Joker Game – Mid Season Review
Original Air Dates: April 5th, 2016 – ???
Synopsis: 1937, the coals of World War II had begun to smolder. Lt. Col. Yuuki, of the Imperial Army, secretly forms a spy training organization named “D Agency.” Those enrolled are trained in every field, taught in every way to be perfect at blending in, hidden, and unseen. But the D Agency sits in opposition of the nationalist ideals of the Imperial Army. Sakuma, an instructor, placed there by the Imperial Army to monitor the D Agency, becomes weary of the Agency and their methods as the men they churn out are now no more than monsters, with no morals nor allegiances.
Mid Season (6 episodes) Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
Linny: For those unaware, Joker Game is an anthology type show (barring its initial two parter opening), and every episode generally tells a single story about a single member of the D Agency. The person and the location changes from episode to episode, with the only uniting thread being that they are all members of the D Agency. This can prove to be a disadvantage for those who prefer following the story of a particular protagonist, rather than getting glimpses into the lives of several different characters. It also makes it harder for the viewer to latch onto a particular character since there’s a chance you might not see that character appear in the show again anytime soon, if ever. As viewers, you’ll have to base your judgement on the overall vibe and theme of the show, rather than looking for a new favourite protagonist.
Tom: There’s a narrative that ties the whole thing together, established via the first two episodes, but otherwise the cast is so large, and varied, that you’ll have trouble identifying who is who, assuming you’ve even been given a name to match with a face. Since there’s no one to identify with or root for week to week it means the main draw is Joker’s game mystery and presentation/glorification of the 1930s era spy game. If neither of those aspects interests you then Joker Game could be a struggle to watch.
Linny: For those who do not particularly enjoy the spy theme, it gets even more frustrating as some of the villainous characters are hammed up into completely cliche evil caricatures with their maniacal laughter and ‘evil’ features. Since the show does try to maintain some semblance of realism with its locations and costumes, its all the more jarring when the villains launch into typical bad guy outbursts. It really sticks out like a sore thumb. There are definitely some intelligent characters, and strategies to be witnessed in the story keeping with its secret intelligence theme but the switching of locations and characters every episode means that you never get to enjoy a particular story or plot line for more than one episode.
Tom: Episodes do tend to vary wildly in quality. Without an overarching plot, or characters to latch onto, the quality of writing needs to be that much higher, the mystery that much more engaging and there’s times when it just isn’t at the level it needs to be. Some episodes are exceedingly well done (Episodes 1,5 and 6 stand out for me personally) but then others lack enough nuance or intrigue to feel solid and captivating. Episode 4 is particularly note worthy as the writing plummets during the episode’s final moments, offering up exactly as Linny described above. It’s a low point for the series, but thankfully more uncommon than not.
Linny: Almost every episode is more or less a capsuled story and for some, that will make every episode a nice little new experience and keep viewers constantly on their toes as they never know what to expect besides a spy trying to survive and complete his mission successfully. I’d like to mention that we have come across some complaints online about racists connotations in the way the show portrays non Japanese characters regarding their racial features or behaviour. I personally cannot defend or accuse the show of it as I feel I am not well versed enough to pass judgement one way or the other, but I think it would be an interesting point to note and discuss for those who agree or disagree about said accusations.
Tom: The series visual style is more adult and ‘realistic’ than many of the more flashy anime airing each season. But in its effort to create a more real world 1930s feel, Joker Game has some, rather unique character designs. I wouldn’t jump on the bandwagon that they’re racist per se, or at least anymore so than how westerners have been depicted within the medium for the last several decades, but at times these character designs stumble, becoming memorable for all the wrong reasons. (As evidenced by our alien in the very first image.)
Linny: The show definitely does vary in quality story wise and lately, the stories seem to be more and more cryptic and vague in what I assume to be an attempt to sell the mysterious aura that surrounds espionage and secret agents. If done wrong, the lack of information can cause confusion or make some viewers feel like the story was left incomplete. While it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it could cause some viewers to lose interest. Then there’s also the fact that the spies seem to always be emerging victorious no matter what, with some pulling it off thanks to something akin to a deus ex machina. The spies are able to handle any and all obstacles regardless of their physical or mental condition. Once again, it’s not unusual to have over powered heroes, but for a story that primarily deals with real life elements, it can get grating to always know what the final outcome is going to be.
Tom: There’s also cases where we abandon the ‘main cast” entirely, using them as little more than background players or manipulators as we focus on one off characters who hold no series wide relevance. The series is easily at its worst during the one such instance of this style in Episode four. For all the criticisms that can be levied at the spies having it too easy, when they’re not even central to the story Joker Game is even less compelling.
Linny: When it comes to animation quality, Joker Game holds up decently but it’s hard to truly critique it due to the lack of animation heavy and demanding action and combat scenes. There is a lot of CGI and CGI-like aesthetic in its character designs so that might be an issue in and of itself for some viewers.
Tom: Joker Game is based off a completed three volume novel series. It’s unclear how much we’re adapting, or how much has been condensed or cut in order to fit these stories into twenty-three minute episodes. It makes me wonder if some of the weaker episodes, like episode four, are suffering from extreme cuts that neuter the otherwise interesting elements in favor of cramming the entire thing into one episode.
Linny: Joker Game has been a roller coaster. There’s no denying the fluctuation in quality and for those who find the concept of a show based on the exploits of spies boring can safely skip this one. It has such a specific theme that it’s hard to sell it to anyone who isn’t curious about it from the start. And while knowing the spy is always going to emerge victorious can be a bit of a bore, there is plenty of twists and turns to keep most viewers engaged. The show isn’t flawless but if you are a sucker for espionage tales, this one is promising.
Tom: Joker Game stumbles at times, but for the most part I recognize it as a fairly intriguing mystery/thriller of the week with a lose cast to follow through the many varied stories. For what it is, Joker Game is great for people curious or intrigued with the 1930s pre WWII spy game, but lacks the quality characters that could’ve drawn in viewers who might’ve been less enthralled by the period.
Joker Game is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.com.