「ジョーカー・ゲーム(後編)」 (Jōkā Gēmu (Kōhen))
“Joker Game (Part 2)”
After last week’s cliffhanger there was no way I was going to just leave Joker Game at only one week of introduction, so here’s another. Joker Game (Part 2) is not quite as intense as its first half, since it serves as the explanation phase of what we can consider to be a mystery arc (with a few too many flashbacks to the first part, because I guess Joker Game doesn’t trust its audience to remember things for a week). Turns out, there was evidence to be found, and it was up to Sakuma to figure out where before he’s forced to gut himself to save face (will his blade go through those abs, though? I can play them like a marimba).
The question that gets left hanging in the air is what would have happened if Sakuma didn’t manage to figure out where the microfilm was hidden. It may have been a trial by fire for Sakuma—who knows?—but considering that Lieutenant Colonel Yuuki, the spymaster, had designs to leverage more funds for the D Agency, they couldn’t exactly fail either. Surely, D Agency was not just entrapping Sakuma to get rid of him, since he’d just be easily be replaced. It was more likely a test (a deadly one though it may be), to see if Sakuma could be a useful asset. But I think it’s a good thing that we’re left guessing as to each player’s motivations, because that’s what the Joker Game is about. And for the purposes of this anime, a certain level of mystique and uncertainty about the spies needs to be preserved. Everything seems to be part of the game, even innocent sounding social invitations to dinner. Circles within circles. These men are spooks, and their business should be spooky. I wouldn’t enjoy Joker Game nearly as much if it didn’t induce a level of paranoia.
To me, though, more interesting than Sakuma figuring everything out this episode is how he managed to do so—not by thinking like a soldier, but thinking like a spy. He had to question the game that he was playing. What was the American spy‘s game? What was his military superior‘s game? What was Lieutenant Yuuki‘s game? I’m pleased he was able to go down that road, and consider it a necessary step for his character development. I get the feeling that, as a soldier, Sakuma will need to question more and more as the series goes on. Joker Game has shown itself thus far quite a stickler for details (c.f. Gordan’s proper, American English, even if it didn’t actually match the Japanese subtitles), and it seems to want to capture the historical mood as well. As I mentioned last episode, Showa 12 was a time when support for war was high on every level, aided no doubt by the nationalistic propaganda that had been increasing in tenor since the Meiji era. The emperor of Japan was worshipped literally as a god—which is why to not revere his image on sight was sacrilegious. For a soldier like Sakuma, for whom the propaganda was something to live by, even the idea of disturbing the emperor’s portrait as part of a military inspection is tantamount to treason. ‘Duty is weightier than a mountain, while death is as light as a feather’—unquestioning loyalty above all else. But already Sakuma, in his position in the D Agency, is invited to question. In this arc, ‘honour before reason’ has already been discarded. Sakuma refuses to die as just somebody’s pawn.
Ah, but the pawn of whom, and on which board? We must remember both the soldier and the spy are no less pawns of the state. From here, I can see many directions Joker Game can perhaps go. Will Joker Game fully deconstruct Japan’s imperialistic agenda of the time? Or will it keep itself to just poking at its nationalism? Or will Joker Game simply be the story of how Sakuma fully embraces the sociopathy of the spy, and remember who’s number one? I wonder how ambitious Joker Game intends to be. We’ll be sorting out this season’s coverage schedule on Random Curiosity in the coming weeks, but right now Joker Game is fairly high on my personal list. Holler in the comments if you have any particular feelings on the matter.
Full-length images: 06.