86: Eighty Six – Production Notes 04-11 And Final Impressions

86: Eighty Six – Production Notes 04-11 And Final Impressions

A teaser for 86: Eighty Six‘s second cours dropped today, so let’s look back at this surprisingly daring show—a stunning showcase of a beginner director’s vision, technical skill, and confidence to stick to his unique style all the way through, except for one brilliant interlude.

We last left our coverage of 86 Eighty Six after the first three episodes, which were an excellent introduction to everything this series has to offer. For starters, they were an immediate showcase that 86 has a sharper bite than most pieces of pop media dealing with racism, with a focus on its institutional aspects, its coexistence with blind worship of the aesthetics of liberalism, and a harsh wake up call for the protagonist to reexamine her implicit biases at the end of the third episode. While it does oversimplify some issues, it makes for the perfect background for the war story that it’s trying to tell, which is fairly compelling in its own right—especially with delivery as smooth as this show’s.

The main culprit also made his presence known immediately: novice series director Toshimasa Ishii, whose tremendously slick style we’ve talked about before. Although he had a reasonable share of experience before being entrusted with his first TV show, and his finesse as an episode director was already beyond question, his work as a series director being even remotely as memorable was no safe bet. Those two jobs are simply different skillsets, and Ishii’s greatest strengths as a director are such immediate qualities—guidance of the eye, smooth transitions, control of the tempo—that no one could take it for granted that he’d be able to extrapolate those into the whole canvas.

As if to prove wrong those doubts, Ishii set the tone by storyboarding the first two episodes in a way that proved his specific quirks could actually be used as the foundations of something larger. He established an enchanting rhythm to the show’s storytelling, as modulated by his usual snappy transitions. The result flowed as smoothly as ever on a visual level, but made a point to feel impactful by contrasting the multiple realities coexisting in the show; hedonistic complacency and the misery of the oppressed, fun bits of camaraderie and the cruelty of war, sweet family memories and the tragedy that ensued, there’s no end to these contrasts across the entire show.

A fundamental directorial precept like this remaining relevant throughout the whole show as it’s been since then is not really common. Even though series directors try to set the tone, that rarely manifests with such consistency and finesse across a whole TV series, because there’s only so much work that one chief director can oversee. And, if you narrow it down to novice series directors, feats like this become beyond rare. Even among those with a bold voice, beginner project leaders have a hard enough time dyeing their own episodes with the style that characterizes them, as the massive increase in grand picture responsibilities that come with the series director role tend to keep them too busy to go all-out on individual storyboards.

Fortunately for the viewer, Ishii doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo that this was meant to be an overwhelming job. His own episodes early on are as bold of a display of his style as ever, if anything more pointedly so. And ever since then, he hasn’t only instructed everyone else to follow these same guidelines, but also provided noticeable corrections to everyone’s storyboards as well. Not all episode directors transition smoothly into series direction, and even fewer do so immediately. But pulling it off by sharpening his edge rather than smoothing it out, and managing to get everyone else on the team on the exact same page to this degree? Who are you exactly, Toshimasa Ishii? Can we make more of you?

Now, as exceptional of a job as Ishii has done, we can’t forget that part of his success was in surrounding himself with a team of directors that wasn’t necessarily glamorous, and yet very clearly understood what was needed of them. People such as his right-hand man Ryo Ando, who draws from a similar school of enchanting scene to scene pacing, as well as newbies like Satsuki Takahashi, an ex-compositor—it shows—whom they knew from previous projects at A-1 Pictures. They all managed to leave personal imprints despite Ishii’s inescapable presence, meaning he left right about enough room to avoid stifling individual creativity.

Perhaps the funniest case of all is Tomohiko Ito, by far the most renowned director who worked on 86. As the director of SAO, Silver Spoon S1, ERASED, and most recently Millionaire Detective, Ito hardly needs an introduction even when it comes to casual anime viewers. What isn’t as well known, however, is that he’s a mentor of sorts for Ishii, who’s following his steps so closely it’s quite amusing. Both of them got the opportunity to act as Mamoru Hosoda’s assistant directors; Ito on The Girl Who Lept Through Time, while Ishii did so on Mirai. When the latter started gaining trust as a director, his first big role was none other than working under Ito’s wing as ERASED’s assistant series director. Now that it’s time for his major debut, Ishii has been entrusted with the adaptation of a Dengeki Bunko megahit, just like how Ito’s breakthrough was directing SAO—the Dengeki Bunko megahit of his time. By sheer accident in some regards, their careers are shaping up to be nearly identical.

Does the reverence Ishii has for Ito mean he allowed him to do his thing without providing corrections, then? Come on, you know the answer to that—of course not! If you really believe in something, you should be willing to contradict your idols about it too.

Besides Ishii’s unshakable conviction, there’s another reason why they stuck so consistently to this precise directorial approach: the show’s structure sort of demanded it. Both on a micro and macro scale, 86 is not your standard adaptation. We’re dealing with a show that dedicated an entire cours not just to depict the events of a single arc but to expand on them, giving viewers a better taste of the relationship dynamics and adding extra cathartic scenes that feel so natural they’d believe were there all along.

