Night Raid 1931 Collection (Cert 15)
3 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 371 minutes approx.
Anime and Manga have never been afraid to dip into various periods of history for their inspiration with many famous eras serving as backdrops for some unique flights of fancy. However they are suffused with a keen element of revisionism to fit the fantastic stories our Asian friends want to tell. It is then with some surprise that we have a series in Night Raid 1931 which – while still a work of fiction with a fantasy bent – is bold enough to confront some of the darker moments in Japanese history rather than white wash over them. This isn’t an exercise in atonement but it refreshing to see some of the culpability recognised by the Japanese for some of the more shameful acts perpetrated in the past.
As the title suggests the series is set in 1931 and deals with the period prior to the Japanese invasion of China that blighted both countries before and during World War II. In Shanghai a small group of Japanese operatives called Sakurai Kikan, named after its founder and leader Shin’ichirou Sakurai, undertake a number of covert operations to quash any corrupt and illegal activities occurring in China that threaten world peace.
The quartet in question each have special powers: Aoi Miyoshi is an impulsive telekinetic; Kazura Iha a proud, thoughtful man whose gift is teleportation, although he uses it sparingly; Natsume Kagiya, a hulking stoic man from poor stock who is clairvoyant; and Yukino Sonogi, the sole female of the group who is blessed with telepathy. The group usually pair off with Natsume serving as protection for Yukino while the chalk and cheese tandem of Aoi and Kazura to handle the undercover work together.
After a few standalone episodes to introduce the cast and the setting, a major story arc appears when Yukino learns her missing brother Isao Takachiho – the search for him being the reason she joined Sakurai Kikan – is in Shanghai. When she eventually meets up with him, Yukino is shocked to learn that Isao has left the Kwantung Army and is now embroiled in his own personal mission in accordance with the Pan-Asian movement, which involves making his point with the use of atomic bombs.
Meanwhile as the group are investigating the rumour of a Prophetess whose abilities will be employed by Isao to manipulate the world leaders who have colonised parts of Asia, Aoi catches a glimpse of his former fiancé Shizune Yune whom he had believed to be dead. In following his heart and not his orders Aoi uncovers a lot more than he should, of course with far reaching consequences.
What makes Night Raid such a different watch is that it approaches the adventures from a more studied and procedural direction rather than the supernatural action show a’la Darker Than Black. There are action scenes, don’t fret about that, but they are few and far between, meaning the special powers our heroes possess are not used through contrivance or annoyingly overexposed, save for Yukino’s telepathy which proves to be handy method of tacit communication.
Instead we bear witness to each story unfold from all angles as the team infiltrate a number of environments and organisations and expose the duplicitous and nefarious occurrences before bringing the perpetrators down or at least setting the wheels in motion for their comeuppance.
The problem however leis in the show’s short episode count – 13 main episodes plus three bonus episodes which doesn’t allow for the character development one would expect for a show with such grave subject matters. That doesn’t mean we are left with a bland one dimensional cast, just one that needs a lot more exploration – like how did they get their powers, what their backgrounds are, who Sakurai is and why he formed the Sakurai Kian etc.
Some of this information is leaked in a recap episode but it barely suffices for that complete connection for the audience. Of the four Aoi and Kazura get the most screen time and story involvement, which is a shame for Yukino since her brother is a key antagonist, almost reducing her to token female presence, supported only by hyperactive comic relief Chinese restaurant worker Feng Lan.
One major strength of the series, as discusses earlier, is how it does shy away from confronting the darker moments from Japanese history – even with a fictional overcoat – and doesn’t absolve their forefathers from their actions during this very controversial period. A key incident in question is the Mukden Incident of 1931 in which the Japanese army detonated some explosives on a Japanese owned rail track then claimed this was the act of Chinese dissidents and used this as an excuse to launch a full scale invasion in retaliation.
Episode seven is dedicated to covering this event and was considered so contentious that it was streamed online only rather than broadcast on TV and the subsequent DVD releases. If anything this show gives us one of the more honesty history lessons which earns it some major points.
Aside from the magical powers there is nothing in the presentation that doesn’t uphold the dedicated attention to detail in the artwork and designs for the period of 1930’s Shanghai, right down to the clothes, cars and other visual aspects of the era. Another note worth congratulating the production team on is the use of legit foreign languages rather than having everyone speaking Japanese. Mandarin Chinese, English and Russian can be heard in this show along with Nihongo and while not always perfectly executed it adds an air of authenticity to the proceedings.
The sedate pace and lack of non-stop action excitement might put some viewers off but those who would prefer a more thoughtful and, for once, historically frank and balanced story that offers something different should find Night Raid 1931 a rare and rewarding treat to savour.
Disc 2 Only:
Special Episode: The Prophecy
Clean Closing Animations
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black