「魔都」 (Mato)
“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.




  1. It’s interesting to compare how the Japanese army is portrayed here compared to your usual Mainland China TV production – the Japanese there are always cold, cruel taskmasters bent on dominating and exterminating the noble Chinese people (hence the excitement when the Japanese characters get offed).

    The genre above is one of the most popular in Chinese TV today (also one of the few genres that gets unofficial approval from the very strict Communist Party censors).

      1. There is of course enmity past and present between China and Japan, but we should also not forget that the PRC is a nationalistic organism too. I have been critical of Japan’s historical revisionism, but the Communist Party enjoys it too, starting with exaggerating their role in the war, and of course never, ever mention Tiananmen.

      2. The entire region is basically a nationalistic free for all of bellicosity. The Chinese anger towards Japan is, however, the one that makes the most sense (besides being the most recent).
        If you really want insanity, just look up Jindandao and the Chinese massacre of Mongolians. Communist China tried explaining that one away as spontaneous Chinese action against the Manchus.

        European revisionism is tame compared to what some Asian states are capable of.

      3. @Scruffy:

        To be accurate, Chinese/Japanese aggression didn’t start with Nanking in the least. For centuries beforehand, both thought of the other as barbarians, and both intended invasions of the other at various points in history, neither with much success.

        Look up the Japanese invasions of Korea of 1592-1598 for an example of just how far the bad blood between those three countries runs… although, in many ways, it just seems like another thing that might have been resolved long ago without so much politically-minded demonization by all sides.

      4. ” Chinese/Japanese aggression didn’t start with Nanking in the least. For centuries beforehand, both thought of the other as barbarians, and both intended invasions of the other at various points in history, neither with much success.”

        This is a fairly inaccurate description of the history. To be sure, There was a war, Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–98). You may want to refer to “mongolian invasion of japan” as another incidence, though it’s a quite dubious case as china vs Japan warfare.

        Even if we count the second one as a china vs Japan war, those are the only 2 historical incidences where the two clashes from AD 1000 to 1800.

        Only single war (at most 2, including that dubious mongolian invasion of Japan) between 2 countries for more than 800 years. Now think about the modern history of Europe being full of hegemonic wars among them.

      5. @fripsidelover9111
        Well, China actually acquired hegemonic dominance for significant periods of history, while Europe was, I guess, messier. It’s arguable, I suppose, that the modern tensions in South East Asia are spurred in part by the fear of the reprise of the Middle Kingdom.

      6. Corin / Since this is not directly related to the anime, I hope our current discussion to be as brief as possible. Anyway, except the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–98) case, there was no single period in which Japan tried, hoped, dreamed to challenge China’s hegemonic dominance (including territorial ambition) in pre-modern times. Neither China had territorial ambition about Japan, which means the diplomatic relation between two countries was fine and normal in pre-modern times. Did Japan feel threatened by Chinese dominance? No.

        Simply put, it was the era of status quo. So, no intense conflict between 2 countries. It’s why Chinese hegemony at the time was no threat to Japan.

        This (relatively stable and peaceful) situation ended drastically by the western colonial invasion of the east in the 19th century, along with China’s collapse in 1800. No more status quo, but constant fear of being colonized by the Western powers. The age of imperialism and the law of the jungle began.

        This explains (at least partly) Japan’s over-reaction, its aggression and its attempt of occupying the continent, such as Machuria in modern times.

        This is the age of nation-state, whereas the order/rule of international politics in east Asia region in pre-modern times was governed Imperial Chinese tributary system.

        In other words, Chinese dominance in pre-modern times has very different meaning than in modern times.

        Chinese domninance in east asia in modern state-nation international politics could be concern to Japan nowadays? yes. As the two have territorial disputes now.

        What about in pre modern times? No.

      7. I this… addressed to me? If it is, I’ll only note a few points, since as you say we can discuss geopolitics all day but it’d also derail the comments.

        – It’s less about the want to contest a hegemon as much as the ability—a hegemon cannot be threatened by its neighbours, pretty much by definition. Mexico has no ability to challenge the United States today, for example; its feelings about the matter are inconsequential.

        – The control ancient China exerted over its neighbours was not just militaristic, but also economic. There’s more at play than just threats to territory.

        – The benefit of what we might call a Pax Sinica (both modern and pre-modern) from the point of view of different players in the region is, of course, up for debate, just as we might debate the Pax Romana.

      8. Passerby / yes, It was addressed to you. Sorry for my mistake.

        “a hegemon cannot be threatened by its neighbours, pretty much by definition. Mexico has no ability to challenge the United States today, for example; its feelings about the matter are inconsequential.”

