Re-writing the Textbooks: Revisionism in Senkou no Night Raid?

Also: a brief overview of the historical situation in China in 1931.

So you think you know your history. Or you think you don’t. Actually, a lot of bloggers/viewers/whomever have admitted as much recently when considering Senkou no Night Raid and its setting – Shanghai in 1931. However, most of us know some very basic facts – Japan was in China… and they realllly wanted to be more in China. And, eventually, this kind of led (among other things) to the Pacific Theater of World War II.

I’ll be the first to admit that when I read the premise of Senkou no Night Raid, I felt a bit leery. And that continued as I was watching the first episode as well, decent Mandarin notwithstanding (as it does stand to reason that Japanese agents would probably not have the best Mandarin skills in the universe). Japan merrily committed an astounding amount of atrocities in its campaign in China, and so the thought of setting a series in China right on the eve of all of this is, well, unsettling, particularly when you consider the revision of Japanese history textbooks over the last decade and the fact that this is a Japanese studio handling the effort. On paper, it looks pretty sketchy.

However, in watching the first episode, a bit of dialogue snagged my eye:

Now, if you’re like jpmeyer, your immediate thought is that we’re looking at some prime sugarcoating here. Actually, in jpmeyer’s defense, most people probably thought the same thing. But this ignores a vital fact – ultimately, World War II, in both Europe and Asia, had a lot to do with racism.

Let me explain a bit. Hitler was extremely racist. Duh. Part of that racism was thinking that the Germans, as the master race, deserved the best, and needed “living space”. So Hitler wanted to expand east into countries such as Poland the Russia, because they had land and the people there (Slavs) were racially inferior. Destroying Slavs for the benefit of Germans was a moral end in such a paradigm. Japan operated under a similar mindset, although in this case, obviously, it was the Japanese as master race. So moving into East Asia, killing all the inferior people there, and then reordering it all with the Japanese now as the ruling classes was, in this view, the morally correct thing to do.

So when the guy above claims an ideal of stability and prosperity for East Asia, he’s not just blowing hot air or saying pretty words. He actually believes it. And so did most of the ruling elite in Japan at the time. The key here is that he’s talking about East Asia, not East Asians. It is a very important distinction.

Now, of course, this may not be at all intentional – the irony here is that A-1 might be inadvertently mixing up Koolaid to try to rewrite the past but actually be falling in fairly close line with it. This is entirely possible. However, at the moment, the fact remains that, so far, Senkou no Night Raid isn’t exactly committing true revisionism. The Japanese were convinced that what they were doing was the right thing to do; to them, it was the same as spraying down a house to get rid of termites so people can live in the house again. They were just saving Asia from itself.

Knowing this, I’m curious to see where we go from here, although I am anticipating a full-hearted embrace of gloss over the fact that Japan raped and pillaged and murdered millions of Chinese people (not to mention Fillipinos, Koreans, etc.) during the 1930’s and 40’s. On the other hand, it could go the disillusioned route – ¬†our four characters work for what they think is a noble end and then realize how they’ve actually been tools in a truly horrific effort, but are wholly powerless to do anything about it.

Yeah, I’m not really expecting the second option.

Anyway, now I’m just gonna move into a very basic history lesson for those of you unfamiliar with the Chinese civil war and Japan’s involvement in it. For a Western audience, it is admittedly pretty obscure – I myself can only do this because I’m in a history course which just went over this two weeks ago.

The last Chinese dynasty collapsed in 1911; in its wake, warlords gained control over various parts of Chine – there was no central government. The Chinese Civil War started in 1927. It was fought between the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Communist Party of China, both of whom wanted control over the entirety of the nation. The KMT were the nationalists, a.k.a. the folks who ended up in Taiwan (essentially). The warlords farting around China weren’t exactly aligned with anyone; they just went with whoever would pay them the most or whoever looked like the most likely to win. Japan looked over at China and thought, “Awesome.” since this all seemed to present quite an opportunity.

Then, the Mukden Incident occurred (although the Japanese call it the Manchurian Incident and the Chinese call it the September 18th Incident). Japan had had a lot of elements hanging around China for years, and this incident involved the bombing of a portion of a Japanese-owned railroad. So Japan got mad, blamed the Chinese, and hopped across the sea into Manchuria, the northern part of China, which they then dubbed ‘Manchukuo’ and took over.

The Mukden Incident hasn’t occurred yet in Senkou no Night Raid – its possible that this is what is being built toward in the show.

Long-term, but not exactly relevant to the show – Japan didn’t really begin its full-out war in China until 1937. At this time, the KMT and the commies grudgingly joined forces to try to drive the Japanese out. After World War II, they started their own fighting up again. Essentially, the communists won in 1950, although a treaty was never signed. Taiwan decided in 1991 that the war was over, although China wouldn’t quite agree on that one.

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28 Responses to Re-writing the Textbooks: Revisionism in Senkou no Night Raid?

