The country of San Magnolia is in war with an entity called “Legion”, automated robot tanks from an Empire which lost control over them. In order to counter them, the Republic had to develop their own unmaned drone, that is, denying people of their humanity.
I picked Eighty-Six just because some people would recommend it. I didn’t know the author Asato Asato, but I’m always curious about new LN. I actually wanted to write this review earlier, but the end of volume 2 ended on a cliffhanger. Now with 3 volumes, I get the feeling that Eighty-Six has shown its full potential. In Japan, there is currently 7 volumes, and it has received the 23rd Dengeki Novel Award grand prize.
The title is just a number, a number designating a sector of the Republic of San Magnolia, a republic of multiple ethnicity, with an historic majority of Alba. People of that sector eighty-six were a minority, the Colorata, and came from the Empire of Giad, responsible for the Legion. When the war started the republic enacted laws to strip them of their rights as humans, calling them pigs in human form and spread racial hatred against them. They just became numbers, but not on the casualty count of the battles ironically. If you look at a dictionary, eighty-six is also slang for “to reject”
This LN is light in category only. It deals with war and its nastiness. Death is often evoked, when it’s not claiming victims. And racism is portrayed with intensity. Depending on your sensibility, it may seem exaggerated, or dramatised, but reality often exceeds fiction. It actually does nowadays as there is a big return of broad daylight discrimination. Eighty-six is very forward in putting racism into light in raw form, especially in volume 1. Volume 2-3 are more subtle about discriminations.
The story starts with Shinei “Undertaker” Nouzen, a boy who was on the battlefield before he was even a teenager. Having fought countless battles, he has become the captain of his own squadron of named pilots, the Spearhead. His past and bloodline will drive the story for all 3 volumes. Volume 2-3 also show how twisted and tormented he has been by war. And I believe I can’t say much more without spoiling. Shin is a dark protagonist. Code name “Undertaker”, his subordinates calling him “Reaper”, he just deals with death. Stoic, he is one of few words and rather cold. He is not depressive, but it may affect us readers. Hopefully, he will grow over the volume, in search of his purpose in life.
The second main character is, Major Vladilena “Lena” Milizé, a 16 years old Celena girl of noble heritage. She becomes the Handler of the Spearhead squadron at the beginning of the story. Unlike the other military officers and people of the Republic, she is against the eighty-six treatment as she was inspired by her dad who viewed them favorably. In that aspect, she is an idealist, with the naivety that comes with age. She also takes her job seriously, which at first will be annoying Shin as no other Handler cared to actually read his reports so he just copy pasted them. But she is also able to help them with data, even infringing some military laws. First volume is really how both of these world apart characters can get along and help each other on the battlefield, despite walls and all their differences in races, status, places, roles.
The world is one of futuristic fantasy. The Republic has built a great wall with its citizen in its confine, and the eighty-six outside to defend it, landmines and guns pointed at their back. Lena can communicate with the squadron using her Para RAID device, a device allowing them to share senses with her and vice versa. The eighty-six have mechas called Juggernaut. Design wise, they are insectoid tanks, close to spiders. The Legion does seem to share design. Not much is given as explanations on how all of this work, so it’s not really science fiction. Moreover, the surnatural is present in this world, so yes, it definitely is more fantasy in my mind.
The world is also kept simple, with a Republic, Empire, Federacy, and some more forms of states. Names are derivative from our languages. The Republic’s capital is called “Liberté et égalité”, 2/3 of France’s national moto. It’s even expanded with justice and nobility. San Magnolia has some Spanish note, and characters have Japanese name. Lots of weapon have German name. Are there any parallels to draw? I don’t know what are the intentions of the authors on that end. Allusion to some country during World War II or today? If you do feel offended for this, then you may be part of the problem, and no, I have more than 1 country in mind. Though it probably has more to do with the fact that foreign words sounds cooler in any languages. For characters, the author may have wanted to keep them Japanese sounding, like Vladilena becoming Lena so that it’s easier to spell/pronounce.
First volume is half from Lena point of view, and another half from Shin. This bring a balance between the 2. Lena brighten a tiny bit the story with her optimism in that dark oppressive society and war. As volume 1 finishes on a timeskip, volume 2-3 aims to fill this gap, mostly from Shin’s point of view. The balance is toppled, but the context changes, avoiding the ruthless environment of volume 1, and making all the characters more inquisitive about themselves.
Narration in this LN is incredible. At time reflective, at time slow, at time fast. It’s rhythmic, adapted to the unfolding events. At time beautiful, with detailed, vivid imaged descriptions. Perspective alternates between the 2 main characters with some of their internal thoughts. It also switches time periods without warning. Reader’s awareness is primordial as no words are wasted on futility. I needed some higher level of concentration at time to understand unlike some other more simplistic LN narration. Overall, it’s a fully controlled orchestra capable of delivering all octaves just as the author wishes.
Illustrations are also noteworthy. Shiirabi who also worked on Ryuou is responsible for the character illustrations. Volume 1 has coloured illustration of military tone. Colour contrast between Shin and Lena is even more pronounced alongside careful opposite posing. Black and white illustrations started with volume 1 to be inserted at rather standard LN moments, but later, they just integrates with the general atmosphere of the LN to enhance the narration. Mecha illustration by I-IV are also featured, giving the insectoid mecha life. They are very detailed and worth the thousand words it would need the reader to even have a glimpse in mind. The author must like mechas, but while she does add lots of detail about them, they are clearly not the main aspect nor draw for mecha fan.
Eighty-six is an excellent and unique LN. It deals with heavy societal topics in depth which is unusual for a LN. Understandably, this could also generate a lot backlash if handled poorly, but the author has enough tacts to do this properly. Fictions helps in avoiding on stepping on other peoples’ toes. Past that, it’s about war and the characters who have to fight them. Volume 2-3 are character development with an interesting believable look at the psyche of child soldiers. So yes, I highly recommend these books.
There is a manga which I checked some chapters. It’s too early to say that it follows the LN adequately, but it’s definitely easier to read.
Author: Asato Asato Twitter
Mechanical design: I-IV