What’s even quirkier, and more relevant to the rhythm Ishii settled on, is the structure of the episodes themselves. 86’s first arc is a story with two main POVs, which is pretty standard… unlike the decision to have all episodes fold onto themselves, with overlapping events that we often see through two very different sets of eyes. This is an extremely tricky approach to pull off without boring the viewer, but this team toyed with the idea of subjectivity in the delivery so well that they always managed to feel like substantially different experiences. The opposed moods in viewpoints that embody those fundamental contrasts we’ve talked about made Ishii’s snappy transitions not just one quirk that kept repeating itself, but rather the greatest crutch for every director in the team.

There is one major exception to all of this, though it’s the kind that confirms the norm. In contrast to all the episodes built upon Ishii’s snappy transitions to thread together those fundamentally opposed viewpoints, episode #10 was a nearly fully original affair that sticks to a single side of the frontlines, with a brilliant twist to that idea. For the most part, it was a peaceful death march; the inherent contradiction in the life of this squad facing certain death with a resolute smile, portrayed in stunning fashion through Hirotaka Mori’s storyboards. Mori’s atmospheric direction and the jovial animation at points captured the beauty of the world like never before, but also made it the most quietly unsettling episode thanks to his caged death imagery.

When it came time to change perspectives, Mori masterfully dragged the viewer inside the pet machine that had accompanied Shin and his squad throughout their whole adventure. There’s something really intimate to the framing of all the snippets of history it flashes through, a warmness that got across that this was more than a machine to the squad; the camera remained steady, but the feeling of closeness was that of a family member filming with a handheld camera. Although it had a couple of neat match shots as usual, the episode was clearly cut from a different cloth, in a way that actually reinforced what this adaptation had been doing up till the end. Ishii hadn’t been that adamant about his preferred techniques just because they were cool, but rather because they benefitted the story he was entrusted with telling. And thus, when he reached this special interlude, he gave free rein to another director with a strong voice to put together something unlike the rest of the show. That too is part of being a good series director, and not necessarily the type of choice you’d expect from a newcomer.

If I had to sum up 86’s adaptation with one word, it might be daring. The team took a work that already explores themes that other titles of its ilk rarely tackle so head-on, and never shied away from them. They made their own job harder than it had to be with the overlapping episode structure, and risked upsetting existing fans who wanted a brisk adaptation covering a decent chunk of material by spending a whole season expanding on the events in the first book. Even though the desire to tease out the audience about future events right at the end might have gone overboard, it all responds to the same boldness they’ve approached the entire project with, which gave a tremendous sense of finality to events in prior episodes that were originally just another step in this story.

It’s not perfect, and at the end of the day we’re still talking about a high-profile adaptation of a very popular series of books—this isn’t an indie team risking their livelihoods for a passion project. Within its context, though, 86 is as ambitious as it could possibly be, almost always succeeding at weaponizing that audaciousness. We need more directors like Ishii, and more adaptations willing to majorly tweak the formula behind the source material’s storytelling to best fit the team’s vision. While the second half of the series should be more standard as they’ll cover more material and won’t intertwine perspectives in the same way, it’s been fascinating to sit through this experiment, and the team has damn well earned my trust.

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Episode 04

Storyboard: Ayako Kouno
Episode Direction: Ryo Ando
Action Supervision: Ryuta Yanagi
Chief Animation Director: Mio Inoguchi
Animation Direction: Kazutoshi Makino, Shinobu Irako
Production Assistant: Yuta Hayashi

Key Animation: Akane Takeda, Atsushi Yonezawa, Mina Ito, Takumi Miura, Ririko Minami, Kouya Uemichi, Ruko Teratani, Yuka Nagata, Shinko Tsurumoto, Yuki Kyosu, Ai Nonaka, Mitsuteru Kubo, Hironobu Dannoura

Kazutoshi Makino

Episode 05

Storyboard, Episode Direction: Satsuki Takahashi
Action Supervision: Kengo Matsumoto
Chief Animation Director: Tetsuya Kawakami
Animation Direction: Takashi Habe, Mari Futamatsu
Production Assistant: Hinako Nishihara

Key Animation: Ayaka Tsuji, Yoshihiro Kasahara, Atsushi Yonezawa, Akane Takeda, Takumi Miura, Makoto Makabe, Tetsuya Akutsu, Ayako Ooki, Maki Ando, Hironobu Dannoura, Yoshihiro Taniguchi, Kenji Kodama, Hikaru Asami, Sayo Hisano

Takashi Habe, Mari Futamatsu

Episode 06

Storyboard, Episode Direction: Kuniyasu Nishina
Action Supervision: Ryuta Yanagi
Chief Animation Director: Tetsuya Kawakami
Animation Direction: Mio Inoguchi, Ayaka Tsuji, Sayo Hisano
Production Assistant: Masugu Iwata, Akinori Oyama

