「せめて、希望のかけらを」 (Semete, Kibou no Kakeru wo)
“At The Very Least, A Fragment of Hope”
Picking up from Aoi’s first encounter with Kazura since his betrayal, I honestly had no idea how things would wrap up and was looking forward to being surprised every step of the way. Well, Anime no Chikara sure delivered in this finale by throwing out twist after twist after twist. I just love how no one knows exactly how things are going to end in an original series. While not exactly a twist, Natsume getting killed by a random soldier after he managed to take out Kuze on the night of the new moon without his ability wasn’t something I was expecting to see. Their fight was relatively brief, but was exciting nonetheless as Natsume got heavily wounded by gunshots before closing his eyes and countering Kuze’s teleportation attacks using his sense alone. Incidentally, his death is what made Aoi and Kazura to give up on fighting themselves and for the latter to realize he’s been living in the past even with the future before him. I found it a bit difficult to feel sad about Natsume’s eventual passing, even when he asked them to keep his death from Yukina as long as possible and telepathically communicated with her, simply because I was still in shock about it happening.
Plot-wise, things unfolded pretty quickly once Kazura suggested to Isao that they demonstrate the destructive power of the bomb to the world on an uninhabited island, with Isao insisting that mankind needs to experience the tragedy firsthand to never want to go to war again. His unique analogies of comparing the bomb’s ridiculous power to their superhuman ones’ ability to change the future are always insightful, whether I agree with them or not. What was more eye-opening was that all of this suggested that Ichinose did complete the weapon at some point, despite earlier indication that he couldn’t solve the formulas for the detonation mechanism. Regardless, no one was going to leave the outcome of Shanghai up to chance, so it didn’t take too much away from the urgency of the matter. Not too long after, it was revealed that Shizune was using this chamber to channel her powers to receive a new prophecy based on Isao’s current actions, leading us to the first small twist where she tells him to give up on the plan.
Seeing as the threat had already been made to the attendees of Puyi’s inauguration ceremony, I was wondering what Shizune’s role was in this chamber. I had originally surmised that Isao intended to have her show everyone the horrors of a weapon of mass destruction via an illusion since they were unable to complete one, but that actually turned out to be Yukina’s idea later on. For Isao, we learned more on how his motive stemmed from feeling responsible for ignoring Towa’s prophecy of the destruction that will befall Japan (i.e. Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and caused her to commit suicide. Shizune however believes that it was due to her regret over designating her as her successor — a responsibility of the prophet that Towa deemed a cruel fate to bestow on the next person and wished to free Shizune from. It was a bit of an anti-climactic end to Isao’s ambition when Shizune questioned if he’s really doing this for Towa’s sake and Yukina sensed the hesitation in his heart, but the first big twist came when Sakurai appeared and shot at Yukina in expectation that Isao would instinctively protect her. As Isao bled to death without any last words, Sakurai revealed that this was the original backup plan of the Sakurai Kikan and how Isao’s death concludes their mission.
What appeared to be a covert operation on Sakurai’s part to rid the Kwantung Army of Isao’s dangerous existence turned out to be his own interest in the weapon he was developing though. Aware of the prophecy, Sakurai was intent on fighting fate by winning the arms race even though Shizune didn’t foresee it happening, at which point Ichishi revealed his true identity as a Chinese spy assigned to protect the country from unjust action. As a character who remained in the background up until now, the last thing I was expecting was for him to play such a prominent role in ending Sakurai’s ambitions by erasing his memories. I did like how he was played by one of the Chinese voice actors who voiced some extras in earlier episodes, as his heavily accented Japanese proved to be a nice contrast to heavily accented Mandarin heard thus far. In any case, with Sakurai out of the picture, the attendees shown the horror of the prophecy with Yukina and Shizune‘s combined abilities, and Shizune’s memories erased at her request so that she wouldn’t select a successor, all that was left to wrap up was Ichinose‘s desire to witness the fruits of his labor despite orders made calling off the bombing and retrieving the weapon instead.
At that point, it was Aoi and Kazura’s moment to shine with their combined efforts of saving a countless number of innocent lives in Shanghai. Ichinose falling out of the plane following an attack by the Kwantung Army on their unidentified aircraft was another rather insignificant death, but Aoi using his telekinesis repeatedly to propel the bomb into space when they realized they were out of fuel and couldn’t make it to the ocean was pretty unbelievable yet cool to see. I had my doubts about Aoi’s confidence in surviving the crash using his ability after he told Kazura to escape with the pilot first, mainly because it came off as a death flag and he has a very brief time limit on its use. I figured he used up all the time to send the bomb away and was unable to save himself, which the crash scene where Kazura was desperately looking for him suggested. Their last moment on the plane together did emphasize Kazura’s new outlook however, as he compared Isao’s narrow view of the future to Edogawa Rampo‘s “Watcher in the Attic” and concluded the only way to make a proper judgement of the prophecy is when the time comes.
