“Once is happenstance; twice is coincidence; three times is enemy action.” – Ian Fleming.
This is a TV series originating from Japan, set in 1931, which amongst other things covers the events which lead to invasion of China by the Japanese and what has since become known as the Mukden or Manchurian Incident. You can therefore expect some controversy with this series, at least across from the Sea of Japan.
The series revolves around a secret group of Japanese spies called the “Sakurai”. The four central members are not only competent agents, but each of them has some form of psychic ability. Polite sole female member Yukina Sonogi can communicate telepathically; tall sterm Natsume Kagiya is clairvoyant; optimistic Aoi Miyoshi has the ability to use telekinesis for a short amount of time; and honourable Kazura Iha can teleport.
Yukina has primarily joined the organisation in order to find her missing older brother Isao, a former member of the Kwantung Army (the group responsible for starting the Manchurian Incident). Yukina and others discover Isao and that he is an advocate of a rather extreme form of Pan-Asianism. He wants to expel all western colonialists from Asia, and plans to do so using a rather devastating kind of bomb.
Night Raid 1931 starts off rather slowly. It actually starts with one of three OVAs, an “Episode 0” prequel, which are all included on this DVD (a clip show serving as Episode 6.5 is included as a DVD extra). The early episodes are mainly there to establish the characters and do little to move the actual plot forward. It is not until Isao arrives on the scene that things really become interesting.
The thorny issue throughout the series is the Manchurian Incident, dealt with in the seventh episode, in which members of the Kwantung Army blow up a railway line, an act which the Imperial Japanese Army accused the Chinese of committing, which resulted in the invasion of Manchuria and it being turned into a puppet state. The episode is told from the viewpoint of the Japanese, and does not feature any of the main characters apart from a voice-over from Yukina. You do feel slightly uncomfortable watching the episode, but at least it is made clear that it was the Japanese who planned the incident and not the Chinese.
There are problems with the subtitles and the dubs. Some of the subs disappear from the screen too quickly so you cannot read them. In the English dub, everyone speaks English no matter where the characters are from, which is an issue because most of the episodes feature more than one language, and this does not come across. Throughout the series you hear Japanese, Mandarin, English, German and Russian; but in the dub you do not notice this. The Japanese dub also has issues, namely when it comes to dubbing the characters who speak English. Two characters, a Briton and an Indian, both speak English with what sound like American accents, which is especially annoying when you consider that the British character was an actual historical figure: the second Earl of Lytton, son of the Viceroy of India, and the man responsible for a League of Nations report into the Manchurian Incident.
Night Raid 1931 does eventually find its feet, but it starts off badly, the subs and dubs have issues, and then there is the whole issue about the Incident. It is not a series I would personally recommend.