Key Animation: Yoshihiro Kasahara, Kanako Oyabu, Takumi Miura, Ryoko Kawamura, Atsushi Yonezawa, Yuki Nomura, Ayato Yoshinaga, Nao Miyazawa, Rina Ogawa, Mina Ito, Yoshitaka Sato, Mariko Nishimura, Yuki Kyosu

Mio Inoguchi, Ayaka Tsuji, Sayo Hisano, Ryuta Yanagi

Episode 07

Storyboard, Episode Direction: Tomohiko Ito
Action Supervision: Kengo Matsumoto
Chief Animation Director: Tetsuya Kawakami
Animation Direction: Yoshihiro Kasahara
Production Assistant: Sayaka Nomura

Key Animation: Mizuki Furiya, Ruko Teratani, Ririko Minami, Mina Ito, Yoshiaki Matsuda, Akane Takeda, Atsushi Yonezawa, Mitsuyo Tsuno, Tomoka Tamatani, Ryota Obana, Rina Ogawa, Ayaka Sato, Makoto Makabe, Takumi Miura, Tetsuya Akutsu

Yoshihiro Kasahara

Episode 08

Storyboard: Jong Heo
Episode Direction: Takashi Yasui
Action Supervision: Ryuta Yanagi
Chief Animation Director: Tetsuya Kawakami
Animation Direction: Akane Ogawa, Akihiro Sueta
Production Assistant: Kodai Takano

Key Animation: Aiko Komamoto, Kenichi Yamaguchi, Shogo Teramoto, Takashi Yasui, Akane Ogawa, Futoshi Suzuki, Maiko Ebisawa, Yoshifumi Nakamura, Akihiro Sueta, Haruka Tsuzuki, Naoto Abe, Soutarou Shimizu, Takuro Naka, Junichi Inakatagata, Yuka Hayashi, Hongkeng Cai, Takahiro Watabe

Production Assistance: CloverWorks

Episode 09

Storyboard: Kengo Matsumoto, Tomohiko Ito
Episode Direction: Ryuta Kawahara
Action Supervision: Kengo Matsumoto
Chief Animation Director: Tetsuya Kawakami, Mio Inoguchi
Animation Direction: Kaori Higuchi, Shinobu Irako, Takashi Narikawa
Assistant Animation Director: Takashi Habe, Mina Ito
Production Assistant: Daisuke Yamashita

Key Animation: Ririko Minami, Atsushi Ito, Takashi Suzuki, Shoichi Goto, Makoto Makabe, Sachio Okano, usahori, Masaki Inada, Tetsuya Akutsu, Asami Shimizu, Hikaru Asami, Takehiko Kageyama, Akane Imada, Rina Ogawa, Yoshito Narimatsu, Mizuki Furiya, Yoshihiro Kasahara, Mami Uebayashi, Takumi Miura

Kaori Higuchi, Takashi Narikawa, Ryuta Yanagi

Episode 10

Storyboard: Hirotaka Mori
Episode Direction: Satsuki Takahashi
Chief Animation Director: Tetsuya Kawakami
Animation Direction: Ayaka Tsuji, Yuichi Sugio, Mizuki Furiya
Assistant Animation Director: Masaki Inada, Takashi Narikawa
Production Assistant: Takashi Hamada

Key Animation: Takumi Miura, Makoto Makabe, Naomi Ogiue, Yoshihiro Nishio, Sachiyo Matsubayashi, Takenori Tsukuma, Atsushi Kasano, Taichiro Ohara, Takaaki Tanabe, Kumiko Kawahara, Ruko Teratani, Yuzuru Sakaura, Masaki Inada, Yoshihiro Kasahara, Sayo Hisano

Ayaka Tsuji, Yuichi Sugio, Mizuki Furiya

Episode 11

Storyboard, Episode Direction: Ryo Ando
Chief Animation Director: Tetsuya Kawakami, Mio Inoguchi
Action Supervision: Ryuta Yanagi
Animation Direction: Kazutoshi Makino, Rina Ogawa, Kouichi Motomura
Assistant Animation Director: Sayo Hisano, Takahiro Yasuda, Mina Ito, Takashi Narikawa
Production Assistant: Hinako Nishihara

Key Animation: Saori Hosoda, Yoshio Chizaki, Keita Watabe, Reo Takada, Ruko Teratani, Ryoko Kawamura, Kenji Kodama, Yoshihiro Kasahara, Akane Imada, Yukarih Dizon, Atsushi Yonezawa, Manabu Kushibuchi, Hidenobu Takahashi, Hiroshi Sasaki, Mitsuteru Kubo, Kanako Oyabu, Yoshiaki Matsuda, Junichi Inakatagata, Mani Inaka, Akane Takeda, Yoshito Narimatsu, Ririko Minami

Kouichi Motomura, Mina Ito, Ryuta Yanagi, Rina Ogawa

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8 months ago

Show’s writing isn’t good to be honest it is a really dull war drama well what else we can expect from ligt novels bit anyways awesome article as usual