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86 EIGHTY SIX’s Message: Decadence and Discrimination are Context

Introduction to 86 EIGHTY SIX’s Message

I was watching 86 EIGHTY-SIX episode 7, “Will You Remember Me,” the other day. Early in the episode, the animators treated us to some beautifully drawn scenes of Major Vladilena Miliz walking among the civilians of the Republic of San Magnolia. It was a time of festival, and the carefree citizens enjoyed decadent treats. As she walked, Miliz talked to members of the 86 via her Para-RAID. And in doing so, she gave us 86 EIGHTY SIX’s message.

One of the soldiers described the horrors of how his friends had died in the field. Some were lucky enough to be instantly killed after a direct hit. Others died slowly, their bodies mortally broken, consciousness slowly fading, as they bled out.

86 EIGHTY SIX's Message: The nature of the 86ers combat appalled Miliz.

Another occasion of an innocent yet idealistic young woman who encounters harsh reality? Yawn. But wait… did my cynicism just blind me to something obvious? Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

My first reaction was that was too on-point. I got the idea, I complained to the show in my imagination. I get it! The “good” people of San Magnolia are terrible racists who exploit the less racially “pure” 86ers. San Magnolia bad, 86ers good. I get it!

A scene toward the end made me realize that, no, I’d missed the point. Utterly. To make me realize that, the show had to beat me over the head with the obviousness of the idea that discrimination was bad. But that wasn’t the point. That was only the context.

There will be spoilers past this point, so please be cautious.

86 EIGHTY SIX’s Message: The Debate over Discrimination Has Forgotten Something Important

Raiden Shuga Set Up the Message

Raiden Shuga was the one who made me understand that the show was trying to get a different point across. As a group, the 86ers decided to let Miliz in on their most terrible secret: None of them were getting out of the Spearhead Squadron alive. That was by design.

Shuga explained that the people who got assigned to their squadron had proven to be intelligent, resourceful, and resilient. Precisely the traits a ruling class would most want to quash. So, to maintain peace in the empire, the 86ers stayed in this squadron until they died in service.

86 EIGHTY SIX's Message: Shuga had come to the best conclusion available.

Shuga waxed philosophical. We need to do better. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Miliz’s influential family connections appeared to have shielded her from many of the realities of this world. Even still, she asked exactly the same question that I would have. Why did the 86ers fight to protect the lives of their oppressors? Why not step aside and let the enemies pour through? 

Raiden Shuga Told Us All He Could

Pride. That’s what Shuga said. But Shuga could only say what he understood. They didn’t really fight for pride. The 86ers fought for something else. They fought because of the idea this series is trying to get across. 

Across multiple cultures, we’ve struggled with the idea of discrimination. We’ve protested and we’ve voted. We’ve screamed at each other across the aisles of power. But we’ve all forgotten something. Maybe the screaming has deafened us.

It’s not about argument. It’s not about voting or protest. Discrimination isn’t an abstract concept. Whenever those in power crush those without power, it’s not simply an “act of discrimination.” It’s an act of brutality against someone. Discrimination is not just an abstract sin against justice. It’s an act of violence against a human being.

It’s savage. And it needs to stop.

No. We need to stop it.

That’s the point the show’s trying to make.

86 EIGHTY SIX's Message: Miliz had given the 86ers fireworks. They needed more.

Miliz wanted to honor their dignity. All she could do is give them some fireworks. But it’s more than anyone else had done. Is it enough to make a start? Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

86 EIGHTY SIX’s Message: Hope is Irrelevant

Even Miliz is Trapped

86 EIGHTY SIX knows that the concepts we’ve used to discuss this problem have taken us as far as they can. We can’t hope that doing the same things as we’ve done will make the problem will go away. Shuga’s statement tries to give us a concrete way to understand. He’s trying to show us that there is more we need to do. Until we can figure out a way to end the abuse of power, all he can do is fight and die to express his “pride.”

Miliz can’t do much more. She had to beg and bribe to even get the 86ers fireworks to celebrate a holiday that celebrates their slaughter. She’s stuck in the same matrix that they are. She’s powerless to alleviate their suffering. She can’t give them what they need.

And that’s the challenge. How do we fix that?

Democracy tried to fix it. It managed to dislodge authority from a monarchy and push it into the hands of voters — until those for whom influence comes naturally learned to thwart that control by reliably fooling the people. As a solution, it’s gone about as far as it can.

