In 2010, Aniplex created the Anime no Chikara, a trio of completely unrelated original titles written specifically for TV. One of these shows was Night Raid 1931, a super powered secret agent anime that has a lot of potential, but a serious lack of the fundamentals of storytelling.
Night Raid takes place in Japan during the 1930s as it goes through both an industrial and political revolution. The main characters are all members for an agency that does jobs for ‘certain people’ who ask for them to be done. This more often than not involves finding or saving people before interrogating them for information.
The big twist here is that the main cast all have super powers that make them useful in their own right, and it’s not long before other people begin showing up with similar powers. While the premise at first seems entirely unoriginal, it’s not until latter parts of the story when it starts to weave Japanese history into the mix, having real events play out with a nice little twist.
The show uses real historical events and people as inspirations in the show, so brushing up on Japan’s history is recommended, and doing so adds another layer to the story due to the fact that the show is playing up to the events of February 26th 1936, the infamous military coup against the ruling government.
This knowledge gives the show an overall feeling of dread and dismay, because you as a viewer are aware that no matter what these characters do to try and protect the government, all of their work is in vein. I liked that the show toys with one of the characters longing to join the army, it makes you concerned about what their fate might be if they manage to achieve their goal of enlisting.
The story takes an episodic approach in its first six episodes; it stays away from the political affairs and instead follows the gang of misfit agents as they perform multiple missions across Japan.
These episodes give an insight to who the characters are and how they work together, and while the characters personalities and relationships are easily definable, because the show takes place over a large amount of time, many relationships change between episodes or it’s suddenly told that some of the characters knew each other years ago but decided not to mention it until it would affect their friendship.
It was a bit weird having two characters that weren’t getting on suddenly act like they’ve been friends for a long time without seeing any of that development first hand.
This is where the cracks of this series begin to show. While the setting and characters may be good, it’s the poor execution and explanation of the events that greatly hinders the show. While the show beats it into your head that these characters have dangerous super powers, they never once explain how they obtained these powers or why they have limits.
One characters power isn’t even explained until much later on, when someone finally says in passing that he has telekinesis with severe limitations, but it’s never said what the limitations are! Another issue is that the show brings in so many components and plot points that it gives up on half of them. At one point a super powered madman escapes their interrogation and runs into the city, they never chase this man and it’s never brought up again.
Its one thing to keep the audience in the dark about something to create suspense and interest, but leading the viewer on with something before dropping it completely hinders the show by making its poor writing more obvious.
Another poorly executed aspect is the use of historical events. While using them to create situations for the main characters to develop is good, it’s the implementation of these events that’s the real issue.
The show makes no attempt to tell you about many of the events that are taking place in Japan at the time, it mentions the coup during the last OVA episode briefly, but never explains who the coup is against or why. During some episodes, a map of Japan is shown and a brief history of events is thrown at the viewer about what’s going on, but because this is told at the very start of each episode by a nameless narrator, it’s hard to really understand what’s going on.
The show might as well had said “Just pause the DVD and go on the internet to learn about Japan.” Because prior knowledge is pretty much required to fully understand the events of the show.
One thing I want to praise is the animation. While the show is doesn’t look incredible and never takes any real risks, the world and characters are consistently well drawn and smoothly animated.Aniplex are known for never being the most visually outgoing studio, but they’ve always been great at keeping their shows consistently enjoyable to watch the whole way through.
I also want to quickly praise the scenery and environments, the designs for both the outdoor and indoor locations are well detailed and all give off a sense of realness. I could really picture these places as real life locations that had been recreated in animated form. The whole show has consistently great animation and design, but it was the environments that made me really enjoy my time with the show.
When it comes to audio, the English dub is recommended for maximum enjoyment, not because it’s any good, but because the original Japanese is hilariously awkward.
The Japanese seiyū (voice actors) were tasked with the difficult job of not just speaking their native tongue of Japanese, but also Chinese and English. While an interesting idea, the execution is rather laughable, as scenes that are meant to be incredibly serious and important to the story end up being hard to take seriously and had me laughing and some of the bonkers voice acting.
To give you an idea, the Chinese man talking English sounds like Mr. Kim from South Park, and the American man sounds as if he was only allowed to say one word per second. By all means, watch the Japanese dub and see for yourself, but if you want to watch the show as a serious historical supernatural thriller, than stick to the English.
Night Raid 1931 was an interesting attempt to inform people around the world about a serious matter in Japan, while also entertaining them by adding in super powers. While I wish the show went into more detail about its history and explained itself better, it’s still an entertaining ride for those looking for an adventure series set in the past.
If you’re still unsure, check out the first of the OVA’s included in the series (labeled episodes 0, 7.5, and 14), as episode 0 is perhaps the most well written and best executed episode of them all. If you liked that, then there’s a good chance you’re going to enjoy Night Raid 1931.
Other anime recommendations
Super powers in the past: Baccano! (Both shows are very similar, but Baccano! is infinitely better)
Group of super powered people fight terrorists: Black Cat
Thanks to MVM for supplying a review copy