86 –Eighty-Six–, Vol. 8: Gun Smoke on the Water

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

As expected, after last volume’s romantic comedy shenanigans, we’re back to normal service with this volume of 86. Oh sure, the aftermath of Shin and Lena is still hanging around, and needless to say, the reader wants to strangle Lena. Don’t expect resolution in this book, though, because instead our heroes join up with a group of countries who normally try to avoid the threat of massive sea monsters, but sadly the Legion have proven to be even more dangerous to them, and finally, after ten years of slowly getting destroyed, they’re forced to call other nations for help. On the bright side, this means everyone gets to see the sea! On the down side, the sea is not really the gorgeous blue Mediterranean they had expected, but more of a cold Norway-style sea. What’s more, thanks to the cliffhanger from last time, there is a possibility that the end of the war could be in sight. Which means… thinking past the war. This proves difficult for some, especially Theo, the focus of this book.

I’m not great at remembering character appearances in this series beyond Shin and Lena, so when the cover art to Vol. 8 came out, I joked that 86 was crossing over with Isekai Quartet. But no, that’s not Tanya on the cover, it’s Theo, and he’s not having a good time. Several of the 86 are doing a much better job than he is at imagining a future for themselves that does not involve constant war and battle. He’s still haunted by the death of his former captain. And the Island Nations folks are weighing heavily on him, as they’ve thrown away their pride in order to protest what’s left of their people against the Legion. Given the 86 are supposedly left with nothing BUT pride, this baffles Theo. Fortunately, about 3/4 of this book is a huge sea battle against an unstoppable enemy that always looks dead but isn’t, with the potential for everyone to die horribly. So no change there, then.

As you might gather, the battles are excellent, but I can’t really say a lot about them, as military fighting novels are not my metier. Indeed, it’s still surprising how much I follow this series given that it hits a lot of my “no thanks” buttons, and it’s credit to the author. There is a Situation towards the end which deeply affects a number of the main cast, and while the reader has no doubt that all will be well, it does allow for some additional character development to be pulled off very well. That said… look, I’ve been waiting for another major cast member to die since Book 1, and have been very surprised it didn’t happen. And, spoiler, it doesn’t happen here either. That said, death is not the only way to leave a fight, and also not the only way to winnow down a cast. I suspect the majority of the 9th book is going to be dealing with the 86 having to cope with the events in this book.

So yes, fans should be pleased with Gun Smoke on the Water, despite an annoying lack of Frank Zappa and the Mothers. Will the war end anytime soon? I’m guessing no, but small steps is fine.

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