86 –Eighty-Six–, Vol. 4: Under Pressure

By Asato Asato and Shirabii. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Roman Lempert.

The author brags about how this volume of 86 is much lighter in tone than the previous three, and I guess that’s true? Certainly the first quarter of the book makes a determined effort to be amusing, sweet and heartwarming in turns, with the only big drama being the arrival of Annette and her realization that her childhood friend Shin does not recall her at all, which makes atoning for her guilt rather difficult. Lena and Shin are VERY shippy here, despite the fact that Shin has difficulty getting that sort of thing. Frederica and Kurena play the part of the wacky jealous not-girlfriends to a T. But there is a plot here, which leads to the battle and action sequences, and that’s when the reader realizes that even in the lightest of 86 novels, things are still going to take a turn for the very dark, as we find out exactly what the Legion has been doing all this time, and how hard it’s going to be to defeat them going forward.

After the two-volume interqual, Lena is finally reunited with her former team, and she’s brought friends, as we add to the cast a great deal of the 86 who were fighting with her after Shin and company left and ended up in the Federation. Things are… still not great in terms of the Republic. In fact, they’re still monstrously bad, with lots of “give us back our animals they are not people” racism from their side – 86 has never been subtly about such things, and that doesn’t change here. Unfortunately, just because Lena (and Annette) have reunited with Shin doesn’t mean things are going to be happily ever after. Leaving the Legion aside, it’s pointed out that the 86 have had to cut away everything that is not related to battle in order not to go mad. If Lena wants them to regain that, she’ll just be forcing them to feel the unbearable pain again. Can she live with that? And as for Annette, isn’t this all just about her?

The second two-thirds of the book are an extended battle against the Legion in an underground subway complex with shopping mall attachment, which is annoying to our heroes as their powered suits don’t function as well there. The fight introduces a new variety of bad guy to the stage, and they’re pretty lethal right up front, taking out all of Annette’s bodyguards and almost managing to kill Shin. The exact nature of how they came to be, as well as how the Legion used the republic to get to that stage, I shall briefly gloss over except to say that it was disturbing and also disgusting. It’s well-written, though I was a bit annoyed by the return of the Legion with Kaie in them to taunt our heroes. We already got a sequence where they destroy the possessed Legion and seemingly send her to the afterlife properly, I didn’t need it all over again.

Future cover art makes me think the lighter tone will stick around, and none of the named cast that we remember died here, so in that respect this is a bit of a breather novel in the series. It’s also extremely well-written as always. Fans of the 86 won’t be disappointed.

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