86 EIGHTY SIX's Message: Miliz didn't have enough power to fight the system.

Miliz fought to get better supplies for the 86ers. Yet, she played a rigged game, according to the rules of the oppressors. It’s impossible win a game under those conditions. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

The Problem Persists

As long as one 86er has to go into battle for an oppressor, we as a species has lost the battle to ascend to our potential. Put another way: In our world, as long as any voter’s naiveté is exploited to skew or deny their free vote, we fail as a species.

It’s all about power. More precisely, it’s all about pushing power down as far as it can go, into the hands of individuals, into the hands of the oppressed. And putting mechanisms in place to prevent would-be oppressors from projecting power.

The point isn’t to overthrow the oppressor. Violence begets violence; that cycle has to go*. The point is to make the damned oppressors irrelevant. We can’t keep thinking in terms of hard-wired, zero sum games that only applied when we weren’t the apex predator on the plant. We need a new model of thought. Until each of us has the power to protect ourselves and to explore who we are as individuals and as members of a community, we’re all at risk.

We need to evolve the very concept of power. It should not be used to overthrow. We need to re-envision power as a means to protect and not be a tool for aggression. We need to use power to nurture.

As it is, like Shuga, any one of us might have to die to express our pride. Because until we fix the problem, each and every one of us, even those who think they really have power, are at risk.

That’s what 86 EIGHTY SIX is trying to tell us. And damn it, for me at least, they hit a nerve. 


* My earlier drafts said “that cycle has to die.” Interesting how I instinctively used an oppressive and violent term!

9 thoughts on “86 EIGHTY SIX’s Message: Decadence and Discrimination are Context

  1. Now *that* is interesting! I keep trying to teach my nephew that the stories we tell are more than “just entertainment,” that our entire library is worthless if we don’t learn from it. This sounds like something very worth learning, and discussing, and using to improve ourselves and our society.

    1. Isn’t it amazing how a work of fiction can convey facts or even truths so effectively? I’m still not sure how that works!

  2. That’s an interesting take on the series. I don’t know if I’m fully onboard. I don’t think the series has done enough of the heavy lifting to get there yet, and a lot of that seems to be your interpretation.

    But hey, that’s what happens when we watch stuff like this. I watch 86 and see something that, at least 7 episodes in, is about Lena realizing the dark side of her society, and that she is unable to be like the rest of military/people and treat the 86 like they are tools, even worse that the 86 themselves seemingly accept it. The gut punch reveal that they are expected to die to maintain a ‘status quo’ only drives that point home. She’s like the only person on the Titanic who knows it is going to sink, and she doesn’t know how to handle that.

    1. The challenge I have is that the only thing I have to go on is my reaction. I can’t get into the writer’s head to know what he _intends_ to tell us, so I have to rely on my interpretation.

      I have to respect the complexity (or simplicity) of the ideas I _think_ this writer’s trying to get across. There are two major challenges to presenting a theme about a topic that has a lot of popular conceptions and misconceptions (like the appropriate use of power). First, the writer can’t be too obvious. The people who most need to understand the theme would be the ones who would least likely stick around if they thought the theme was about power and discrimination. They already assume they know all about it, or they are ideologically opposed to the idea that power should not necessarily be used for violence.

      Second, and this is even more of a challenge, more complex ideas like a nuanced presentation of the uses of power would depend a lot on where a given individual is in the spectrum of understanding _how_ power can be used.

      Growing up, the Battle Pelenor Fields in the Return of the King blew me away when I was a teen. Okay, even into my 30s, the scope of majesty of such a battle impressed me. Now, I wonder more about how political or other power could have been applied earlier in the cycle to prevent the need for the battle at all.

      What if Fingolfin, for example, had not ridden off on a glorious but suicidal final act of defiance against Morgoth? What if the Sons of Feanor had toned down their pride just a little bit?

      TL;DR: Yep, it’s my interpretation. But it’s the only one I can reliably share!

      1. We can only share our interpretations and like I’ve said before, we all bring in our own baggage to the works we watch.

  3. I like it. I don’t have more to say, but I do think you make some good points here.

    1. Thanks! I’ve been preoccupied thinking about the nature of power lately.

      Probably means I need to get out more!

Please let me know what you think!

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