With World War ll right around the corner, intelligence on other countries' social and economic situation has become a valuable asset. As a result, Japan, has established a new spy organization known as the "D Agency" to obtain this weapon.
Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Yuuki, eight agents have been assigned to infiltrate and observe some of the most powerful countries, reporting on any developments associated with the war. In order to carry out these dangerous tasks, these men have trained their bodies to survive in extreme conditions and studied numerous fields such as communications and languages. However, their greatest strength lies in their ability to manipulate people in order to obtain the information necessary to give their nation the upper hand.
Cool gadgets.. Fine women.. Exotic locations.. Fast cars.. Espionage.. Epic Adventures.
This idealized depiction of the spy lifestyle seems to be an in-house staple in Tinseltown, with big IPs like James Bond and the Mission Impossible franchise selling this image to rake in a cool profit with each new installment. While the actual lifestyle might not be any more glamorous than what's presented in "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" or "Munich(2005)," it's still fun to see these lavish illustrations play out. The truth of the matter is that most spy work revolves around arduous, long-term cover jobs, methodical information gathering, counterintelligence, espionage and yes, occasional physical altercation. But that wouldn't make for an entertaining movie now, would it? Or at least not for Hollywood bigwigs looking to make a big splash at the box office.
But this is the world of anime, where the niche has a place to flourish and a built-in audience willing to give it a chance. Regardless of actual quality, even the most tamed of anime titles could be "different" by the standards of mainstream media. So with that in mind, how does a show like Joker Game approach this subject matter? Is it an adrenaline rush like "The Bourne Identity" and other spy thrillers, or is it relentlessly honest like "The Good Shepherd" and titles that choose to take a more precise route?... well I'm not sure, and I don't think the show is either... why, you ask? Well, let's find out.
Set during the WWII era, the story follows several Japanese spies as their endeavors are recollected in a memoir-like structure. Through the course of the show, we see the many methods in which they carry out their services for their country. Decoding enemy tactics and spreading false information are all par for the course for our agents, and while the show claims all events and names are fictional, they're clearly based off of real world events and situations, which gives everything a feeling of legitimacy.
Transporting us to a time period that's rarely delved into in the medium while simultaneously eliminating elements that have become almost symbiotic with anime, it doesn't take much to see the initial appeal that Joker Game brings with it. For the most part, the title exudes a feeling of self-restraint in its actions. This is the Dos Equis guy, suave and intellectual, not the boisterous "Bud Light Frat boys."
So the show is smooth, takes itself seriously, draws from real-world incidents and appears perceptive, so what's the problem? Well, its very nature is the problem.
When a show like Joker Game takes itself seriously and demands respect from its audience, it will receive that in return. The more serious your content matter, the less room for error you're given. And while Joker Game may appear to be the Dos Equis's 'Most Interesting Man in the World', it often spills its liquor like the klutzy frat boys it desperately tries not to be.
Due to the mostly episodic story structure, there's no true connective tissue holding the show together. As stand alone episodes, they all bring varying degrees of engagement, but never anything to get invested into since there are no characters with definitive traits or overarching storylines to get immersed in. We're always made to follow a different mission and spy, or at least that's how it appears given their similar appearance; so, watching Joker Game is like watching a theater play from the box, entertaining but too distant from the viewer to allow an intimate connection.
The only reoccurring character is that of Lieutenant Colonel Yuuki, the founder and head command of "D Agency," the spy agency based off Japan that our spies report to. And even with Yuuki's involvement, the only intriguing thing you could draw from him is his backstory, which we don't get until the tail-end of the series. And even with this information, he remains wrapped up in an enigma. Joker Game is simply impersonal, an anime that's too concern with appearances to show any blemishes. And it's this same stiff impersonal approach that not only alienates it but also leaves very little leeway for any mistakes to simply be swept under the rug.
So far the only issue seems to be that of engagement, so when exactly does the show trip over itself? Well within the confines of each episode.
