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Literature / Joker Game

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Deceive everything to survive.note 

"There’s a card game going on at the table, but it’s only a charade. The goal is to get people in the room on your side, have them peek at the opponents’ hands, and signal you. However, there’s no telling who’s on whose side. The signs may be fake, or you might read an opponents signs and change your hand. In the right conditions, you can convince the enemy spy to betray his side and join yours."
— Sakuma given an explanation on the Joker Game

In autumn 1937, Imperial Japan establishes a black ops agency called the D Agency led by Lieutenant Colonel Yuuki of the Imperial Japanese Army. His objective is to recruit and train secret agents who do not have any relations to the military, meaning that the agency takes its recruits from the civilian populace. Its task: to conduct covert operations throughout Japan and overseas against domestic and foreign enemies alike.

Joker Game is a novel series written by Koji Yanagi, consisting so far of four volumes: Joker Game, Double Joker, Paradise Lost, and Last Waltz. Joker Game was originally published on August 29, 2008, with Last Waltz releasing most recently in January 2015. It is published by Kadokawa Shoten in Japan as of 2016. The novels have started an anime, manga and live-action adaptation.

The anime adaptation was done by Production I.G, with music done by Kenji Kawai, direction by Kazuya Nomura, and writing by Taku Kishimoto. It ran for 12 episodes starting in April 2016, with two additional OVA episodes included in the show's DVD and Blu-Ray in late 2016. It is available for worldwide streaming on Crunchyroll and is licensed by Funimation, who produced an English dub. The manga was serialized on February 5, 2016 by Mag Garden, which debuted in Comic Garden, written by Subaru Nito.

The live-action adaptation was directed by Yu Irie and debuted in Japanese theaters on January 31, 2015.

Not to be confused with some game that The Joker had been playing.

This work contains examples of:

