Senkou no Night Raid Episode 13 – Whatever Happened, Happened
Last episode left the entire cast sitting on a powderkeg, waving matches around with a fervent desire to set it all off. Senkou no Night Raid’s finale isn’t quite as explosive as was anticipated, but it still manages to cover all the necessary points with a proper amount of pathos and narrative skill. It also manages to be a rather complicated conclusion, so this review will spend a bit more time on plot summary than usual.
What seemed to be three simultaneous confrontations becomes two sequential ones. Natsume has it out with his opponent, defeating him without the use of his powers whatsoever. It again conveys the theme that overconfidence in one’s own ability isn’t everything, a lesson learned by Natsume himself when he is shot in the back by a nameless mook. Fatally wounded, he manages to conceal his dying from Yukina (if only for a little while) and his death convinces Kazura to switch back to their side.
The two confront Isao at around the same time as Yukina does, and try to appeal to his better nature not to commit the atrocity he has planned. It’s possible that they would succeed, but we’ll never know for sure, as Sakurai shoots him dead to take control of his organization. Sakurai, as it happens, was working for the Japanese military all along, playing a long con on Isao. After waiting just long enough for Isao to get a functioning nuclear weapon, he steps in, uses his authority to neutralize the organization, and claim the bomb for the Land of the Rising Sun.
Despite having successfully committed what was likely the 4,529th successful betrayal of his career, Sakurai doesn’t have everything under control. Ichinose, the crazy scientist Isao was employing, thinks he’s figured out the bomb formula independently, and he’s not interested in being called off. He orders the bomber to take off anyway, and it’s up to Kazura and Aoi to stop him.
Meanwhile, Yukina and Shizune aren’t inclined to just sit around either; with Shizune boosting Yukina’s telepathy through some unexplained fashion, the latter transmits a vision of a nuclear blast to the crowds at the coronation ceremony. In that way they accomplish the shock effect that Isao wanted, without actually killing anyone.
Sakurai, once he recovers from the vision himself, is very displeased with them for that, but before he can do anything he gets his memory wiped by his bodyguard, who was actually a sleeper for the Chinese (whether the nationalists or the communists is unclear). He also, at Shizune’s request, deletes some of her memories as well, specifically that of the identity of the next prophet. She thus severs the cycle of tragedy that enveloped Isao and her predecessor, and Aoi and herself.
Meanwhile, Aoi and Kazura secure the plane only to discover that it is running out of fuel. Wanting to make sure the bomb never is used, Aoi uses his telekinesis to launch it at escape velocity, but is then separated from Kazura in the crash. Only later, as Yukina reunites with Fuu Lan and discovers that a doctored picture that Aoi took (which added Kazura to the photo), do we have proof he is still alive. Still, the group is split, and the clouds of war are still growing on the horizon.
There are a couple lingering issues with the ending. First off, it’s clear that Night Raid is trying to stay within the realm of historical fiction and not alternative history, so the events at the coronation (which was called off and rescheduled to the real historical date two years later) didn’t get widely publicized because no one wanted to talk about them. It seems to defy both common sense and the entire point of Yukina sharing the vision of the bomb for the whole thing to get swept under the rug. There are too many people suffering too much of a traumatic experience for that sort of handwaving to be plausible.
One could posit that the Chinese memory wiper worked overtime to erase the memories of the incident (even Yukina comments that sometimes she thinks she dreamed the whole conspiracy up), but that action wouldn’t make sense; he of all people would want to keep the fear of the devastation of war firmly in the minds of the Japanese military brass at the coronation. The Japanese would obviously want to cover it up, but there would be far too many Chinese and foreign dignitaries present for that to work out. One wonders why the writers included the event at all.
I’m also still in the dark about Shizune’s larger motivations throughout this show, and specifically her role and intentions during the Manchurian Incident. While I generally like the direction taken by the second half of the series, I think that the web-based episode seven raised counterfactual questions about the impetus behind the incident that didn’t need to be raised. The show was very good at offering a national mea culpa in most other respects, so this was a confusing—and disappointing—element.
Having said all that, the ending was a lot better than I expected it to be. Aside from Shizune, the motivations and plots of all the characters made sense, the twists and turns of the plot were properly telegraphed if not predictable, and the show ends with a certain level of ambivalence. Shanghai is saved, for now, but the Japanese are still pursuing the imperialist agenda that will get them embroiled in World War II. Fuu Lan comments (in 1936!) about how the oppression of the Japanese can’t last, and historically that proved to be true. But it lasted long enough to wound all involved parties, including the Japanese themselves.
The last scene of the episode proves rather symbolic, as Yukina hears what she thinks is the horrid violin playing of Aoi, and heads out to the street to find him, only to have the music drowned out by the sound of marching. Japanese soldiers are parading down the street. Aoi’s idealism and love of humanity has won its share of battles, but can’t compete with the radical nationalism that has ensnared the heart of a nation. The war is coming, and however much the writers might have wanted the world to take the path outlined by Aoi and (in his better moments) Isao, they know that Japan did not.
Series Review: First off, I must say that in spite of an uneven start, Night Raid met and exceeded my expectations. Not merely did it manage to not make a mockery of the historical record (while inserting a bunch of elements that could have easily made a mockery of it had they been employed more ham-handedly), but it managed to actually improve on the historical lessons being given to Japanese high schoolers to this very day. If there’s one think a decade of watching anime has taught me, it’s not to rely on it for history lessons, so this is a welcome surprise.
One thought is that the superpowers occasionally felt like more of a concession to the probable fanbase rather than an integral part of the plot. While they certainly proved necessary at points (without the prophetic gift of Shizune and Isao’s illusion ability, the threat of nuclear blackmail could never have gone as far as it did), overall the superpowers felt extraneous.
Night Raid was also cursed with a paucity of action sequences. What was there typically looked slick and well-planned, but often kept to just a half minute per episode. The finale had Natsume’s climactic boss fight last maybe a minute, and the face to face confrontation less than ten seconds. That was approximately the ratio for most episodes in the show.
Maybe that’s not a bad thing, however; unlike in James Bond, when spies start shooting here something had probably already gone wrong. I don’t begrudge Night Raid devoting its time and budget to intrigue over action, and for the most part that’s exactly what they did. Likewise, the fifth episode of the show didn’t use superpowers at all, and it was a better episode for it—the best of the first half.
In that sense Night Raid is the most experimental of the Anime no Chikara shows that have aired thus far. Sora no Woto was an alternate history military-themed K-On! (and yes, it was as bad as that sounds), while Occult Academy—while not as horrible as my co-blogger might have made it seem—still has that standard issues with tone, pacing, and plot that many anime series have. (See, for example, my feelings on Angel Beats!)
Night Raid, however, took a bold path into territory that anime has been reluctant to tread, into a period where Japan has a whole has been reluctant to revisit, and with an emphasis on substance over style that often seems anathema to the concept of visual entertainment in the first place. It’s not a perfect series, and I can easily see people who like “normal” anime shows getting bored with it, but for those who don’t mind a slower-paced experience, there is nothing in the anime market quite like this show. And if you haven’t checked it out yet, you should.
You can watch this episode here.