Since each episode is episodic for the most part, we're constantly introduced to new scenarios involving a spy and his mission. These cases, however, are split down the middle in terms of practicality. Like the varying level of engagement for each episode, the level of plausibility ranges, as well. The fact that they're spies is often used to excuse away far-fetched solutions, which, at times, could be convincing, but is painfully alarming when the trickery is obvious. Suspension of disbelief could help you along only so far, but when dealing with a show that's desperately signalling that it has the know-how to pull it off while presenting leaps of logic that no amount of mental gymnastics is capable of excusing, there comes a point where calling out bullshit is the only affirmative action left to take.
So for every time Joker Game is able to convince its audience, there's a moment where even dense viewers know what they're seeing isn't very realistic. And again, had this been a show that wasn't so uptight about everything, this wouldn't be as jarring of an issue, but it just so happens that it is. There's no levity, no quirks, no moments to unwind. Joker Game is simply too "adult" for that, and it doesn't always work in its favor when it's making a fool of itself.
And speaking of playing everything straight, the show never breaks character; this was further exemplified with the subdued character designs, sound mixing, and art direction. It could be said that a great deal of the title's authenticity comes from its dedication to upholding this disciplined portrayal. This may cause some viewers to view it as "boring", given the grounded nature of everything, but with the subject matter's exploration, breaking character would have caused more tonal whiplash than it would have helped the show. The result of which could be seen in the 4th episode's juvenile escalation from relatively adult subject matter, to grossly overblown melodrama. This isn't a show that has the leg-room to indulge in anime-like territory. It's one of the least "anime" anime to have aired in recent years.
The only way Joker Game could have walked out of this situation unscathed was if the writing was as airtight as the presentation. And this sadly wasn't the case.
The show often grasps at straws to conclude things and since the character designs were made to look far more realistic than standard depictions, I often didn't know if I was following the same person twice, or if they simply look alike. So with all that in mind, why did I still enjoy this show? To put it simply, despite the issues, each scenario never loses focus. Joker Game's commitment may have hurt it in the end, but it also serves as the reason why I enjoyed it. I loved seeing a more hard-edged, realistic depiction of spy life. I loved the color palette and distinct atmosphere. And when the show wasn't tripping over itself, I loved the tension found in certain episodes. Joker Game was fun, dumb at times, but still fun. And at the end of the day, that's all I ask from my anime.
Despite how commonplace spy-related media is in movies and novels, it's still a relatively obscure topic in the world of anime. What Joker Game had to offer may not be as extensive as the subject matter would entail, but it did leave a distinct enough mark for me to want more. Its downfall was its pigheaded commitment to always being serious, regardless of how silly some of its solutions ended up being. Even with this in mind, I still think Joker Game was entertaining enough to warrant giving it a try. It had something to offer that very few in the medium have attempted to service. It adds to a landscape that's known for its diversity, and that's always a good thing in my book.read more
FULL DISCLOSURE: Dropped at Episode 6 of 12.
Joker Game starts with great promise. It's first and second episode sets the stage for a season of a psychological thriller with spy action. However, we quickly jump into the story of another member... then another... and I stopped there for I fear that another will be after, and I fear that the enitire season will be devoted to introducing characters and having no "real" overarching story (other than they all belong to a spy organization).
Should any of this change, I will finish the season and update this review.
STORY: 5 of 10
As of episode 6, it seems as if there will be no overarching story. Instead, Joker Game will explore each character in sequence and be more episodic. These individual stories are good, but it's not what the first two episodes promise.
ANIMATION: 5 of 10
The character designs begin to get a little weird around episode 4, and the action sequences don't seem to flow so well.
SOUND: 8 of 10
Solid soundtrack and VAs. No complaints here.
CHARACTERS: 6 of 10
We get to know each character individually (if what has occurred continues to occur). So why the low score? The opening episodes show these characters as a group… I'd rather they fulfill that promise and show us development in terms of group dynamics with flashbacks.
