「ダブル・ジョーカー (前編)」 (Daburu Jōkā (Zenpen))
“Double Joker (First Part)”
I used to be a dedicated chess player, certainly not at very high level, but at least competitive enough to get into haughty arguments about the proper pronunciation of en prise. Thus one of my pet peeves is when an anime depicts a chess game and doesn’t bother to depict a real one. Sure, it’s not only anime that does this, but since this is an anime blog it’s what I’m going to rant about. I remember very almost skipping out on watching CODE GEASS, so offended I was in the first episode by ridiculousness of the board state and the inability of the ‘genius’ protagonist to play it. Silly and pedantic? Yes. But I’m of the school that details matter, because suspension of disbelief matters, and viewers aren’t idiots. Chess is such a thoroughly catalogued game that there really is no excuse to get it wrong. Even if one has no idea how to play, it only takes a few minutes of research to steal a game off the internet. It’s not hard, so get it right. Joker Game has always been a stickler for details (by necessity, because even a guy’s tan can be an important clue), and I was heartened to see an actual plausible chessboard. It’s all I ask for, really.
I suppose it’s necessary for Joker Game to take its chess seriously, or else it can hardly expect us to take its chess metaphor seriously. When it comes to war, strategy and death, I guess it has to be chess—simple yet deep (though nailing down a man’s personality in 38 games is impressive). I suppose it’s supposed to be contrasted with poker (as in the ‘Joker Game’ metaphor). Although chess certainly has a psychological aspect, it’s a game of open information, and doesn’t feature the same kind of bluffing and manipulation as poker. Perhaps it’s to highlight the differences of this new ‘Wind Agency’ (the creation of which has been hinted at for some time, most notably in episode 06). Certainly, the methods portrayed in this episode—bribery, extortion, murder—do seem a lot cruder than what we’ve come to expect from the D Agency. Sure, they’re all perfectly effective tactics, but perhaps lacking in elegance (but that’s the truth of the entire intelligence industry, really). The difference in philosophy between ‘don’t kill, don’t be killed’ and ‘kill without hesitation, die with honour’ is going to make for an interesting rivalry, to be sure.
But, wait, was the spy (Tsuda Kenjirou) of this episode supposed to be a D Agency man, or a Wind Agency man? He kills, which is a no no for D Agency, and he makes the report to a Wind Agency handler. But is how much of his story do we trust? This is where the ambiguous identity of the characters becomes an advantage for Joker Game. I know some viewers have had trouble matching faces to spies (I don’t really try myself), but I’ve come to see that as a feature, not a flaw. This is an anime more about the game than its players, and I’d argue that masking players actually makes the moves more interesting. It’s an espionage drama, so we are supposed to question, and are supposed to doubt. Especially when there are two rival agencies, we should never be too sure who is on which side. Ambiguities about identity lead to ambiguities about allegiance, which plays directly into the spy vs spy atmosphere that Joker Game is trying to build.
Next week we’ll likely see a reply from the D Agency to this newfangled, army-loyal Wind Agency. Yuuki always did seem two steps ahead of literally everybody, though, so I won’t be surprised if he’s made a reply in advance. On that note, please put both your spoilers and speculation in spoiler tags, so that those who would like their viewing experience completely unsullied don’t have to sort through them. Thanks.