OP Sequence

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「ジョーカー・ゲーム(前編)」 (Jōkā Gēmu (Zenpen))
“Joker Game (Part 1)”

I love a good spy flick. The problem is, the image of the modern superspy has been overwhelmed by James Bond, and in particular his Hollywood incarnation i.e. EXPLOSIONS. The cloak and dagger stuff, which is what I enjoy, is harder to do when spectacle would suffice. On the other hand, the superspy is not actually something that exists in real life; the intelligence industry has historically been, for the most part, equal parts paranoia and incompetence, which has not changed even with its continuously growing (self-)importance. So I can’t exactly ask for ‘realism’ in this genre either, at least not without some level of hypocrisy.

Joker Game may be what I and other fans of the intrigue are looking for, a happy marriage of both the shadowy, unpleasant business of international espionage and the glamour of the fictional elite secret agent. The alumni of the D Agency are definitely superspies, rigorously trained to be crazy awesome, the envy of men and the idols of women. But Joker Game is quick to establish that the business of spying is not just about doing stunts and bedding femme fatales. In fact, in a rare move this first episode is also the title drop episode, explaining the namesake of the series: the Joker Game. Granted, it kinda mixes its metaphors between poker and old maid, but does a fine job of showcasing the subtleties behind global relations that these spies are now players in. There are hints of realpolitik, game theory, and explorations into the sociopathic lifestyles of the spy, all things I anticipate myself, and perhaps you as well, enjoying (speaking of sociopaths and things I enjoy, time to fan about Darker than BLACK again). And I also love how internal politics are already in play, as if to demonstrate that there is subterfuge everywhere.

The international politics angle is actually doubly importance, because this anime is set during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Japan has had a troubling tendency of whitewashing the war with revisionist history, and the internal politics, at least, keeps Joker Game from being simply about super Japanese ninja spies versus THE WORLD. How historically accurate does Joker Game intend to be? Well, it slaps on a disclaimer from the outset, which can mean one of two things: either, yeah, Joker Game is just fantasy, don’t sweat it; or, it’s lying, is going to have disturbing similarity to real events, and the disclaimer is just to cover their collective behinds. I don’t know how Joker Game will turn out, but it certainly has me interested. This was a time when, in Japan, war weariness was low, war fever was high and rates of lung cancer apparently even higher, but Joker Game seems to be setting a conflicting tone with its shady spy games. Take the straight-laced army man Lieutenant Sakuma (Seki Tomokazu). He seems to be the man HQ sent to keep tabs on this outfit, looks down on all sorts of subterfuge as cowardly, and is basically the archetypal Japanese patriot. To him, the very idea of Japan losing the war is unthinkable. Contrast him the the D Agents, who are not graduates of a military academy, or even animals of the establishment: they’re civilian students. And perhaps Joker Game is already making a point about how the military has a very misguided world view. For example, once you suspect a spy, isn’t it waste to immediately try to arrest him, instead of recruit him? And of course, Sakuma himself already proves himself to be a very poor player of the Game.

If there’s one issue I’d take with Joker Game is that there’s no way in the blue hells I will be able to remember all of these characters. The best I can do so far is Lieutenant Sakuma, and the spymaster (Horiuchi Kenyuu). Otherwise, the cast is quite big, quite brown, and also a complete sausagefest, which I suppose is appropriate for the era but hurts diversity. Otherwise, based on just this pilot Joker Game looks like it’s shaping up to have everything I’m looking for in an espionage story. This is definitely one to keep following if you have a similar sort of interest.

Show Spoiler ▼


ED Sequence




    1. I actually have no issue with Senkou no Night Raid‘s portrayal of history. After all, it did not go down the easy path of historical revisionism but flat out held Japan culpable for the wrongs it committed where they were due (episode 7 is a shining example of that), and it does have quite a lot of insightful dialogues regarding Japan and its relation to the world at that period. The only issue I have with that series was that the supernatural powers were never explained even till the end; they exist only as plot devices and nothing more, and I find that unsatisfying.

      As for Joker Game, I have high expectations about its treatment of history as well, insofar as this episode demonstrated. The disclaimer text is also reminiscent of a similar one used in Senkou no Night Raid.

      1. Guess what, episode 7 did not air on TV in Japan (it was replaced with a recap episode). Seems Japanese broadcasters are still kind of paranoid when it comes to portraying certain less-than-stellar moments of the country’s history.

