Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions, Senkou no Night Raid > Senkou no Night Raid Episode 1 – Tactical Ethnocentric Espionage Action

Senkou no Night Raid Episode 1 – Tactical Ethnocentric Espionage Action

It’s been a long wait, but finally the serious shows are starting to come out. For some reason, they’re all the last to come out this season.

I’m way more interested in serious anime than comedies, in general, so that means that the new shows from here on out are all the ones I’m really looking forward to. That’s good, because I’ve been getting pretty burned out on wacky schoolkids.

Senkou no Night Raid, fortunately, wacky schoolkid free. Indeed, it’s set in a pretty dark period of Chinese history. The year is 1931, and while China is nominally under the control of Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang party (KMT), warlords rule isolated pockets of the country, and Communist insurrectionists led by Mao Zedong are fomenting rebellion in rural and urban areas alike. The KMT is far from united, too, after fighting a bitter internecine war the previous year. If that’s not enough, the Japanese military, fed by nationalist urges, are plotting to expand their empire into China.

Sorry about the dark screenshots. It’s not called Senkou no Night Raid for nothing.

I’m not sure whether or not Night Raid takes place before or after the Mukden Incident, in which Japanese generals ordered a Japanese-owned railway in Manchuria destroyed in order to form a pretext for a full-scale Japanese occupation, but there’s definitely a Japanese presence in China. In this mix are our heroes the Sakurai Agency, a secret group of four superpowered Japanese special agents operating for the government against Chinese targets.

Before I go any further, I should explain something. The Japanese invasion and occupation of China remains a huge sticking point between two nations, one which the Japanese government is all too eager to whitewash over.

The invasion of Manchuria, which occurred in the year Night Raid takes place, eventually led to all out war between China and Japan in 1937, resulting in horrible war crimes such as the Nanking Massacre, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians were murdered and tens of thousands of women were raped. The Japanese making a series about a superpowered Japanese espionage agency in 1931 Shanghai is roughly equivalent to the Germans making a series about Nazi psychic supersoldiers liberating the Sudetenland. It’s in pretty poor taste.

The Chinese dialogue does not sound like natively spoken Chinese

In the past, when most anime stayed in Japan, this wouldn’t be an issue. But with the Internet and other factors bringing wider distribution, anime is a global industry, especially in the Far East. I wonder how much publicity Night Raid will get outside of Japan. I know a lot of anime fans of Chinese descent who’d be pretty pissed off if they knew about this show.

Anyway, other than that, Night Raid is a pitch perfect espionage action show. The Sakurai Agents are brought in to recover Chairman Kaburagi, the leader of a Japanese weapons manufacturer who has been kidnapped by the forces of the Liu Party (probably the army of a warlord). However, the police raid the building the Chairman is in and four cars leave at the same time, three carrying decoys. The Agents capture these decoys, but can’t free the Chairman. There’s speculation that the Agents’ higher ups in the Japanese military tipped off the police, not trusting them to bring in the Chairman.

Remember, this is a sneaking mission

The Agents, for their part, are pissed about being set up. Using the telepathy of Yukina (the girl), they learn the location of a Liu Party fortress. Natsume (the big guy) scouts the place with his remote viewing, setting up a plan for Kazura (stoic warrior) and Aoi (spiky-haired antihero) to infiltrate the compound and rescue the Chairman.

But the Chairman has gotten a little too cozy with the Lius. He’s cut a deal to sell them weapons under the table, which the Japanese forbid. The Sakurai’s suspicions are only confirmed after they’re in the middle of rescue operations. They knock the Chairman out, and prepare to high tail it out of there.

While Natsume creates a diversion, they try to make their way out of the fortress. To fend off their attackers, Aoi uses his power, which appears to be a time-limited, super-strong arm that can repel metal, for the third time this episode, prompting Kazura to chide him for over-relying on his abilities. But their escape route is cut off, so Kazura is finally forced to use his: teleportation. They bampf out of there right as the KMT starts a full-scale invasion of the Liu base.

Kazura has to have an in-character justification for not using his power, because who wouldn’t want to teleport everywhere?

Coincidence? Aoi doesn’t think so. He knows his handler tipped of the KMT to the location of the Liu base, effectively selling Japanese secrets to the enemy. His handler argues it was for the good of the empire, but Aoi doesn’t trust him. With good reason? We don’t know, because that’s the end of the episode.

Night Raid is a tightly-plotted, fast-paced action show with plenty of the twists and turns you’d expect from a spy show. It’s pretty much exactly what you want from a show like the this. The second time I watched through this episode to get screenshots, I basically forgot to take them, because I was too focused on the action and trying to see if I spotted anything that I missed the first time through.

The characters are really generic, though. They aren’t given a whole lot of time for development, so maybe they’ll be fleshed out later, but no one really grabbed my interest, or even seemed anything more than a stock character in an action anime.

The frequent explosions help prevent the show from getting too dark

Similarly, the animation is competent, but nothing more. There’s not a lot of style or character to it, which makes it hard to get drawn in. I had to watch through the episode twice before I got as excited as I did with the writing, because I was so bored by the animation. The washed out colors, too, make a lot of sense for the period, but make the show look much less interesting than it really is. I had the same issues with Persona: Trinity Soul, the last action show I watched from studio A-1 Pictures and director Jun Matsumoto, so it seems like they just have a hard time making an action show interesting to watch.

That doesn’t stop Senkou no Night Raid from being a whole lot of fun, though. If, you know, you can get over the cavalier attitude the show is taking to a period in which the Japanese army was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Barring anything more tasteless later on, I think I’m willing to put up with it for now.

If you decide to watch it, it’s definitely worth it to brush up on your Chinese history. The show does nothing to introduce you to the historical situation, and it’s something you’ll need to know if you want to follow what’s going on. And you will want to follow what’s going on, because it looks like it’s going to be a exciting trip.

You can watch this episode here.

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