86-Eighty-Six: The War Claims More Lives as Shin and Lena Grow Closer

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for 86-Eighty-Six Episode 2, “Spearhead,” now streaming on Crunchyroll.

After the 86-Eighty-Six premiere introduced much of San Magnolian government's racial discrimination and persecution of the 86, Episode 2 establishes more about the war they're forced to fight – and the autonomous machines they're constantly up against. Lena's sympathy for the 86's plight is shared by precious few others, but as their new Handler she's determined to do all she can to help them survive.

Away from battle, Lena is building a kinship with Shin thanks to nightly talks via the Para-raid – a neck-based device that allows users to speak as well as feel each other's emotions. It's not revealed what they've spoken about, but while the rest of his Squadron continues to deride Lena as another spoiled rich girl of the patriarchy, there are signs that the stoic Shin feels differently.

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A new chapter in the war begins as the Legion launches its latest assault, including various machine types such as Grauwolfs and Lowes, both of which have stronger guns than their Juggernaut counterparts. Typical of the Republic's half-hearted-at-best efforts to aid the 86 on the battlefield, the Juggernauts are poorly designed and outdated by comparison. The armor is thinner, cracks easily, and many of the Spearhead Squadron's machines have unrepaired holes in them.

Their biggest advantage, however, is their resident expert fighter, navigator, and commander in Shin. He captains the Spearhead Squadron with cool, calm instructions and battle strategies that their autonomous Legion foes cannot anticipate. This is juxtaposed by the complete abandon with which Shin pilots his own Juggernaut. He uses moves that would be suicidal for anyone else, jumping directly onto the enemy's back or using speed to sneak just inside a Lowe's enormous machine gun. The ever-earnest Lena does her best to aid Shin and the Squadron, but they know the battlefield better than her and continue operating with their own strategy. Still, she's humble and cedes to their expertise – and Shin's advice – while watching over them from afar.

A further reveal comes when Lena is asked to speak to a military school's history class. It's filled with teenagers from the 85 private districts who will soon join the war effort but, like Lena, will have roles safely away from the battlefield. San Magnolia's textbooks claim the Legion – originally designed as weapons of war by the Empire of Giad – became fully autonomous and wiped out their human creators years ago. However, these machines' runtime only lasts 50,000 hours, so the Republic only has to survive two more years and the war will end. Along with most San Magnolians viewing the 86 as subhuman, this belief that the Legion will simply shut down in two years helps explain the Republic's lazy, often standoffish attitude toward the war effort. Whether any of these claims are actually true is another matter.

In her unfailing determination to aid the 86, Lena steps up her efforts to get to know them as people, asking about their futures and what they want to do after the war ends. They don't have an answer because, sadly, all they've known for many years is war, loss, and the knowledge that they will eventually die on the battlefield. Shin carries perhaps the biggest burden of all – every time one of his Squadron members dies, he takes a small piece of their Juggernaut and carves the soldier's name into it. It's the lone reminder that, despite the San Magnolian media's claims there are no human casualties in this war, Shin and the 86 still carry their fallen comrades with them.

The long-persecuted 86 don't yet trust Lena, believing she's just another “white pig” who will eventually quit on them, but Shin is quietly appreciative of her efforts and seems to enjoy their nightly chats. It may be a tiny step in the grand scheme of the war and 86-Eighty-Six's discriminatory world, but Lena is beginning to bridge the gap between herself and at least one of her faraway comrades.

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