What They Say:
The year is 1931. The city is Shanghai. Ten years before America will enter World War II, the hydra’s teeth planted by the first great global conflict are beginning to germinate. Hatching like spiders, they weave the complex web of plots and conspiracies destined to inevitably draw entire nations against their will to the brink of destruction once more.
Caught in the heart of these webs, desperately seeking to separate lies from truth, is “Sakurai Kikan,” an ultra-secret intelligence agency staffed by extraordinarily talented individuals with abilities far beyond those of normal humans. Their duty: to stop the darkest plots and eliminate the greatest threats. But in a city built on intrigue, can even a team of clairvoyants, telepaths and espers stand against the ultimate forces of destiny?
Contains episodes 1-13 plus two OVA episodes.
The audio presentation for this release is a solid and straightforward piece as it contains both the English and Japanese languages in stereo using the DTS-HD MA codec. The show is one that works the stereo mix well as it handles both the quiet and the action quite well. There’s a good deal of dialogue and atmospheric moments in this series as it plays to the politics and intrigue quite well and it has a solid sound to it, keeping the levels right while still being easy to understand. The action scenes are a bit more intense and brief for the most part, especially when the leads use their powers, but it works to convey the situation in a convincing way. While it’s not a big, brash and highly outgoing mix, it handles the material very well and provides for a good experience. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2010, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show has the original fourteen episodes and two OVAs spread across two discs evenly. As part of the small group of series that A-1 Pictures partook in during the first half of 2010, Night Raid 1931 has a really good look to it with a lot of detail and a real world sense of color for its palette. The show is one that provides a very lived in feeling for a lot of it and even though it plays to some mild science fiction at times. The mixture of the world of 1931 and the military with all of this comes across well here. While the bitrate isn’t one that reaches a lot of high points, it handles the source material properly with only some of the backgrounds showing a bit noise when it comes to the darker scenes. There’s a lot to like about the look of the show, but it’s not one that will leap out at you.
The two disc release here is presented in a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds each of them against the interior sides with no hinges involved. The front cover works a bit of the style of the opening sequence for its background with the black and white with a dash of color grid design. The foreground image is quite good as it uses the four main characters all dolled up to varying degrees looking quite appropriate for the time with a good slick feeling to it all. The logo is kept simple which lets the eye draw more to the colors and the characters themselves. The back cover works with a very dark approach by using a whole lot of black with a soft white for the text, which dominates the top third of it. The font is pretty small so the combination of that and the color makes it a difficult read at times depending on the lighting. The middle has a decent strip of shots from the show with varying sizes that shows off different characters while the bottom has a look at some of the names involved in the production and the technical credits that lists everything accurately. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menus for this release work off of the main cover artwork design by taking the background, which comes from the opening sequence, and uses that on the left as its basic structure. The middle of it has one area blockde off in black that has the episode numbers and titles together, denoting the OVA as well in its proper place in the series, with a separate menu below to handle the languages feature and special features on the second disc as well. The right side uses different pieces of character artwork of the core cast and it looks quite good with great colors and a strong sense of detail. It does lack any sort of music though which gives it a far too quiet feeling and doesn’t help to set the mood at all because of it. The pop-up menu uses the blocking on the left and it nicely uses some blank sections so that it feels like it does overlay it properly without taking up a huge amount of the real estate. The discs didn’t read our players’ language presets though and defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles.
The extras for this release are minimal depending on how you look at it as the main ones are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences. The second disc also puts the special episode called The Prophecy in that area which is a sort of extra long promo/recap kind of piece that covers a look at the characters, settings and motivations for everything.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the very enjoyable Sora No Wo To, A-1 Pictures and the Anime no Chikara block kicked off with its second original work with Night Raid 1931. The series plays to some similar themes in a way as it deals with a small group of people dealing with the matters of military and politics, though to a very different degree. What made this one different is that it’s a fairly controversial project in that it deals with the Japanese presence in Manchuria during the early 1930’s and the kinds of social and political issues that comes with it. With a lot of people not really wanting to talk about what went on there and the problems with apologies in general on a national level for past transgressions, an anime series about that time period is going to be a dicey proposition in general.
