How would you rate episode 3 of
It's incredibly common for anime to start strong and then flounder by the time it reaches Episode 3. It's why there's a widely accepted “Three Episode Rule” after all. Studios will go all out for the premiere, having the series director draw storyboards and the screenwriter present everything that's appealing about the show early on. But this episode continues to demonstrate 86's strengths, cementing it as one of the most well-crafted series this season.
At this point, we've been made aware of the complexities of the world and how the dynamic between the people of San Magnolia and the 86s formed. Therefore, this episode serves to introduce us to the members of Spearhead Squadron as individuals, rather than just as a unit. It keeps up the established structure of only showing one side of this relationship at a time. In this episode, the first half is with Spearhead Squadron, while the second half is back with Lena.
After a brief teaser of the trauma yet to come, 86 employs the time-tested tradition of letting us get to know the characters while they're bathing. It follows all the familiar beats: Girls teasing each other about which boy they like, boys peeking in on them (one has to be reluctant) and the resulting non-lethal rock pelting. If anything, it's the anime's reminder to us that this is a light novel adaptation, after all. Although what stood out the most during this scene is the episode's surprisingly impressive character animation that remains consistent throughout.
I still haven't quite memorized everyone's names, but I can tell you something about each of them. The following scene sees the crew talking to Lena over their Para-RAIDs, but they're all doing their own thing, whether it is playing cards, working on a crossword puzzle, or drawing vigorously. It's clear that they each have their own impression of Lena, with some warming to her while others irritated by her voice. It should have been a boring scene to watch, but it isn't. It also doesn't play out like a usual anime conversation, because we only see the perspective from one side.
The purpose becomes clear around the halfway point and it's an excellent example of how the show is capable of telling different stories at the same time through its dialogue and directing. After retaining a map, we see the same conversation play out from Lena's perspective. But unlike the Spearhead unit, she's alone. For two minutes, we just stare at a single shot of her as she sits at her desk speaking through an earpiece. It wouldn't work if not for the captivating animation, but more importantly, it shows how cold her life is in comparison. After several long-shots, we see a flurry of close-ups when she's confronted by the team for her naïve outlook. She feels exposed, which the camera highlights to great effect.
86 isn't just a compelling story. It's great filmmaking. The episode ends by showing us how the battles look from Lena's perspective. Without the cool 3D mechs, all that's left is a few tense blinking lights on a screen. And with the death of a comrade on her hands, Lena is left vulnerable while Theo rips into her. Nothing will be the same after this.
86 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Callum is the host and creator of the YouTube channel The Canipa Effect where he explores topics within the anime industry. He also serves as Video Editor at OTAQUEST, discussing the art and creation of Japanese pop culture. You can also find him talking nonsense on Twitter.