        The impression I got from Senkou no Night Raid is that the show tried to tiptoe around the sensitive issues as much as possible. Which can be acceptable, but doesn’t make a satisfying viewing experience.

      2. To be honest my expectations for them were so low that I was already pleasantly surprised that episode 7 was actually made, even though it was never aired in the end. To ask them to do more would be sheer extravagance, and until the day when a show actually tackles Japan’s history head on honestly, Senkou no Night Raid will have to do for now.

    1. It may not seem like a big deal but I really did like how the cigarette smoke didn’t just vanish, but rather, throughout the entire scene, it’s wafting in the air like it would in real life if there was a room full of smoking guys who smoked a lot of them continuously for possibly hours on end.

  1. I’m starting to commit myself to watching more anime than just the super popular ones that come out each season. This website looks like a good starting point.

    Just watched the first episode of Joker Game. Yeah, looks interesting so far and I haven’t really seen the spy genre in anime yet so I’m excited to see where this goes and how it plays out.

    I’m a sucker for intelligent shows and characters that think scenarios out and outplay their opponent through wit and strategy so the D-Agency got me excited on that aspect. Can’t wait to see more.

  2. Production I.G pretty much always produce amazing shows. This was enough for me to follow this show. I may save a few episodes and marathon it rather than follow weekly though.

  3. Show Spoiler ▼

    Their Joker Game was one of the most interesting part of the story that I’m still trying to figure it out. They said it’s a game of getting people on your side but the only way I saw it was they were all ganging up on Sakuma. Their boss’s explanation of how spies don’t do their job out of patriotism or anything like that is interesting too. My take on it is they just do they’re spies because it’s their job, and only they can do it. Not to mention killing and sacrificing yourself is against their policy. The boss gave a logical point of a loss of life leads to lots of attention and ruins the whole spy gig. Pretty different from Bond, who has a license to kill.

    1. That was the part that irked me; they explained how the joker game worked, but unless you’re aware that the people around you are giving out signals, you were basically always going to lose because you had no idea they were playing a slightly different game.

    2. @Zhinvu, @Dualash
      I think one should consider the spymaster using the Joker Game as a metaphor for why Japan was also so inept at international diplomacy. From the start, they weren’t even playing the right game. Sure, the spies were ganging up on Sakuma (with Sakuma being very deliberately an outsider), but it was to make a point about the work of spies. If they had not revealed their secret to Sakuma, he would never have even known that he was the dupe.

    3. Still you have to be really dense or a 5 year old to play poker when one of your opponent’s friends just happens to be sitting behind you. This isn’t spy level stuff, its middle school level of obvious.

  4. I’ve been looking forward to this series the most (all-star seiyuu cast, adaptation from novels, historical setting, etc.), and this premiere has increased my confidence in it by bounds. Hopefully after laying out the setting we will be getting some more character development, cuz right now I also cannot distinguish spies 1-8 (ok, maybe Miyoshi).
    Anyways, really liking this trend of having at least one seinen-flavored show each season.

    I also have the same speculation, Passerby. I can’t wait to see how they pull it off.

  5. Realistic styles made the characters hard to distinguish from each other, but I think it is a good point instead, since well they’re spies so it’s kind of weird if they have weird appearance and easy to spot on crowds. It’s kind of refreshing actually, lately it’s all about moe and character with colorful hairs, a realistic and mature style like this is a breather.

    1. I agree about the realistic aesthetic of Joker Game, but of course there is a price to be paid in distinctive designs. Once we can attach some personalities and back-stories to these characters (or at least their fake personalities and fake back-stories), things should get easier.

      Still not going to remember their names, though. I’m absolutely no good at them.

    2. I think it’s normal that we don’t remember them for now, considering it’s still the first episode. As this is basically introductory phase I’m pretty sure the characters will grow on us later as the story progressing.

  6. One of the highlights of the season definitely.
    I maybe a monster just like those agents, but for once, I’m actually kinda happy the D agency is trying to get rid of Sakuma, because his is just not the right mindset for this job. I personally believe spies, at least fictional spies, should never see the world, especially their own country, from a patriot’s perspective. Just ask Big Boss.

    That said, if Sakuma does stay around, it should provide a conflicting point of view to the rest of D agency. Though those guys are just too good to let him get away. We’ll see what happens to him next episode. I’m most certainly looking forward to this.

    1. Think about it this way: Sakuma is specifically HQ’s man, not D Agency’s. So he’s something of a spy of sorts himself. Obviously D Agency knows this. And again, once they’ve identified a spy, it’s a waste to just get rid of him. More useful would be to recruit him.

