A manga adaptation illustrated by Motoki Yoshihara has been serialized in Square Enix's seinen manga magazine Young Gangan since 2018, with two spin-off manga series, titled 86: Operation High School by Suzume Somemiya and 86: Fragmental Neoteny, being serialized in Media Factory's seinen manga magazine Monthly Comic Alive since June 27, 2020 and April 26, 2021 respectively. An anime television series adaptation by A-1 Pictures premiered in April 2021.
The Republic of San Magnolia has been at war with the Empire of Giad for nine years. Though it initially suffered devastating losses to the Empire's autonomous mechanized Legions, The Republic has since developed its own autonomous units, called Juggernauts, which are directed remotely by a Handler. While on the surface the public believes the war is being fought between machines, in reality, the Juggernauts are being piloted by humans, all of whom are "86"—the designation given to the Colorata minority of San Magnolia. The 86 originally had equal rights, but were persecuted and scapegoated by the dominant Alba race and the Alba-supremacist Republic government to the point where Colorata were both officially designated and popularly considered subhuman. The 86 were not permitted to have personal names and were immured in internment camps in the 86th District (their namesake); all the while being forced to fight in the Republic's war with the Empire to receive better treatment.
Major Vladilena "Lena" Milizé, an Alba noble and military officer in the San Magnolian military, is an outspoken activist against the grave mistreatment of the nation's Colorata minority, and the willful deception of the Republic government to the general public. She is assigned as the Handler of the Spearhead Squadron of the Eastern Front: an elite unit composed entirely of 86 veterans who have earned names. Led by their squad leader, Shinei "The Undertaker" Nouzen, the Spearhead Squadron is infamous among military officials. Its notoriety stems from the state in which its commanding officers are left: Handlers presiding over the squad have descended into insanity and some have gone as far as committing suicide. Lena, an avowed 86 sympathizer, gets to know the Spearhead Squadron in her time as head of the contingent. At same time, Lena and Shinei learn a dark secret: the Republic and the war with the Empire are not what they seem.
The leader of the 86 "Spearhead" squadron who has fought in and survived countless battles despite only being 16 years old. Nicknamed "Undertaker" for his habit of keeping a box full of makeshift dogtags crafted out of a small piece of each dead comrade's Juggernaut, which he plans to bury when the war is over. Shin is known for his ruthlessness against both enemies and allies. It's rumored that previous Handlers who have dealt with him have gone insane and left the unit, retired, or even committed suicide for unknown reasons.
An officer in the San Magnolian military who got promoted to Major at just 16 years old, thanks to a mixture of her skills and family connections. Lena has a habit of treating her 86 subordinates like people, unlike her other Handlers who treat the 86 members as disposable objects. Lena is the newly-assigned Handler to the Republic's "Spearhead" squadron.
Known by his nickname Theo, or his callsign of "Laughing Fox" taken after a former Alba commander who sacrificed himself to save Theo's unit. Theo is often blunt and sarcastic when dealing with others, especially the Handler Lena after seeing a close friend and comrade die. Theo keeps a sketchbook that he draws in on his spare time, and designed several of the squadron's personal marks on their Juggernauts.
Callsign "Gunslinger," her parents were murdered by Alba soldiers in the past and her sister was conscripted into another 86 unit, never to be seen again. As a result, she has hatred against all Albas, especially Lena who she has major dislike not only due to Lena's race but also the latter's close relationship with Shin who Kurena has feelings for.
Callsign "Kirschblute," Kaie is one of the oldest active members of the Spearhead squadron, who enjoys teasing her fellow teammates. She was killed in battle after her Juggernaut was trapped in soft terrain and then destroyed by enemy fire.
One of Lena's few friends in the San Magnolia military who works in their Research Division, specializing in the "Para-RAID" device that allows Handlers to instantly connect with the 86er combatants under their command. The device was partially created by her late father.
The light novel is written by Asato Asato and is illustrated by Shirabii, with mechanical design by I-IV. ASCII Media Works has published ten volumes since February 2017 under their Dengeki Bunko imprint. The light novels are licensed in North America by Yen Press, which has published eight volumes of the series. The English version was translated by Roman Lempert.
An anime television series adaptation was announced in a livestream commemorating the first anniversary of Kadokawa's "Kimirano" light novel website on March 15, 2020. It is produced by A-1 Pictures and directed by Toshimasa Ishii, with Toshiya Ōno writing the scripts, Tetsuya Kawakami designing the characters, and Hiroyuki Sawano and Kohta Yamamoto composing the music. The CG will be developed by Shirogumi. The series was originally scheduled to air in 2020, but it was indefinitely delayed. The series is a split-cour anime, with the first half airing on Tokyo MX and other stations from April 11 to June 20, 2021.[a] On March 28, 2021, Tokyo MX broadcast a special program commemorating the start of the series starring main cast Shōya Chiba and Ikumi Hasegawa, producer Nobuhiro Nakayama and music composer Hiroyuki Sawano. The second half premiered on October 3, 2021.Crunchyroll licensed the series outside of Asia for an English simulcast and simuldub.Muse Communication licensed the series in Southeast Asia and is streaming it on iQIYI and Bilibili. The first opening theme is "3-bun 29-byō" (lit. 3 minutes 29 seconds) by Hitorie, while the first ending theme is "Avid" by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:mizuki and the second theme is "Hands Up to the Sky" by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Laco. The second opening theme is "Kyōkaisen" (lit. Boundary Line) by Amazarashi, while the third ending theme is "Alchemila" by Regal Lily.
^Martin, Theron (April 19, 2019). "Review". Anime News Network. Retrieved March 15, 2021. This novel is probably going to be most commonly classified as a military science fiction story, but it should be considered at least as much a horror story.
^St. Sauver, Olive (September 25, 2020). "REVIEW: '86 – Eighty-Six,' Volume 5: Death, Be Not Proud". butwhythopodcast.com. Retrieved March 15, 2021. 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.