CONTENT WARNING: 86 – Eighty-Six and this review cover themes of fantasy racism, war, and child soldiers.
This knockout installment in the 86 – Eighty-Six light novel series brings the team to a drastically different location, thus expanding the world and cast of the series. This is far from a series for everyone, and those interested are advised to be cautious due to the heavy nature, and sometimes rocky execution, of the subject matter. However, if someone is interested in light novels, these are definitely engrossing. 86 – Eighty-Six is written by Asato Asato, with illustrations by Shirabii, and mechanical design by I-IV. The English edition of Volume 5 is published by Yen Press and translated by Roman Lempert.
After a harrowing discovery in the last mission, the Eighty-Sixth Strike Package’s next task is to partner with forces in the snowy United Kingdom. The country’s forces are under extreme pressure in humanity’s war with AI mechanical monsters, Legion. Here, they meet Prince Vika, known as the King of Corpses, and his all-female attack squadron, the Sirins. They soon discover a horrifying truth about the Sirins, which puts Shin and the rest of the Eighty-Six’s way of life into question. On top of trying to survive the robot forces of the Legion, Lena and Shin are trying to reconcile their conflicting feelings.
Make no mistake, this is a dark series, but even amid all of the death it still manages to keep its heart by focusing on the characters. These are teenagers, wise beyond their years, and their origin as forced child soldiers is heartbreaking, as is their decision to continue fighting even after being “freed” because the battlefield is the only thing they know. The moments of awkward romance feel less forced and more of a comedic reminder that these characters are still teens, they just have never been allowed to imagine a life for themselves outside war. That is the core of this book and what makes it so compelling.
While Lena can at times uncomfortably fall into the “white savior” trope, the series has done a decent job calling her out on her guilt. Readers are reminded that Shin and his friends don’t want pity. However, Asato also allows for painful growth. While Lena may not understand, she isn’t entirely wrong in her observations when she wants to connect with Shin. Him coming to terms with how he values himself is heartbreaking. His relationship with Lena is sweet, and the slow burn is welcome because they truly have just met. These are characters that have spoken over comms in war but have never actually truly met until recently.
Take this positivity with a grain of salt. While this book is arguably the strongest installment in the franchise since the first, overall the series’ more rocky elements may rightly be a turn off to some readers. The pitfalls of portraying fantasy racism are there. Most of the fantasy races seem to be determined by hair and eye color (jewel tones are common) and the few illustrations don’t do much to indicate skin color. Where 86 – Eighty-Six arguably does better than others embarking on fantasy racism, is Asato’s complete lack of subtlety. The palest silver-haired and silver-eyed Albas are the Eighty-Six’s oppressors and often referred to as “white pigs.” They aren’t heavily present in this volume due to the previous events, but the trauma inflicted on Shin and his friends will never be erased. Asato is extremely blunt in the condemnation of fascism and war. Whether this is entirely successful or too detracting from the individual journeys of the characters will vary for each reader.
There are also a few confusing inconsistencies. As mentioned above, the story appears to be set in a fantasy realm or an alternate universe. All the countries are different (even though one is named the United Kingdom), and the big bad is AI mechanical monsters. Yet, there are a few odd references to historical war tactics from our world (i.e. Greek Fire) that felt out of place and took me out of the story.
Overall, especially with the announced anime adaptation, I do recommend the 86 – Eighty-Six light novel series, just with caveats and content warnings. Volume 5: Death, Be Not Proud proved the series’ strength as a character-driven war drama, and showed Asato has more up their sleeve for everyone involved as the world continues to expand for the young fighters.
86 – Eighty-Six Volume 5: Death, Be Not Proud is available now wherever books are sold.
86 - Eighty-Six Volume 5: Death, Be Not Proud
I recommend the 86 – Eighty-Six light novel series, just with caveats and content warnings. Volume 5: Death, Be Not Proud proved the series strength as a character-driven war drama, and showed Asato has more up their sleeve for everyone involved.