86 –Eighty-Six–, Vol. 11: Dies Passionis

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

And so we go back to the beginning of the series, and back to the Republic. Honestly, I’m sure many fans would have been perfectly happy to never have to see the republic again. That said, the 86 series is not about giving fans what they want, as the opening epigraph certainly shows. It’s about the horrors of war, what war can do to people as individuals and as a group, and the depths to which people are willing to sink to justify their moral righteousness and cowardice. This book is very well-written, delivering a series of emotional gut-punches. That said, holy Christ, it’s depressing. At the end of this book the entire cast is left wondering what the point of the previous ten books was, and if they’ve really achieved anything whatsoever. It’s a question that I’m asking myself as well. What do I want out of 86? It’s well-written, but is this going to be a “this will go full tragedy and everyone will die” series, or will their be a glimmer of future hope? Signs point to no right now.

The book starts off with bad news right from the get go, as the Legion starts dropping satellites from orbit onto the Federation and its allied countries. Devastation follows, and everyone is forced to retreat from the gains they’d made over the last several books. Oddly, there is one country that did not get bombed from above: the Republic. And now the 86 have perhaps their least appetizing assignment of all: go to the Republic and evacuate everyone. And yes, they’re aware that it’s likely a trap, but what other choice do they have? Needless to say, back in the Republic we are reminded of why we hate the Republic so much, though we also get glimmers of good people just trying their best. Unfortunately, we are also reminded that a lot of Legion soldiers are made up of Former 86. And they REALLY hate the Republic.

The last third of this book should probably have a content warning, as there is mass death and slaughter, with innocents napalmed, butchered, and otherwise murdered in a variety of ways. And this doesn’t even get into the fact that our heroes are there to escort some very reluctant Republican citizens to another country, and grateful is not part of their vocabulary, to the point where Lena has to essentially make herself an even bigger source of hatred to motivate them to not just sit down and die whimpering. By the end of the book, we’re as exhausted as the cast. This is the sort of book where the only thing that will make it feel better is to read the next book in the series. And that’s not out yet in Japan, so expect about a year till we hear from them again.

I don’t want to downplay how this is a very good book. The action is well-written, the emotions are powerful, and the heartbreak is real. It’s just… as with real war, it’s hard not to come out of it wondering why you’re here at all.

86 –Eighty-Six–, Vol. 10: Fragmental Neoteny

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

First of all: yes, it’s a short story collection. And, for the most part, it’s entirely about Shin, so if you’re looking for the others, well, you’ll only get them as we get closer to the end of the book. These stories are meant to fill in a bit of the gap between Shin being sent off t war and where we joined his story in the first volume. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Isn’t this just an excuse to write a bunch of grimdark stuff where people are nice to Shin and then die horribly?” And hey, that’s just rude. There are also people that are mean and nasty to Shin who die horribly. That said, I was pleased that not EVERY story in this volume ended with the entire cast dead except for Shin… but most of them do. That said, it’s an excellent look into Shin’s mind, and into how he got to be the person he is today, even though everything but the final story and a few interludes takes place just after the events of the first volume.

The stories show us a freshly recruited Shin, already going far too hard into everything he can, being worried after by his commanding officer Alice; Shin being used as a scapegoat to attract the hatred of the rest of the unit so that it doesn’t spread to others; Shin getting the help of the mechanics to save a scavenger he found that seems to have a mind of its own; Shin discussing the nature of the afterlife with his comrades, as well as coming up with the handle of Undertaker; The Spearhead Squadron’s daily life just before they got Lena as their handler; and Shin, Raiden, Theo, Kurena and Anju marching off to their deaths, only to find that there is still life worth living out there, however dangerous and difficult.

I’ve left out two stories which are the best of this group. The story of Fido, told in several parts, is deeply heartwarming and tearjerking at the same time, and also gives us a much closer look at shin’s family before everything went to hell. Fido’s backstory is a revelation that will put a smile on most people’s faces, I think. The other interesting story is the final one, which appears to be a shared dream between Annette and Shin showing us what life would have been like if they really had managed to find unmanned units to fight the war for the Republic, and Shin and the others could have a normal life. It’s deeply bittersweet, and requires remembering what everyone looks like to get the most out of it (the main cast appears, but dream Shin doesn’t know who they re, so we only see their description), but it also shows us a Shin who regrets a lot of things but is ready to move forward. It’s a Shin prepared for the end of the series, which the author assures us is coming soon.

to sum up: this is how you do a short story volume. We get a lot more about Shin here, some backstory that wouldn’t really fit elsewhere, and yes, a lot of dead people. Come on, it’s still 86.

86 –Eighty-Six–, Vol. 9: Valkyrie Has Landed

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

There is an awful lot going on in this volume of 86, but we have to start by talking about Kurena, who pretty much owns this book. When we last saw her at the end of Book 8, she was in a very bad place, her screw-up having cost lives, and throughout this book we see her fragile psyche try to recover from it. She’s grasping for a renewed purpose, which for the most part in previous books has been “Shin”, but now that she’s finally acknowledged that he’s in love with Lena she needs something else. It could be the war – after all, getting back her mojo and becoming the best sniper of all the 86 is certainly something that would be an excellent goal for this book. But, as she realizes to her growing horror, having something war-related as a goal is not cutting it anymore. It’s not what the others are doing. They’re all trying to END the war, to find a future that does not involve constantly fighting the Legion. And I’m gonna be honest, that nearly breaks her.

Our core unit that we’ve known since the first book is now down a member, as Theo is forced to retire from military service, something that he tries to cope with over the course of the book. As for the rest of the group, they’re all headed to The Holy Theocracy of Noiryanaruse, a country whose religion and military needs have combined in a disturbing way, and whose general is an odd mix of high priestess and idol singer. Several countries are sending units to try to take care of the Noctiluca, the Legion’s main weapon from the previous book, which has settled in a ruined and ash-filled area of the Theocracy. The battle will be tricky. The ash turns out to be very hard to navigate in, the entire plan hinges on a sniper who’s having a crisis of faith, and, most importantly, when you combine several countries to try to achieve a task, they may not always be on the same page – or even in the same book.

As usual, the bulk of the back half of this book consists of a large battle, which I can’t really review except to say “hey, nice combat, 5 stars!”. So I’ll go back to 86’s core theme, which is that war is terrible, the idea of “constant war” is an easy one to slip into, and that to prevent that everyone needs SOMETHING that they can think of doing when this war finally ends – because otherwise it never will. Shin has Lena, Anju has Dustin, Raiden… will be getting a book to himself soon, I expect, and this entire book is about Kurena’s journey to find a purpose in life. As for Theo, while I doubt we’ve seen the last of him, I suspect we’re going to see him about as often as we do Annette (who does show up here to rally his morale). His future is not in battle, much to his dismay. As for the war itself, our heroes are faced with actually having to fight soldiers who are not Legion… and they hate it.

This feels like we’re headed towards a grand finale, but we’re not there yet. Nevertheless, this is a fine entry in a very fine series.