  • Anachronic Order: The anime takes place in the years 1939-1941, and the episodes are not in chronological order. The show's website has a timeline indicating when each episode occurs.
  • Artistic License – History: The assassin in "Asia Express" is stated to be part of SMERSH. The only problem is that the episode occurs on July 25, 1939. SMERSH did not exist until 1943.note 
  • Bitter Sweet Ending:
    • "Miscalcuation" has Hatano surviving his episode in France, but Alain is the only occupation fighter operating in the outskirts of Paris at the moment since Jean runs off with Marie, despite the latter being outed as a mole for the Germans.
  • Bookends: Near the beginning of "Joker Game, Part 1", Yuuki berates Sakuma for bowing to him while wearing a business suit. At the end of "Double Cross", Yuuki utters the exact same words to Odagiri when the latter bowed to him after receiving his new appointment as a lieutenant in the Kwantung Army, this time with a smirk on his face.
  • Calvinball: The titular card game, at least from the point of view of Sakuma (and the audience). The whole point of the game of being a cheating bastard by any means necessary is something that involves a collection of mysterious looks and signals among the players that he doesn't understands and the fact that it may all just be misinformation makes it even less understandable, at least for Sakuma (who doesn't knows any of the codes, doesn't wants to play dirty, and obviously is the odd man out and the most probable to be singled out to be punked in any allliances).
  • Cast Full of Pretty Boys: Majority of the male characters are very good-looking. Considering that the original character designer is the mangaka of Dogs: Bullets & Carnage, it's no surprise.
  • City of Spies: Shanghai which was known for being a nest of espionage and betrayal, is featured in "City of Temptation" where Fukumoto is assigned.
  • Clueless Mystery: Many of the episodes have a plot twist of some sort that is difficult to see ahead of time because the audience is never given all the clues. The POV character fills in the omitted details and their significance at the end.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Marie turns out to be a double agent embedded within a Resistance cell. She claims it's because the Germans have threatened to kill her family if she doesn't follow their orders.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Japanese society's utter devotion to the Emperor along with following the Imperial Japanese Army's doctrines is exactly what the Showa era was like back then.
    • The Honor Before Reason is applied very seriously in this era particularly for the military. For example, one kid got expelled from military school not because he fought his classmate but he threw dirt at his opponent just to blind him and the school director considered it as ‘’cheating’’. The director is fine about students fighting each other and bringing pocket knives in school.
  • Double Agent:
    • The Royal Military Police officer in "Robinson" who works for the RMP and for D Agency after Yuuki has him activated. It has some real-life precedence with Patrick Stanley Vaughan Heenan, a New Zealander officer who helped the Japanese by conducting espionage missions on their behalf, which was how they won over the British in the Malayan Peninsula.
    • Cynthia Grane begins spying for the Germans to get back at Louis McCloud, an SIS spy responsible for the death of her husband.
    • Karl Schneider is working as a double agent for Germany and the Soviet Union. Later revealed to be a triple agent also working for Great Britain.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: In "Coffin", Miyoshi, while spying in Germany under the alias Katsuhiko Maki, got killed by something mundane yet unpredictable - a train accident.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Sakuma doubts about the possibility of Japan losing the war. Well, viewers already know that Japan did lose and was forced to surrender.
    • In 1940, Japan has decided to team up with Germany to partially form the Axis Powers.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When John Gordon yells that his residence was previously searched means that the D Agency knows that the GHQ wants to set the agency up.
    • Private Yoshino visibly reacts at the sight of a dead Chinese civilian after Captain Oikawa's residence is bombed. That civilian turns out to be a male prostitute who was also Yoshino's lover.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The anime likes to combine this with Bilingual Bonus to plant interesting trivia in the backgrounds of the various episodes that are peripherally related to the plot.
    • In "City of Temptation", the piece of calligraphy hung in Captain Oikawa's office is Dengke Hounote , a Chinese poem by Tang dynasty poet Meng Jiao, about how the author felt his spirits renewed after passing the imperial examinations and receiving an official appointment, which in the context of this episode makes it extremely ironic.
    • In "Pursuit", the letter Aaron Price was typing is in fact the Latin version of 1 Corinthians 13, specifically verses 10 to 12. The chapter is about the subject of "love", which makes the ending of this episode even more heartwarming.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: It's very obvious that the portraits were Emperor Hirohito. But his face wasn't shown because it's taboo to have him and his family portrayed in Japanese media unless it's for historical, educational, or informative purposes.
  • Historical Domain Character: Mansfield Smith-Cumming makes a brief appearance in a photograph in episode 10.
  • Historical Fiction: The D Agency is formed in 1937, shortly before the Second Sino-Japanese War begins in earnest. The series itself takes place in the years 1939-1941 during the war.
  • How We Got Here: "Joker Game" shows how D Agency is assigned to search Gordon's residence.
  • Imperial Japan: The main cast works for them.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Between the rank and file of the D Agency and the rest of the Imperial Japanese Army, particularly the Imperial General Headquarters.
  • Magic Poker Equation: Sakuma's first social interaction with D-Agency is a game of poker. In the first hand, he gets a full house, and is beaten by a four of a kind. Justified in that his opponents are actually playing the titular Joker Game, and are helping each other cheat.
  • No Swastikas: The German soldiers are clearly Those Wacky Nazis except they're not wearing swastikas.
  • Only Six Faces: Several of the main characters looked so similar that many viewers had a hard time differentiating them. The worst offenders are the similar character designs of Fukumoto and Odagari, Hatano and Jitsui, and Tazaki and Kaminaga. But in a meta sense, they had to look the same without any distinctive physical trait because they’re spies. Viewers can know who’s who if they recognize the voice actor.
  • Phenotype Stereotype: Zigzagged several times on the foreign characters particularly the European ones. There would be at least one character who is blond and blue-eyed.
  • La Résistance: The titular Resistance are the focus of "Miscalculation", with Hatano finding himself caught up in one of its cells in the Parisian countryside.
  • Rewatch Bonus:
    • The end of "City of Temptation" revealed that Fukumoto is Shizuoka Hajime and Kusanagi. Rewatching the episode made you realize that he helped Corporal Honma to uncover the shady activities of his boss.
    • Combined with a Freeze-Frame Bonus — look at the document that appears onscreen in "Codename: Cerberus" while Jeffrey Morgan is discussing Enigma decryption. The text is the final stanza of Epitaph to a Dog, a poem by Lord Byron. It seems like a cute in-joke by the animators at first, but actually describes how Cynthia Grane feels about Louis McCloud really well.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: All of the spies wear fabulous suits.
  • Shout-Out: Several of the arc titles are references to other pieces of literature. Examples include "Robinson" from Robinson Crusoe, Lord of the Flies and Paradise Lost
  • Shown Their Work:
    • "Joker Game, Part 1" shows a newspaper boy telling the public that IJA troops have landed in Qingdao. The landings would eventually be one of the precursors of the Second Sino-Japanese War.
    • At the same time, Miyoshi and the other D Agency spies were shown to be dressed in accurate Kempeitai uniforms in a black op operation to weed out a suspected spy operating in Tokyo.
    • Col. Mutou drinking a piece of raw egg was the standard practice at the time to build up muscles. It stopped in The '80s due to reports of people being affected by salmonella.
    • "Miscalculation" shows accurate Wehrmacht weapons/equipments/gear, including how they create double agents to weed out the resistance from within. It also shows the French Résistance armed with a "Le Français" Pistol, a very seldomly seen firearm outside of old European films.
    • "City of Temptation" features a faithful depiction of late 1930s/early 1940s Shanghai, right down to the period advertisements, albeit altered into bland name products (Coca-Cola for example is rendered into "Cola-Cola"; even its Chinese name and distributing company are both alterednote )
    • "Asia Express" shows the significance of the Asia Express service throughout Manchuria in the late 30s and also features some pretty accurate exposition on the train's technical specs, its top speed, and the route it covered.
    • The British cryptologist in "Codename - Cerberus" admits he can never leave a Crossword Puzzle alone. Bletchley Park recruited codebreakers with crossword puzzles during World War II.
    • "Double Joker, Part 1" shows us that a debt of 15,000 yen in Japan 1940 is quite crushing and is several years' worth of pay for an average person. A viewer did the research and found out that is very true for that era.
  • Sound-Only Death: At the end of "Double Joker, Part 2" as Jitsui chauffeured Yuuki away from the villa targeted by both the D Agency and the Wind Agency, a gunshot could be heard in the background, which was presumably Lieutenant Colonel Kazato, the leader of the Wind Agency, committing suicide after being thoroughly outclassed by Yuuki.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Night Raid 1931 which is a historical spy fiction set in the Showa Era prior to World War II minus the Psychic Powers. Which is actually a recursive successor, as the first two D Agency novels (Joker Game and Double Joker) were published before Night Raid 1931 began airing.
  • Spy Fiction: Very stale beer since it's grounded and realistic without the high-tech gadgets and glamorous lifestyle, with a heavy dose of dirty martini as it's set during World War II and goes to cities all over the world.
  • The Stinger: "Asia Express" has one where it seems like the higher ups in the General Staff Headquarters have decided the D Agency isn't useful and they're planning to get rid of it.
  • Switching P.O.V.: Every episode has a different POV character, usually one of the main characters or a minor character.
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: Used at the start of every episode. Given that the series deals with the Second Sino-Japanese War and the larger World War II theater, it is taken seriously, similar to the disclaimers shown in Night Raid 1931.
    This program is a work of fiction. The characters, organizations, locations, laws, names, etc. being portrayed are unrelated to actual events.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: One of D Agency's key tenets, along with not getting killed and not getting caught. This is meant to distinguish them from the Imperial Japanese Army and is one of the many little things about D Agency that irritate the Army. Note that this is not about morality, but because of pragmatism: dead bodies can bring about investigations, which could complicate or compromise the actual mission the spies are trying to accomplish.
  • Thriller on the Express: "Asia Express" follows a mission to track a Soviet diplomat on the titular train, which runs into a major snag when said diplomat ends up murdered in the train's bathroom.
  • Title Drop: Many times. The agency uses a special card game called Joker Game in order to feed info to their fellow agents and weed out potential traitors/enemy agents/nuisances that they need to get rid of. Thematically, the Joker Game is also used as a metaphor for how Japan got screwed in the World War I international talks and the spy business generally (i.e. a game where everyone assumes that there are rules but really, there are none — or they are vastly different from how they appear on the face.)
  • Translation Convention: The American in the first episode speaks English and Japanese because he’s a Japanophile. But whenever a main character goes to a foreign country such as France and England, the people he encounters speak in Japanese even among themselves. Most of this is simply for audience convenience, as the French rebels are noted to be speaking in French to Hatano since they remark on how good his French is, meaning the viewers are simply hearing them in Japanese for their sake. The same probably applies to the German soldiers in that same episode, who presumably are supposed to be speaking in German.
    • This was done because in the novel, Gordon's speech is mainly written in Katakana. This obviously doesn't translate to spoken dialogue so they changed it to him speaking English as a compromise.
  • The Usual Adversaries: The most frequently recurring adversaries to the D Agency are SIS agents.
  • Wham Episode:
    • "Joker Game, Part 1" has the D Agency not finding any potential evidence to convict Gordon of espionage. Worst of all, Miyoshi tells him that his superior, Sakuma will kill himself in public if he can't find any. At the end, Sakuma's now forced to go through with it since he's an honorable man.
    • "Joker Game, Part 2" reveals that Lt. Col. Yuuki's disabled hand was on his left hand, not the right side as previously thought by the public. Sakuma surmises that it was done on purpose in order to avoid Col. Mutou's presence when he spied on him.
    • "Double Joker, Part 1" drops the bombshell that the Imperial Japanese Army has started up their own spy agency known as "Wind Agency" in direct competition with D Agency, with the glaring difference being that Wind Agency operatives are authorized to kill.
    • "Coffin" demonstrates that there are occasions where it is impossible for the D Agency spies to uphold their key tenets of "don't die, don't kill" when Miyoshi got caught in a train accident while spying in Germany and died.