  1. Aorii says:

    That distinction between East Asia and East Asians hit the mark. After all, rest of Asia weren’t treated as people by the Japs through a good portion of that war anyhow…

    Your history synopsis gives me the impression you’re really rough with it. Civil War actually started far before 1927; 1927 only marks the beginning of the most well-known struggle (KMT vs CCP). The warlords have been a central part of everything since the 1911, and quite a few of them were major contenders for national power and not just some nobody. I don’t remember any dates in the episode but even if Mukden Incident hasn’t happened, its predecessor Huanggutun Incident certainly has and everything has been in the works of an Manchurian Invasion ever since Zhang’s son took over the Fengtian Army and then allied with Chiang kai-shek.

    I worked on a history crash course for this just a few days before here

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Well, yes, the warlords were fighting amongst each other far before 1927, but the war proper started then – the period between 1911 and 1927 is considered the ‘Warlord Period’ and not actually a part of the Chinese Civil War itself.

      As for the Manchurian invasion – yeah, Japan basically had been planning on it for a long while before they actually did it. I just didn’t really want to explicate upon it too much, since, honestly, I don’t think most people care that much, so long as they have a rough idea of the environment of China circa 1931. Which is just that the civil war was going on and Japan was poised to hop in when it seemed most expedient for their own ends.

  2. While I’m sympathetic to jpmeyer’s view, I don’t think much even if this anime sugarcoats things. I’ve been consuming propaganda in mass entertainment all my life, most of it from Hollywood YEEHAW. I find it utterly wasteful to rant and rail about all of that I consumed.

    Maybe a good way to look at this show is historical fantasy. The first episode was interesting, with lots of what seems to be proto-Aikido techniques. It is historically accurate that the founder of Aikido — Ueshiba Morihei served in China prior to WW2 (though most likely not in a team like this LOL).

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Yeah, I definitely get where he’s coming from, and I hope it doesn’t come off as a criticism of him. I just think there is a tiny possibility that A-1 is actually going to go all subversive on us… and it is true that a Japanese guy in 1931 could say that they wanted the best for East Asia and actually meant it, just certainly not how the rest of East Asia would’ve considered it, ha.

      The first episode was ok. We’ll see where it goes from here, I suppose. I just have a preference, honestly, for live-action action to animated action for whatever reason. Unless it involves lots of well-animated blood.

      • I just find it interesting how there’s very little anti-Japanese sentiment here by the 70s, despite the Philippines being more of an American post-colony, swilling down American popular culture.

        When Ferdinand Marcos banned Super Robot Anime, he didn’t do it because they were made in Japan, but rather because they were violent, and supposedly being appropriated as symbols by the New People’s Army (Communist).

        I never feel like I have to apologize for Japan’s actions, but maybe because I never feel I need to make America apologize for its actions when they subjugated us into their own colonial rule, and their cultural and economic hegemony thereafter.

        This is not to say that this subject isn’t interesting. I just wish that the anime turns out to be entertaining and good so as all this discussion isn’t wasted.

    • 2DT says:

      Fascinating detail about Aikido. I had no idea.

      As for Senkou no Night Raid, I’m reminded of those Japanese cafes that used Nazi motifs and uniforms, not because they glorified Nazi philosophy but because the aesthetic just looked real snappy. I imagine the creators of this show didn’t give TOO much thought about the controversy of what they were doing (obviously they thought about it some, since there’s that disclaimer). They more likely thought, “This period of history is so rich, and yet nobody’s ever used it as the setting of an anime. Let’s go for it!”

      • When there wasn’t much anime to fanboy about at uni (around ’94) I was really into Aikido. I read a bunch of books, including those by Kisshoumaru (the son) and by 1st-gen Aikidoka. The techniques used in the episode are fundamental ones, taught at 1st kyu.

        The show made me remember love for it, the mune tsuki kote gaeshi.

      • adaywithoutme says:

        There’s actually a very strong aikido club on campus – I was very surprised initially because my college is in the middle of nowhere in the Southeastern United States, and, well, diverse we are not.

        As for the Nazi imagery, you see it in anime a lot, too. Well, not exactly within the anime themselves, but in promotional art, and its the exact same reason – it just looks good. Its the beauty of a well-designed military uniform.

        Man, I could go off onto a whole other post about uniforms and the importance of them vis-a-vis military institutions. They really do play a pivotal role, particularly within fascist regimes. After all, you don’t want anyone laughing at you, that does no good for you – just look at the ridiculous service uniforms that the American Air Force uses.

  3. Joojoobees says:

    @ghostlightning “Ueshiba Morihei served in China prior to WW2 (though most likely not in a team like this LOL).”

    The only reason you think that is because the files are still secret! j/k

    Excellent summary of the historical situation. I’m one of those folks who knew about the Japan v. Cina conflict without having enough details to quite understand what was going on. Thanks for the heads up about the Mukden Incident.

    I think it is possible they might go for your “second option”. At the end of episode one, the TK team member seemed to be hostile to their employer (the one you show with the “stability and prosperity” quote).

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Yeah, it does seem like the relationship between the employer and employees might be a bit on the shaky side. Just so long as we don’t have some devolution into crap like the Japanese characters saving Chinese babies or something. I think failure to be able to do anything substantial in the face of the Japanese war machine would be interesting.

