I’m tempted to leave it at that, but while it is probably the most pithy way of putting my sentiments, I’ll admit it doesn’t totally cover it.
Joker Game is about a pack of spy-trainees in 1937 Japan – you know, the imperialist, pre-WWII-flavor of historical Japan. It is also apparently about a pure-hearted and fairly simple-minded young officer named Sakuma, who is dropped into their midst, surely with the intent that he’ll keep tabs on them. But Sakuma’s utterly guileless, and is quite open about his distaste for espionage, to the point that he may’ve accidentally entrapped himself into committing suicide by the end of the first episode. He is shown pretty prominently in the preview for the next episode, though, so my guess is that we’re just going to watch him slowly end up having to become like the spies he despises.
There’s been a lot of unease expressed by many other people about the danger in a show about military folks and politics in Japan in the late 1930’s, so I’m not going to bother getting into that. Also, to be quite frank, as I found the episode to be pretty dull, I genuinely can’t muster an interest in whether it’s going to in the future be terribly offensive or if it’ll tackle this problematic era with aplomb. I will note that I find the descriptions of it as being more political than Night Raid 1931/Senkou no Night Raid a bit eyebrow-raising since that show had a scene in the very first episode that was a pair of characters discussing Japan’s colonial efforts as a positive thing. (This, by the way, triggered a lot of declarations of disgust over “revisionism”, which the scene actually was not, and which I wrote about at the time. The fact is that Japan’s attitude toward East Asia *was* that they were largely backward societies and that Japan had to step in for the benefit of their would-be colonial subjects. You know the whole White Man’s Burden thing? Because this was essentially Japan’s attitude toward the rest of Asia, except, of course, neither side of the equation was white. So, a scene of two characters expressing the idea that Japan was undertaking noble efforts in East Asia? That’s *exactly* the sort of conversation a pair of relatively well-off and educated Japanese people would be having about East Asia in 1931.)
Enough of that tangent. The fact is, on paper, Joker Game certainly has potential. In actuality, though, this episode was a whole lot of people blathering in smoky rooms about spying – whether it’s a good thing, whether it’s useful, what it actually means… And while some of the matters raised are intriguing questions, at the end of it, very little has actually been said. Spying! It’s a lonely venture! It can help your country have an edge in diplomacy! Did you know that diplomacy is often fraught with deception? Wow, Joker Game, damn, you’re so deep and smart, I’ve learned so much.
I hate this kind of pretentious crap. I also quickly grew weary of watching Sakuma essentially be an object for providing lessons to the audience on just how amaaaazing the spies are. Ok, fine, Sakuma’s dislike of the whole spying business and his blind faith in his country means that the spies can run circles around him. I could get that without the show hammering me over the head with it.
I’ll admit that I seem to be the only person who has had this reaction to it thus far, though, so your mileage will probably vary. This just struck me as one of those shows that thinks it’s all so terribly smart and deep but which doesn’t actually fit that bill.