The year is 1931. The city is Shanghai. Ten years before America will enter World War II, the hydra's teeth planted by the first great global conflict are beginning to germinate. Hatching like spiders, they weave the complex web of plots and conspiracies destined to inevitably draw entire nations to the brink of destruction. Caught in the heart of these webs, desperately seeking to separate lies from truth, is "Sakurai Kikan," an ultra-secret intelligence agency staffed by extraordinarily talented individuals with abilities far beyond those of normal humans. Their duty: to stop the darkest plots and eliminate the greatest threats. But in a city built on intrigue, can even a team of clairvoyants, telepaths and espers stand against the ultimate forces of destiny?
With the series ended (but ongoing in North America), it's seems that Senkou no Night Raid (or Night Raid 1931 in English) is not just about Japanese spies with superpowers (a la Darker than Black). It's more than that since it goes deeper into pre-WWII history which also touches sensitive content (e.g.: Mukden Incident). In contrast to what most people claimed that it whitewashes history, it's not.
The six episodes are just tasters on who are the characters and what direction will the story be, considering its episodic formula. The rest of episodes...well, let's just say that where the real story is as the episodic
formula is removed. The staff made a very good connection of the fictional side with historical facts, establishing a very balanced story which doesn't offend people from both sides. Though some still considered it that the staff is touching sensitive content which should be forgotten. Since I came from SE Asia country which was under the Japanese occupation during WWII, I didn't feel offended or sense any historical revisionism as what people had claimed. In fact, there's NO historical revisionism at all.
Nonetheless, the staff did really research on the events and not including what historical revisionists had informed. So it's safe to say that this series has not (yet) drawn any angry outburst from China or Korea or any of Japan's neighbors for that matter.
Considering some controversial stuff, at least, the staff are not taking any side. They did show the bad side of the Japanese. Of course, there's a disclaimer that the series' story is fictional. By fiction, meaning that some events that occurred in the series are indeed fiction. It's common sense that people with superpowers do not exist in real-life history. From what I've seen here, the superpowers did have an important role here.
Since it's only 13 episodes, you might say there's still a lot of things which needs to be covered most especially on the characters. I wish that the series would be 25/26 episodes but due to budget cuts, well, they have no choice
The character design is all right and balanced except that the animation is a bit wonky. But the background is neat and detailed, in fact, the staff did research on the design and layout of Shanghai (even though the series is set in 1931). OP animation also reminded me Casino Royale's opening credits.
Taro Hakase! That's right, the violinist best known internationally for the violin version on Celine Dion's song "To Love You More", contributed the music here, most especially the violin music. (If you count Aoi's skill in playing the violin, you may guess that Hakase did that on purpose just to show that Aoi is lousy in playing the violin). The OP and ED are good but the latter is better since it's a ballad. Oh, and the OST itself asides from Hakase's music is great.
The voice acting is all right but my problem is the Japanese voice actors speaking butchered Chinese, German, Russian and even English. The minor characters are native speakers which is something new. But it's very funny to hear the seiyuus to be speaking a language which is not native to them.
For the English dub, you won't hear them speak other languages except English. Plus, the English voice actors managed to express the characters well. But Aoi's English voice actor irritates me.
At first, you may consider the characters plain and dull. But then, you get to realize that our four agents of Sakurai Kikan have personal motives. They are not really imperialists. They're individuals who have their own sets of problems and conflicted by their personal beliefs. In fact, it turns out that the Chinese and other nationalities shown in the series played a minor role here.
But the staff really needs to develop more on the characters considering the limited time that the series have.
Well, honestly, there's a lot of dialogue here but the series did show some action here and there. If you're interested in Asian history or if you're well-equipped with Asian history, then you'll really know what's going on here. But if you're looking for James Bond action here, then you might be disappointed since the action is not James Bond action.
You will realize that this series will remind you of the 2006 spy film, The Good Shepherd (directed by Robert De Niro and starring Matt Damon) except that Senkou no Night Raid has characters with superpowers. So, the spy action is still there but it's not the main focus.
But those who aren't into Asian history or have no background of it will probably get bored with this. Here's a fair warning: do some research on pre-WWII events in Asia before you watch this show.
For me, this series is underrated in the English-speaking fanbase. Well, I might say that the slow release of subs maybe at fault for this or that most viewers are not well acquainted with Asian history or that those who are saying that this is Japanese revisionist propaganda or that most viewers are more interested to the mainstream genres.
But judging by the series, I'm impressed that Anime no Chikara made such a risky move in making this. I'm sure that they're pretty aware that they're touching sensitive issues here. At least, they're making something unique. It's not considered to be the best but it's considered to be very good. I would imagine this to be in a novel form or they should make this into a novel. That way, it will be just like reading some of the old spy novels. If you're really interested in historical anime or spy anime (which is not so James Bond-ish) or if you're a history buff who like to read and discuss pre-WWII events, then this is the anime for you.
Senkou no Night Raid is about the Sakurai Agency, a fictional organizations that leads covert missions with superhuman agents to carry out the interests of Imperial Japan.
