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 into spiders weaving the complex web of plots and conspiracies destined to inevitably draw entire nations, against their will, to the brink of destruction once more. And 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: 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? As the Japanese Imperial Army rolls across China, documented facts and fantasy intermingle in the breathtaking exploration of alternative history that is Night Raid 1931.
Night Raid 1931 is an anime that aired in Japan on the TV Tokyo television network starting April 5, 2010. Sentai Filmworks acquired the series and released it on Blu-ray/DVD in August 2011.
Night Raid is a refreshingly different series that combines history and politics with science fiction and espionage action. This Japanese anime takes place in 1931 China of all places! It’s the story of “Sakurai Kikan,” a Japanese military spy organization set up to support Japanese interests in the region. Their deeds have been supposedly lost to history, but are revealed in this anime. Sakurai consists of four secret agents with special abilities such as clairvoyance, telescopic x-ray vision, line-of-sight teleportation, telekinesis, psychometry, and telepathy. However, their powers have limitations like not working during the phase of the new moon.
The Art Deco designs, vintage fashion and vehicles, and jazzy big band spy music quickly draw viewers into the time period. Classical music lovers will enjoy the violin solo of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” Op. 34, No. 14 in one episode. There is great attention to detail including using Chinese as well as Japanese dialogue. Even the stunts in the anime do not seem implausible, due to a suspension of disbelief in what is otherwise a historically realistic setting. The creative license taken by the writers fits right in and doesn’t interfere with the historical events.
Night Raid is the type of anime where Wikipedia really comes in handy because of all the obscure historical references that Westerners won’t be familiar with, which will make the anime difficult to follow. Looking up the background information and knowing what events the characters are referring to makes the show more enjoyable because you won’t spend half your time trying to figure out what’s going on. It basically goes like this:
The Imperial Japanese Army has a presence in mainland China after the relatively recent First Sino-Japanese War (fought between China and Japan over control of Korea), the Russo-Japanese War (when Japan and Russia fought over Manchuria and Korea), and World War I. In the early 1920s, Japan invaded a weakened China divided by a fight between the Communist Party, Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist Government, and various local warlords and gangsters.
The Green Gang featured in a few of the episodes was a real organized crime ring that operated in Shanghai in the early 20th century, dealing in opium and human trafficking among other criminal activities. In a couple of episodes, the series shows how girls from poverty-stricken homes were sold off to help their families. Thus, this anime does not give the most flattering view of the time period. Also, it’s interesting that despite being made by a Japanese production company it does not overlook the heavy-handed way that the Japanese treated the Chinese.
The Manchurian Incident was a staged railway bombing engineered by Japanese military personnel (without the approval of the Imperial Army’s High Command) as a pretext for the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931. The puppet state of Manchuria was then established with the last Chinese emperor as its figurehead. The League of Nations sent Lord Lytton and his committee to investigate. The Lytton Report concluded that the new State of Manchuria could not have been formed without the presence of Japanese troops, and refused to recognize Manchuria as an independent nation. Consequently, Japan withdrew from the League of Nations.
There was a pre-World War II Pan-Asian ideology that Asia should unite against European imperialism. Japan specifically wanted to build a Greater East Asia co-prosperity sphere including China, the Japanese Empire, and Japan’s Manchurian puppet state to dominate Asia and the Pacific. The Japanese Empire and the Republic of China were already at war when World War II started. This anime opens your eyes to the fact that World War II may have turned out completely differently if another country had perfected the atomic bomb technology first.
Amid all the political discussions, the four main characters each have their own personal issues. Aoi and Kazura run a photography studio together but their personalities are often at odds with each other. Yukina, the sole female member of the group, comes from a noble family and is in search of her missing brother. Yukina’s loyal bodyguard, Natsume, also has special abilities and thus is part of the team. And who is that mysterious pale, thin, crinkly-haired man dressed in a black suit and fedora hat often seen standing on the sidelines?
Beware, in this cosmopolitan city of intrigue, not everyone is as they seem!
This anime is definitely worth watching more than once (even if only to gain a better understanding of what’s going on).
The Night Raid series has a total of 16 episodes, 23-31 minutes each (most are 26 mins). This anime does not contain anything too graphic but it does have some intense subject matter, violence, and mature themes so I’d say it’s best for ages 17+. Night Raid 1931 is on Amazon Prime (except for Episode 3 which is missing). The anime is also on Hulu and Crunchyroll. However, Crunchyroll has only 13 episodes (it’s missing the first Green Gang episode, the opium den episode, and the final epilogue). Buy Night Raid 1931 Complete Collection!