“City of Temptation”
Ah, Shanghai. Both the Paris of the East, and the Whore of the Orient. Those of you who have heard even just passing tales of this city’s colourful history may have had, as I did, a nagging sensation while watching that City of Temptation (or, more elegantly, Sin City; an opportunity was lost in the translation, I feel) could end as nothing other than a tragedy. Shanghai of the late 19th to early 20th century garnered for itself a reputation as basically the world’s cesspool, fueled by a central shipping port and broad international interest, but also plagued by corruption, opium, and rampant lawlessness. Here is where we could segue into a tirade about Western colonialism. but Joker Game did not actually seem too interested in debating the reasons leading to Shanghai’s infamy. The city was as it was, and the people who live in it tell the story. There are many little details sown throughout the episode about life in Shanghai, contrasting the orphan beggars, the corruption, the social disparity with the raunchy glitz, with all the sordid implications of how one feeds into the other. I won’t say that Joker Game is exactly candid with its historical portrayals (the disclaimer is still there!), but it’s hardly nostalgic either. That goes for Japanese history too; Joker Game threw in a line about government suppression of the media too, which may not address the issue but doesn’t ignore it either.
I’ve been enjoying the way Joker Game has been mixing up its storytelling thus far, framing each of its arcs in slightly different ways. While City of Temptation is, like the first story arc, about internal affairs again, it isn’t actually really about the spy at all—one simply needed to know that one was there, and I didn’t find myself too concerned about which one he was. Alias Shiozuka Hajime (Nakai Kazuya) remains mostly camouflaged and out of focus until he unmasks himself (again, there is no glamour in spy work). Instead, the focus is on the city itself, the mystery brewing inside it, and the people who are ultimately destroyed by it. It is a tragedy of the Greek tradition, about the hero who falls to ruin, unable to escape the fate of the Whore of the Orient. It’s certainly a different tale, and though for those who desire a more linear, overarching narrative City of Temptation will not be satisfying, as an episodic anime Joker Game has managed to keep itself interesting with these flourishes, at least for me. I suspect that Joker Game will eventually return to a big arc, perhaps bringing Sakuma back in, but for now these individual episodes have been keeping me entertained each week.
Is ‘entertained’ the right word? It’s certainly not fun and games, to be sure. City of Temptation more than the Joker Game we’ve seen so far, has been uncommonly dark, maybe even uncomfortably so for some. But there is entertainment in that too, I suppose. I personally found brushstrokes that eventually painted this chilling picture engaging—the reveal was certainly something. No doubt part of that was due to not expecting that Joker Game to go down the direction that it did (how often does child prostitution come up in anime?), but another part is, I think, being unable to tear my eyes away from watching a man devoured. Joker Game‘s Shanghai is as the python that swallows whole its prey, which was both horrifying and fascinating. In the preview for City of Temptation, Fukumoto is revealed to have developed a penchant for gambling. It seems spies are also junkies, in their own ways. Truly, none escape Shanghai’s embrace.