    • LOL in some accounts he developed the concept of ‘Irimi’ or ‘entering’ when he dodged bullets like Neo in the Matrix.

  4. jpmeyer says:

    I didn’t think of this until after I wrote that post (so I said it on Twitter a day later), but I groaned SO HARD when I made the connection between

    “Japan operated under a similar mindset, although in this case, obviously, it was the Japanese as master race.”

    and the fact that the Japanese characters in this show are literally super powered. Not saying that it might not feature a Chinese guy that can shoot fire or something, but the premise itself in the first episode was really awkward.

    Ultimately, my morbid curiosity with the show is that basically, whatever they do short of REALLY rewriting history and giving the show an Inglourious Basterds-esque ending, will end up being offensive, either because they’re toeing the historical line, or because their “subversive” take ends up being whitewashing history even though they THINK that they’re saying something PC.

    The latter could happen if they do things like show that Japan is “bad” because hey, that Kaburagi businessman is corrupt! when that’s soooooooooooo not what everyone is angry about Japan denying.

    Or, they could have the Sakura Kikan discover that whoa, this is wrong!, which is nice and all except for the fact that it’s saying like the military knew what was going on was wrong (despite the fact that the military was running Japan at the time) and tried to stop uh, themselves from doing it.

    Or, even if they try to avoid any historical events, the show then gives the impression that what was going on in there was nothing more than international intrigue.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      The super-powers and ideas of racial superiority did occur to me while writing, but I didn’t really feel like spinning off into that. Another post for another day?

      Honestly, I think the final option of yours is the most likely – it’ll be all international intrigue, spy-thriller-type stuff with next to no substance involved. Which, actually, of the options is the least likely to make me squirm for hours on end, although it is nevertheless problematic as well.

  5. IKnight says:

    Weirdly I remember studying ‘Manchukuo’ at school when I was fourteen/fifteen. It seems like the oddest of subjects to study but I think my school had slanted its History GCSE teaching so that it was really the ‘bad things which the Axis-powers-to-be were doing in the 30s’ GCSE.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      I actually don’t know what ‘GCSE’ stands for.

      As for myself… well, the American educational system at the public high school level is very much oriented toward being concerned primarily with what Europe and America did, and not so much what anyone else did. So, yes, we covered World War II, but only the European theater, really.

  6. angerychineseguy says:

    to summarize:

    we japanese pwned the chinese

    they begged for our mercy

    they are idiots

    their army is retarded and disorganized.

    their martial art is nothing compared to ours

    we had super powers!

    our spies are 133t!

    we are merciful and compassionate!

    etc…

    • jpmeyer says:

      The Chinese are so dumb that they don’t even know what their own language sounds like!

      • Mauzel says:

        And you are so dumb to say that there is a “CHINESE” Language… Basically saying that indians speak indian…

    • Aorii says:

      the sad part is some of those lines are true <.<

    • Jack says:

      What exactly is true here? That’s the nationalist mindset the Japanese took no which only led to some graver consequences that last to this day which I won’t go into for now as it’s late.

      • Mengya says:

        Well, much as I hate to say it being Chinese myself (albeit technically Chinese-Canadian) the KMT military was pretty disorganized and…let’s just say not the greatest. The Chinese people hated the Japanese being on their land, but they weren’t exactly chumming up to the KMT military either from what I hear.

  7. hashi says:

    I am ever watchful for Japanese slights of China, and I was quite worried about this series before it started. But I don’t see anything much to complain about here…yet. The typical Chinese maid is about the only thing that bothered me much. They could have made the warlord troops look like idiots, but they didn’t. The superpowers throw this into the realm of fantasy, so I’m not blaming them for those.

    I was fairly happy that they included that thing about East Asian prosperity. That was really how the Japanese felt at the time. And a poor, chaotic, and/or foreign-controlled China was in fact a danger for them, as well as an opportunity. I will only get upset if the series doesn’t end up putting these things in proper context. And there’s still plenty of time for that.

    I don’t want to demonize the Japanese of the time, or the Nazis. As people, they were not that different from any of us. They had wrong ideas and did evil things, but so could (and do) we, given the right circumstances.

    • Mengya says:

      I was thinking the same…until I read about episode 7 and what it will entail.

  8. Pingback: Spring 2010: First Thoughts » Behind The Nihon Review

  9. Jack says:

    My take:

    I agree with the author. I hope it gets into the second part. No need for apologies. Just your typical yet never-aging element of characters facing their own challenges. Identity crises in this case. Unsureness about what they’re fighting for. What their purpose as co-opted members of the military.

  10. Jack says:

    But I must say I’m wary of how the Chinese are depicted. It’s just as how the Japanese depicted themselves during WWII in their own self-glorifying drawings. Chinese people are caricatured and portrayed as being short and weak. The chinky eye drawings only add to it. The Japanese give themselves typical western features, making themselves taller and brawnier.

    I’m really hoping for Japan this isn’t a revisionist series.

  11. matou says:

    20 June and ep.7 has yet to be subbed in English.

  12. Gibo says:

    Well, the series is completely subbed. And there’s no historical revisionism. It’s just that they’re showing the danger of nuclear arms.

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