      1. Didn’t really thought of that. I guess this can be seen as a trial by fire for him. Something like, if he passes they work on it, but if he fails he just ends up dead?

  7. https://randomc.net/image/Joker%20Game/Joker%20Game%20-%2001%20-%2008.jpg
    Historians believe one reason Japan did military expansions across Asia (apart from its then-economic troubles) was to prove their superiority to the Western powers. Despite being the major Asian world power of the 20th century, the West refused to give Japan equal representation and were considered inferior – the West used to joke the Japanese army was low-grade and considered the very idea of an invasion ridiculous.
    Given Western empires like Britain controlled large portions of the world at its peak, the Japanese felt they too had to control that much land to be respected, they HAD to do it quickly to catch up with the West – making a rapid invasion the most viable path.

    This is what Japan’s right wingers think will make their country great again.

  8. This could be the show of the season. It looks very interesting.

    But aside from this, there is a light-hearted SOL kind of comedy in Kumamiko, which is very decent. And this weekend we will have another light-hearted SOL named Flying Witch, I think we can expect it to be quite enjoyable as well. I hope I’m wrong, but it’s starting to look like that’s about it this season. One drama, 2 SOL’s. This could be quite a long season.

    1. Heh. But no, they’re not exactly Terry Pratchett’s Moist von Lipwig level. The main problem is that there’s so many of them all at once, which should ease over time. We should appreciate that some work has been invested into character design, so that they’re not all same-face.

  9. That opening is officially my favorite op of the year so far. And this show was definitely my favorite first episode in such a long time. It automatically sucks you in. God, it’s such a gorgeous show. Production IG is saving anime.

    This, along with Bungo Stray Dogs and Ace Attorney, where the two shows I was most excited about this season, and this one did not disappoint me. Now I want to watch the live action movie…

  10. It’s hard for me to watch this anime. I just know too much about what Japanese clandestine services were doing in the late 30’s:


    It’s pretty bad. No matter how much this series tries to disclaim these concerns or pass itself as a fantasy, after learning about the stories, it’s impossible for me to feel that Joker Game is doing anything else but whitewashing.

    Now, maybe if it were about the Russo-Japanese War…

    1. Serious question, is there any part in the episode that actually whitewashes history? I’ve got a neutral point of view on the matter, and through my limited knowledge, I haven’t seen anything that is too far off from history.

    2. I agree that a lot of sordid history do tend to get swept under the rug, but at the same time I don’t think it’s the onus of every historical show to address every nuance of that history. I don’t expect every World War II movie, for example, to make a big deal about Josef Mengele. War tends to be one long string of atrocities, unfortunately, and I look more to the treatment of that as a whole. So my personal standard for Joker Game is that it doesn’t try to play apologia for war crimes, doesn’t love of smell of napalm in the morning too much, and if it happens to intersect with historical events, portray them with as much factual accuracy as possible. The worst of Unit 731 arguably comes after Joker Game‘s time, though, while Nanjing is poised for tragedy. Both are only tangentially related to the business of Joker Game though, but even if they weren’t, I doubt Japanese TV will allow for a full and open discussion of their nation’s past war crimes even today, which is a different unfortunate issue that can be discussed at a different time.

      1. I think if it was too historically accurate, it would probably be too depressing/negative. I also thought you made a lot of decent points there. At the end of the day, anime is meant to be entertainment, I don’t think people would want something that would show their country up in a very bad light.

      2. Yeah, it’s not outright propaganda, nor is it a war atrocity series, but the show still seems blissfully unaware of the context. How you feel if the Joker Game were a German show depicting a German clandestine service operating under the Third Reich? Even if the show ostensibly limits itself to spy drama, the show’s thrill in exploring the world of spies and their various antics kind of romanticizes Section D’s work.

        I mean, apparently it makes for a decent spy show and I don’t know where the story goes. At this juncture though, it just seems irresponsible (and not in way intentional, Tarantino-esque way that is flouting expectations) and more than a little cowardly.

        I thought the ANN reviewers had a few good response as well: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/preview-guide/2016/spring/joker-game/.100689

      3. @Abdiel324
        Hmm, I don’t think this show is going to have the self-flagellation you may be looking for. At the same time, like Yoloalchemist below, feel that this first episode of Joker Game romanticses anything except maybe the issue of effectiveness. It clearly presents spycraft as a nasty, sociopathic business. The spies themselves are specifically also not believers of their cause, only their ability. I’m curious, do you in fact want the opposite? For D Agency to entirely embrace all the atrocities of the Second Sino-Japanese War, so that perhaps Japan as a whole can take responsibility of it by proxy?

