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.
I had no preconceived notions going into this series. It was a random Netflix stream and I had never heard of the series. I was hooked from the beginning - a rarely explored historical setting, jaw-dropping fight choreography, high quality animation, serious plot but not overbearing - it was great. We're so jaded as otaku into expecting the usual WWII whitewash from Japanese mass media - but it reads pretty true to events (aside from psychic powers and the narrative conceit of the Japanese mysteriously inventing a protypical A-Bomb). Unfortunately, the crazy choreography
of the fights disappears quickly and true to most anime, the script loses its way and can't seal the deal in the end. But it is still a great achievement and shows much promise in terms of Japan dealing with its controversial past.