OVERALL: 6 of 10
Joker Game is fine and even enjoyable. It's substantive, and as an episodic series, it could work. However, that's not what it promises, and I just couldn't get over that. Baccano, a similar series, does a much better job of introducing individual characters and tying them into a larger picture.
If I had a guarantee that Joker Game was a 24 episode series and that it would attempt the same thing, I'd recommend it. As it stands, I'll pass.read more
Joker Game is certainly breath of fresh air but it is not a must see. It is one of those animes where every now and then you start thinking: 'Hey, this stuff is really cool” only to be hammered in the face a frame later on as you progress with the show.
Set in 1937 when the beginnings of World War II are starting to brew. The story follows the exploits of a small special spy organization called “D-Agency.” It started with the (supposed) main character who a new recruit of D-Agency without any special training got tricked by his spy-mates with something called “Joker Game”. It is safe to say that the beginning arc will hook you in as the first two episodes is somewhat established a plot with a single protagonist trying to discover what D-Agency is. More importantly it gives you a hints this is a show with a lot of intelligent vibes with serious dialogue and blather about politics and war. The idea, cast, and setting is also refreshing which makes the show quite stand out to most currently airing show.
That is, of course, until the show change its plot structure.
As said, for everything that's done well, it is ashamed that the show is gone episodic ala “spies of the week” by episode 3. Now don’t get me wrong. In theory that could be work and I don’t mind when a show being episodic, but Joker Game is one of the cases where it really doesn’t fit episodic structure, here’s the reason why:
Firstly, the sudden shift from straightforward to episodic is no means bad as long as the plot was for the lack of better words “good.” Sadly it isn’t, the plot was too formulaic and too predictable that one could guess what will happen. It always started with some cases in some European country, some military organization/person there will got involved, the most unsuspicious person is our Japanese spy and in the end he will finish his mission and tell the audiences his plan ala Death Note’s “According to Keikaku.” There are maybe some difference and modification but that’s very minor. As a result of this is that the tension was lacking because no matter how much the spies has problem and situation where it almost impossible to beat, they will always pull it off. Pacing is kind of suffering as well due to this formulaic plot with far too much time allotted to things already seen before and too little to what makes particular sequence different from the ones before.
The second issue is the cast themselves. With only 12 episodes Joker Game has too many casts to handle with so little time in a hand. Moreover the show is plot-driven where most of the story is told by exposition and characters dialogue. As a result the whole cast seems flat and were by and large stereotypes. You may argue that they're flat because they’re spies, but c'mon it is work of fiction, your characters does need to attract audience because it is a show not real live documentary.
Lastly is the characters design. One of my major gripe with the show is that all the main characters look the same and most of the time their name aren't even mentioned. With episodic structur this doesn't go well. Remember books where the characters are called "Man", "Woman" and "That Guy" It's a bit like this here. The characters are just outlines of situation. It's really hard to get invented into the story if your characters aren’t interesting or memorable.
As for the visuals I think it is solid. What I mean by solid is that the look of the show is fine by today’s standard although there really isn't anything visually interesting about the show with the exception of one or two scenery shots I suppose. Overall, everything works fine (disregarding the “Bulb Head” of one villain in one of the episode.)
The music was present I guess. Not much to write about here, I honestly don’t care because I hardly remember any of the OSTs ringing in my head. The only thing noticeable probably the jazzy opening but I don’t think it was that memorable in the long run. The voice acting was okay but nothing exceptional although it is quite understandable considering there were no many screams or some special cases where sound must be falsified.
A final issue worth mentioning is the prologue. Though this is of course purely a matter of preference, for people who watched may aware that every episodes is started with the same prologue about the making of D-Agency and how they were chosen. For me it wasn’t really necessary, I mean do we need this for every 12 episodes ? It’s not like the prologue were that interesting either.