The series revolves around a small group of people working for the Sakurai Agency, which is a seemingly sanctioned secret spy group that’s operating in in Shanghai at the same time that the Imperial Army is there and expanding its presence in order to help establish Manchuko, giving them a stronger foothold on the mainland and having a puppet empire all their own. What’s making these events difficult is that operating behind the scenes is a former Imperial Army man named Isao who wants to help the Asian countries that are currently colonies of the European nations to throw off that choke hold and establish their proper independence again. And the best way to do that is to try and force a Final War mentality by creating the ultimate weapon and using that as a deterrent. With a view that a second Great War is coming, Isao is in his own way trying to prevent it, or minimize its impact on the part of the world that he’s fully connected to.
While Isao serves as the overall villain, one that is a bit nuanced from what we see of him, the leads are made up of a group of four people with very different motivations. The ostensible lead is Aoi, a young man with telekinetic abilities, is the most rounded and worldly of the group. He has his own goal when it comes to finding a woman he’s been searching after for some time but he plays it fairly casual yet is completely reliable when the chips are down. Aoi’s definitely the more interesting of the group because of what he’s capable of, his personality and the way he pulls the group together. We never really know much of any of their pasts, but his is the one that feels like it has the most interesting story to tell.
Conversely, Natsume in the group is the one we know the least about and has the least interesting of stories as his main focus is that of protecting Yukina. His height and physical presence sets him apart from everyone else and his main use in the group is that of being the sniper, something that he’s better than others with because of his clairvoyant abilities. His devotion to Yukina’s safety is the thing that defines him though, which in turn makes Yukina more of a focus. She’s an interesting character in that she’s Isao’s sister and her main goal is to find him and try to stop what he has in store. She brings a good power to the table with telepathy that helps her work the group better, but also has the ability to increase the abilities of others in some small way. Add in Kazura as the military man that never made it into the military who can teleport with some limitations and hates to use his power as he feels it to be a crutch. The group isn’t dysfunctional even with all these issues but they do have some conflicts that arise out of personality and their own goals.
With the characters never being fully explored, since it doesn’t make too much sense to go into the pasts of people working as spies, the main focus is on the political and intrigue side. The background storyline works through the idea of Isao trying to sway over the people in power in the region to go in the direction he is painting as the way to survive the future while also putting in a good deal of fear with those who have taken control of the lands. With the Imperial Army being manipulated along the way, there’s plenty of tensions with the locals, splinter groups and so forth. And in the mix is the Sakurai Agency, at least for most of it, as they try to smooth things out and do what they can to help their homeland. It gets pretty well into the context of the time with the way the Japanese have taken the land in the area and the way the Imperial Army carries itself. And it spends a lot of time chasing Isao as he sets up events while having a few people helping him along the way, a couple of which are powered in a similar way.
What frustrates about the show is that it has so much potential and interesting ideas to it, but it falters with the characters pretty significantly. None of them provide enough connection for the viewer to really make it work since it avoids going into a lot of detail about them. They all feel very superficial, going after their basic goals and that’s it. There’s a good cast here and they inhabit a detailed world, but they don’t feel like they fully belong in it. The other aspect that was problematic for me is that since this is such a very specific time in history in this area, it’s filled with a lot of nuance and detail that doesn’t mean anything to me. I can certainly appreciate it in terms of the animation and the layout of the story, but it’s not a history I feel connected to and there wasn’t enough to bring me in at the start to really engage me with it. Watching it with the special episode zero didn’t help and in fact wasn’t the best way to start the series since it’s a fairly slow episode and gives the wrong vibe. There’s so much to like about this show that the fact that it doesn’t come together in a complete form makes it a disheartening experience.
Night Raide 1931 may be a series that’s best to not marathon and instead take it bit by bit as it works the time period in spy fashion with some extra powers among the main characters. There’s a lot of detail here, some great animation and designs and a complex story that deals with a time period that’s highly underutilized in anime to say the least, but it never became a compelling work because the characters aren’t all that engaging with each other or with themselves. After enjoying Sora no Wo To and Occult Academy but not getting to see the show that was made in between, Night Raid 1931 is the weakest of the three Anime no Chikara projects. With it being an original work, it definitely uses a different structure to events and things unfold in a different way than usual, but some execution issues still remain and the series left me feeling put off by it a lot of the time.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Interviews with Director and Cast, Original Trailers, Promo Videos, TV Spots, Tease
Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 16th, 2011
Running Time: 400 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.