Joker Game gives an insight into a pre World War II industrial Japan though the eyes of expertly trained D-Agency spies. Based on the novel written by Koji Yanagi, this action packed spy thriller will keep you hooked from the title sequence. Follow the intense missions Japan’s most cunning, quick-thinking and combat ready operatives.
Compelling mission objectives and unpredictable methods of resolution
First of all, don’t expect this show to be your typical military show because it isn’t. Espionage differs greatly from front line infantry meaning that you’re not going to be watching mindless gunfire and dramatic combat sequences. Of course, conflict does come in the form of violence in the show but it is usually a one-to-one unarmed fight given the solo nature of the agents. However, this is not a detriment to the show at all, I see this as a positive aspect to the character connection and development of each agent’s persona. These personas affect the way a mission objective is carried out and give variety within each episode. As an example, Hatano has the shortest build and a cheeky attitude which make his agility and cockiness useful assets in conflict situations. Don’t expect repetitive or dull missions either, each new operation takes the viewer to a new setting ranging from the rundown streets of Shanghai to the smog enveloped alleys of London. I’d love to discuss how some of the agents get out of danger but to do that would be to spoil some of the most surprising and entertaining moments of the show. It truly is a spectacle to observe each agent’s thought process and utilise everything around them to complete their mission.
Spine chilling situations and brutal visuals
A perfect mission for a spy is to go completely unnoticed so that the enemy doesn’t suspect anything. Of course in high stakes espionage, you’re not always going to have a perfectly silent operation. Even in situations where it’s not the agent’s fault, Joker Game does not hold back in conveying the truly horrific side of information retrieval. The art-style of the show can be seen as very standard where everything is very regular and there is little deviation for experimental visuals. However this helps tie together what the show is about which gives so much more impact for when the visuals do get very detailed. The most noticeable of this is the character designs and the intricate detail that goes into the faces both for protagonist and antagonist. This standard of work goes into every character including those who only appear for a single episode. This makes so many more of the barbaric actions present in the show that much more brutal and unbelievable because it reminds the viewer that each victim caught in the crossfire isn’t just a faceless background character. On multiple occasions an episode will open on a new character’s demise where there’s so much emphasis on emotion; you see fear in their eyes and that keeps you hooked and wanting to know more about the case.
They’re agents not robots – Each one still has character
I was pleasantly surprised when some of the agents actually displayed some form of compassion for others. Whether it’s genuine care or merely to advance their mission, I was glad that they’re still depicted with the capability to form emotion which is a pet peeve of mine when it comes to the spy genre. In the first episode Sakuma refers to the D-Agency as a band of “monsters” which is a fair description. It’s also said in the show that “they only do it because they know they can” (or something along the same lines), which gives off an impression that all members are soulless attack dogs commanded by higher ups. Personally I would disagree with that statement as each character showed at least some development whether it be in the form of civilian protection, a sense of pride and justice or using innocent people to achieve their goal. Hey, I didn’t say it was all good development.
As another note on the agents, it’s a very popular opinion that they all look alike which irritates some viewers when it comes to telling each one apart. While I agree that distinguishing the agents is difficult I feel that it doesn’t take away anything from the story. Not to mention that each mission comes with a new disguise, the staff clearly knew that this would be a factor but the plot isn’t reliant on telling apart each character. Their whole purpose as operatives is to blend in and be invisible so it’s expected that they would lack any recognisable features like moles or crazy anime hair. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal as some people make it out to be, that’s all.
Disappointing visual direction with repetitive composition
As much as I enjoyed this show, I have to admit that the visual communication of events was a bit lacklustre. Admittedly there were a few screenshot worthy moments where clever camera positions conveyed a message that would be otherwise missed by the audience. However, these were few and far between giving the viewer a thirst for variety in certain episodes. The first episode didn’t fall victim to this, constantly varying the camera angles and showing us some interesting shots. Unfortunately I didn’t see this consistently for the whole season. So many times the viewer is shown a bog-standard close up shot of the face or an extreme close up of the eyes; exaggerating a widening of the iris to convey surprise. “But earlier you said the attention to facial detail was good!”, the facial expressions are great but even if you overused the most perfect shot in existence, the audience would still grow tiresome. Joker Game demonstrates such a clever use of mise-en-scene and cinematography yet the later episodes of the series don’t seem to hold up to the standard they set for themselves. Given that the premise is based on the Japanese novel of the same name it’s not exactly surprising that an emphasis is put on the dialogue and storytelling of the show but showing audiences such amazing micro features and taking them away once they’re invested in the plot is sure to upset fans.
Overall, Joker Game is a show focused on mystery, internal character thoughts and well-written plot twists. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the show, most of the episodes showcased an intelligently thought out premise while slotting in a D-Agency member to resolve the conflict. While I’m personally not very familiar with the spy genre of anime, I feel that this is a good demonstration of what a mystery/action hybrid can accomplish with clever utilisation of historical and contextual information. Joker Game is a ride from start to end with a few pit stops on the way, definitely a unique take on the standard espionage concept.