86-Eighty-Six’s First Major Death Lacks the Light Novel’s Emotional Punch

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for 86-Eighty-Six Episode 3, “I Don't Want to Die,” now streaming on Crunchyroll.

The first two episodes of 86-Eighty-Six established the Republic of San Magnolia's longtime racial discrimination and persecution of the 86, and how the government forced them to defend their country against the autonomous machines known as the Legion. Now, Episode 3 focuses on the Spearhead Squadron's lives away from all the fighting, and Lena's progress in building a relationship with them.

That is, until everything changes when the 86's next battle ends with the Spearhead Squadron's first significant death. However, the anime portrays the scene somewhat differently from its source material. While it's an understandable change, it ultimately misses the shocking emotional effect readers got from the light novel.

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In any war-driven anime, a lighthearted episode that shows the soldiers having fun and forgetting their troubles for a bit is usually ominous – and so it proves here. The first half gives important screen time to Shin's closest comrades, such as Daiya, Kaie, Kurena, Raiden and more. Unfortunately, 23 minutes isn't quite enough to truly connect with all these characters, especially since they all go by two separate names – their regular names and their codenames on the battlefield.

There are some laughs as Daiya and Theo spy on the girls playing in the river and inevitably get busted. It's also established that the quick-tempered and easily flustered Kurena has a crush on Shin and isn't pleased about his nightly chats with Lena. It also shows Kurena's own prejudice, judging all Alba (Lena's race) as “white pigs” and refusing to acknowledge Lena's kindness. But a quick transition to the 86's next battle – and a fatal mistake from Lena – shifts the episode dramatically.

Lena, a Major in the San Magnolian army known to Shin and the others as Handler One, is one of the precious few who cares about the 86's plight and is determined to help them despite her distant role. She's an idealist, believing the more she and her subordinates talk and connect, the more she can help them in battle and bridge the many gaps, literal and metaphorical, that separate them. With Annette's help, Lena finds some hidden maps that, for reasons unknown, are classified information. Lena takes them anyway, intending to use her enhanced knowledge of the terrain to aid the 86 against the Legion.

As usual, Shin's mysterious ability to “hear” the Legion's movements means he and the Spearhead Squadron already have their own plan. However, Shin also likes Lena's idea: to use Kaie and her Juggernaut as an elevated decoy while the rest of the Squadron attacks the Legion from elsewhere. It's a good strategy in theory as this particular Legion machine, the Lowe, struggles to fire its guns at higher areas. However, Lena didn't have time to fully study the maps, which reveal a hidden marsh in Kaie's area. Her Juggernaut gets stuck and, softly muttering the words of Episode 3's title – “I don't want to die” – her life is taken.

Unfortunately, none of this is actually seen on screen. Whereas the light novel puts the reader directly in Kaie's mind, the anime portrays the entire scene from Lena's point of view far away. All we see is her stunned face and the monitors she's staring at, which shows her soldiers' names and a digital picture of the battlefield, but no actual people. The change isn't without merit though – especially with what happens next.

The toll it takes on her comrades is just as powerful, maybe even more so than the novel. As a distraught Lena tries to apologize for Kaie's death, Theo unloads on her in a furious lengthy tirade. The 86 don't want to hear her apologies from her command center safely tucked away from the battlefield. They don't want to hear idealist fantasies from an Alba who has never suffered in her life. They especially don't want to hear that she cares about them – when she's never even asked their real names.

86-Eighty-Six Episode 3 teaches Lena some hard lessons about herself, her naively romantic ideals, and the life she's led up to this point. Showing the entire battle from Lena's point of view – a set of lifeless monitors from a distant location – succeeds in making Theo's rage even more powerful. Unfortunately, it also removes the light novel's heavy emotional effect of Kaie's death.

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