「XX ダブル・クロス」 (XX Daburu Kurosu)
“XX (Double Cross)”

What a curious way to end Joker Game. It is, notably, an episodic, non-chronological series, so it can end however and whenever it wants. And indeed, all the spies are alive and around this week, a rare occurrence even without knowing that at least one dies in the future. Most series, though, do seem to like to end with a bang, and while seeing D Agency assembled is sort of cool the bang factor is not particularly high since most of them play passive roles. Then again, it’d be weird if Joker Game suddenly went into kung fu mode and pulled out a high action, high octane finale; that would necessitate a genre switch, as this has never been that kind of anime. So I suppose it’s sticking to its guns, to deliver a more contemplative sort of ending.

The spy of the week is Odagiri (Hosoya Yoshimasa) or ‘Tobisaki Hiroyuki’ or whatever, and his story makes for a neat bookend to the series. Odagiri is an ex-army man, like Sakuma of the first arc, and also does not entirely fit in with the rest of the D Agency. It’s actually interesting that we get to know so much about him, to actually learn about his past, since no other spy has been afforded this treatment (save Yuuki, who is, again, the spy). In hindsight it was all a deliberate choice, with Odagiri, the outsider, playing a clear foil to the rest of the agency. He alone as attachments to his past, he alone stumbles in his duties, and he alone quits the D Agency. Clearly, it is this last shred of humanity that makes him unsuitable for spy work.

Yuuki breaks out some sexism, or perhaps some Sherlock-Holmes-style misogyny, about why he doesn’t recruit women, but coming from him perhaps it’s a compliment. He doesn’t believe women make good spies, because they’re not capable of the same level of psychopathy as men. As a man, and probably not a psychopath, I wonder how I should feel about that claim. We’ve seen several female spies in Joker Game before, and perhaps they haven’t been the same consummate professionals as the men, but does that mean they can’t be? I don’t think that’s really the point here. No matter what Yuuki thinks, he recruits for the D Agency based on very specific criteria, because he creates a very specific product. As the spymaster of D Agency, he is in the business of creating monsters. We haven’t seen his spy training in full, and all the myriad things he must do (including use of extreme exercises and drugs) to beat the humanity out of his recruits. Sure, they become suave superspies, but at what price? Per the running theme of Joker Game, the life of a spy is ultimately tragic. Remember that Odagiri’s basic humanity is what made him unfit for the Imperial Army. And his humanity also makes him unfit to be a spy.

I was thinking that the previous episode, Coffin would perhaps make for a better finale, since it dealt with death. Death is the kind of haunting subject matter that’s good to go out on. But I think these two episodes actually offer something when taken together. Miyoshi dies, but he dies the perfect spy. Odagiri quits the agency as an imperfect spy, but he lives. Who ends up better of the two? It’s a question that Joker Game leaves us with.

Final Impressions ~ Not James Bond, not Hollywood

I won’t dance around it: I found Joker Game to be consistently, entirely stellar. I am aware that not all may agree, and perhaps even very few would agree. There is some amount of subjectivity in my assessment, since Joker Game was definitely my kind of show. The appeal was certainly more niche than one might suspect at first blush. Joker Game turned out to mainly be heavily psychological, episodic mysteries, but perhaps some were expecting an action-packed, espionage drama with a building narrative. Yeah, that ain’t it. Such expectations, though, are extraneous things we bring into an anime ourselves, which usually just dampens our enjoyment of what we’re given. As I noted when introducing the pilot, real spy stories, despite what Hollywood may try to tell you, have very little in the way of car chases and bloody gun fights. I think a show like Joker Game captures the proper mood much better, and is also much rarer, which I welcomed.

Similarly rarer are purely episodic anime, which could be why some people, I think, were thrown off by Joker Game‘s format. I understand that many people—myself included—enjoy anime for its strong narrative arcs across a set number of episodes, but I didn’t find Joker Game‘s lack thereof to be an issue. I personally have no problems with episodic anime as well, in the way I enjoy both short stories and longer novels, and I think even as a short story collection Joker Game would have been fine, but it did more than that. The lack of set characters with developed backstories was, of course, a deliberate choice. They are spies. Yuuki easily represented them all, for the important things to know was their work, their methods and their philosophy. A certain sense of insecurity about identities also played into the general atmosphere. As for the individual episodes, even without a chronological narrative they very much were linked, in theme and in historical background. The history, I think, is especially important because the main purpose of a narrative is to give events context, and the context for Joker Game was the War. It does mean that one needs to have a certain knowledge of and appreciation for history to fully enjoy Joker Game (no matter what its boilerplate disclaimer may attest every episode), but that should go without saying. And, really, World War II is the most interesting of modern history, so it’s well worth reading up on regardless.

