[Anime News Network] “The Enemy Within in the War of 86”

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Non-management: Japan is fairly experienced with writing anti-war stories, given the devastation it suffered in the Pacific War and the pacifism it adopted afterwards. It isn’t so experienced with writing about ethnic and race relations, which is a larger reflection of the Japanese considering their nation a mostly homogenous community. The truth of the country’s “homogenity” is, like with a lot of things, more complicated than that, but that characterization does spare Japan from the public agitation that seems to always rage in more multicultural and multiracial societies like the US. At the same time though, that homogenous identity has tended to make Japan more silent and tonedeaf towards peoples who don’t quite look and act like the average Japanese.

The country has been infamous for its reluctance to publicly admit (and even refusal to acknowledge) the discriminatory attitudes and policies it adopted during this same Pacific War. Whereever Imperial Japan conquered back then, the Japanese saw its subjugated peoples as unenlightened and inferior. This imagined substandardness justified to the Japanese them treating these peoples as exploitable and disposable. Even within modern Japan today, the Japanese don’t have a stellar reputation for treating its Chinese, Korean, Ainu, Ryukyuan and overseas worker minorities very well. However, their issues aren’t nearly as publicly advocated for in Japan when compared to minorities in America, partly due to how dwarfed they are population-wise compared to the mainstream Japanese.

So it is interesting to me whenever a Japanese author tries its hand at discussing this kind of minority discrimination critically, amazing when a Japanese author manages to it with so much finesse and nuance like in 86 – Eighty Six –86 not only shows how mean, awful, and unreasonable discrimination is on an individual level. The show also illustrates how discrimination magnified on a larger level creeps and bleeds into so many facets of society. When discrimination by one group against another becomes a pillar of public policy and a casual norm of culture — when discrimination becomes institutionalized — it affects the very language and thoughts by which people process and even criticize it. Lena is deeply critical of Alba society’s discriminatory treatment of the 86, but as an Alba herself born and raised in this society, she makes faux pas towards the 86ers that she’s not even aware of until she gets called out.

Additionally, the story illustrates the deletrious effect institutional discrimination can have on society as a whole. The Republic of San Magnolia is fighting a war with the Empire of Giad that its racist Alba majority government assumes it can win given enough time and minimal effort. Under that assumption, the supremacist Alba majority government is forcing its 86er minorities to defend against the enemy, recklessly and underequipped. The Alba government hopes to kill two birds with one stone, holding its Empire enemy at bay until its drone armies inevitably lose steam, and having all its 86er minorities killed off by these Empire drones in the meantime. One 86er fighting unit, Spearhead, knows a big secret that upends that assumption that, if not properly addressed, will result in the Republic’s loss and destruction. Most Alba don’t take 86ers seriously though, but that’s where Lena comes in as Spearhead’s new Handler.

Anyway, I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Lynzee Loveridge for commissioning my article. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

The Enemy Within in the War of 86

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I got into 86 some weeks after its first episode, about when both anime-only viewers and light novel readers were on the same page of this war story: it’s great. Interested, I asked around Twitter about how 86 handled its war subject. I can like shows about war, but I’m not a fan of super edgy ones. One of my good Twitter buddies replied that 86 treats its war subject quite sensitively, and that its author is fairly knowledgeable about history and anti-war literature, even including a reference to Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front in the original work. Intrigued, I typed back to my buddy that “he” seemed interesting, only to be corrected that Asato Asato is actually a “she.” It was an honest mistake, and I’ve since taken care not to make those assumptions lightly. While I don’t consciously think women can’t write good stories about war, society also has this larger stereotype of war stories being a male pursuit. 86 is a great story about war, one that was written by a woman. This experience, though, reminded me that as a member of society, I’m not immune to making bad prejudgments.

And neither are the characters of 86. They make prejudgments, carry prejudices, and discriminate. Much as it would be a gross disservice to war literature to dismiss contributions from female writers like 86‘s Asato Asato, the discrimination rife in the Republic of Magnolia does a gross disservice to the country’s war against the Empire of Giad. This internal discrimination is losing the Republic the war, and the protagonists of 86 have to find a way to address it before it’s too late. But first, one of 86‘s protagonists, named Lena, is confronted about a bad prejudgement… READ MORE

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