Joker Game – 10

It’s a good show, but if I’m honest Joker Game is really starting to annoy me.

Joker Game - 10 -1Sometimes I sort of reach a saturation point with a series, and my feelings about it can turn pretty quickly.  That can happen later in the game than you’d think, too – and not always because of a shark-jumping plotquake of some kind.  Every so often I just get to where I can only take whatever it is that makes a show what it is for so long before it starts to irritate me when it didn’t earlier (at least not to the same degree).  And so it seems is the case with Joker Game, though it still has three episodes left to try and turn the tide.

Joker Game - 10 -2I talked about this a bit last week, but it really strikes me that I’ve simply misjudged what sort of series Joker Game is – or put less charitably, given it too much credit.  Setting aside the fact that the protagonists are seemingly an attempt at portraying a kinder, gentler kind of patriotic fascism, what the plot of the show essentially boils down to is Japanese spies making fools out of foreign spies in a different stand-alone story every week.  A certain kind of cultural chauvinism is to be expected – Western art certainly suffers from it too, and Asians generally have often been the victims of it.  But that fact doesn’t make it any less tiresome.

Joker Game - 10 -3I certainly don’t begrudge Japanese writers glorifying Japanese characters even in dark times for the country (as WW II certainly was, as it was for the entire world), but I do reject the notion that it’s only right that patriotism be celebrated even when the ideals of the government are seriously askew.  As an American, should I be expected to glory in patriotic pride when looking back on the Jackson administration – when the phrase “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” was a statement of policy by the President?  Should I make allowances for patriotism if an American writer paints the internment of Japanese Americans during WW II as a proud moment in our history?  Cultural relativism only goes so far – we’re all human beings first and citizens of a country after.

Joker Game - 10 -4That may be why this week’s episode of Joker Game especially galls me.  Not only is the way the English spy Price is played by Yuuki especially condescending, but Yuuki’s act of so-called kindness towards him in the end strikes me as being an especially bald-faced bit of dramatic obfuscation (not to mention paternalism).  You can’t separate what Yuuki’s political goals are from his personal behavior and his catch phrase – the one does not excuse the other.

Joker Game - 10 -5Yanagi-sensei is certainly entitled to write a story that whitewashes history, and Production I.G. to make an anime from it – and quite a good one too, in many ways.  But I’m just as entitled to be annoyed by that.  Perhaps if the series had put more effort into developing these characters, showing us who they really are – what they really felt about what their country was doing in their name, even if they were OK with it – I would have been a lot more forgiving regarding everything I’m writing about here.  But they didn’t – we’re almost at the end and we still have no idea who Yuuki really is as a man (and no – a fake back-story doesn’t count).  I had misgivings about the “D-Agent of the week” format from the beginning – and voiced them – but I think it’s proved to be a problem in ways that have only become clear in recent weeks.  It’s a shame, because there’s a lot to like here – and a couple of early episodes (like the one set in Shanghai) seemed to imply a degree of introspection in the writing that later episodes simply didn’t bear out.




  1. Y

    I’m not surprised to see you (or anyone) getting tired of this show, but I wouldn’t have expected that what would get to you is too much cheering for the home team. I think the idea of the creators is not so much to whitewash history per se than to say something to the effect of “if we’d been smart about it instead of being hung up on various quaint notions/emotions, we could have actually succeeded in making Japan a great empire”. And then, its future generations could condemn the aggression (conducted – perhaps – with fewer atrocities) while continuing to enjoy its fruits (cf. the conquest of the Americas).

    Paradoxically, this emphasis on cerebrality over any emotion ultimately makes for an exceedingly dull show, which was the reason I had to drop it around episode 5 or 6. You can only watch so much of clever quys toying with their opponents when you’re given no good reason to really care about either side, and even the cleverness of the clever guys feels artificially constructed for its own sake.

  2. The point I tried to make later in the post is that the real issue may be that the series has made no attempt to let us know or understand the characters. I would be OK with any of the political implications I think – even if some of Yuuki’s men were outright supportive of the facist regime – if we were at least allowed to see their thought process and emotional makeup.