        If there was a German show about a German clandestine service operating under the Third Reich, I would be genuinely interested. It could be about the Gestapo, or it could be about the Sicherheitsdienst, but it doesn’t have to be. It shouldn’t deny those organisations exists, of course, but there are certainly other stories that can be told, in both fiction and non-fiction. And to treat Germany, or the Third Reich, or even its intelligence services as monolithic is, to me, historical ignorance as well.

        In any case, I don’t think it’s possible to tell how Joker Game will deal with all the history that surrounds it based only on this first episode. To do so otherwise would be reactionary pre-judgment that does no favours to an honest and educated discussion about Japan’s treatment of its war history.

      4. @Passerby

        I’m not sure I’m looking for self-flagellation and I don’t think asking for a show to be cognizant of its political and historical context is in the same league as asking it to treat that context or related institutions as monolithic. To be clear, my problem isn’t necessarily with this show in particular, it’s more-or-less with Japan in general. Basically: oh great, another Japanese show that eagerly gleefully ignores the problematic social concerns at the heart of the topic and chooses to focus on fictional dilemmas or inter-personal dynamics. There are anime that treat Japan itself as a real, living place with real people, issues, history. Yet, so few of them are political or directly acknowledge social issues at hand (maybe Tokyo Godfathers? Ghost in the Shell: 2nd GiG? Rainbow: Nisha Rokubō no Shichinin?).

        A piece of media can be romanticizing without explicitly extolling the virtues of a specific profession, group or idea. Its romanticization may not even be intentional. Heck, in 1989, Michael Lewis wrote Liar’s Poker to articulate the disgust he held for big NYC financial firms. Years later, he found out aspiring bond salesmen found his depiction of the sexy, high-intensity profession to be enticing and that they were using his book as a manual for getting into those firms.

        It’s not even necessarily a mark against Joker Game. Part of the inspiration for Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” was that he perceived “The Godfather” as portraying mafiosos’ actions as heroic, and he want to portray them as they actually were – thugs. I think we could argue that Scorsese’s film and mafia movies in general benefited from his depiction. Check out “Un Prophète” or “City of God.”

        So, I don’t think I think there’s a problem with Joker Game per se. There is a larger issue when those romanticizing narratives are only ones available in media. But in regards to the show itself, I am uncomfortable enough with how Japan in general depicts their involvement in China pre-WWII that I find it difficult to enjoy Joker Game, especially since I watch anime really just to relax.

        You may recall that I limited my original comment to myself. I realize that’s kind of like saying “it’s just my opinion,” which is a red herring (just because it’s my opinion doesn’t mean it’s not wrong). Still, I thought these issues merited further discussion.

      5. @Passerby

        I wish I could edit these comments. The point of my third paragraph is that Godfather is so clearly a good movie despite potentially romanticizing its anti-heroes. Nonetheless, later movies provided a more grounded depiction of mafia life, and the genre is all the better for it.

      6. It seems, to me, that you are looking for more than social awareness, but an active engagement with certain sociopolitical issues you care about. That, I’m afraid, is not something much of any popular media will do, simply because it’s not the kind of entertainment most seek. If you desire a revolution in Japan’s treatment of its history anime is unlikely to be the great frontier; look more to specific academics and their national anti-war movements, like the kind that popped up in opposition to Abe’s military reforms.

        If you really do want political anime (and let us reserve our judgment on how much Joker Game is one), though, they exist, but you have to cast your net fairly wide. Notably, Concrete Revolutio is getting a second cour this season, and it’s actually surprisingly political, but it’s about the 60s, which may or may not be a time period you’re interested in.

      7. Just a bit of info….Joker Game both the novel and film are easily and safely being released in both Taiwan and China (Mainland) sometime ago, so based on that fact, considering the Chinese Government can easily ban lots of popular works from Japan (manga-novel, etc) if they think the contents aren’t appropriate/disturbing/insulting, etc for them, like Tokyo Ghoul, Mahouka, SnK, etc…etc…I think from that we can logically assume that even the Chinese Government themselves didn’t have any problem with the contents on this Koji Yanagi’s work. Of course, each and every individual have their own take and perception regarding this title and that’s fair enough. I guess I only want to add that bit of information and since I don’t want to spoil anything, I’ll reserve my further comment for next week.
        Anyway, so far I’m very satisfied with the adaptation, despite their cutting some minor stuff here and there regarding Sakuma and Colonel Yuki, but the flow of the story is still smooth and easy to follow. Crossed fingers they’ll be able to keep and improve the overall quality on the more interesting arcs later on.

