It can sometimes be a daunting task for an anime to stand out within a see countless other anime that have magical girls, magical worlds, ninjas, everyday high school adventures and the like. In a lot of ways it feels like anime has touched on pretty much every genre it can, to the point where we are seeing a lot more pardoy-type animes that attempt to poke humor at certain misconceptions, clichés or tropes found within anime. Konosuba is an example of a well-executed for of this type of show, for instance. So for me, it takes a solid amount for a show to stand out. Even if a show is exceptional, if you watch enough anime you start to notice the tropes and such in even the best shows. But those types of things really cannot be avoided, so how does a show stand out against the crowd? Against the sea of anime looking to overshadow and envelope its brothers and sisters? Well, having an interesting plot or core story is one way to set yourself apart. Take for instance, Puella Magi Madoka Magic… this, on the surface, appears to be another simple ‘magical girls’ show… but if you haven’t seen it, ask anyone who has– it is anything but typical!
Therefore, it was with great joy that I welcomed one of this anime season’s new anime into my life. On it’s surface, Joker Game appears rather promising if for no other reason than because of the simple fact that its story appears to be rather unique. Rather than dealing with ‘normal high school boys’ or magic, it takes a bit more of a realistic approach as it tells the story of the D-Agency. Which is a spy agency that was established in 1937 by Leuitnant Collonel Yuuki of the imperial army with one goal in mind: train a group of spies for Japan that will turn the tides for diplomacy in the country. According to Yuuki, Japan has never dealt in the espionage game and it has cost them dearly in the past. Other countries go in to meetings and other events with their own agendas and intel, while Japan acted far too trusting, in essence, losing the game before they even knew what game they were playing. Each would-be spy was recruited from colleges rather than military and were trained both physically and mentally to their limits. They were taught pretty much every subject to an insane degree and were even trained by professional criminals, like lock-picks, to learn their techniques until only eight spies remained within D-Agency. With their training complete, they each are all sent off around the world to complete various missions, father various intel, and change the face of Japan.
See? Pretty fuckin’ rad, right? This show definitely stands out in both form and content! But, unfortunately, not much else (at least so far). But here is what I like about the show overall: It would have been easy to make each spy sort of shapeless and have them lack personality, make them all stoic James Bond-types, but this show gives each character strengths and weaknesses, their own convictions and morals and it sets up for some pretty interesting situations. Nothing is cut-and-dry in this show, you’re free to root or hate any one of the spies as they are forced to do some odd things. And the fact that you sort of know how the story ends, with Japan siding with Germany in WWII, it makes the show all the more interesting as you get to see how the country got there. You want to respect the ability of the spies but you also recognize the fact that their actions and their country will end up on the wrong side of war and, therefore, history. But that is the interesting part about the show, it is an interesting journey and every mission is filled with twists and turns that you may or may not see coming, but the creativity in which the D-Agency chooses to fulfill their tasks is really where the show gets its suspense.
But there are two things that make this show suffer overall, and those two things are (1) being so slow-paced and overly dialogue heavy and (2) not really having an overarching story (yet). The dialogue can definitely get a bit dense, which leads me to believe that this show probably made a much better manga than anime– such shows just tend to work better because you can take your time with the content, after all. But the amount of dry-dialogue and poor pacing in this show can sometimes cause you to lose interest. I had to stop myself a number of times from whipping out my cellphone out of boredom or waiting for something to happen. When the show gets intense, it definitely ramps up quite a bit, but since each show is sort of one-shot episode, there is a lot of build up and waiting in each.
Not having an overarching story might fall into one of those things where it is basically my fault for going in with certain expectations? I expected the D-Agency to work more as a team rather than independent; I expected them to solve problems together. However, thus far there seems to be very little cohesion between each episode as the show seems to focus on a different spy doing a different task in a different city each time. Add that to the fact that said spies seemed poorly introduced and you have a bit of confusion happening on my part. Before you see the spies doing their solo missions, you barely get to be introduced to them at all– one episode in particular I had trouble finding out who the spy even was (which was intentional I think). But thus far each spy, episode and story seem like one-shots rather than a cohesive and fluid story. Granted, anyone with a basic knowledge of history will know WHERE the story is headed, but it makes the audience (me) feel a bit alienated from the story and characters. Obviously, this might be a dynamic that changes over time, but this is a ‘first impressions’ post and I can only judge based on what I see.
In spite of these two flaws, I still find myself, for the most part, enjoying Joker Game as each individual character is interesting and compelling in their own way and I thoroughly like seeing how they get out of various pickles or solve increasingly difficult tasks. So this is definitely a show to keep watching, I just hope it ties the show together by the end of the series. And at least the one-shot style of the show gives each episode its own unique feeling and overall vibe. This show is one to keep an eye on, even if the reason is just to see how the show ends, but I imagine the characters and spy-shit the show is doing will keep most of its audience coming back for more.