「アジア・エクスプレス」 (Ajia Ekusupuresu)
In my capacity as an anime blogger, I take notes while blogging. Otherwise I’d never remember all the things that I want to write about—even if the ‘notes’ are often just pages of snark. A specific commendation I can give for this episode of Joker Game is that somewhere in the middle of the episode I found that I had stopped taking notes and let the show carry me. I don’t do that for a lot of anime, and it’s a testament to the consistent immersive quality of Joker Game. Or maybe I’m just tired today and got lazy with the notes. Both are valid interpretations.
I admit to a fair amount of bias coming into this episode, though, since I love trains. I’m no son of a railway company who can rattle off statistics like this kid; I’m just smitten with the romance of steam (which is my reason for watching Koutesujou no Kabeneri this season). And I also love myself a good murder mystery, so a murder on a train is an instant sell for me. It’s not exactly Murder on the Orient Express, still less a puzzle and more a thriller, but it was a good mystery all the same, laced with the Joker Game flavour. Unlike the previous murder in China of episode 04, Asia Express has much more of the spy vs spy maneuverings going on (look, gadgets!), which is great, making use of a milder form of the tension in Robinson except this time with the D Agency against SMERSH instead of against a British spymaster. For those of you keeping track of the history, SMERSH was the real (and rather infamous) Soviet counter-intelligence organisation, though I don’t think it was actually officially acknowledged until 1942, so we’re getting them a bit early. The disclaimer (‘these organisations are not related to real life’) is still there, so I can forgive Joker Game playing things loose here. I’m not sure if the Asia was a real train though, but the South Manchurian Express was definitely a thing; it was initially part of a Russian project called the Chinese Eastern Railway until the Japanese took over. Quite a few wars were fought around it, so I’m glad Joker Game managed to have an episode on it. Also, did I mention that I liked trains?
My fascination with locomotives aside, what Asia Express was really about, on a thematic level, was manipulations, as the preview from last week should make obvious. It’s apt that we had Tazaki (Sakurai Takahiro) on hand to demonstrate, since he’s ostensibly a bit of a magician. A good mystery is very similar to a magic trick, in that the solution is hidden by drawing attention away from the pertinent details—misdirection is the key. For example, I didn’t anticipate our mystery man was in fact the woman, because we’ve had all these male spies so far and I had subconsciously assumed this was just another one. And throughout the episode people were being manipulated one way or another; our spy manipulates the boys to be his Baker Street Irregulars, he manipulates a new recruitment, and let’s not forget how this all started, with the Russian leaker manipulated into what I assume to be a SMERSH honey trap. This is the essence of the Joker Game
Perhaps this is why the Imperial Japanese Army brass don’t like the D Agency, because they diverge so much from this warrior code they consider sacrosanct. While the spies do fight, they really aren’t about confrontations, and are explicitly trained not to kill, something which the army folks seem to be disgusted by. The D Agency certainly show none of the requisite patriotism towards the war effort; our spy this episode explicitly notes that their purposes was expended once war breaks out (and we should remember that, by the Joker Game analogy in episode 01, D Agency was founded to make up for Japan’s diplomatic shortcomings). For those of you looking for an overarching narrative in Joker Game, this may be it at last. A rival intelligence agency, this one loyal to the army and its tenants. The internal politics of the very first arc returns. Intrigues within intrigues!
The Asia Express was an actual train on the South Manchuria Railway going the route shown in the show.
Good to know! I particularly enjoy the photos the artists no doubt used for reference.
Hsinking was historically called Chángchūn (长春, Long Spring), ever since its foundation in the Qing Dynasty. Hsinking, or Xīnjīng (新京, New Capital) in modern pinyin, was a renaming by the Japanese from 1932-1945 as it served as the capital of Japanese-controlled Northeastern China.
Dairen is the Japanese reading of the traditional Chinese characters for Dàlián, 大連 – Great Connection.
On the same note, Mukden would probably be better known these days as Shenyang.
There’s another interesting twist to the name. Mukden is actually the Manchu name for Shenyang, but back then in the 1930s, it was known as Fengtian (奉天), which is pronounced as Houten in Japanese.
It’s an interesting take on the intelligence/spycraft versus ability to use it factor, but not too far off from truth. WW2 was full of spy information ignored by decisionmakers, from Stalin disbelieving reports about coming German attack to UK ignoring treasure trove of intelligence on German weapons programs known as
Apart from that, once war on industrial scale started, it was not even the singular battles , no matter how spectacular and devastaing to one or both sides, but the industrial output and manpower mnobilization ability that decided the outcome of the war. By the end of 1941 with Axis at war not only with British Empire and Dominions, but also with US industrial might and relentless manpower of Soviet Union, the fate of war was all but decided, all that remained was how long it will take, and who will be the first to fall.
Intelligence is a murky business though; decision makers always pick and choose what to believe. I’m sure if we got the Army’s point of view, they would be bemoaning the efficacy of their spies in turn.
This episode was quite spectacular. Sakurai Takahiro did a marvellous job at portraying this week’s spy, who I can actually recognise from the group.
Agreed. I thought Tazaki was pretty cool. Definitely one of the more interesting spies.
Of the spies so far, Tazaki definitely had the most opportunity to interact with with people, so it’s only natural that he stands out more. And he’s a hearts and minds kind of guy, so it’d only be appropriate if he charmed you 😉
I wonder what all the info provided by morozoff are all about.
My conjecture is that the info was likely to be about Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact (signed on 23 August 1939), considering (1) the date of the story occurred in ep 6 is about late July 1939 – just about 1 months ago the date of the conclusion of the treaty -, (2) Japanese Imperial army had been worried ever about Soviet union’s invasion of Manchuria, especially even more so due to the Battles of Khalkhyn Gol (11 May 1939 – 15 September 1939) in which Japanese army experienced a shocking, unexpected defeat against Soviet Union’s, (3) Soviet Union’s invasion of Manchuria would bring a disastrous consequence to Japanese army’s continent management project as Japanese army had hard time with its southern front – its invasion to conquer the main land china in order to establish Japan’s control of Machuria firmly.
Your guess is as good as any; I tried to figure something out by his marks on the newspaper, but it was no help to me.
I really thought the nurse was the dancer. It turned out that those three boys had nothing to do with Morozoff. It sure was an interesting turn of events.
Regarding the overarching story, I’m not really sure what to make of it. A quick look at the anime’s website shows that what we’re watching isn’t in chronological order. Almost like Pulp Fiction or Haruhi. A conflict with the new army intelligence could be the primary conflict. All I know is that something major probably happened after Hatano left France and almost all the spies trained by D-agency will probably survive to tell this tale. The last chronological episode also hints at a possible repercussion to this conflict.