Joker Game at a Glance

joker game 1d

Self-important twaddle.

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.

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9 Responses to Joker Game at a Glance

  1. Rae says:

    Eh I admit the first ep is somewhat melodramatic but I do hope they manage to handle the events later on that isn’t 100% terrible. I kinda want to stick around even if the story is not that great because of the high production values and that it’s based off a book.

    • Artemis says:

      It /is always nice to see more anime based on full-length novels. This is probably unfair of me, but I know I’m more likely to give a show a bit more time to try and impress me if it’s based on a novel as opposed to a manga, game, or light novel. (And yeah, just in terms of sheer visual style, Joker Game has been the best new title of the season for me so far.)

    • A Day Without Me says:

      I totally get what both of you mean about it being based off of a novel. LNs, let’s face it, very rarely have complex plots and fully-fleshed characterization. Games meanwhile are notoriously difficult to adapt, such that even well-regarded games tend to make for not particularly compelling anime. Meanwhile, although I certainly like manga and think its a format that is absolutely capable of presenting stories just as compelling as those in novels, manga is also where most anime still hail from, so its not a terribly unique background.

  2. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who is not heads-over-heels about this show, and who honestly doesn’t get some of the reactions. I thought it started out pretentious, but my final break came with the American guy. He’s such a ridiculous character, such a complete caricature. I really don’t understand how anyone who sees him, and sees his role in the story, can claim that this is an intelligent show for mature people and it will Save Anime. I do hope that it will change for the better, but as for now it’s just overhyped.

    I’m also glad that I’m not the one who rolled their eyes at the negative comparisons with Night Raid (negative for Night Raid, that is). I think most people simply never actually watched Night Raid, they just remember reading about it like “the one with Japanese spies with supernatural abilities” or “that revisionist show” because they never watched past episode 1. Night Raid had its issues and I think it squandered a lot of its potential, but it was better than what popular fandom opinion claim.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      The American guy inspired the reaction in me of, “lol what a weeb”.

      Yeah, I think most folks bailed on Night Raid after the first episode, or didn’t even try it due to other people’s reactions to the first episode. It’d be hard to reach the end of that with the belief that’s its revisionist intact, and certainly impossible once one watched the OVAs. (On the other hand, the restaurant owner was a pretty painful caricature. She made me wince.) I liked it quite a bit when I watched it a few years ago.

  3. I agree with you that this was a pretty bad episode, I’m hoping the show gets better because the premise is interesting. What annoyed me the most was how the episode would tell you things without explaining, let alone show you. Guy hates spies, why? Is it because of his teaching in military school? The army doesn’t want spies as well, aren’t spies a good thing? the training somehow makes them monsters, but the training in itself isn’t shown except that they swim in cold water. Guy knows that they’re spies, but is baffled that they would cheat at a game? What is he even doing there in the first place? Overall the episode felt like a whole lot of nothing.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      The whole thing of him disliking spies and the military apparently not wanting them is absolutely bound up in the conception of honor within the military at that time – spies aren’t honorable because their entire game is to deceive, which in turn can be read as cowardice. I’m also sure our lead was placed there to himself serve as a spy for the military, ironically enough, although it seems pretty clear that he himself doesn’t get that.

      That being said, I did resent quite strongly the boring and lazy way they went about demonstrating that the spies are all apparently hot shit. Pretentious philosophical babbling around a card table? Well, alright, then, but no thanks.

  4. samui says:

    Ahh.. I am not the only one who is not head over heels over this Joker Game episode. Nonetheless, I kinda hoped it will improve because the premise is interesting (pre-WW2 scenario), it is a non-magical high school LN BUT DARN IT, why engage in dialogue at part with The Perfect Insider’s pretentiousness?

    I don’t hate it though. My anger is more towards the characters spewing those words. Who are they? What to care for them? So far? NONE.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      I’m hemming and hawing over whether it is quite at the level that The Perfect Insider reached. I think ultimately it isn’t quite as bad… but that’s since it hasn’t told us that a serial killer’s life philosophy is something we should look upon as positive and very smart!

      Given how many folks on this post have said, “Wow, I didn’t really like it either!”, I’m beginning to think that people *didn’t* love this as much as it seemed initially…

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