Night Raid 1931
There was a conversation going on on 4chan the other day (I know pretty much the lowest common denominator of people post there but stay with me here), where someone claimed we were living in the most interesting and exciting political time period. Another person quickly disagreed and instead claimed the 1930’s were the most exciting time period in mankind’s history, at least politically speaking. It was amazing, for once I agreed 100% with something someone on 4chan said! The odds of that happening again are probably the same of me being abducted by aliens. Anyway if people think Obama sending 2,500 marines to Australia to counter China is interesting, then Mussolini invading Ethiopia would have really been engrossing to these people . I have a silly saying “Geopolitics as entertainment” and the 30’s makes today’s political climate dull by any measurement. If you’re out to eat popcorn and watch the countries vie for power, there is no better decade then the 1930’s. Now with all these “interesting” events happening millions of lives are involved one way or another, and of course it culminates with World War II and over 60 million deaths. So it shouldn’t be taken too lightly. Night Raid 1931 deals with the events in Asia leading up to World War II.
Night Raid 1931 takes place in Shanghai, China. “Sakurai Kikan”, or the Sakurai Agency, is a Japanese Spy Ring that the main characters are a part of. Japan at this time in history is attempting to increase it’s influence over China and so that is what the main characters of the show are attempting to do at first. While Japan is a growing industrial and military power (having defeated Russia in a war in 1905), it has almost no resources in which to fuel its growth, and so it decides to look toward Asia. In addition to being spies all the characters have supernatural abilities that are somewhat helpful to completing their many missions. I for one am glad that this aspect of the show is not emphasized too much, and the characters rarely rely on their powers. Theron Martin once wrote that it’s best to think of their powers as something like the secret gadgets of other spy films, and I agree. The members of Sakurai Agency include Aoi Miyoshi who is arguably the main character of the series and a bit of a wild and free spirited guy, Kazura Iha a more conservative and strict spy, Yukina Sonogi a young independent women searching for her brother, and Natsume Kagiya who is Yukina’s loyal servent. The head of the Sakurai agency is a favorite character of mine, Mr. Sakurai himself. Mr. Sakurai is an old-school traditional Japanese gentlemen/retired lieutenant colonel of the Japanese Army, who always seems respectful and formal, but you just know he has something under his sleeve. The first few episodes of the series are episodic in nature, and deal with the cosmopolitan city of Shanghai. In one episode the characters must rescue the President of a Japanese Corporation who is being held hostage by a Chinese Warlord deep in the jungle. Another early episode Aoi and Kazura investigate the infamous Green Gang. The series leads up to the Mukden Incident in which The Japanese Army (without even informing the civilian government in Tokyo) planted a bomb on their railway line, and when it blew up blamed the Chinese Nationalists and used it as an excuse to invade all of Manchuria. After this point in the series the episodic content ends, and instead the members of Sakurai Agency are thrown into dealing with Manchuria (now known as Manchukuo, a puppet state run by the Japanese with Henry Puyi, the last emperor of China, as the figurehead). In addition to this Yukina’s long lost brother, Isao Takachiho, becomes an enemy of the spy agency and must be dealt with accordingly.
Although the characters and their powers are clearly fictional, almost all of the events that happen in this series really occurred, and as a huge history buff who loves Chinese History this show was like a godsend for me. It feels specially tailored made for me. If you like Chinese History even half as much as I do, you’d love this show. Still even as knowledgable about Chinese History as I am, a few events slipped over my head . The series references some more obscure historical events now and again, and so it might be wise to watch the series with both the Night Raid 1931 wikipedia page open, and the History of China from 1911-1949 wikipedia page open. While it may seem like a lot of work, knowing exactly what is going on in each episode makes it all the more engaging. In almost every episode some event is either detailed, or talked about by the characters that would make the history buff side of me jump up and cheer. Perhaps I like Chinese history a little too much. Besides just the big historical events, another bonus is all the cool 30’s clothing, technology, and weapons showcased. The writers and animators really did their homework. From 1930’s era typewriters , to classic cars, to the beautiful clothing styles and hats, everything impresses. Not to mention Shanghai is a beautiful city to explore and the animators make sure you see a great amount of it. Shanghai was often (and rightly) called the “Paris of the Orient” during this era, and you can see why in this anime.
