- Episodes: 13
- Air Date: 6 April 2010-29 June 2010
- Studio: A-1 Pictures
- Where to Watch: Crunchyroll
History has always been one of my favorite subjects. The book of humanity’s struggle to survive and the forward march of time is endlessly fascinating. It’s not surprising that I also love to watch anime with a historical setting. Night Raid 1931 takes place in early 1930s Shanghai, China, behind a backdrop of the Manchurian Incident. The Japanese military has occupied Northeastern China. Tensions are rising high worldwide. The path to World War II seems inevitable. In steps the Sakurai Kikan, a secret agency working for the Japanese government whose members have psychic abilities. Night Raid 1931 follows the exploits of a group of operatives working for this agency, as they weave through political upheaval and treachery.
The first half of the series is more episodic in nature, showing the group as they tackle missions given to them by Mr. Sakurai. Aoi is somewhat hotblooded and can psychically move object around. Kazura is stoic and strict, making him a foil to Aoi. He can teleport. Yukina is a quiet girl who can communicate telepathically. No surprise she is charged with communications between members. The group mainly is focused on finding a lead on the whereabouts of Yukina’s brother Isao Takachiho. He is a Japanese military officer who seems to be behind several recent incidents in Manchuria. The story takes its time to unfold, building character motivations and relationships. Give it a chance beyond its awful first episode, which dumps too much exposition while giving you little context. Things pick up in episode 2. Night Raid 1931 follows a similar episode structure to Darker Than Black. Early episodes are episodic with the plot unfolding in the later half.
One of the major themes of Night Raid 1931 is the negative consequences of Western Colonialism. Many in the East resented Western powers flinging their flags on every continent. Let’s just say imperialism has had its share of problems. One thing I commend this anime for is not downplaying Japan’s aggressive actions in this time. The local Chinese population is suffering under Japan’s bootheel.
The main plot doesn’t get into full gear until past the half way point. Isao Takachiho’s plan is revealed. He intends to scare the world into peace by creating a bomb that could end all wars. Many scientists worldwide were already trying to do this. In doing so, he hopes to avoid another World War. He is an example of an extremist with good intentions. The problem is his methods. Many innocent people get harmed along the way. His reasoning makes sense, but its hard to side with him due to him willing to drop the bomb on Shanghai.
The main characters find themselves at odds with Takachiho. Aoi’s presumed dead fiancé turns out to be the “prophetess” and has been work with Takachiho. He has been using her visions to guide him. Kazura is conflicted between his duties and doing the right thing. This later causes him to join Takachiho temporarily. Unfortunately, this is where the story begins to fall apart. There are too many convenient contrivances that unravel. Kazura’s temporary betrayal just didn’t quite fit with his character. He is presented as a man of high pride and honor. While Takachiho presented compelling arguments, I find it hard to believe that Kazura would be so quick to change sides. Later we find out that the Sakurai Kikan was working for Takachiho the whole time. Soon Kazura changes back to side with Aoi and Yukina. This was also contrived. A certain character is killed off to motivate Kazura to switch back. Takachiho later reconsiders but is shot dead by Sakurai. He was the bad guy all along. The type that wants to sell destructive weapons for the sake of profit.
The ending was rather anti-climactic. The bomb is disposed of and the fate of almost all named characters is unknown. A few years have gone by and Yukina is reflective on the events that happened, and it ends. So much lost potential. The first ¾ of the series was very solid. A historical thriller is something I’m almost guaranteed to love. Unfortunately, A-1 pictures dropped the ball and the plot derails by the end. An interesting series ruined by a conclusion riddled with contrivances and moments of anti-climax.
Since this was made by A-1 Pictures, Night Raid 1931 looks fantastic. This was pre-SAO era A-1, before the homogenization of every series they make. They did an excellent job of capturing the early 20th century aesthetics. The animation itself is quite good. Its not super flashy but that works with a more down to earth series like this. A detail I quite enjoyed about Night Raid was the inclusion of different languages. Instead of everyone speaking Japanese, many characters speak Chinese or English. Yeah, the English sounds very forced but at least they tried. It adds to the immersion of the world.
Overall, Night Raid 1931 is an enjoyable but flawed ride. It makes you question many of the problems facing the world today. Things like globalism and war. The plot is thrilling until it isn’t. A-1 presented several interesting ideas but failed to deliver a satisfying ending. Night Raid is an example of a poor ending hurting my overall experience. It left me with a somewhat sour feeling. If you like the idea of watching a historical drama give it a look-see. If not, give this one a pass.