Friday, December 24, 2010

Anime Review: Senko no Night Raid

The second of the three Anime no Chikara (original anime, no preceding novel or manga) project by A-1 and I had pretty high hopes for the series. Not only do I like original series (and not just because that means I can't be spoiled but that is a very nice bonus) but this was set in the 1930s in Shanghai China, neither of which are the norm for a setting. Additionally, anyone who is aware of Asian history would recall that this is when, and where, the Japanese (who were in control of China at that point) and the Chinese had some very bad blood and I was hoping that the anime would have the guts to at least touch on it and admit that yes, they did some horrendous things in that period. Plus 1930s=awesome clothing so hopefully at least one of those things was going to pan out in this series

Senko no Night Raid I believe this means "lightening fast night raid"
 Summary: It's 1931, Shanghai China under the Japanese control and the Sakurai Kikan organization is a group of espers working to help protect Japanese interests. But not only are there people who don't like these interests but there is another group that believes they have a better way of advancing Japan and making it the dominate superpower. And with the lines being less than clear drawn between these groups there's plenty of room for betrayal and secrets about the present and future.

The Good: Normally when you have a group of physics/espers/supernaturally powered people* the guys get awesome powers, especially the leads, but the girls get a bit short shifted. Here none of the characters is overpowered (we have telekinesis, telepathy, far seeing, and teleportation) and all of them have a limiter which also meant that the fights couldn't be the main focus of the story. Another thing that peaked my interest in the series was finding out that one episode was only going to be broadcast on the web and it was going to deal with the Mukden Incident so I was happy to see that the show managed to show that the Japanese had a lot of influence in starting the second Sino-Japanese War and that they weren't really the good guys. The characters were never depicted as either the good guys or the bad guys but rather as people with strong ideals and firm ideas how to achieve these ideals and let their methods sway the viewer on who was "right" or "wrong" in the whole deal.

The Bad: Not a fault of the studio but the subs for this show took freaking forever. As I understand all the different languages and a lot of military vocabulary was what slowed people down but I started losing interest in the series when we started having two month gaps between episodes. As for the show itself, I feel like episode 0 (a DVD only episode) should've been the real episode 1 (1 wasn't bad but 0 did a much better job at introducing the characters and setting up the story) and episode 4 (which a lot of people listed as the reason why they dropped the series) be a DVD only episode instead. So the pacing was a bit sloppy (both this and Occult Academy seem to have this problem) and, even though each of the characters had a good amount of screen time and had their backstory explained, they still felt rather distant from the viewer. They were understandable and even sympathetic characters, but they still felt rather removed to me and, since the story was lacking in other departments as well, it really needed that extra spark to really help the story.

The Art: Aside from the fact that I wonder why Yukina never wore that cheongsam from the promo images (doubly strange since she had so many cute 1930 outfits) and why Aoi never changes his clothes at all (doubly weird again since the other two guys changed outfits at least once or twice), I have essentially no complaints about the art. A-1 produces some very nice, clean looking art and their backgrounds are super detailed as well, add that to lots of period clothing and I'm a happy camper. I'll also say it was a clever choice of them to give the characters very non-flashy superpowers, probably helped keep the budget manageable and made sure the fights weren't plagued by ugly CGI.

The Music: Even with all the breaks the OP music still stayed with me so, while not quite an ear worm, it's a pretty catchy song. Didn't like the ED as much and I'm a little puzzled why the ED had different art in the first episode (it was a just an animation from the OP on loop, made the regular ED seem tons better by comparison and that was just three or four slow pans out on various pictures). And it's worth bringing up that this series tried really hard to capture 1930s Shanghai by having tons of different languages spoken throughout the series. I remember Chinese (background characters were okay, mains were terrible), Russian (passable but staid), English (understandable if heavily accented, but why did the Indian guy have such an American accent that sounded like something out of YGO abridged?), and German (only popped up once or twice for a few lines I think). The Chinese, and I'm going on hearsay here but everyone agreed on it, was particularly badly spoken by the main characters and the DVD has the option of a Japanese only language track instead. A-1 certainly gets props for trying for more realism but I think it may have backfired here.

So, the series was alright, far from being a disaster and I'd like to have it on DVD because of all the lovely art, but I feel like it missed out on some true potential it had. The pacing wasn't quite strong enough, I'm a little puzzled what the director was doing since it felt like the series needed more oversight, but it was far from the worst that the spring season had to offer.

*There's a reason one of the nicknames for the show is "steampunk Darker than Black"