s a negligible amount and well within acceptable military attrition limits. When armies can easily number in the hundreds of thousands, you never really damage an opponent until you’re extirpating thousands of them from the battlefield with every major engagement.