Joker Game – 03

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We’ve known it from the beginning, but the politics of Joker Game are pretty complicated.  And that doesn’t just apply to the story itself (though it obviously does) but to the present day.  Taken in the context of a country about to be dragged into a war by a fascist military dictatorship, the existence of something like the D-Agency is a difficult prospect to get a handle on.  And taken in the context of a country still struggling with its role in dragging the world into that war – and what it perpetrated during it – a fictional work about something like the D-Agency is a potential flashpoint for the audience.

Does this episode portend a transition for Joker Game – a cycle where the members of D-Agency each get an origin story or turn in the spotlight?  Perhaps (next week focuses on the one played by Fukuyama Jun, seemingly) – and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that prospect.  In any event the spy in focus this week is the young man named Hatano (Kaji Yuuki), who in 1940 is living in a France recently occupied by the Nazis.  He’s recently lost his memory in a scuffle after helping an elderly villager about to be executed for standing up to the Nazi soldiers, and wakes up in the company of a trio of French resistance fighters.

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There are all kinds of interesting and confusing permutations at play here.  As of this moment Japan is not officially allied with Germany, but even if they were – what would be the purpose for a Japanese spy working for a man who may or may not be trying to sabotage his own government to be in France?  Whose side would he be on?  The French resistance (Hatano before his injury has sussed it out to be a mere 2% of the population, though to hear people talk about it after the war ended you’d think 90% were resistance fighters, not bystanders) has to work in stealth of course, but D-Agency is very much working in stealth mode too, even inside their own military intelligence.

To be honest I do have some issues with the casting in Joker Game. Kaji, Fukuyama and Shimono Hiro are just not the right actors to pull off these sorts of dramatic turns – the range and gravitas just isn’t there.  Fukuyama is the best of them and can be excellent in the right sort of dramatic role, but I just don’t think this series is it.  Shimono did have a few early performances that hinted he could handle this kind of material but those were a long time ago, and Kaji, well…  None of this is a deal breaker, but Kaji’s wooden delivery does go a long way in undercutting what was otherwise a tense and tightly-written story.  It seems a shame to clearly cast actors based on brand identity when a series has no chance to be a commercial hit anyway, but at least Joker Game was produced in the first place – that’s something.

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Hatano’s story is rather involving in most respects – even if he’s lost his short-term memory there’s no question he’s heavily trained in the art of espionage, and he gets a chance to show off his whole bag of tricks here (yes, dust explosions are a very real thing).   It seems clear that he has a certain sympathy with the resistance, and though it could be argued he acted to save himself in escaping when surrounded by German soldiers, his act of helping the trio was largely genuine.  Of course Japan is on the verge of becoming Germany’s ally, which nominally means it’s actually the infiltrator Marie (played by the great Itou Shizuka) he should be siding with.

But of course, it’s not that simple – nothing in Joker Game is that simple – and this is made clear in Hatano’s reaction when Col. Yuuki shows up in France to deliver the news that Japan has officially allied with Germany.  Yuuki is the key to everything here.  While the pre-open describes D-Agency as having been established by the Imperial Army, it seems to exist largely through the force of Yuuki’s personality – and will.  And the true nature of his intentions for it are still a bit of a mystery – not so much his political leanings, but his practical goals.  I hope a rotating focus on his subordinates doesn’t take us too far from unraveling that mystery, or for too long.





  1. Y

    I agree with you on the casting of Kaji Yuuki (who IMHO has a very limited range) and Fukuyama Jun (one of those rare VAs who has no middle ground, and is either a hit or a miss for me). Shimono Hiro, on the other hand, I find him underrated due to his tendency of being typecasted.
    Casting aside, I am worried, that there is another level to this wooden delivery that we’re seeing from the spies. Since they are supposed to be devoid of personality, I wonder if this set-up will result in us getting dull performances henceforward which will definitely detract from an otherwise great premise and story.

    I am also worried about this episodic, spy-of-the-week format. We had 2 episodes devoted to D-Agency and Sakuma, and if we have 8 episodes each devoted to one of the 8 spies, perhaps the remaining 2 episodes will work in tying everything together (or shed light on Lt. Colonel Yuuki)?

    Also what do you think about the next ep. previews? They’re stylish but completely incomprehensible to me.

  2. Isn’t it good that they are incomprehensible? They don’t spoil anything!

  3. I’m kinda with EZ on this one – stylish but incomprehensible is a pretty good preview in my book.

  4. My limited understanding of the novels is that the stories are episodic, focussed on a particular spy or spies in different parts of the world. The movie took a bunch of them and combined them into a single plot, but it looks like the anime is hewing closer to the books.

  5. g

    I’m afraid about “a new spy every week” format, because this episode showed, what happens when anime, which should has at least 24-episodes, has only 12 or 13. There’s too much narration and telling instead showing and there’s no room to built distinct, significant characters, especially the cast is big. It will be shame if the anime is remembered as a wasted potential.

  6. T

    While it becoming episodic also worries me because of the missed potential plot-wise, if the individual stories are interesting enough, I’ll stay along for the ride. (World War 2? Exploring Japan’s participation in it? I’m there.) What I’m excited to find out is if the series would play some kind of Joker Game with its audience (i.e. us), but this is probably wishful thinking on my part given how this episode did more telling than showing. In any case, I’m still intrigued.

    I don’t know if it’s because I’m watching Hunter x Hunter (2011) right now (why just now?!) and it’s overflowing with emotions in comparison–but the acting in Joker Game does feel somewhat muted, which I suspect might be a directorial choice to sound more noir-like. That said, I cared little for Kaji Yuuki’s performance here. Bland. (At least I didn’t want to slap his character this time. Don’t get me started on Kiznaiver.) I’ll withold commenting on Fukuyama and Shimono since I haven’t listened to them closely enough yet.

  7. This is one of the better shows of spring. For myself Spring has been a bust ! I enjoyed the Winter shows much more ! Dont get wrong I am watching 38 shows for spring compared to over 50 for winter/ There are some good ones most just watching.One Problem not many shows carried over I think you need a base to start with,

    I like this because the episodes are good . Also a liitle insight of Internal Pre and WW 2 Japan as how they did espionage!

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