(originally published on Livejournal on 10/3/10)
Senkou no Night Raid Episodes 12, 13 (finale) and 0
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.12 tl;dr review: It’s the calm before the storm; The inauguration party is crashed by the Kwangtung Army
Episode 12 Synopsis: It has been three months since the events of the last episode. Aoi, Natsume and Yukina have not had any contact with Mr. Sakurai, who seems to have turned on them. The day of the grand inauguration of the new emporer is around the corner, and the city is busily preparing for the event. The three of them suddenly run in to Fuu, the delivery girl from before, and they reminisce about better times. Meanwhile, Isao has been busy and plans to make his strike during the inauguration ceremony. But it turns out that his big bomb was all just a ruse — the explosion in the desert never happened, he just created a vision of an atomic bomb explosion (based on Shizune’s precognition) to scare them — using the illusion of awesome destruction as a deterrent rather than using the weapon itself. During the ceremony, Isao uses the rogue Kwangtung army to cut the power, surround the site and broadcast his demands. Meanwhile, Kazura leads Shizune to a specially-designed underground chamber for her to meditate, presumably to try and have a vision for the right mathematical combination that will allow for their not-yet-operative bomb to work.
ep.13 tl;dr review: It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.
Episode 13 Synopsis: Aoi, Yukina and Natsume secretly enter the underground chamber to try and stop Kazura. During the raid, Natsume is killed while he is separated from Yukina, unaware of his passing. They reach the meditation chamber where they meet Kazura, and Shizune in the chamber. Kazura explains he wants to use the demonstration of the bomb on a remote island as a deterrent, but Isao has other ideas, saying that it has to be a “real” explosion to be any good. Mr. Sakurai emerges from the shadows, ends up shooting Isao — and reveals that he has actually been the puppetmaster behind the scenes this entire time, plotting both sides against each other. Without warning the guy who’s never spoken and always been in the background with Sakurai comes up, touches his forehead, and magically erases his memories — he’s been a double-agent the entire time. Piggy-backing on Yukina’s powers, Shizune broadcasts her vision of unimaginable destruction to the ceremony participants above. Shizune then asks for him to erase her memories as well, so that she can no longer be a prophet, and unable to name the new prophet, thus ending the destructive cycle. But the danger is not over yet – Ichinose (the scientist) is in a plane on the tarmac, ready to drop the bomb. While he does not know the right scientific combination to set off the chain reaction (that was Shizune’s role), he knows enough to make an educated guess, and plans to go ahead no matter what. Aoi and Kazura team up to stop him, boarding the plane as it takes off. Using his powers Aoi manages to “push” the bomb into outer space, but Kazura remains on the plane as it crashes, his fate unknown. Months later, Yukina is alone, not knowing the ultimate fate of the rest of the Sakurai Kikan. The events from before are rarely if ever talked about, and the world never knowing how close it came to an early demonstration of the atomic bomb, and the future unfolds as expected.
ep.0 tl;dr review: A movie shoot on a luxury cruise ship is cover for a kidnapping/prostitution ring; The Sakurai Kikan is tested for the first time, and the team is formed.
Episode 0 Synopsis: A prequel to the series, Yukina (with Natsume) is on a boat traveling to Shanghai, where they are also shooting a movie involving several recently-hired extras. Aoi, who is a cameraman, meets Yukina for the first time and makes a pass at her. With the movie shoot going poorly, Yukina confronts Aoi in public, showing just the type of “spine” that the lead actress lacks. Kazura, acting as a gopher, slips something into the actress’ drink causing her to fall ill. The director then has this “brainstorm” to try and convince Yukina to replace her. Natsume secretly replaces part of the script, which Yukina reads, revealing the true nature of the movie shoot is to transport the just-hired extras to Shanghai, and sell them off into a prostitution ring. Spooked, the director and her assistant panic and move up their plans. Kazura jumps into the fray, puts the beat-down on everyone, and the day is saved, the ring busted and bad guys arrested. It is then revealed that Aoi, Kazuna, Yukina and Natsume have all been hired by Mr. Sakurai to break up the ring, each acting independently to test their abilities, and they are all finally introduced to each other at the end, and the team is formed.
My Thoughts: Okay, that all makes somewhat more sense. Originally the whole idea of OMG JAPAN HAS TEH BOMB!!11!!1! was a bit beyond the pale, but now that it has been explained that “no, wait, they never really had a real bomb in the first place, just an idea of the bomb”, I can swallow that. Using a vision of the future, it’s not so much the bomb itself but the view of what it can do as a deterrent which can be quite powerful (Mutually Assured Destruction, anyone?) Also Mr. Sakurai’s smarmy role as the invisible chessmaster setting both sides into motion in such a way to reach this point makes sense as well. In the end, all the silly, unbelievable bits come together and are explained; I only wish we had a better idea of where this was all leading earlier.
Oh, and the whole idea of “Hey, I can push that massive bomb into outer space using my powers” was, well, really stupid. But you know what was even stupider? That Spike Speigel lookalike who was always in the background suddenly appearing out of nowhere to touch Mr. Sakurai’s forehead and erase his memories. It is almost as if the writers were sitting around thinking, how are we going to get out of this plot hole, wait, I know, we’ll give that background guy a special superpower to do exactly what we need! Certainly would have been the tiniest bit more believable if there was the slightest hint that he was more than background noise at any point during the previous twelve and a half episodes.
As for the final Episode 0, it’s nothing more than a prequel, doesn’t really add to the show at all, no reason for it to exist other than just another episode. Now, if you haven’t seen the series and are watching it from scratch, I would actually watch episode zero *first*, makes a much better introduction than the first episode.
Taking the entire series together as a whole, I can finally see the overarching plot and the story they were trying to tell — something that I really couldn’t figure out while I was watching the show itself. In retrospect, the writers really fumbled the ball on this show — they got mucked up in the military minutiae and all the historical significance while largely ignoring what could have been a better story: the team member’s internal conflicts and how they fight to resolve them. They made the whole Manchurian Incident/big-bomb-go-boom/pan-Asianism overarching plot the main story, and the strife within the Sakurai Kikan part of the way to tell that story. It really should have been the other way around.
Final Series Grade: C
In the end, this show was not awful, but it was quite a disappointment. I had originally dropped it after the first episode, then returned to give it a second chance. It had a fair amount of potential, which it never lived up to from the very beginning. Looking back, it should have remained dropped. Given that there are so many other shows out there that are more worthwhile, I would give this a pass. On the other hand, there are plenty of other *terrible* shows out there as well, you could do worse.
Up Next: Ookami-san, Highschool of the Dead, The Occult Academy, Shiki, Legend of Legendary Heroes, Shukufuku no Campanella, Armored Trooper Votoms: Phantom Arc