Now why did I give this anime such a high rating? My reason is because I love Asian history and know a lot about it especially the late 1800 to the early 1900 era. With this in mind, I had a pretty good idea of what was going on in the story. It sounds smug and biased, but this anime does require a bit of background knowledge to
fully appreciate it. Let's got down to the actual rating.
(7)Art: I also liked the fact it was historical fiction, ACCURATE historical fiction in which the creators of the anime and story did their best to portray the setting and people during the turmoil of East Asia of the 1930's. The settings portrayed in the anime of China really reflect the changing times of the 1930's, a clash between traditional and Western can clearly be seen and the producers of the anime have done a very good job producing the backdrop and the ensemble.
(9) Character: I really liked how the characters expressed the changing attitudes of the times in parallel to the setting in which their action takes place in. Kazura showing his conflicted between upholding his loyalty to Japan as an agent or taking a revolutionary stand in his romantic, utopian belief in "Asia for Asians" (which was a real philosophy back that Japan used to justify their colonization of East Asia), Aoi showing the new, relaxed European attitudes toward living in contrast to the traditional, rigid Asian customs that defined Asia at the time, and Natsume with his understanding and empathy towards the plight and exploitation of the peasant class during the rapid expansion of Imperial Japan (which was horrible: anyone poor or traditional was considered "filthy" in Japan and were expelled to countries, like Korea and China [who were considered even dirtier and did not deserve any human rights], to farm for Japan from land seized from the natives). Yukina is the only character, I believe, that sticks to the usual anime mold rather than the historical one set here, (which is a bit of a disappointment, but not a turnoff). Again I really liked the character representations, but they were indeed stiff and seemed a bit like robots at different times. Overall I give character good rating because of excessive symbolism that only a nerdy historian (me :P!) could really pick up on and enjoy.
(8) Sound: I enjoyed the sound track, especially the emotional pieces on violin and piano. I'm not an anime music aficionado (not yet at least), so I cannot give a critical review like I did with the other two sections, but I can say I did like it and it did not detract from my enjoyment of the series.
(6) Story: The story itself was not very well constructed. I don't think there was necessarily a structured plot that drove the entire series, but rather the development of character and the stress on the changing attitudes of the new world. Again, knowing the history will allow you to enjoy this anime a lot more than if you were to watch it without prior knowledge.
(9) Enjoyment: The Manchu Incident, the Chinese Civil War, the Opium Wars, all of these events during the 1930's era that were included in the anime really give it a realistic aspect that I can really sink my teeth into. It's obvious that the producers are skirting around the pond, they are avoiding heavy issues, such as the Nanking Massacre, that would spur on controversy and arguments between Japan and its neighbors and would have dirtied the name of this anime. I applaud the producers to take such daring steps (even if those steps are baby steps) to create anime that takes place in one of the most hotly debated eras in East Asia of all time. Using the "fiction" naming ploy, I believe the producers have cleverly avoided confrontation with political entities while at the same time, piquing viewers interest in Asian history.
(7) Overall: Again, to fully appreciate this anime, you should know your history. The anime is enjoyable on its own, but having the background knowledge of what's going on can enhance the entire experience of the anime being watched. I would recommend it to people who have a keen interest of the history of this era.
Senkou Night Raid is a nice historical anime that centers on the time period between the two World Wars. The chosen time period is somewhat rare for animes since Japan did a lot of questionable stuff during this time period and actually still try to hide it today. It's definitely nice to check out since it tries to depict what happened during the time in Manchuria after the Russo-Japanese War.
Also adds a nice twist by adding ESPers to the time period, making them superpower spies. It's actually kind of vague as to what side they're on, but it gets a little clearer overtime. Adding psychic
powers to a spy setting just makes the tension go up. Although I think they could've done a bit more on it...
The characters have a sort of cliche back story and personality, but I guess that's okay, right? I really wish the female lead stepped up her game (like in most other anime) and I also wished she had a better voice actor. I'm not one to criticize the voice acting, but it just kind of seemed like she was literally reading off the script rather than acting the part out. I don't know, it might just be my imagination, but the heroine has a lot of lines, so it might bother some people...
Overall, it's a pretty enjoyable anime if you're into all the war tension, political issues stuff. There was one episode where none of the main characters appear and it's just plot development on the main conflict at hand that nearly lulled me to sleep, but the rest of the episodes are generally action packed with some humor in them. The opening is also not bad, but not superb. The anime is also aesthetically pleasing and really brings out the mood of the 1920s.
Senkou no Night Raid is an unpolished gem of an anime set in early 20th century China. Behind the superhero spy thriller mask this series attempts to showcase the tense period of history prior to the start of World War II; where emotions and ideals clash as individuals from all areas of the political spectrum comes head to head with each other amidst the chaos and confusion of an East Asia struggling with colonial rule.