Two years later at Puyi’s postponed inauguration ceremony, Yukina summed up what happened afterward. In accordance to history, it turns out word about the illusion shown that night didn’t spread (i.e. as if it never happened). Given the time lapse, she seemed to be handling Natsume’s death fairly well, while a run-in with Fuu Lan at her new restaurant and the sight of the picture they took back in Hokuryou with Kazura added in indicated that Aoi did indeed survive. We get to hear his badly played violin briefly as well, before history continued steadily along with the creation of Manchukuo and towards the Second World War. All that Yukina could do was entrust that what they’ve done will provide a fragment of hope for the future. From the viewer’s perspective, it’s as if absolutely nothing changed at all from the Sakurai Kikan’s involvement, but is what I consider the only fitting way to conclude a series about a fictional story within non-fictional history. This story was never about the end result from the global perspective since we know how that all played out. Instead, it was about the untold (albeit fictional) story that we didn’t.
* Note: I purposely included more details of what happened this time around to help those who are trying their best to follow this series unsubbed without adequate understanding of Japanese.
Had I known exactly what I’d be in store for with Anime no Chikara’s second project three months ago, my initial impressions would have been much more enthusiastic. At the time of the Spring 2010 Preview, I was only aware of what would be covered in the first episode of this fictional take on Asian history. Much to my pleasant surprise, it developed into much more than a group of spies with superhuman powers. I probably should have known better than to take this original series lightly when Anime no Chikara’s production-related commercials showed how much time and thought they put into a series on a controversial period of history, but at least now I know better for their upcoming project, Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin. (See below for scenes from the commercial for it shown at the end of this broadcast.)
Anyway, this series did turn out to be rather niche like I was expecting due to its historically based nature. As such, I couldn’t help but feel that one of reasons we don’t see more anime that strive to break out of the redundant norm is because viewers themselves don’t tend to give drastically different shows a fair chance. There are a lot of complaints about “moeblob” and whatnot, yet those same people don’t seem to be watching series such as Senkou no Night Raid when they get produced. Ultimately, the anime industry is a business first and foremost, so if something proves to be unpopular, it’s unlikely we’ll see a lot more of it. That’s a real damn shame to say the least, given how this series is something I’d recommend to anyone in a heartbeat who has a misconstrued perception of anime in general and thinks it’s nothing more than “moeblob” and rehashed ecchi harems. All the same, it seems like history is just too much for the average younger viewer to enjoy, which leaves me wondering if there’s really a problem with the variety of anime that gets produced failing to satisfy these viewers’ interests or if their interests are simply too narrow-minded and/or limited.
Whichever the case, it’s not something I care too much about since I don’t fall into the latter category, but is what will always have me disregarding remarks on how “anime’s gone downhill in recent years”. As someone who’s been watching anime for well over fifteen years now, you’ll get little sympathy out of me when I’ve seen my fair share of the good with the bad and firmly believe that the variety and quality of shows produced nowadays is much better than before. A lot of people may lose sight of anime’s roots simply because they’re younger and are relatively new to the medium, which is perfectly fine provided they don’t aren’t annoyingly vocal about everything being bad without a proper understanding. Not every series turns out to be a gem, but I still feel the overall quality of shows has gone up by a fair margin.
Senkou no Night Raid has proved to be a bit of a challenge to understand and appreciate given its premise, which may or may not have detracted fansubbers from taking it on as a project. By covering the series here, I was hoping to give it the exposure it deserved and share in the discussion of it with like-minded viewers, but the lack of subs made that pretty hard to do on a weekly basis. Still, I applaud those who really wanted to watch this series because it’s something different and tried to follow the best they could watching raws. Hopefully I was able to supplement your understanding in some regard, as I really do feel that more series like this need to be produced. I’m all for romantic comedies and the shounen stuff, but I’m admittedly a much older fan now and like to watch something that’s more thought-provoking than those genres every now and then.
As someone who’s not that familiar with Asian history, this series served as a lesson about it as well, as I was constantly looking up what’s been depicted to discern fact from fiction. It’s pretty awesome that I was learning while watching an entertaining series at the same time, which has left me interested in seeing more history-related series. It doesn’t necessarily have to be anime either, as last year’s John Rabe film depicting the Nanking Massacre is now on my To Watch list. Looking back at how almost all my posts about this series has been much longer than all others and almost editorial-like, it should go to show what this series entails content-wise. I know it won’t mean much to the masses, but if you consider yourself an inquisitive individual who likes to use their brain even when they’re watching something intended for entertainment, I strongly recommend checking this series out.
* I’ve already watched the episode zero prologue included on the first DVD/BD volume that was released last week, but wanted to hold off posting about it until after this finale. I’ll likely have a post about it tomorrow.
Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin – CM