    What Joker Game has done (whether this is native to the source or not I don’t know) is this: by eliminating any emotional element altogether and making the characters impassive avatars, it’s sent the message that the politics and ethics of the time are irrelevant – they don’t matter either way. And that’s worse, really, than overtly celebrating the fascists (which it doesn’t do). If you at least show us how these men deal with who it is they’re working for, you potentially have a more interesting and human experience for the audience.

    Can you give me the names of two or three cast members besides Yuuki? Could you put names to faces? I don’t think I could – and if I could, it would likely be the ones we were dupes of the D-Agency, not members of it.

  3. Y

    Yes, you did indeed make the point about the lack of character development. Me making the same point and presenting it in contrast to yours had to do with how you talked quite a lot about the problem being the whitewashing of fascism, etc., and only towards the end got to how you might have been more forgiving of all that if the characters were more developed. Whereas I was never bothered by the ideology, especially given the clearly skeptical/disdainful attitude of these spies seem to have towards the regime and its typical representatives – almost the only somewhat distinctive character trait they (most of them?) seem to possess (so I don’t think that the politics and ethics are as irrelevant as you say). It was purely the lack of anything humanly interesting in these stories that made this fail for me. You are quite right about these guys being literal nobodies – and while it is possible that this may be intentional to some extent, it’s not something that works for me, at least not in anime (vs book) form.

  4. I guess my response would be that you can’t separate the two things. That lack of political awareness or interest is a political statement itself. But I certainly get where you’re coming from.

  5. Y

    I’m really disappointed in this episode…It was just really rehash of what we’ve seen so far and without the flair of prev eps. Frankly, after the double-episode on Wind Agency, I was actually expecting the show to dig a little deeper. Really hoping we get some sort of satisfactory tie-up as so far we’ve had no plot.

  6. D

    “what the plot of the show essentially boils down to is Japanese spies making fools out of foreign spies in a different stand-alone story every week”

    Maybe you missed the last two episodes, because they shown Yuuki making fools out Japanese spies at well and mocking the Imperial Army’s code. And his move towards Price wasn’t peternalism, it was a sign of respect from a fellow spy. Compare it to what he did to his Japanese rival last week, stripping them of their honor and driving them to suicide.

    It’s unfair to call out Joker Game because of its political views when the show is trying its best to be as neutral as possible. But as you often do, you judge shows based on expectations rater than their actual merits.

    Next week’s epiode will be located in Germany, don’t watch if you can’t stand a piece of fiction picturing history in anything other than you own bias.

  7. G

    Praising the supposed neutrality of the show in the face of a proudly reactionary, imperialist, pro-fascist Japan one can make two assumptions. You are either a nazi yourself or a naive idiot who thinks that not taking the easiest political stand in the world makes you some kind of courageous free thinker.

  8. R

    “As neutral as possible”

    I don’t know how to break it to you but there are about 100 ways it could be a lot more neutral than it currently is.

    It is basically showing a story about people who disdain a system built on patriotism and fascism but whose actions ultimately still support that regime. As Enzo said, a writer has every right to write a story like that and a reader has every right to disagree with it. Yuuki made a fool of his fellow spy but his final goal was still ultimately “be able to keep a useful tool for Japan during the war” and Japan during the war was a fascist country. He can make a fool out of all his superiors but his actions still can’t be separated from their end results.

    The biggest problem isn’t even the whole supporting a fascist regime thing. You can totally make an interesting story even when the readers completely disagree with the characters actions and politics if you make the characters dynamic and interesting. If you knew what it was that drove these men, so very obvious disdainful of the army and system, to continue to support it.

  9. s

    First of all, the fake back story, supposed to be fake… was it really fake? I doubt it. As for the development or lack of it, from my point of view it seems like the spies quit questioning any auctority the moment they start the game: they collect hints around the world, prevent those about their country from leaking out while surviving. They don’t look themselves as citizens anymore. It makes me feel depressed but also I feel the bittersweet taste of wachting the efforts in showing kindness from people ready to throw away everything except life. In the end I didn’t expect an epic story, but a sad one. I always remember that Japan lost and these smart spies had no attachment to its destiny, for them it’s only a game.

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