Viewers are very fittingly dropped straight into the middle of the story in Shanghai, presumably confused and also intrigued by the kidnapping/rescue happening in front of them. A high risk
technique as it has the potential to alienate the audience, but Night Raid pulls it off reasonably well with its charismatic protagonists and did not engage too gratuitously in unnatural dialogue as a means of explanation. As a port city and a hotspot of socio-political and economic activity Shanghai is the perfect setting for the start of this story, sadly it is left very poorly developed. The rich voice-over descriptions of the city are nice but could be (albeit with more money and effort) shown in the background with the relevant animation and music. This worsens through the series and one cannot help but feel somewhat short-changed as the series moves north to Manchuria and the show moves deep into the realms of verbose story telling rather than showing. Would it not be great to hear the commotions in the background not as half-hearted market noises but with feeling; to hear haggling, swearing, the rush of voices struggling to be heard in Shanghai, and to hear tense whispers and cautious celebration in the newly formed Manchukuo? The woman showing a reluctant child to say banzai to the passing army regiment is executed perfectly and had time and budget allowed, this is the exact kind of thing that time and money should have gone towards.
As with most historical fiction, writing a seamless story to go with the setting without implicating future events is extremely tricky. This problem rises exponentially when one adds superpowers to the mix. How to slot a story into history about the manipulation of major historical events so that it still meets with our current timeline? How to do this in a sensitive way when the history in question is riddled with revisionism and controversy? Senkou no Night Raid's answer: poorly. The plot is far too big for this series to handle in any coherent or successful way. Ironic considering a recurring theme is great power and the issues with wielding it. It is almost as if the series is struggling to decide whether it wants to focus on the pivotal historical events unfolding or if it just wants to work its own story into a messy pre-WWII backdrop, the two gets close at times but there is never really a sense of integration. This Swiss cheese-like plot really drags down an anime already plagued by unsuitable character designs and mediocre voice-acting. Maybe more time would have filled out those holes and answered some burning 'But why???'s; ultimately all that can be said is the anime went in way over its head with this ambitious story.
The characterisation is a point of contention for Senkou no Night Raid. One could argue that each main character clearly represents a set of ideologies and acts in accordance with this, and as such are not individuals but abstract representations of the ideas they embody. With Aoi as the well-travelled sceptical liberal, Kazura as the idealistic conservative nationalist, Yukina as the liberated woman with the power to make her voice heard - a foil to Shizune's woman who is used by the men in power and held back by tradition, and finally, Natsume as the straightforward and beleaguered peasantry with no interest in political games of the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, if one was being more against over-reading, it would also be true say that the main characters are simply lazy cardboard cut-outs of what the writers imagined a generic prescriber of a certain political belief would be like. This view certainly holds more sway when one considers the vacuous and one dimensional presence of anyone who did not have a superpower; Fuuran and Ichinose being prime examples. As nice as it would be to believe otherwise, it is quite possible that the characters lack realism and individuality not as a result of some deep symbolism, but simply as a result of lazy writing.
This issue of dubious characterisation is of course, closely linked with the character design. Although not dreadful by anime standards, the contrast between the detailed historical lessons and the anachronistic character design of the protagonists is deeply unpleasant to watch. You either take yourself seriously by going with the historical intricacies you preach in great lengths at every episode, or you take artistic liberties by leaving out the juicy details and accept the fate of being classes as whimsical historical fantasy. Between the drab looking mob characters and the outlandish looking protagonists, the background art provides a much needed refreshing breeze on the senses. From the photo-perfect renditions of famous Shanghainese locales like Nanjing Road and the Bund to the empty, stage-like capital of the Japanese puppet state Manchukuo, the background art captured the atmosphere far better than the characters or the dialogue.
How well the dubbed versions fare in the scripting department is beyond the scope of this review. The original Japanese dialogue is definitely fast paced, sharp, and full of energy in many places but it also made shoddy attempts to cover up what it lacks in subtlety and realism with anachronistic jokes. The main voice actors did a good job with what they had to work with. A standout feature of this anime is that it actually used a good number of native-level speakers for the non-Japanese roles; this is certainly an exciting deviation from the normal Japanese-voice-actor's-phonetic-pronunciation-of-foreign-words accent. Or course being geared towards Japanese ears, the accents and dialects used are questionable at best (why does the Earl of Lytton speak with an American accent?) but this is never the less a very positive step into making good anime not set in Japan. Despite all that positivity, it was saddening to see the only recurring speaking Chinese character Fuuran used as a stereotyped comic device when she could have been so much more.
The music earns another brownie point for Night Raid. Lively jazzy numbers and pentatonic pieces make up the bulk of the OST along with some beautiful violin pieces. The musical style range of is also far larger than would be expected of a period anime including some interesting techno-esque numbers, this makes it more interesting but also leads to the downside of using some more ill-fitting incidental music choices for certain scenes. The issue of whether the overall tone of the music matches the atmosphere and series in general is sidestepped with the questionable strategy of not setting a clear tone for the series to begin with.
In conclusion, Senkou no Night Raid is not so much an underrated masterpiece but more so that other series of a similar calibre are rated beyond their station as a result of their accessible content. One cannot deny the bravery of the anime staff in choosing to explore a setting so loaded with historical baggage, and they have rather impressively done their history homework to at least a B+ standard. Whilst it would have been nice to be shown that rather than being told, Senkou no Night Raid is still a delightful little journey worth taking for anyone with an interest in a historical anime set in early 20th century East Asia.