Everyone from the D Agency have been smirking too easily in the introductory arc, so it’s about time they go do something dangerous so that we can watch them sweat a bit. And so, as part of the standard three episode sampler for every anime series, Joker Game jumps right to 1940, when World War II has already started, and northern France already occupied. And while Japan still hasn’t joined the War yet at this point, it’s still a pretty bade time skip from 1937, and I think that from now on Joker Game is probably going to be mostly episodic in nature, without much adherence to chronology. In the short term I’m guessing each mission is going to showcase a specific spy, like this week’s… er, who was he again? Probably the short one (Kaji Yuki), but I suppose his exact identity is not actually all that important because he is a spy, after all, and ‘Shimano Ryousuke’ is not a man who exists. I anticipate trying to make out the man behind the alias will be a consistent routine every week.
For those of you who were wondering about Joker Game‘s adherence to history, the disclaimer about ‘none of this corresponds to real events’ is still there, but there is still the general dedication to realism here (dramatically-convenient-amnesia aside). There’s some evident settings research in the backgrounds, and there’s no anachronistic gadgetry to be found, instead mundane tricks like dust explosions (which may be high school chemistry to the modern audience, but back in the day was still a real hazard in flour mills operated by the less informed; it demonstrates the spies’ education). But Joker Game still dances around the history somewhat, despite making the context obvious. There is, for example, a Hitler notably missing from this photo. It may just be Joker Game being cheeky, out of necessity perhaps, for as the previous arc it’s unflattering at best about Japan’s war effort. For example while historically the domestic support for an alliance with Germany was high thanks to a dedicated propaganda effort, the spy in this episode—a man with a broader perspective, by his very occupation—is more doubtful. And hey, there was some allusion to the atrocities by the Japanese army—just one line, but it’s a mention!—which I suppose is already quite on the nose for Japanese TV.
While history and geopolitics are, of course, fascinating (for just me), Joker Game is a spy thriller and for those the focus is usually more on the psychological edge. And, of course, human drama because I think the life of a spy is always, on some level, a tragedy (or maybe The Spy Who Came in from the Cold has irreversibly set that tenor). Something about once a spy, always a spy, aptly demonstrated in his episode by the imprinting that Shimano (let’s just call him Shimano) received. I initially thought that he was acting as some sort of sleeper agent, though what we got in the end was close enough. Point in, Shinome is the consummate spy to his very core of his being, which is one hand impressive, but is it not also somewhat sad? Contrast him with Marie, who’s also a spy of sorts but she’s not a professional like he is. She did it for her family. Or how about Jean? He turns for the sake of his love. Why is Shimano an agent? No real reason. He is a spy for the sake of a spy, and although offered a choice to stay in France elects to return, and asks for a harder mission. ‘Shimano Ryousuke’ evaporates. His friendship with Alain evaporates. This episode is titled Miscalculation, but in the preview for it in the last episode, where the spies reminisce about their missions, Shimano—or Hatano, or whomever he is now—said he made the ‘right decision’. Which is the miscalculation? Which was the right decision? Joker Game leaves some room for interpretation for both.
It’s all quite interesting, and makes for quite the excellent third episode to round out an initial review of the show. By the three episode rule, where an anime has an episode to hook and three to impress, I would say Joker Game passes with flying colours. Both the writing and direction have been top notch, in my opinion, with the only real issue being that the history it plays with may be a sensitive issue for viewers both East and West. Otherwise, I think Joker Game is as good an espionage anime as it gets, and certainly one of the strongest shows of the season. Whether you’re interested in the spycraft, or the period, or just the thrills, there’s much to recommend in Joker Game. It’s definitely one worth sticking with.