「新しき京」 (Atarashiki Miyako)
As much as I’ve enjoyed how Anime no Chikara has taken their fictional piece of work and overlaid it on top of actual history, things are getting more interesting now that the focus has shifted to the characters’ involvement in all of this. Generally speaking, this isn’t exactly a new recipe when it comes to movies — writing fiction based around non-fiction — but it’s definitely not something you see very often with anime (if at all). Because of that, I’m not too surprised that some anime fans feel like they’ve missed the mark with their first two original works (with differing levels of dissatisfaction), but I’ve personally enjoyed both Sora no Woto and Senkou no Night Raid quite a fair bit. They tend to warrant their own “fictional history” genre, which I wouldn’t mind seeing as a mainstay in the medium all together. However, that notion alone doesn’t change the fact that reception has been rather poor. It might be because they are covering a controversial topic here, but my impression is that controversy generally attracts attention rather than the other way around. As such, I almost want to use the cliché that Anime no Chikara’s works can’t be appreciated in their own time, but it’s likely that a lot of fans just can’t get into them because their approach is so fundamentally different from the norm.
Dialogue-heavy shows do scare people off after all, particularly when they’re not doing it for comedic purposes. The same actually goes for Sora no Woto, where not a whole lot happened until the final few episodes, except it was more approachable because it featured cute girls with K-ON-inspired character designs. Take them out, replace them with a bunch older men and only one amazingly cute girl with super-humans powers, drop them into China, and throw in the espionage twist and suddenly a lot of that same fanbase is no longer interested. In Japan, there seems to be an audience for almost any niche, but English-speaking reception has been quite lackluster judging from the little attention this series is getting (both in terms of fansubs and discussion). It’s a shame to say the least, especially when the basis on history helps shape the story in a significant way while the fictional characters define it. After all the good historic build-up in Senkou no Night Raid, the story within a story involving Aoi’s past with Shizune, Kazura’s past with his family prestige, and Yukina/Natsume’s ones with Isao are finally taking center stage.
There’s been a fair amount of foreshadowing on how Aoi believed Shizune was dead, so I was really looking forward to seeing him learn otherwise. The cliffhanger last time when Shizune was being transported to the new capital of Shinkyou to meet with emperor Aisingioro Puyi did a great job in building my anticipation further, so I pretty much all ears when they finally got a chance to speak. There wasn’t too much revealed outside of how Shizune felt that ones granted with powers of foresight like hers must bear the responsibility of helping guide rulers in every generation, but it did help explain why she faked her death to Aoi and gave up on her former life. In addition, she’s shown how she feels trapped by her fate yet will go back to do what she feels she has to even though Aoi gave her a chance to escape from it all. Even after seeing how she was emotionally affected by Aoi’s words, it seemed fairly obviously that she was still going to leave him when he gave her some time to think it over (while fetching a horse). That didn’t take away from the sympathy I felt towards Aoi’s situation though, particularly after he just showed how he was willing to throw away everything with the Sakurai Kikan and even his own country for her.
In the latter case, it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of Aoi after he was at odds with Kazura over Shizune, but it’s pretty clear that Sakurai isn’t the least bit happy about it. He may have been disappointed in Kazura for letting Aoi go and how his secret agency has degraded to some friends club where their softheartedness will get them all killed, but I actually saw it as a redeeming aspect of Kazura’s character. Even with all that honor and prestige stuff drilled into his head by his militaristic family, he’s shown that he will still make decisions for himself and defy orders to some degree. The next episode suggests that we’ll delve into his past further and his confrontation with Isao, where his own sense of righteousness will likely be put to the test. Speaking of Isao, his meeting with Yukina reaffirms my sentiment that it’s difficult to classify him as a pure villain.
There’s clearly a reason why he approached her and wanted to share his plans with the Sakurai Kikan, and his hopes of having another telepath read his thoughts showed that he still cares about Yukina. Visions of a possible nuclear war breaking out were too much for her to bear, but I suspect Yukina picked up her brother’s true motives from that traumatizing experience. In a way, Isao reminds me a lot of Alphard in CANAAN, simply because behind the madness there is actually a somewhat understandable reason for it all. His methods are undoubtedly questionable, hence why he makes such a great antagonist. In light of that, I found it interesting how Natsume (Kichizou) still calls Isao “young master”, which shows he still has respect for him despite what he’s been up to. It sort of built on what he said earlier to Yukina about how if making Japan a stronger country will put an end to this strife in the future, he’d gladly take up arms.
Other than that, this episode did briefly cover the January 28th Incident, also known as the Shanghai Incident, when the Japanese instigated the Chinese to provide a casus belli to take over the city by force. Fuu Lan had her restaurant destroyed as a result, but thousands of civilians actually perished in the two month-long war in the city streets. Much like the Mukden Incident, the story didn’t shy away from the details of Japan’s involvement, nor their subsequent industrialization of Shinkyou, which reiterated that they were after Manchuria’s resources to begin with. Then there’s the secret underground tunnel that connects the Shinkyou train station, new Kwantung Army headquarters, Chinese state council, and reception hall (where Shizune was brought to), but I’m not sure if the Japanese actually created one. In any case, it looks like each of the characters have their fair share of problems now, plus there’s still the physicist Ichinose they need to look into, so we’re probably in store for a dramatic final stretch.