Even if Joker Game was not as much your kind of show as it was mine, I think we should all give a hand to its spotless execution. Joker Game has the distinction of being light on action, but not really heavy on dialogue (relatively speaking) either. Much of the show is, in fact, music and camerawork, both of which were quite praiseworthy. I derive a lot of entertainment from Joker Game just basking in the mood and atmosphere. The incredibly detailed settings definitely played a large part in that. Look at this London. Look at this Berlin. As a lover of scenery, I just can’t help but fall in love when an anime woos me so. It’s like somebody asked, ‘what does Passerby enjoy?’ and made an anime of only that. So it should be no surprise when I say that I thoroughly enjoyed every single episode of Joker Game, without reservation. And I enjoyed blogging it too. Even if you aren’t as shameless a fan as I am, I hope you had a good time nonetheless, and thanks for following along with Random Curiosity.


  1. I have a good opinion of this show. It was definitely refreshing and entertaining, with my favourite stories being the episode set in Shanghai and the the one on the train. Thank you for blogging, it was entertaining to read your reviews.

  2. This is the last episode? So that’s why there was no preview. I wanted to see more of Sakuma, but I respect this choice of episodic, self-contained stories. I hope a 2nd season gets okayed in the future.

  3. Thank you for the well written and thoughtful reviews. I loved this series as much as you did for its atmosphere, thematic stories, and detatchedness from individual characters. I feel like I’ll never see another anime again like this one and am sad to be leaving it. =(

  4. I enjoyed this series a lot but I have two gripes. One, the ending was too sudden. Each episode more or less stood alone and had little to do with one another. That sort of story telling is fine but it can get old after a while. Two, where is the challenge? Yes, there were moments where agents of D agency had to work to get their results but barring a few exceptions almost everything worked out the way they wanted to. It is entertaining to see how they will get out of this one or that one but over time it gets a little silly. As good as this show was if it kept this method of story telling into another 12 episodes I might have lost interest.

    1. I make some further discussion of what links Joker Game‘s short stories together in the post and in some comments below. Again, it’s the history and the strong thematic core. As for ‘the challenge’, I made a point about how I didn’t think that was really the point of Joker Game. The point was their methods, what they were willing or not willing to do, the philosophies behind these choices, and the same for their opponents. It’s like in a detective novel; we know that Poirot is going to solve the crime, but the details and motives behind the crime that are revealed is the juicy part.

  5. Interesting series but I the episodic nature made it a little hard to follow and the fact that we don’t really see what happened with everyone makes it feel a bit empty. I think the story could of been told a little better.

    1. Ah, you’re seeking closure. Since this was a short story collection, Joker Game is certainly not going to wrap up. Joker Game also makes the point that there is no closure for spies. These agents are not people like you or I, and the only meaning in their lives is the information they gather. They are nihilists. Closure comes with death.

  6. The anime website has a chronological timeline of the episodes. Ep 12 takes place sometime after Ep 1-2 in 1939, while Ep 4 was the final ep in 1941.

    1937 Autumn: D-Agency is formed.
    1939 Spring : Eps 1-2 (with Sakuma), Ep 12 (finale) 
    1939 Summer : Ep 6 (Asia Express with Tazaki)
    1939 Autumn : Ep 5 (London with Kaminaga)
    1940 Winter to Spring : Ep 7 (Cruise ship with Amari, Emma)
    1940 Spring : Ep 10 (Yuuki beats Price), Ep 3 (Hatano in Nazi France) 
    1940 Summer to Autumn: Eps 8-9 (Formation and failure of rival Wind Agency)
    1940 Autumn : Ep 11 (Miyoshi dies, Colonel Wulff investigates)
    1941 Summer : Ep 4 (Hajime in Shanghai)

    The anime covered the 1st 2 books in the series, Joker Game and Double Joker. 2 more instalments are Paradise Lost and Last Waltz. The 1st 2 books were officially described as an anthology of related short stories.

