Joker Game
Episode 12

by Jacob Chapman,

How would you rate episode 12 of
Joker Game ?

After 12 episodes of espionage, Joker Game's series of superspy adventures closes out with, of all things, a resignation. Soft-hearted Odagiri decides he just can't hack it in D-Agency, and while the turmoil he experiences definitely makes it easy to understand his reasons, I can't understand myself why the producers of this anime decided this was the note they wanted to go out on. "Double Cross" is by far the weakest episode in Joker Game's run, reiterating simplified versions of ground the show had already tread with some unnecessarily unpleasant new undertones.

Given that the episode basically kicks off with Odagiri's total mission failure, you'd think his story would end with being fired instead of resigning of his own free will. But Colonel Yuuki is a surprisingly forgiving man, and Odagiri joined the D-Agency with a very different idea of how it might operate. He was court-martialed for insubordination during a military campaign because he fought back against his superior officer in the name of what he thought was right. Those kinds of moralistic sympathies have no place in the D-Agency, and this harsh truth unfortunately clarifies a lot of the investment problems Joker Game has had with its audience so far.

The twists and turns of Odagiri's story aren't that unique or complicated. After the German double agent he was tailing gets murdered thanks to his overreaching attempt to become a triple agent, Odagiri finds himself fighting the suspicion that the dead spy's girlfriend Yuriko, who strongly resembles the kind woman who raised him, could be responsible. The other D-Agency spies, in their only encore moments before the season comes to a close, tease him for this sentimentality, making Odagiri grow even more concerned that he will have to condemn a woman who reminds him of the only good times he ever had to death. He lucks out in the end though, because it was actually Yuriko's actress friend Miyoko who executed the double cross, in a twist on the play these two actresses were performing that's clever on the surface but doesn't really mean anything on a deeper thematic level.

Odagiri facilitates Miyoko's arrest and then resigns from the D-Agency, depressed by the realization that his obsession with Yuriko kept him from seeing the true assassin until it was too late. Colonel Yuuki then responds with a remark that basically shatters the already underwhelming episode: "Do you know why we don't hire women at D-Agency? Because women kill needlessly, for foolish and impulsive emotional reasons." Apparently, Yuuki doesn't know very much about the most revered and successful spies from the very time he lives in. Or more accurately, it seems Joker Game's author has a bad case of gender essentialism on the brain. Hard to believe you could be that big a history buff and still disregard a monumental piece of history that even a plebeian like me had heard of.

But strange as it is to say, I don't really think Joker Game's sexist assertion is actually about women, as much as it is about the show's low opinion of emotion in general. When Yuuki condemns the hiring of women for their irrationality, he's not really thinking about when Miyoko killed the German spy. He's really thinking about Odagiri, the only known military man to join D-Agency, faltering in his mission because of his patriotic emotions and easily exploited sentiment for a simpler Japan. Yuuki is actually comparing Odagiri, and by comparison all nationalist sympathizers, to a woman in his emotional susceptibility. This is also presumably the reason Yuuki no longer accepts military men, because this story takes place early on in the agency's formation.

So Joker Game's final statement on its own philosophy is an unnecessarily limiting condemnation of emotion, which definitely shoots itself in the foot as a work of art. It became clear from early on in this show's run that it wasn't remotely interested in character development, which effectively killed its chances for pulling a wider audience amongst anime fans, who tend to value character likability and memorability extremely high when sticking with a show in my experience. Then again, that's not unique to anime fans; everyone wants to connect with relatable human emotions and motivations in the stories they enjoy, and Joker Game, despite being beautifully animated, thought-provoking, and immaculately well-researched, seemed to actively denigrate the human element until it finally went too far in its final episode. Here at the end, it seems like the show's biggest failing.

As Odagiri retires to Manchuria to find Yuriko, I don't think we're meant to see his choice of emotion over achievement as completely negative. Obviously, he's doing what makes him happy, and Joker Game has often celebrated the emotional reactions of women (and supposedly womany men like Odagiri, I guess) in different circumstances, even if it sees no place for them in its world of spies. At the same time, this needlessly sexist dismissal of human emotion says a lot about the failings of Joker Game to realize its own emotional potential as a work of art. The sendoffs we get for each agent as they drop bits of information for Odagiri to follow seem compulsory and pointless, mirroring the alienation that Sakuma felt from this coldhearted group in Joker Game's earliest episodes. Will we remember any of these fellows or their stories a few months from now? I don't think so, and I don't think that's what their creator intended.

When this show first started, the assertion that Japanese nationalism was rooted in bullheaded emotional desperation, the idea that it was bad not only because it was immoral but just because it was unintelligent, seemed biting and powerful to me. Now that it's over, I sadly find myself believing that Joker Game's author took his cynical ethos too far in the other direction. If he could stand to embrace more of that emotional human spirit behind his too-perfect superspies, maybe his work would feel even more honest and powerful.

Rating: B-

Joker Game is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Jake has been an anime fan since childhood, and likes to chat about cartoons, pop culture, and visual novel dev on Twitter.

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