Joker Game – 05

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This whole episodic thing is starting to grow on me.

Joker Game - 05 -1One of the really fascinating things about Joker Game is the way it toys with your rooting interests as a viewer.  And that’s coming from an American – I can only imagine what it’s like for a Japanese person.  Talk about divided loyalties – here we have a Japanese spy working in London, a guy in theory supporting the fascist Axis.  But he’s also the protagonist of the episode, and when he’s in peril it has an impact.  And that’s not even to mention the fact that he’s working for a man who seems to be working to undermine the fascists – but to what extent we don’t yet know.

Joker Game - 05 -2That’s the setting for the second really strong episode of Joker Game in a row, which isn’t hurt by the fact that the protagonist this time is played by a guy who can really act in Kimura Ryouhei.  He’s Kaminaga, who’s undercover as a photographer in London.  At the very start of the episode he’s arrested and taken in for questioning by the SIS, who are headed up by an obviously very capable (though freakishly drawn) Col. Marks (Ootsuka Houchou).  The tension kicks in right at the beginning of the episode and never really lets up.

Joker Game - 05 -3What this episode really communicates brilliantly, I think, is a sense of disorientation because nothing is what it seems to be.  That’s the world these guys live in of course – they’re actors and liars more than anything.  Their lives are manipulated by men trying to see many moves ahead on the board, men who understand the value of preparing for any eventuality.  Col. Yuuki is certainly such a man, and he understands the urgency of planning for the moment when one of his men is captured and interrogated by the enemy.  And that means trying the men to compartmentalize their minds – there are secrets it’s OK for the enemy to extract from you, and those which are not.

Joker Game - 05 -4The metaphor Yanagi-sensei (or at least this adaptation) chooses for Kaminaga’s situation is Robinson Crusoe, the Englishman in Dafoe’s novel who’s lost at sea and winds up spending decades on a tropical island with the natives.  There’s a very specific reason Yuuki gave Kaminaga that book before he sent him on this mission, which will become clear soon enough.  But what also becomes clear is that everything we’re seeing in this episode is a performance – right down to Kaminaga’s panic at being captured and anger at Yuuki for selling him out.  This capture has been planned all long, in service of a larger goal – and contingencies have been made to at least give Kaminaga a chance to escape with his life.

Joker Game - 05 -5This is all played out rather splendidly, but it does leave us with that interesting conundrum of loyalties.  What Yuuki appears to have done here – with the help of a sleeper agent “Friday” inside the SIS – is concoct an elaborate charade with the intent of exposing a loose-lipped Japanese diplomat.  That’s clearly a valuable service to the Imperial Army – who, in theory, Yuuki is working to undermine.  If this diplomat is hurting the cause of the pro-fascist Japanese government, why would Yuuki take such elaborate steps to expose the problem?  Those are the kind of answers I suspect we’re only going to get when the story turns from his foot soldiers to Yuuki himself, and that’s a turn I don’t expect until very late in the series (or perhaps even the OVAs).

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7 comments

  1. e

    Good write up and yeas it does put us watchers in a conflicting loyalties conundrum of sort doesn’t it? ^^
    Just one thing: going by the scenario and dialogue I’d say Kaminaga is Friday, the (other) sleeper agent – the soldier – is Robinson. Because the latter is the one saving the former 😉 .

  2. If that’s the case then the credits are wrong everywhere I’m seeing, because they all list Kimura as Kaminaga.

  3. e

    @Enzo: credits or no credits the point is that going by Kaminaga’s (just to be clear: the D’Agency spy who has been captured, pretending to be a photographer, got Robinson Crusoe as gift from Yuuki) translated lines and by what we see happening onscreen he sees himselfas Friday being saved from cannibals by the English soldier aka the sleeper agent soldier.
    The surprise Venus sign on the door – and soon after the keys, escape route etc – are intended as help from Robinson to Friday rather than a ‘Hello Robinson, I’m Friday and I leave you a clue on the door’, as made clear by Kaminaga’s inner reasoning as he manages to actually escape and connect the dots to both his and out benefit. It was the other guy writing the Venus sign and leaving keys and excape route + posing as loyal subject of Her Majesty – in the miltary and surveilling enemy spies no less – . Hence that guy is Robinson both by virtue of being the rescuer and by degree of [comparative] Britishness in this specific set of circumstances – , so… however you slice it Kaminaga ended up playing Friday here while we – and Kaminaga himself – might have thought the book was hinting at playing Robinson at first ^^”.
    The book clues still work, it’s just that our expectations role-wise were tricked for a bit. The main sleeper agent ended up being not K. but the soldier guy . When K’s cover is revealed K becomes ‘ Friday captured by the cannibals’ (the English). Blue-eyed doldier guy/sleeper agent then awakes to help him (British guy to the rescue= Robinson).

  4. r

    Thanks for the review, Enzo. Agreed this was another very strong episode, the only thing I would add is that to me the plot, as it was explained by Kaminaga at the end, felt a bit overthought and stilted -not too much, though.

  5. T

    Yet another compelling episode. I was particularly riveted by Kaminaga’s facial expressions; there was a lot more showing going on this time around. Unlike in the other episodes, the explanation at the end felt more organic to me instead of the usual whodunit unraveling.

  6. It certainly helps the Imperial Army, but you must also consider that he must occasionally throw them a bone that may not be beneficial to the allies or anti-imperial movement. I’m guessing Yuuki’s walking a fine balance between undermining the Empire while at the same time having to justify D-Agency’s existence through operations that may not always be to his own agenda.

  7. J

    I don’t think it’s ever been stated that Yuuki wants Japan to fail in any way.
    He still wants the best for Japan, even if he dislikes the way the majority of the military system works, he’s still doing his best for the country. Knowing who is leaking their information and showing where the political structure is covering it’s ass rather than protecting Japan is part of that.

    Yuuki, from his words and actions, is inherently a selfless nationalist, he doesn’t care to increase his own personal wealth, only to diminish the impact of those inside the structure who would do more harm than good for his nation. That makes him an oxymoron in some ways, he’s a nationalist that doesn’t believe or espouse propaganda. He loves Japan for his own reasons, not because he believes everyone in Japan is faultless.

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