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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.
ED: 「DOUBLE」 by MAGIC OF LIFE