WARNING: The following contains spoilers for 86-Eighty-Six Episode 7, “Will You Remember Me?” now streaming on Crunchyroll.
86-Eighty-Six's plot is built on the Republic of San Magnolia's persecution of its own people and forcing them into war against a neighboring nation's autonomous and deadly mecha machines. In other words, the 86 are surrounded by enemies on all sides. Episode 7, however, reveals why they are really forced to fight -- and it's even worse than simply defending their incorrigible nation.
In the wake of more significant casualties against the Legion, the Spearhead Squadron's numbers are dwindling fast. Lena, their Handler, continues trying desperately to secure reinforcements – apparently even bribing her superiors with gifts -- but remains unsuccessful. Her own soldiers, however, realize the time has come to tell Lena the truth: there will be no aid, ever.
Despite the 86's hatred of the Alba, their persecutors, Shin and the others have generally come to like Lena and appreciate her efforts and care -- even if she's unable to do much to help them fight. Their previous Handlers either didn't care or laughed outright when an 86 soldier died in battle. Lena, however, is deeply affected by every death she experiences.
She does manage to sneak them a giant case of fireworks -- disguised as “special ammunition” -- to celebrate the ironically named Revolution Festival. This allows the 86 a chance to mourn their fallen friends and comrades -- Daiya, Lecca, Kaie and many more -- in their own way. Because their respect for Lena has grown, they reveal to her why she's been unable to secure them aid for future battles against the Legion. It's neither a mistake nor laziness by the San Magnolia government. Rather, it's genocide.
Shin and the Spearhead Squadron are among the oldest and longest-serving 86 who are still alive. They've been moved to District 1 -- the most dangerous territory of the entire battlefield -- to consistently fight against the most advanced and lethal Legion mechas. The Republic fears the most skilled 86 leading a rebellion against them one day, so they're purposely placed in battles with near-impossible survival odds so they can die. The government will only send in new soldiers after the entire Spearhead Squadron has been killed.
Naturally, Lena is horrified and can't understand why the 86 even bother going to war. If they're going to die anyway, why not just let the Legion invade the Republic so their abusers will go down with them? Raiden, Shin's closest friend and second-in-command, says they strive to be better than that. Despite their situation, they know not all Alba are evil. Shin was raised by an Alba priest who spoke out against the government's behavior, while Raiden himself was cared for by a kind elderly Alba when he was a child. Even if the 86's only certainty in life is death, they can still fight for their pride and for each other. Dying on their own terms is the only genuine choice they have.
More than once, Episode 7 features a gorgeous classically inspired piano piece, juxtaposed with heavily emotional dialogue. After revealing the full scope of their plight, Shin asks Lena for a single favor: to remember them. Shin carries the names of every single fallen comrade he's ever known, but what about when he dies? Aside from his dead brother's mind remaining inside a Legion foe, he has no family left and the few people he cares about will soon die as well. If nothing else, he'd like at least one person, Lena, to keep them in her heart and memory.
With her nation's government executing this genocidal plot against its own soldiers, is there anything Lena can possibly do to save the 86 from their fate? With no aid coming for the Spearhead Squadron, 86-Eighty-Six's ultimate breaking point is surely coming soon.