    3. I wouldn’t really know because I don’t have your knowledge, but so far for me personally, the show didn’t seem like it was whitewashing the japanese spy service. If anything, the show was acknowledging it as very dirty and it wasn’t being apologetic about it. I said in a comment above that I personally believe no spy (at least fictional spies) should ever see the world, especially their own country, from a patriot’s perspective. The spies of D agency seemed to perfectly acknowledge that, and therefore adapt themselves to better suit the situation, hence why they are monsters. But in any rate, it’s too early to tell as this is the first episode.

    4. @Passerby

      Oh, but come on. Don’t you want it too? I mean, don’t you want an anime to achieve the same level of sophistication as The Wire or Breaking Bad or the Fargo TV series? I think anime would be able to do it too. Think how closely Naoki Urasawa’s works actually resembles the U.S.’s prestige series. Refine Monster’s plotting and film it in live action and it seems like U.S. reviewers would embrace it with open arms.

      Also, I kind of have done that. I adore Kenzaburo Oe, the Murakamis and manga authors like Shigeru Mizuki. Again though, there isn’t as strong a tradition of engagement with the social context in literature and narrative works as there is in other areas of the world (such as Latin America and the U.S.). Nevertheless, my impression is that, although Japan’s creative industry doesn’t really encourage or enable risky projects (though the Japanese people do pride themselves on their artistry generally), when individuals do break free from the norm, they seem capable of startling originality. It’s why I do want to see more from Japanese creators.

      It’s funny you mention Concreto Revolution. I hadn’t heard of the series before, but I didn’t realize Seiji Mizushima has a new anime. Actually, Gundam 00 may actually be one of the most politically aware series out there. It doesn’t really address Japanese politics directly, but it does weave actual international relations into its drama. The premise for the first episode is literally that Celestial Being wanted to force the European Union to reveal its violations of international arms treaties. Setsuna himself grew up in a radical religious organization involved in terrorism and in one of the first episodes he attacks both sides in a petty civil war in Sri Lanka. No other Gundam series has been that politically ambitious and, in a brand that is ostensibly all about space politics, 00 is all the more fun for it!

      Fullmetal Alchemist, which Mizushima originally directed, also greatly benefited from original manga author Hiromu Arakawa’s grasp on history and frankly her understanding of the atrocities and the moral compromises of war and how to weave them into a story. Now that I think of it, Fullmetal Alchemist may be the best example of how an anime series can benefit by fully embracing the story’s social and political context, rather than shuffling it aside.

      So yes, I’d definitely be interested in Concreto Revolutio. At first blush, its character designs aren’t very intriguing, but thanks for the rec!

      1. I think I have simply made a disconnect between what I want and what I expect, because expectations are something I carry into an anime myself, and no anime has an onus to meet them unless they promise it from the outset. I don’t think we’ve seen enough of Joker Game to make a call on what it wants to show us and what in turn we should expect.

        By all means, though, have a look at Concrete Revolutio. It may possibly slightly sate your cravings for sophistication.

      2. Hmm… Interesting.

        Y’know, I’ll tell you what. I’ll grant you your wish. For frankly, it’s deadening to just see people make narratives but not making one that can possibly surpass the rest of those narratives. I’m currently planning my magnum opus. It might take a while, hopefully you’ll be able to witness it in the near future.

        Anyways, let’s just wait and observe what they’re intending to show us in the upcoming weeks with this show. I hope we can all analyze and seek to understand its contents as it proceeds.

        Mihashi Nishizawa
  11. Really like this, so far it seems like a proper spy flick. I really like how Sakuma seems to be your typical IJA soldier. His actions and point of view seem to be inline from the stories I’ve heard about them (e.g. automatic bowing). The fact that it contrasts with the rest of the group makes it quite intriguing.

    Now to see how he gets out of the mess he’s put himself in. Even though the answer is obvious, it’s the who and how that interest me.

  12. I saw the live action movie. It was amazing. A blast from the past kind of spy movie that was very entertaining. Not at the level of kingsmen of course but in it’s own way. 10/10 love this stuff.

    the anime seems to have a different story so far. I think maybe the movie took liberties. Who cares? more joker game for the win.

    I’m guessing Show Spoiler ▼


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