Who? What? Where? Why? — A Joker Game Post

And even when you figure out the answers to those questions, you’re still bored.

My god, Joker Game is bad. It’s actually quite amazing to see a show that has so much going for it – from its adult cast to its moderately-high production values – fail so spectacularly at being entertaining. I mean it’s a show that did the opposite of what most people feared it was going to do given its WWII setting and actually bases its story on criticizing Japan for its involvement with old uncle Adolf. You’d think that would be a good jumping off point for a classic, but whether it be due to the directorial efforts of the moron who gave us Robotics;Notes or the original novels themselves being heavily flawed, Joker Game misses the mark by the span of a Death Star’s range.

Most people have already chimed in at this point – especially regarding the latest episode – that the characters designs look way too similar to each other so that it’s impossible to differentiate between the different spies, or even tell which character is supposed to be a spy and which is supposed to be an enemy in the first place. That’s not a problem if you’re good at recognizing voices, but even if they had looked as varied as Baccano’s cast, the fact remains that none of the spies have distinctive identities to the point that I don’t know why I’d want to bother remembering their names or what they look like in the first place. They all have the same personality of “sharp-dressed professional business man” and that’s not even a good personality to give a main character to begin with let alone nine of them. Why on earth would I want to watch a show whose cast consists of nothing but badasses? I like my intelligent stories sure, but I’d prefer to have access to them through lead characters that have some pathos. Without that, your world is just going to become one of the many great mysteries that I have no interest in because I don’t have a personal stake in whether it gets solved or not (Ghost in the Shell for instance).

And none of these spies have any story or personal background to even attempt grounding me into their heads. Okay that’s not entirely true. The first guy did have a background as a former military soldier, but that never came into play during his episodic mission or much of anything else in the show, so he might as well have not had it. The point is, whilst I understand that spies are professional people who can’t show weakness and all that, this is fiction. This show stopped being true to real life the moment the anime got some historical facts wrong and said that amnesia can be cured by a blow to the head. If you want me to care about the people conveying Joker Game’s story, you have to give me a reason why they’re leading the thing to begin with. Add some personal stakes to the missions they go on. Tell me about their past life. Make them a strong metaphor for something. Take a few lessons from John Le Carre in regards to making professionals that we can nevertheless sympathize with.

A backstory is not necessary to make a character interesting, but it can go a long way into establishing individualism. I mean who am I supposed to care about in this show, Production IG? Because as of this point, this anime isn’t even making me care about myself. The show is episodic, which isn’t what I prefer in regards to creating an overarching narrative, but it can work if each twenty-two minute story can stand on its own with its own self-contained themes and character development. But as we’ve already established, the show doesn’t bother to tell us anything new about the spies when they’re working on their own terms, and the people they interact with aren’t very developed either due to fact that the only advantage they have over our leads is being capable of having an emotion (and a cartoonish one at that), so so much for the latter. As for the former, I have no idea what the fuck we’re supposed to take from these one-off missions because it utilizes that type of storytelling I hate where the creators are so focused on getting the execution right that they forget to give the show something to actually execute. The most I can really get from these individual messes is that “war causes hell”. And if you think I’m going to praise an anime for being anti-war, this is obviously your first visit to the blog.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. As I said earlier, I get that this story is supposed to be a criticism of Japan’s past war crimes, so there’s some focus to its anti-war message that I could potentially get behind. It’s just that the criticism is not amounting to anything more than the military at the time were cartoonishly evil idiots, which has been argued in certain corners of the Internet as a form of whitewashing. Whilst actual historic events are utilized in Joker Game’s narrative, they’re mostly just there in the same vein as those Assassin’s Creed games without actually playing a strong role in the narrative. The closest it comes to utilizing them in an interesting way is always near the end of each episode when the spies realize they’re being played for suckers, and it’s given way too little time to make anything substantial come from them at that point. Hell, the 9/11 metaphors in those Spiderman movies played more of a role than the occupation of France did.

And really, the fact that the criticism amounts to nothing more than evil Japanese dudes who got rejected at the auditions to play the villain in ERASED goes right back to Joker Game’s characterization problems. Now I don’t profess to be the biggest spy fan out, but I liked both Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and A Most Wanted Man. Whether or not you’re a fan of how the conflicts in both films played out with nothing but words, you can’t deny that their stories gave a narrative reason why these characters are pushing events forward, and it’s not because they’re played by a bunch of A-list actors. Joker Game, whether it be this anime adaptation or that awful live-action film, seems to be under the assumption that James Bond should be the standard for how the spy genre should go, and it’s not even copying from the good Bond films. Yes, I know there are people who enjoy bombast for the sake of bombast. But in a season where quite a few bombastic action anime with decent production values are actually turning out to be watchable, I don’t see why Joker Game should get any attention whatsoever. There’s only so much love a person is capable of giving at a time, so why should it be given to the one where the person who’s leading the events is unknown?

Not saying you can’t enjoy this anime just for whatever “spy atmosphere joys” it’s giving you (although the quality of the missions/mysteries themselves are a whole other topic, and quite frankly I don’t think it’s good on that level either). I’m saying that I can’t do that. I don’t know who these people are. The story isn’t making me want to know who these people are. This show is a two-way street in regards to what I consider most important in fiction and they both lead to dead ends. And unless a magical rainbow bridge erupts from the ground to lead me and this anime to the path of the Promised Land, I don’t see my opinion changing anytime soon. Still, it is the only anime to watch on Tuesday, so I don’t see much reason to drop it either. *Sigh*. The life of a small-time blogger is tough.

Minor Quips

  • Life is hard, guys. Seriously.
  • Still not understanding the appeal of the opening. It’s very generic for a jazz piece and the visuals don’t appeal to me either.

10 responses to “Who? What? Where? Why? — A Joker Game Post

  1. Joker Game is disappointing, I agree. I mean, it’s basically a generic spy film, except with considerably less style and little substance. I like interesting ideas and complexity, so I can tolerate lack of characterization. Yet show still lost me when they moved out of Japan and turn the story into a James Bond copy. I don’t even like James Bond.

    The execution is also problematic. Once an anime tries realistic style, creators need to make the story and direction itself more believable. Not to mention most anime directors seem to lack the understanding of how live action movie works, so things usually get unintentionally silly(see also: Erased).

    • I honestly think realism is a tad overrated. Sure I harp on a few things for being unrealistic (the complete lack of internal logic in Plastic Memories for example), but they’re usually symptoms of a larger problem. Generally a lack of imagination.

  2. I know it’s a late comment but I fell asleep (I dozed off literally) after watching the most recent Joker Game episode. It’s an effective insomnia killer!

  3. I liked Joker Game alot… Like I really liked it with all its flaws and it didn’t bore me at all. It actually kept me awake to watch more XDDD Guess I have a bad taste in anime then…

  4. I really liked Joker Game… Like alot with all its flaws I find it to be very entertaining to watch. I didn’t fall asleep once when I watched it, it actually kept me awake to watch more of it XDDDD I guess I have bad taste in anime then… (I apologize if the comment is reposted)

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