「船上のクランクアップ」 (Senjou no Kuranku Appu)
“The Crank Up On Board”
While anime looks pretty great in 720p, it’s even better in 1080p. It’s particularly noticeable when I watch a series on my 40 or 52 inch LCD TVs where all the pixel sizes are much larger, as is the case with this special prologue episode of Senkou no Night Raid. Mmm, Yukina in 1080p…
Anyway, some scenes from this DVD/BD-only episode were already shown in the special chapter episode that aired on TV when the seventh episode was shifted to a web broadcast. Still, it was nice to learn how the Sakurai Kikan first started out during their mission aboard a ship on route from the Port of Kobe to Shanghai. The twist is that Sakurai had each of them acting independently (save Yukina and Natsume) without any knowledge that the others are also working on the same mission. It was his way to test how they would handle things despite the presence of other undercover agents, which incidentally had Natsume suspicious of Aoi at one point, who was working as the movie company’s cameraman.
As for the mission itself, it was to investigate a series of mysterious disappearances of women who left for Shanghai by way of Kobe and Nagasaki. The one thing they all had in common is that they were scouted as new actresses by a movie company, whose president Kakinuma Senzou (Shioya Kouzou) is suspected to have underground ties with the Green Gang (Chinpan). Accompanying him is his Chinese “coordinator”, Cui Qinglin (Hayashi Marika), whom together turn out to be running a human trafficking ring using the movie company as a front. Natsume is able to surmise that possibility after using his sight to peer into their room where they were going over the profiles of all the girls and saw the price tag at the bottom indicating how much they’ve been sold for. Yukina was later able to confirm this using her telepathy on one of those profile sheets, which gave her visions of how the women are bound and presented naked to a bunch of potential buyers.
Leading up to that and Cui Qinglin’s (Sai Seirin in Japanese) eventual betrayal of Kakinuma to take all the money for herself, it was pretty interesting to see how everyone acted in accordance to Sakurai’s orders with no understanding of the others’ involvement. Things started off with Kazura slipping something into one of the actresses tea to cause her to fall ill, providing Yukina with an opportunity to fill in for her role. She was pretty opposed to the idea at first, but reluctantly agreed to do so upon receiving further instructions from Sakurai. In retrospect, her little stint as an actress proved to be nothing more than some mild fan-service from seeing her constantly falter her lines and have Aoi come in to pinch her cheeks and get her riled up so she isn’t so nervous. However, Sakurai did use the opportunity to get her to substitute her lines in one scene by saying how she’s aware that she’s being brought over to Shanghai for prostitution, prompting a nervous reaction from Kakinuma that showed just how guilty he is.
Along the way, it was pretty funny to see Kazura get hit on by the drunk and obviously gay make-up artist during the banquet/party, though I was shocked to see Yukina almost get raped by a completely intoxicated Kakinuma shortly after Qinglin drugged her for peaking at the women’s profiles. Amazingly, Natsume managed to overcome the poison that Qinglin stabbed him with earlier and sound the fire alarm, paving way for Kazura to jump in and kick everyone’s ass with his Aikido. He pretty much stole Aoi’s thunder by beating him to the chase of stopping Qinglin before she could escape on the boat she radioed for, but the latter did make a clutch save by protecting both him and Yukina from the poison-coated daggers Qinglin threw. It was pretty cool seeing them work together before they actually became partners, especially with the smug look on Aoi’s face when Kazura looked up at him after he used his telekinesis.
Overall, this bonus prologue episode provided a nice glimpse of the beginnings of the Sakurai Kikan and their first successful mission. They even included a preview for episode one, where things pick up upon their arrival to Shanghai. On an unrelated note, it was nice to see Yukina in a schoolgirl uniform, but I’m still a bit disappointed how she never once put on a cheongsam like all the different colored ones Qinglin wore the entire time. Talk about deceiving promo artwork! Dakimakura design it is then…
* Special thanks to Beatslars of Cloudy-Wolf Encodes for providing me with the Blu-ray raw to cover this episode.
Preview of Episode 1