    1. Apparently, episodes 3, 10 and 7 were from book 3. Episode 6 might be in book 4 — the poster didn’t know where it was, but they don’t yet have the most recent book…


      I actually thought this episode was a fitting ending, especially if we think of Joker Game as a show that looks at the psychology of a master spy and spymaster…namely Yuuki. What really hit me were the last two things that Yuuki says to Tobisaki:

      “Don’t die.” and then

      “Are you stupid? Who bows while wearing a business suit.”

      To me, the first line shows that Yuuki is someone who really cares for his subordinates, contrasting with the attitude that Tobisaki’s senior officer displayed at the start of the episode. It also echoes Yuuki’s own understated reaction to Miyoshi’s death in episode 11, and links to his own apparent history as The Magician.

      But then the next line makes us wonder again, exactly what does Yuuki value? Why does he do what he does? Does Yuuki actually care for his charges? Do they actually care for their country? Or, are they monsters that are in the game because they enjoy it, as Sakuma and Odagiri’s reflections bookending the series suggest?

      1. I took Yuuki’s last as meaning that, from that point on, Odagiri was no longer a spy.

        I do think Yuuki cares about his people, at least enough to not abandon them, considering how he was sold out as the Magician. Whether this is strict professionalism or actual empathy, though, I don’t think we can ever know for sure.

      2. I took Yuuki’s last as meaning that, from that point on, Odagiri was no longer a spy.

        Hm…that’s an interesting interpretation… What I am wondering, though, is what might have been going through Yuuki’s head when he said that.

        Whether this is strict professionalism or actual empathy, though, I don’t think we can ever know for sure.

        I think that may have been the point though: can we ever truly know what a spy is like? The rationale/emotions behind some of the things they do and say? Which is why I thought it fitting that the show ended on that note, because it made me wonder about some of the things that Yuuki has said or done, such as his “You’re welcome to stay.” to Hatano in episode 3, or when the told Ellen where to find Price in episode 10. It just left that puzzle in my mind, and made me curious enough about the novels that I’ll probably sit down to read them one day. ^^

      3. Actually, I don’t think the latter line had as much hidden meaning as you might think. The way of bowing by Odagiri and Sakuma can also be interpreted as a military salute. Both of them were certainly bowing but technically, it was a salute (the sub chose to use “bowing” but Yuuki’s line both times used 敬礼する=keirei suru = salute).

        For a historical perspective, if you were wearing a suit, you’d be assumed to be a regular citizen. Wearing suits could be used as a way to be discreet if you wanted do any secret military matters, especially since the military operated in a very open and obvious manner (while always wearing their uniform). There was a strong and proud culture where sneaking around or spying was looked down upon as also mentioned in the series. Therefore, when Sakuma first greeted Yuuki, Yuuki called him a fool since saluting while wearing a suit was equivalent to declaring “I am a spy and from the military.” As for Odagiri, as mentioned by Passerby, he was no longer a spy and when Yuuki sent him off, Odagiri’s salute can be seen as an indication that he is not a spy and now a military man. Also, there is the added bonus that Yuuki’s line brings things full circle in a way.

  7. Individually (on an episodic basis) Joker Game was good–especially in terms of historical references and eye for detail (that German on the paper for the finale? Grammatically accurate)–but overall each piece never really came together nicely to yield a complete package. An episodic show can work, but even these cases usually have some form of prolonged arc to give personality to the characters. Joker Game had few recurring characters across its episodes (usually the spotlighted spy changed every week) and often switched to wildly different locations. The viewer was never really given the opportunity to dig in roots for particular plot lines, story arcs, or characters (barring Yuuki), instead resigned to imagination and ambiguous introspection to fill the gaps.

    No better point details this than the character designs. All the D-Agency spies were very similar in appearance to one another (several actually look the same), while the villains (and foreigners) were given unique appearances–you knew at a glance who was who, except for the D-Agency spies. Interestingly this visual dichotomy between Joker Game’s characters very likely is a subtle illumination of the haze surrounding a spy’s identity (i.e. a spy is nameless and nonexistent). While a clever bit of contrast, this exacerbates Joker Game’s lack of viewer pull–unless already fascinated by the inner workings of spying, there is little present to keep a viewer’s attention. This is no fault of Joker Game, the show is simply geared towards a niche audience to the detriment of others.