        Certainly a hegemon cannot be threatened by its neighbours by definition. Fine. No problem. But your another sentence confuses me.

        “for example; its feelings about the matter are inconsequential.”?

        Let’s suppose what I have written about China-Japan relationship in pre-modern times is correct.
        So Chinese enjoyed its hegemonic dominance in the region. Japan had no complaint about it for most part of the time. And Both of them were content with what each of them had.

        If this was really the case as I said, It’s reasonable to say the diplomatic relatioship between 2 countries wes normal and fine – and being far from being hostile, troublesome each other – for most of the time in pre modern times, much like the diplomatic relationship between Canada and US is by and large fine and normal nowadays, though US is a hegemon in the region.

        Do you have any objection to it? If not, I have no problem.

        Finally, contrary to what you said, China was not like a modern imperial nation-state which tried to exploit by colonial domination over other countries. Your statement is a sort of anachronism, projecting european modern idea about hegemonic dominance into some other era and region.

        The fact is, China was not so positive about economic relation with its neighbours, because it thought it had everything within it. For it, economic relation (especially when it comes to economic exchange-trade via Imperial Chinese tributary system, china thought it’s inevitable ‘cost’ to her for keeping its soft power – ideological dominance over the region.

      9. It seems we may not necessarily be talking about the same periods of Chinese history, which is quite long and I will not pretend to have expertise in it. But, for example, China was not always isolationist. That’s neither here nor there, though, because unlike you I don’t believe that a realpolitik analysis needs be suspended for pre-nationalism history. The powerplays, I would argue, existed all the same. If we disagree on this, though, I think it’s best that we just leave this discussion here agreeing to disagree, before we enter into needless complexity.

      10. Passerby / “because unlike you I don’t believe that a realpolitik analysis needs be suspended for pre-nationalism history.”

        I didn’t say a realpolitik analysis is useless for pre-nationalism period.

        Actually a realpolitik analysis for China-Japan relation during the period from Chinese Song dynasty to Opium war (roughly 8 hundred years) only shows that diplomatic relation between the two was fine and peaceful by and large for most of the time.

        It’s much like that today’s US-Canada relation is just fine, normal and peaceful. Far from being agressive each other. A real-politik framework does not negate the fact.

      11. If we really are discussing the realpolitik, should we really be describing any international relations as, ‘fine, normal and peaceful’? I would say that in geopolitics, there are only plays for power.

      12. Passerby/ “If we really are discussing the realpolitik, should we really be describing any international relations as, ‘fine, normal and peaceful’? I would say that in geopolitics, there are only plays for power.”

        So, if plays for powers is the only thing which matters in geo-politics, it necessarily implies that international relations between countries are governed by aggression/hostility? In other words, there is no room for saying peace/normal in describing international relation between any given 2 countries (say, China and Japan).

        If this is what you think about Corin’s comment and realpolitik/geopolitics in general, there are 2 problems.

        First, ideology often matters in geo-politics as well (there are numerous cases. Ideological conflict between US – Soviet is a relatively recent example)

        Second, even if nothing but plays for power matters in geo-politics, it does not imply that there is no room for saying ‘peaceful international regime’ or ‘peaceful/normal international relation of two countries (say, China and Japan).

        Actually, proponents of realpolitik have no problem with talking about peaceful international relations/regime, though they have different idea of what makes peaceful international regime or peaceful relation between 2 countries possible than the so-called idealists.

        Just one example, let’s see what Henry Kissinger, a modern realpolitik theorist-diplomat, writes about the Westphalian system.

        “The Westphalian Peace was made after almost a quarter of the Central European population perished because of wars, disease and hunger. The treaty was based on the necessity to come to an arrangement with each other, not on some sort of superior morality. Independent nations decided not to interfere in the affairs of other states. They created a balance of power which we are missing today.”

        URL : http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/interview-with-henry-kissinger-on-state-of-global-politics-a-1002073.html

        Another example where he writes about the future prospect of China-US relation (‘On China’).

        ” Relations between China and the United States need not, and should not, become a zero-sum game. For the pre World War I European leader, the challenge was that a gain for one side spelled a loss for the other, and compromise ran counter to an aroused public opinion. This is not the situation in the Sino-American relationship. Key issues on the international front are global in nature. Consensus may prove difficult, but confrontation on these issues is self- defeating.


        The argument that China and the United States are condemned to collision assumes that they deal with each
        other as competing blocs across the Pacific. But this is the road to disaster for both sides.”

