I usually don’t write these short reviews for full length anime series. When I do, it’s usually because the show is either too boring to finish or so uninspired that I simply don’t have enough material to talk about. Night Raid 1931 is a curious case because it has a lot of good ideas, but is so mediocre that I never felt strongly about it either way. It’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s just Night Raid 1931.
The story appealed to me as a history buff. It follows a secret organization of spies that operate out of Shanghai. Following military successes during its recent wars, Japanese influence in mainland Asia is spreading rapidly. They are a burgeoning Empire with large ambitions; something that has other Asian nations and Western overlords quite worried.
What follows are a series of thrilling missions during which the spies take part in events that lead into the second Sino-Japanese War and, by extension, the second World War. It dabbles in a bit of Alternate History in the process, but nothing so glaring as to come off as historical revisionism. Though a few particularly touchy episodes were never broadcasted.
Despite this cool setting, I felt largely underwhelmed with the cast of characters. The team consists of rash youth Aoi, the always-serious elite Kazura, the defiant young lady Yukina, and her loyal servant Natsume. All led by the literal mustache-twirling spymaster Shinichiro Sakurai.
These young spies all have incredible superpowers with which they fulfill their missions, but they are very much lacking in the personality department. Those short snippets with which I described them is basically all there is to them. There is little character development throughout the story as everybody always acts exactly as you’d expect. Aoi is always rushing headlong into things but improvises his way out of trouble, Kazura is deliberate and calculating, Yukina is always trying to prove herself, and Natsume is dutiful to a fault.
They never really surprise you and sometimes even leave you questioning whether they are even suited for this line of work. They also don’t particularly feel like a team; their powers complement each other strategically, but there is little synergy between the individual members. This makes for a forgettable cast that I never felt invested in.
The overall story doesn’t fare much better. Individual episodes sometimes had appealing plots, ranging from comedic filler episodes to chapters on specific historical events. The issue lies in tying it all together. It’s difficult to keep track of the passage of time or the machinations of over a dozen factions. The dialogue constantly mentions details and names with little explanation, making it all much more complicated than it needed to be. Especially for a story that still has some very basic black & white morality going on.
Its alternate history elements were interesting, but the story around it was rarely exciting even when putting its confusing moments aside. The big plot the villains are hatching doesn’t get enough focus, nor are those villains particularly captivating. In fact, every time the main dude showed up again I’d already kinda forgotten about him.
Not even the presentation was spared this middle-of-the-road effort. An earnest attempt to have Chinese characters speak Mandarin is rad, but counter-balanced by lazy Engrish and stilted performances. Action scenes look nice, but are marred by animation mistakes and consistency errors. The OP by MUCC would have easily made it into my Top 100 list last year, but is also the only piece of notable music in the entire anime.
It’s the perfect 5/10 anime.