All in All, the sudden shift to being episodic show was probably what shooting this show down because they had so little time to develop that many characters with this very formulaic plot." If anything out of curiosity people still want to watch this. I think watching it marathon from beginning to end would be a good way, because to be fair it’s quite heavy in dialogue albeit not too dense, so there are many details left when watching in weekly basis and that’s probably I just can’t get invented into the story. The only thing that makes it worthwhile is the setting but that alone never be good enough to safe the script from the sea of mediocrity.read more
I actually almost skipped this title for a few reasons. One it aired on Tuesday, a day where only two titles were airing, two I got it mixed up with another title airing this season with the word "joker" in it. Now when I first started Joker Game I honestly didn't expect much from it. It wasn't until later episodes that it really started to take off and I started to enjoy it immensely.'
Really interesting plot and story going on for each episode. In my opinion I think that the greatest thing about the story is that it remains, no matter what the episode or plot is about, dramatic. Like, I found it very difficult to turn away from Joker Game. Whenever I tried to do something else while I was watching it, something interesting would happen and I'd be like "Oh man! what's going to happen next." So to me I'd say that drama is the shows main focal point. One other thing that I admire was how even though the story wasn't based on real events, the episodes and narrative played out like a old re-enactment of history videos you'd see on discovery channel or national geographic. The story added so much realism despite it being completely fictional and that is something that stood out to me quite a lot! Often times the dialogue seemed overly dramatic however this doesn't change my overall feelings for the story. The plot for each episode always kept things interesting & exciting because of the mystery element added to it. Honestly, I couldn't find too much that I didn't like in the story department other than the ending, which I cannot spoil because rules. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed watching the story of joker game unfold.
Visually, I was impressed with the background settings in Joker game. the details to certain objects and vehicles like the trains, cars, and other items looked alright. It was as if the team working on the shows animations for 1950's style settings did a good job with accurately researching objects, devices and settings from the 1950's. Although I'm sure most of their research focused more on main stream objects like guns, best trains available, best cars for that time period, that sort of thing. Character designs were pretty good however, I didn't like how plain a majority of the males looked. I'm glad that the females stood out more than the males but I still think the character designers could have done a better job with the appearances of the characters.
Let me start off with my favorite thing in the soundtrack department, the voice actors, seiyuu's etc.. they did a great job with speaking English! Words were pronounced fluently (to a certain extent) and properly spoken in their sentences. It really shows the devotion and extent that actors are willing to go to star in a role. Having that experiences really helps with getting more roles and I love to hear Japanese.. well foreigners in general speaking outside of their native language. Moving on, the soundtrack in Joker game was actually pretty nice. My favorite thing about the background music is that if a dramatic event was occurring, the music will help intensify that specific scene. My favorite song in the entire series though is the ending song by "Double" by MAGIC OF LiFE."
Before I get into characters, let me say that I really liked how diverse the characters involved in the show were. There were Caucasians, Africans, Asians, etc none of them portrayed too negatively nor stereotypical. Nationalities such as Germans, weren't exploited as negatively as they are in any other "Historical" anime genres. I like that there was a sense of respectfulness to other cultures in certain parts of the story. Characters wouldn't use offensive words to refer to each other. So that was dealt with very maturely. I think character growth is the most important factor of the series. It's crucial for the spies to grow and develop their skills otherwise they'll just end up dead as you'll see in the show.
I think what I enjoyed most about the series is that no matter what episode I was watching, I felt like the enjoyment I had watching were so good that I couldn't help but share what I thought was going to happen next with my mates. I think anticipating what's going to happen next episode is perhaps what makes this series so exiting to watch. The mysterious element along with drama just kept me coming back for more! Overall I would recommend Joker Game if you want to watch something generally interesting, easy to watch and understand.read more
Few things can be traced to beyond the beginnings of recorded history, but the use of militaries is one of them. Unsurprisingly, many of the more 'epic' anime out there feature fictional military organisations, but so do some lighthearted comedies. This list has a little something for everyone.