I love the 1920s-1930s. Granted it's more for the smooth jazz, vaudeville, and those flapper girls but it's still my favorite decade. Looking at the same decade from a different country seems like a really interesting idea right? Well... I'm not so sure about this one...
Night Raid 1931 is an original 13 episode Action/Sci-Fi series from A-1 Pictures and Director Jun Matsumoto for the Spring 2010 season. Three additional OVA episodes from the same Director and Studio were released later that year. As of this review, it is licensed by Sentai Filmworks (US) and Siren Visual (AUS). It is also available for legal streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and Anime Network with Hulu and AN having the additional OVA episodes.
The year is 1931. The location is Shanghai, China. The Imperial Japanese Army has been dispatched to mainland China due to the relatively recent First Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, and World War I. In this cosmopolitan city of intrigue, there is a special military spy organization called the Sakurai Organization that has since been buried in history. At least, so we've been lead to believe. Instead the Sakurai Organization has been working in secret for both military and diplomatic missions. Their weapon of choice? Four individuals with special gifts they use to complete their mission. However, for Aoi, Kazura, Yukina, and Natsume their mission isn't an easy one. Especially when your own past haunts you along the way.
The fights at least look nice.
So let's get underway with the animation. As mentioned before, this series is from A-1 Pictures in 2010. It's pretty much smack dab in the middle of all of their work, with Black Butler and Fairy Tail as a couple well known series proceeding Night Raid. Granted I have not seen Black Butler yet, but I have seen a few early episodes of Fairy Tail. The animation of Night Raid is rather consistent with the repertoire that A-1 had been building itself around that time making their growth as a studio commendable. It had to find a happy medium in portraying 1930s China so it was at least accurate enough to convince the viewer. I think it fooled me rather well. Mind you I don't know what China was like in the 1930s, but it's not a copy pasted version of Baccano! so it's fine by me. The soundtrack of Night Raid fits the location as well, with you typical mix of Chinese instrumentals along with a couple of jazz tracks. As for the theme songs, I prefer the opening. It's beautifully animated and the song is actually catchy enough that it is pleasantly sitting in my iTunes library right now.
The story is a little iffy. The first half of the series focuses on our four major characters as they complete different missions in Shanghai, with some bits of character development here and there. There is one episode fairly early on that kind of hints at the main plot, which is a nice touch, but then is not really addressed again until the half way point. From then on, the main plot comes into play and it's.... Well.... To be honest, I would have been completely fine if this series was more episodic then if it had an overarching plot because the plot isn't really executed that well. There are plot holes that are almost never filled, leaving the viewer with more questions rather than answers. It also doesn't help this series with the amount of cliches it uses in some of its plot points such as Kazura and his military past. But I feel like the worst part about the story is the last two episodes. When the credits roll during the last episode with Yukina the end is satisfactory, but the build up to that moment was rather contrived making a potentially good story suffer. I don't often look into OVA episodes of a series, but I have been told there is an OVA episode that serves as an epilogue to the main plot. I'd have to watch this episode to see if it's true, but considering how hard it already was to watch thirteen episodes I don't think I would be interested in watching more.
We have four major characters in this show, and I'm going to break this down bit by bit. There is an expression people say, "Ladies first" so we're going to start this conversation with Yukina. Yukina is capable of reading and projecting her thoughts to others, so she is used as a communication link in most of the missions. One of her major plot points is finding her older brother, which in turn makes Yukina attempt to be a strong character. However, she does let her emotions get the best of her on occasion getting upset with her teammates and even backing herself into a corner once in a while. Her servant, I'm not kidding that's what he is, Natsume is a clairvoyant and is also seen behind the scenes with Yukina as the group's eyes. Not much is actually known about Natsume aside from his slight history with Yukina's family. He reminds me of a gentle giant of sorts, and I would have loved to have learned about him more. Kazura has the power of teleportation, and if I were to compare him to someone else in anime I'd say he resembles Samurai Champloo's Jin. This is because both characters have a sense of pride and honor they want to uphold. In Kazura's case, this is a product of his family upbringing and his time with the Imperial Japanese Army. His past is the most talked about, yet underdeveloped out of the group making it extremely irritating to try and connect to him. To counteract Kazura's personality we have, essentially, our Mugen character Aoi. He has the ability to manipulate objects and the people around him, which can be useful if you're getting shot at or something. However, similar to Mugen, he can act rather rashly and impulsively causing some conflicts during missions. He also has an interesting past that is visited during the series, but for spoiler reasons I won't go into it further. Overall, the characters are developed modestly. There is so much more that can be done, but given the circumstances they were okay.
I got the chance to see a couple episodes of the English dub on Anime Network while the rest of it in Japanese, so I'm going to be touching on both. On the Dub side, Sentai Filmworks decided to use their best voice actors for the series. Greg Ayres, John Gremillion, David Wald, and Brittney Karbowski play our four main characters in the series. From what I saw, each give solid performances, but I do have a slight issue with some of the casting. Greg Ayres is a good voice actor, don't get me wrong here, but the voice just doesn't fit the role he plays. Aoi is tall and kind of lanky and his mannerisms made me first think of a slightly deeper voice for the character. Again, I'm not saying Ayres sucks and should die in a fire, but this wasn't what I was expecting in the least. If I had more time and legal access to more episodes, I probably would have a better understanding of the role and would better judge the performance. For now, that's all I can do. On the Japanese side, however, I can talk plenty. Hiroyuki Yoshino, Diasuke Namikawa, Takanori Hoshino, and Yoshiko Ikuta give solid performancesof our four leads as well with Yoshino's Aoi being among my favorite performances. The rest of the cast does solid work as well such as Hiroaki Hirata as Takachiho, Ryusuke Oobayashi as Sakurai, and Ayako Kawasumi as Shizune. I can't give a proper recommendation for a language track since I didn't watch the entire series in English, so it may come down to your personal preference.
By the end of the mission, Night Raid 1931 is rather below average when it comes to story telling. Riddled with cliches and unanswered questions it's hard for me to give this a decent score. Honestly, I think you'd be fine skipping this one. It has good ideas, but just can't execute them to their full extent.
Next time we return to the pair known as Tatum and Palencia. Until then, otaku on my friends!
FINAL RATING- 4/10 IF ONLY THE PLOT DIDN'T KICK IN....