「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.