Night Raid 1931 is a fifteen episode anime series set in nineteen thirties Shanghai. The show follows the adventures of the Sakurai Agency – a clandestine group tasked with protecting Japan’s interests in the region. Sakurai’s four-man team (well three man and one gal to be exact) are unique in that they are blessed with supernatural skills in addition to being masters of espionage. Fans of Japanese animation can presently buy the series, in the UK, courtesy of MYM Entertainment’s three-disc collection. At the time of writing the set is priced at twenty-two pounds from Amazon and other good DVD retailers.
The show’s first DVD introduces viewers to the cast via one off stories, which chronicle Sakurai’s early missions. A sample of these cases include the group disrupting a prostitution ring aboard a cruise liner, rescuing a Japanese businessman who has been captured by Chinese militants and the investigation of a Russian spy masquerading as a concert violinist. Towards the end of the second disc the narrative settles down to tell the tale of Sakurai’s battle against rebels who are rushing to create an atom bomb, which they hope can be used to scare off western colonists away from Asia (as well as deterring foreign nations from using such a device against Japan in the prophesized Second World War.)
From the four Sakurai agents I would have to say that Aoi Miyoshi and Kazura Iha are the most fleshed out character wise. Aoi has the power of telekinesis, which he manipulates to deflect bullets and hurl opponents, whilst Kazura is a teleporter who can instantly transport himself and others over short distances. The two, who conceal their true professions by pretending to be photographers, are forever butting heads due to their very different ideologies. Kazura is the stuffier of the two and prefers to do things by the book whilst the more free-spirited Aoi is often guilty of acting recklessly during missions.
Sakurai’s sole female member is Yukina Sonogi who is adept at telepathy, which comes in handy for reading people’s minds in addition to facilitating mental communication. Personality wise there’s not much to her character, which is a shame given her importance to the plot (Sakurai’s chief antagonist is actually her older brother.) Always by Yukina’s side is her faithful servant Natsume Kagiya whose clairvoyant gifts are tied to the lunar cycle. He’s presented as the wise man of the group, but is criminally underutilized in the story were he gets both little screen time or lines to deliver.
My rating for Night Raid 1931 is three stars out of five. I enjoyed how the series started off and the finale ends with a bang, but some of the second DVD’s episodes are a little dull as they focus on political exposition. Overall I would still recommend the show as its setting is a breath of fresh air compared to other animes, which are predominately set in modern day Japan or the far distant future. Although a little dry, the story is clever and I appreciated how the Japanese creators did not shy away from the despicable acts their nation committed during the time. That’s so different from American moviemakers who often rewrite history to present their country as the heroes.