If you’re not into history the show is not a total wash however. While I do find that to be the main draw of the series there are other great aspects you could easily enjoy. The show has a real adventurous feeling too it, sometimes akin to that of Indiana Jones. Of course at other times the anime has that classic noir-spy mood going on that you can’t help but love. Some of the episodes are really exciting and the show becomes addicting after awhile. But I really think it helps to be at least partly interested in history. The characters while really interesting, seem to fall flat when compared to other shows. While I am not hugely bothered by this, it did seem like the show was trying to do one too many things, and so something had to give. It hurts the show a bit. I’d describe the characters as having hugely interesting, although entirely 2 dimensional personalities. They seem like a really intriguing group of people on the surface, but you realize there isn’t much more too them then that by the end of the show. Then again I can’t really name any spy series that have complex, deep, and well thought out personalities that grow and develop over time, so it’s not like the genre depends on this being amazingly done. But don’t come into this expecting wonderful character development or anything. Also, not sure if I’d rank it as a flaw but episode 0 (a DVD only episode) starts the series off much more appropriately then the official first episode of the series. Sentai’s DVDs begin with this episode, so it shouldn’t be a problem for most. But I started watching the series on their streaming site, Anime Network, and there it begins with episode 1 which just does a half-hearted job at introducing us to all the characters. In addition the plot of that episode falls flat, when compared to the mysterious and alluring episode 0 that deals with a movie company that may be involved in the disappearance of young women from Japan. In addition to this, the way each of the main characters comes into play in this episode is wonderfully thought out and exceptionally done. Although perhaps I shouldn’t say much about this as it might work out better if you don’t know much about it. Also that first shot of Shanghai at the end really sets the theme for the rest of the show perfectly.
The art in Night Raid 1931 is jar-dropping and beautifully done. The style is perfect for the great time and setting, and all the characters are wonderfully designed. The animation is really well done too. While far from movie quality, it’s still really great to watch. The background music is impressive for it’s ability to transfer the viewer to a distant time and place, and really helps to add to the adventure and mystique of China. The opening theme is really catchy and sets the tone for the show perfectly. The ending theme is adequate, but I felt it lacking. I do however enjoy the fact the South Manchuria Railway and Japanese Military Photos (all animated of course) are featured in the ending credits each episode.
The dub is another great part of the show. Seraphim Digital’s dub uses mostly well known actors, but in a non-conventional way. For example Funimation would never have cast Greg Ayres as Aoi, but he does a magnificent job, and his performance comes off as refreshing in this series. Brittney Karbowski too is not the first person who comes to mind to play Yukina, but I really liked the way she made the character come to life. John Gremillion’s voice will forever ring in my ears, because he so captured the type of confused (inwardly) but confident (outwardly) person that Kazura is. David Wald does a decent job portraying Natsume, and he fits the character. But Natsume was never a favorite character of mine. If you were to ask me “Hey Prede that’s all nice and everything but who is the STAR of this dub?” my answer would be “John Kaiser!!!” . I feel as though John Kaiser was teleported here from 1930’s Japan, because he does an impeccable job portraying Mr. Sakurai. Mr. Sakurai is one of my favorite characters of the show, and John Kaiser impressed me in how he interpreted the character. He makes the character sound like one of those old fashioned Japanese gentlemen, very formal, and he even has the way of speaking these guys tend to have down perfectly. At yet you can tell that he’s planning something, he knows more then anyone else at all times (as well honestly the leader of a spy ring should), it’s subtle but it comes out in nearly every line this man throws out in the entire dub. The only other show I can remember him from is Princess Nine so I do hope that after this show he gets more work, because this was impressive stuff.
After you watch this show, you too may feel as though it was the 1930’s, not today that was the most exciting political climate to live during. The show is a real treat for anyone interested in history, and I do think you have to at least be able to stomach history in order to enjoy this show. It’s exotic and rich setting too is a bonus, as is it’s premise which is a refreshing change from standard anime formulas of today. It’s interesting to compare the setting here to that of the one in CANAAN, which also takes place in Shanghai, but in the very near future. There’s a lot to like about this little show, that Sentai Filmworks recently put out on DVD and blu-ray. I do recommend buying it, as it’s addictive nature may grab you like it grabbed me.
Positives: A real gift to anyone who enjoys history, great setting, exciting storyline based on real events, Mr. Sakurai .
Negatives: If you don’t like history it may be hard to care about all of this, shallow characters