「ハンドラー・ワン」 (Handoraa Wan)
Only one way to sum up this week: perfection. Tears were shed; reconciliation had; new outlooks on life achieved; and, oh yes, reunions as introductions for rounding out the arduous struggle featured until this point. It was 86’s climax, and it didn’t miss a beat.
While I could delve hard into some of tangents at work here – whether that be Lena’s redemption at knowing her prior efforts weren’t in vain, the atonement and relief found over Eugene’s death, or even one Annette who also now proudly commits to her new lease on life – I don’t think there’s much need as the pictures speak a thousand words. From the happiness of Ernst to the relief and humorous joy of Shin finally meeting Lena face-to-face, everything teased and everything you could’ve desired here was on proud display. 86 may leave off without a confirmed sequel in the works, but given how great this adaptation turned out and the potential this story offers for more in the future (as some imagery quite bluntly shows), I’m immensely satisfied with what we already have.
Sometimes there’s no greater praise than that of an honest and appreciative smile.
At its core 86 is a deceptively impressive series. It isn’t what one would expect when one thinks of a war anime: Gundam? Less action and political intrigue. Heavy Object? Little in the way of light novel tropes and harem-centric character chemistry and development. Even the more drama-focused likes of SukaSuka or primarily slice-of-life providers in Sora no Woto don’t really compare to what’s under the hood here. At heart 86 is arguably a true war story, a tale focused on its characters more than its overarching world. What it lacks in explosive cinematography it more than makes up for in character exploration and development – and oh what an experience it was.
What makes 86 such a good adaptation for me is without a doubt its pacing. Too often adaptations are hamstrung by committee goals of reaching a certain endpoint or adapting so much material in a given season. 86 in this regard lucked out hard as the writing staff (and animators), whether from permission, personal care and interest, or both, decided to give it the attention to detail needed to let its various plotlines and personalities shine. This mindset went a long way to truly defining the characters at work, from Lena’s own struggles to that of Shin’s regrets and understanding, giving opportunity to both appreciate and understand exactly where the cast was coming from. Small moments of interaction; scenes perceived through the eyes of observers; every little detail that otherwise would be chopped in any other production helped to create a setting where depression, fear, elation, and joy could shine through best and cathartically hit you for the most impact. It’s not to say 86 had the absolute best character backstories or lines of development ever, but rather that it made use of them in the best possible manner and for the greatest possible impact.
The extent of this effective genericity can likewise be felt in 86’s worldbuilding and overall story movement. This isn’t a story specifically about its world and its development: the nature of San Magnolia and Legion’s effects on both it and surrounding states like Giad are simply the premise for exploring the trials, tribulations, and successes of Shin, Spearhead, Lena, and the rest. Such a framework is what largely drives the aforementioned deception at play here and the comments on 86 being boring for some, because unlike say the premises at work in the Gundam universes there isn’t some grand narrative at work, no real changing (or saving) of the world – just a bunch of kids hearing such messages in the context of trying to survive for another day. 86 is in effect inductive storytelling, you read the atmosphere from the experiences of its cast and extrapolate to the broader context of its universe. Boring to some certainly (particularly when it comes the level of action present), yet undeniably fulfilling should you relate, sympathize, or otherwise find interest with its cast of characters. As already stated, 86 is all about its cast for good or ill. Period.
Although I’ll hold to the caveat of saying 86 shouldn’t be treated as the single greatest anime to emerge in recent years (plenty of competitors on that front!), overall this series should stand as testament to just what can be done in anime for such focused storytelling and character-centric stories. All it takes is a bit of love, a little effort, and a budget suitable for the purpose and otherwise “typical” premises can quickly become incredibly impressive and thoughtful series worth every bit praise heaped upon them. For me 86 will rightfully be a key show to compare future adaptations to, and a series which if you haven’t already tried out one you owe yourself to give a shot. This one may not be the immediate life of the party, but goddamn does it have a heart of gold – and you really cannot ask for more.