Senkou no Night Raid – 07
I can sort of see why this series isn’t actively fan-subbed, because unless you’re pretty fluent in Japanese, know your Asian history fairly well, and have an inquisitive attention span, it can get a bit difficult to follow at times. In my case, I was never formally taught Asian history in school, so I’m actually enjoying how much I’m learning about it from watching an anime. While I’m aware that some of it is fictional, Anime no Chikara’s depiction of 1931 is surprisingly a lot more faithful to history than one would originally presume (myself included). Part of my so-called history lesson watching this series stems from me cross-referencing what is indeed fact or fiction. It’s a bit of a chore and feels like research, but as someone who’s also actively covering the series, I wholeheartedly believe it’s time well invested.
As I briefly mentioned last time, this online-only seventh episode mainly follows two Japanese Manchuria reporters in their search for a scoop. Noticeably absent were our Sakurai Kikan protagonists, but in their place were a fair number of key historical figures in the telling of the Japanese side of the story leading up to the Mukden Incident. Using a radio show that involved Major General Tatekawa Yoshitsugu among a Constitutional Democratic Party member, a Friends of Constitutional Government member, and a university professor, the episode started off presenting a lot of factual information regarding the Treaty of Shimonoseki that China signed following their defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War. In particular, how China ceded the southeastern portion of Manchuria known as the Liaodong Peninsula to Japan, where the South Manchuria Railway, a.k.a. Mantetsu, is located. Prior to that, there was also a monologue on the importance of the mineral rich and heavily industrialized Manchuria region from a military standpoint, which I assume was foreshadowing why Japan wanted to colonize it.
After this historic foundation of sorts was established, things went on to highlight some emphatic views by having the reporters interview various other people to see if they felt the region was under Japan’s rule. With the existence of the Japanese railway and mention of how the Chinese government wanting to ignore the Treaty of Shimonoseki and build their own railway parallel to it — competing with Mantetsu’s freight business at one-third their rate — it was a good depiction of some of the unrest the Japanese felt about China’s treatment of the region. At the same time, they didn’t shy away from how there were clear signs that Zhang Zuolin (Chou Sakurin in Japanese) was assassinated by the Japanese three years earlier, yet China chose to believe that it was done by spy at the time and not be provoked into a war with Japan. Despite a run-in with Ishiwara Kanji on the train, what our reporters didn’t give us a first-hand account of is what went on behind closed doors. Since personalities generally aren’t documented in history, I can’t really say what the Japanese militarists were thinking leading up to the scheme, but Ishiwara, Itagaki Seishiro, and their men weren’t portrayed as a power-hungry zealous bunch. Instead, they were shown to have heavily contemplated pulling China into a war and ended up relying on the gods to give them a sign using a falling chopstick. Upon seeing that, I was seriously hoping Anime no Chikara wasn’t going to claim that Japan’s decision resulted from a coin toss (more or less).
Naturally, this is where the pure fiction had to kick in since we can only really speculate what ultimately prompted their decision and if it was indeed a power-hungry one to begin with. To that end, they ended up revealing that the chopstick did fall to the left, meaning the military officers wouldn’t go ahead with the plan to bomb their own railway. However, the mysterious encounter Ishiwara, Itagaki, and Tatekawa all had with Aoi’s lover ultimately changed their mind. Believed to be a prophet (she’s now listed as that in the credits too), Senkou no Night Raid basically attributes the Japanese Kwantung Army‘s decision to go ahead with the plan to her appearance, even though she didn’t guide them one way or the other. Humorously enough, they still believed she was a prophet for appearing and disappearing in a blink of an eye, when she was clearly struggling with the door while trying to leave. It felt kind of wrong to laugh at the satire added to this pivotal point in Asian history, but perhaps making fun of it is the best way to offset all the controversy surrounding it. Prophet aside, Isao was also shown earlier on to be on with Ishiwara earlier on, cementing his fictional role in all this.
With that said, the inclusion of Tatekawa did adhere to historical facts by showing how he was sent to check up on the Kwantung Army after headquarters suspected that they might be thinking of defying orders and plotting to start a war. A subtle difference there is that he wasn’t ordered to try and stop them, but merely report back his findings. As a touted hero for his deep reconnaissance missions during the Russo-Japanese War, Tatekawa was shown to be torn between ideals and his orders after our prophet approached him and pointed that out. Subsequently, he was then shown drinking at a hotel with Ishikawa and Itagaki and sensing they were planning something, but choosing not to do anything. In actual history, he was reported to have gotten drunk and fallen asleep instead of stopping Ishikawa and Itagaki, but here he’s depicted as making a conscious effort not to. In any case, it kind of bothered me how one of the reporters immediately decided to report it as an incident caused by the Chinese simply because it would make for a better article to Japanese readers. It basically reiterated how the media can completely mislead the general public with ease, and I don’t doubt that it probably happened either, which is why it was somewhat annoying to see.
Following the bombing, the rest played out as history indicates with the Japanese responding out of “self-defense” and the Japanese government eventually going along with the war, despite how a few members of the Kwantung Army defied orders and acted alone. The rest as they say is history, so I commend Anime no Chikara for portraying things in such a way that Japan is clearly responsible, but isn’t a tyrannous country like some people like to believe. This way, the story’s slightly more acceptable by both sides of the debate and no one’s going to demand that Anime no Chikara be burned at the stake for producing this series. Next time, it looks like we’re back on track with the Sakurai Kikan, so it’ll be interesting to see what role they play in this fictional history after the incident.
Finally, I should mention that there was a commercial for the first BD/DVD release during the stream, indicating that it will include the director’s cut of the first episode and the episode zero prologue on the ship, both of which we saw scenes of in the special chapter.