Joker Game has certainly wound up being one of the strangest shows of the season. Objectively it’s very well-done, and it represents a refreshing change from the sameness that is 90% of the anime landscape. I just can’t shake the feeling that when it’s all said and done, it won’t have any reason to have existed. Maybe I’m overstepping my bounds in looking for a point to all this, but for a series like Joker Game – mature, historically focused, generally serious – one expects a certain introspection, or even reflection. Maybe it’s as simple as a cultural gap that’s too wide for me to overcome.
This episode certainly had potential, given that it was set in Germany. And this was clearly very close to the beginning of full-throated warfare in Europe, certainly the latest episode in the series’ chronological timeline so far. As you’d more or less expect from Joker Game, this is a pretty sanitized Germany – it’s not presented as distinct from any of the other European countries depicted in the series, nor its military men as any different than the French or English. It’s not an abdication that surprises me by any means, but it’s still disappointing not to see Joker Game at least flirt with the awkward and difficult reality of just who it was the Japanese were allied with in the war.
Rather than any musing on that uncomfortable topic, we get a straightforward and politically neutral spy story of the week – and that means Japanese spies outsmarting European spies. The key players here are a German colonel (in the regular army, not the Gestapo – I don’t think it would have been possible to whitewash them) with a long-standing “white whale” grudge against Yuuki, and a Japanese spy named Maki. Maki is of course Miyoshi, and the one curveball this episode does throw is that it shows us that “Don’t kill, don’t die” only goes as far as circumstances allow. Spying is a dangerous game, and sometimes the second part of that mantra isn’t up to the agent to enforce.
The question of what exactly Yuuki’s aims were in spying on Germany when Japan and Italy have already allied with them seems an obvious one – the German colonel’s attache asks it. But of course this being Joker Game that question is never explored, for it would involve both taking political stands and exploring character motivation, and this series just doesn’t go there. But there’s also the fact that in war – and in peace – allies spy on each other all the time. Information has many different kinds of value, and using it against one’s enemies is only one of them.