Anime Review: Senkou no Night Raid Episodes 6 1/2, 7, and 8

(Originally published on Livejournal on 7/24/10)

Anime Review:
Senkou no Night Raid Episodes 6-and-a-Half, 7, and 8

About The Series: Shanghai, 1931: As tensions are building up to full-scale war, a group of four secret agents, the Sakurai Kikan, are tasked to gather intelligence and go on special missions in support of Japanese military. However, these are not any ordinary agents; included in the group are a telepath, a clarivoyant, a teleporter, and time-manipulator. It’s high espionage set in one of the most turbulent times in the region’s history.

ep.6-1/2 tl;dr review: A recap of what has gone on before; The series really starts here.

Episode 6-and-a-Half Synopsis: Instead of the regularly-scheduled seventh episode, this “special” aired in its place, with the more controversial seventh episode (detailed below) airing online. Episode six-and-a-half was largely a review of everything important that has gone one before, taking out the plot-related elements from the previous six episodes (plus some flashbacks bits that were not seen before) and weaves them together into a coherent whole. All the members of the Sakurai Kikan are introduced, explaining how they became involved in the extra-military organization and their special powers. Isao is highlighted as their true opponent, the key player in the build-up of Pan-Asianism and Japanese dominance, plus Aoi’s former lover, Shizune, elevated to level of Prophet.

ep.7 tl;dr review: Talking heads mull over the future of Manchuria; With the fall of a chopstick and the words of a prophet, the invasion begins.

Episode 7 Synopsis: Tensions are rising in Manchuria as relations between the Chinese and the unwelcome Japanese occupying their land turn sour. A radio program between important scholars and military leaders helps narrate the situation from the Japanese point of view, and two reporters for the Manchuria Daily News are hot on the trail for the big scoop involving all the military officers running around town. The Japanese Army, feeling their oats, are chomping at the bit for any reason to invade the land, and General Tatekawa, a faded hero of the Russo-Japanese War, is sent to report on the situation. With such a monumentous turning point in history hinging on his words, Tatekawa is visited by a young woman, the Prophet, who puts an exclamation point on the situation. This same Prophet mysteriously appears in a closed-door meeting between generals, agonizing over their role in choosing to stage a military attack or not — so unsure of their decision that they even resort to using the chance of a falling chopstick to guide them. Ultimately Tatekawa remains silent, the Mukden Incident gives the Japanese their justification to invade, and the rest is history.

ep.8 tl;dr review: A secret display of unimaginable power pushes Japan’s interests in Manchukuo; The Sakurai Kikan return as they catch sight of The Prophet.

Episode 8 Synopsis: In just a few short months the Japanese quickly seize control over the region and establish their own puppet country of Manchukuo. In a bid to gain international recognition, a multinational team headed by the Earl of Lytton arrive to assess the situation. All five of them are kidnapped by Isao’s group and individually shown a test of Japan’s secret weapon: an atomic bomb. Their release is brokered in exchange for a small fortune, used to fund Isao’s ambitions. The Sakurai Kikan are deeply involved in researching the situation; even though Yukina manages to read Lord Lytton’s mind, they remain incredulous at the explosion’s potential, but realize the direness of the situation. But now that Isao has turned into their enemy, the rest of the team discusses whether or not Yukina should be involved any further (as if they could keep that a secret from a mind-reader). The team meets at a train station where Kazuya is undercover as a bodyguard for “The Prophet”, but when they catch sight of her, Aoi sees she is really Shizune, his former lover that he believed dead. Confirming her identity, he jumps on the train at the last minute to follow her.

My Thoughts: For 99% of the people living in the United States (like myself), the true importance of Japan’s involvement in Manchuria during the Thirties is largely unknown, but in Japan it is a Really Big Deal. Even an anime series touching on the subject and the deep scar of Japanese shame is quite a controversy — so much that the insinuations in the seventh episode prove too much to be broadcast over the air. The seventh episode was never aired, and in its place was the six-and-a-half recap episode.

Given all that, the series really starts *here* – there’s enough ground covered in the recap episode that you could start from there without having to watch the first six episodes. Although that also painfully points out just how much fluff and unnecessary stuff was used to fill out those first six episodes as well. As for the seventh episode, it was totally devoid of all the main characters, mostly an exercise in talking heads agonizing over their true reasons for going to war. All pretty dry stuff, there was a *single* joke (The Prophet struggling with her exit) in the whole shebang. All very important stuff nonetheless, but also very boring to watch.

Like many anime series, this one is tagged with a disclaimer that “While based on historical events, this story is fiction.” However, those more in the know about Japanese history and watching this show are quick to point out just how accurate it is to the true history. Key historical figures are accurately portrayed, and the events themselves played out exactly in the way the show depicts them. Where the fictional part comes in is the involvement of Isao’s lost brigade as the superpowered Sakurai Kikan, plus the actual secret-door reasoning of the major players involved is pure supposition. And, of course, there’s that little matter of the atomic bomb.

With the explosion of the nuclear device, here’s where the Second Act really starts to get moving. The long cut-and-dried exposition of the previous two-plus episodes is over, and time for the action to begin. You can feel the conflict looming between the Sakurai Kikan and Isao’s group, at the same time forming a rift between Yukina and the rest of the group. Plus the sudden appearance of the wild card, The Prophet, and the series is finally off and running. Well. It only took two months for the action to ultimately begin.

The Verdict:

I keep mulling over the whether or not to drop this series, especially since the fansub groups have not yet completed the series (English subbed versions of episodes 7 through 10 just became available a bit more than a week ago). Last time around there were two blah episodes then in number six something happened that said “Oh wait, you gotta see what’s up next”. Same thing here: two more blah episodes then number eight kicks it into high gear. I have a feeling that there’s a decent story somewhere in there, but it’s suffering under the 13-episode format; I wonder if it would make much more sense if the relevant bits were edited into a single feature-length movie instead.

Up Next: Arakawa Under the Bridge (finale), Ookami-san, Highschool of the Dead, Mitsudomoe, The Occult Academy

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