        To recap, realpolitik theorists have different idea about what makes peaceful geo-political regime/peaceful diplomatic relation between some given 2 countries to be possible than those of other schools of thought.

        But It does not mean that from real-politik perspective, ANY international relation of ANY given 2 countries should not, can not be described peaceful in ANY region, in ANY era.

      13. I would love to write a full reply, but I’m afraid that our desire to keep this discussion ‘as brief as possible’ has fallen through (which would make an interesting metaphor for international relations). So I would only say that, yes, I agree that peace is possible, and should always be our goal. But that does not necessarily mean that peace is normative, peace is not imperialistic, or that peace is ‘friendly’.

  2. https://randomc.net/image/Joker%20Game/Joker%20Game%20-%2004%20-%20Large%2021.jpg

    This building’s the real life Great World/Dashijie amusement complex, famous in the day for its myriad attractions of Chinese opera, music theatre, casinos, restaurants and various other hangouts. It was also remade into a popular children’s amusement centre during the early Communist era.
    The complex still stands today, but has been closed since 2003.

  3. Pretty surprised at how the spy was pretty much a completely minor character in this episode compared to the previous episode. Until the unmasking, I was wondering if this was some sort of origins episode for some new character or something.


    …and am I the only one who was imagining the Jack Nicholson Joker at the end of the 1989 Batman movie and hearing that laughing toy with this scene? x_x

  4. interesting, political suppression of the left-wing media, the fact Chinese are stationing troops in Shanghai, the Joker Game seems to follow “show not tell” discrete method of dealing with Japan’s troublesome past…
    but man. that Clark Kent disguise? I thought Agency spies are better than that. Sure, the photo shown was not very precise, but could not the MP sergant spot that he was tailing smae man he just talked to?

    1. I noticed that the reporter looked a lot like the spy, but given how it’s hard to discern the characters based on their simplistic characters designs I originally thought the two were different people.

    2. It just goes to show that there is more to disguises than cosmetics. The spy’s disguise was also in how he warped his personality, voice and expressions. The act was a complete package.

      (Alternatively, Super Hypnosis.)

  5. I thought this week’s episode was more compelling. It felt more complete narratively in one episode than last week’s story. I’d say the spy did very well at his job this week.

      1. And, as history has shown us, some of the worst monsters in history have turned out to be some of the LAST people that other people around them expected or believed them to be, whether because that person was just that intelligent/charming/etc. or things around those other people just distracted them from really looking closer at that person.

  6. Wow, this episode really cranked it up a notch in the “some crazy shit going on” department. It was actually pretty compelling, the corruption of the shanghai was rampant and It’s nice that they didn’t shy away from more divisive topics like homosexual rape. I also liked how this episode showcased the spy isn’t always going to be the leading actor, but merely someone who is there and affects the show somehow. It’s actually kind of interesting trying to figure out who actually is the spy in each episode since I don’t remember how any of them look at the start. I just hope near the end their’s a plot that involves all of the spys or something less episodic in nature.

  7. What a sicko that captain was. So Oikawa had a random boy waitress be his gunman to get rid of the officer investigating him and then Oikawa decides to kill his gunman too? Too bad for him though the boy had a lover. On who the spy was, in this case it was Kazuya Nakai’s voice that gave away him being the spy. Even if he tried to sound all friendly and clueless, his voice is something I can’t miss. What I didn’t realize is the Spy was Kusanagi too and he was leading Honma into the gambling den. At least I think he was doing. Interesting how this episode shows spies don’t just do intelligence gathering. Their information was being leaked to they needed to get rid of the mole. I just wonder if the boy having a lover and said lover killing the mole was part of the spy’s plan too. Then again I don’t think there’s any other way of silencing Oikawa.

  8. Passerby / “….. But that does not necessarily mean that peace is normative, peace is not imperialistic, or that peace is ‘friendly.”

    I don’t think they were friends and I didn’t say or imply that in my earlier comments either.

    The point is, for the most of time in pre modern times since Chinese Song dynasty, neither China nor Japan had been imperialistic to each other in the sense that one tried to colonize or annex parts or whole of the other country. As I wrote earlier, both of them were just content with what they already had (so Status quo, and No concern of national security), unlike the western imperialistic invasion of the east Asia in the 19th century.

    The only notable exception is the Japanese invasion of Korea of 1592-1598.

    Were they friends? No.

    But does that mean that they were hostile to each other? No. This is what I have pointed out repeatedly, again and again.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *