We’re two-thirds of the way through Joker Game, and I still have no real idea where this series is coming from. Make no mistake about it, this is a seinen through and through, full of moral ambiguity and mixed signals. It’s not easy to watch at times, because setting aside all notions of the winning side writing history, it’s hard to look back on the second world war with anything like detachment. We’re talking about a country choosing to ally itself with Adolf Hitler, to pursue a mutually beneficial set of objectives. And it’s hard to say just where Joker Game comes down on all that.
It’s certainly an interesting twist to introduce a rival spy agency this late in the game – and a twist in the literal sense too, as this ep did a good job making it seem as if Gamou Jirou (Tsuda Kenjirou) was acting on behalf of D-Agency. Gamou has infiltrated the mansion of the British consul, Ernest Graham (Iizuka Shouzou), who’s suspected of conspiring with the “Gaijin-loving” former ambassador to Britain to sneak details of the Imperial Army’s “grand strategy” out of the country and back to Blighty. Gamou has all the marks of a D-Agency man – ready smile, keen mind and eye, just enough patience. But that will soon be revealed to be a misdirection by Joker Game.
Gamou’s plot to to make Graham is to use the consul’s Chinese butler, Chou. He gets him into debt by introducing him to a gambling den, then blackmails him into helping him rob Graham’s safe. But he’s not after money, obviously – and after a bit of good fortune he puzzles out what Graham is up to from an entry in his journal. It only becomes clear that Gamou isn’t one of Yuuki’s boys when he kills his accomplice to keep him silent – “Kill without hesitation, die with honor” is the motto of the Wind Agency. Could the contrast be any more stark?
This is certainly an interesting “double joker” dynamic we have now, with both D-Agency and Wing Agency being aware of Graham’s intentions, and foiling him acting as a sort of PK shootout to determine which agency will win the favor of the army. Wind Agency’s driving force is another Lieutenant Colonel, Kazato Tetsumasa (Kuroda Takaya). He has a very important piece of common ground with Yuuki in that both believe espionage is a vital part of modern warfare, a point which contradicts the code under which the Imperial Army supposedly fights. Spying is cowardly and without honor, supposedly – though the higher-ups with any sense (like Gen. Akutsu) know that’s folly.
It’s no surprise that the regular military types likes Akutsu strongly prefer Wind Agency – they don’t employ civilians and they’re willing to kill and die. Most importantly, they’re military men themselves. But here’s the question I would ask from my biased perspective – is Yuuki and his agency really any better? Yes, they avoid killing – for strategic reasons. Yes, they’re free thinkers and recognize the military orthodoxy for the nonsense it usually is. But in the end, isn’t Yuuki just trying to make Japan into a better military dictatorship? I suppose we don’t unequivocally know the answer to that question yet, but that’s increasingly how it’s starting to look to me. And that makes it awfully hard to know how to feel when watching Joker Game – and it makes me curious as to whether it’s any easier to know for a modern Japanese person, or whether it’s even harder.