RogerBW's Blog

Joker Game 15 February 2017

2016 historical espionage, adaptation of a novel series, 12 episodes: AniDB. In the years just before the Second World War, a maverick Japanese spymaster establishes a new intelligence agency.

Clearly something set in this part of Japan's history is going to have to be a bit careful, and certain events (like what the Japanese were up to in Manchuria) are simply not mentioned. On the other hand, the Imperial Army is never regarded as a good thing: Lt Colonel Yuuki has the revolutionary motto for his men of "Don't kill, don't get killed, don't get captured", and this is explicitly contrasted with other Japanese spies who are quite happy to kill if that's what the mission seems to require, or indeed if they can get away with it.

Each episode is an individual story, with occasional two-parters, and most of them could even be taken out of order (the novels were collections of shorter stories too). Although the situations differ from one to the next, and this agency seems to deal with counter-intelligence as well as gathering of information, the basic idea is always the same: one or more of the D-Agency spies has a situation to deal with, and gets the job done, very often by having had a better idea of what was going on than the opposition did. Generally at least once per episode there's an occasion when one of them might say to the opposition "aha, but I know something you don't know" – but more often they've done their job and vanished before the opposition even realises that they're there.

Yes, all right, this does sometimes mean that they're a bit smug, and the various agents have a tendency to blend into one another (one might even argue that they ought to, being inconspicuous and so on). This is much less character-driven than most shows I enjoy, or rather the character of "the competent agent" is one that's shared by all of the leads.

This isn't an action series: there is some violence, but it's usually sudden and brief. There are no superpowers (unlike Senkō no Night Raid (2010), set in the same general period). There's a specific mention of Herbert Yardley and his team's cracking of Japanese diplomatic codes just before the Washington Naval Conference of 1921, which pushes my fannish buttons in much the same way that neat one-liners do for most fans. But mostly there's a very grim view of humanity, and a bunch of competent people doing what they can for their distinctly imperfect masters.

Highly recommended.

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