    Overall Joker Game is a show strongly influenced by personal interests. If you love true spy/mystery thrillers then you’re likely to love the show. If you’re more general (or action-oriented), however, Joker Game may end up forgettable. Cannot ask for much more for a show such as this.

  8. To be honest, I had a difficut time with this series. As an artist and a student, I’ve studied many aspects of character design. And you know? I can’t even tell if the focal guy in this episode was the guy in the firt two episodes or not. I thought he was, perhaps because of a sword appearing, but it wasn’t until a little syntax in the review above that I fiured out it was someone else.

    It’s not that the show was never what I was expecting, it’s that I could never get a grasp of who was who to have anything to grab on. Perhaps this is a limit of the process of japanese animation, where similar body types and faces can ease production (heck, just compare Trigger’s base designs between KLK and Kidznaiver to see how house archetypes can be reused between productions, yet used uniquely in their own story), but it was a severe detriment my ability to relate to what was going on.

    And while I can see this as a deliberate choice to add to the intrigue of spies, and that sense of uncertain identity, if it hampers storytelling, there isn’t much worthwhile intrigue to get to. A forgettable spy is wonderful. A forgettabe character is a shame. It’s one thing to recycle character models, but never in the same show.

    1. Personally I liked the designs. It’s not like they really have the same base, you just have to familiarize with them to recognize them fully. Just like in real life. (And it was fun telling them apart)

    2. I personally had no problems with telling that this week’s spy was not Sakuma, but then again I also know Sakuma’s voice very well. I had no problem with the designs at all, though; if you put the spies in one room I can at least tell you which one was in which episode. Perhaps it’s just a thing.

      I must say, though, I also found the identity of each spy completely unimportant. All one needed to know in each episode was that there were to be spies and that they would do spy things. Sometimes the D Agency men are not even very consequential. There was only ever one character who needed flesh, and that was Yuuki. The ‘main character’ of Joker Game is the D Agency as a whole, its aims and operations, and by extension Yuuki, its mastermind. The spies I considered to be very much organs of their agency.

    3. Character design is always the one thing complained. Personally, I don’t mind as I can tell almost every spy easily through voices. I think, Production IG was aware of this and chose voice actors with distinct voices to help viewers differentiate the spies.

      Also, do you know that the character designer of this anime is the very similar person who designed characters for Kiznaiver?

    4. After 12 weeks of being bombarded with shots of the D Agency spies in the OP and the opening narration, I found out that I could finally recognise the majority of them, especially when they are gathered together! (those I can’t recognise I can identify via the process of elimination)

  9. I kind of think of Joker Game as the not-so-distant cousin of Mushishi. Both episodic, have very few recurring characters, and have strong central themes and characters (Yuuki and Ginko). I can’t say if it’s at the same masterclass level as Mushishi (a very subjective matter), but I was fascinated by this series.

    Thank you for your very insightful reviews, Passerby, especially the historical notes. I tend to gravitate towards “historical fiction” because of the fine line between reality.

  10. Gotta agree with you, this is no anime masterpiece, but it is stellar. Funny enough, this is probably the only anime this season that I might recommend to friends. Depending on what I know of their tastes that is. It does a great job of what it sets out to do. It’s just that it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea.

    Joker Game somehow goes full circle. It starts with an army officer and ends with an army officer. One was practically recruited, while the other practically quits. I say that because I’m not sure Sakumoto has become a full agent. We never hear his name again in the future. This episode actually shows that they do gather-up once in awhile. While Odagiri may have resigned, Yuuki’s words got me thinking. Remember what the Game was about? He probably is still in the Joker Game somehow, just not actively participating like the other seven.

    When a show has this large a cast, I consider it successful when I can identify them all when it ends, kinda like Idolm@ster.
    I can say I know “who” they are. At least as much as the show let’s me. Which isn’t much amusingly.

  11. Wow, this is actually the only anime I really enjoyed this season, clever and thrilling. I also love the character design and the art, it’s not easy to design characters that more human like but also have noticable differences.

  12. The last episode guy may have quit but Yuuki still made use of his services. I believe he becane their contact person in manchuria where he went and the episode with the train is. More like he was reassigned as a passive spy not active like the rest of the d agency. Notice he still wears his watch. Watches are very important to spies thats why in the ending song we see someone taking out his out means he is really out of spying services


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