Who bows in a suit?
Joker Game is unique in its landscape as a historical fiction, seinen anime without a central plot set just before and during World War II. We’re introduced to the eight Japanese spies of the D-Agency and their brilliant spymaster, Lieutenant Colonel Yuuki. A true thinking man’s anime, each episode introduces a new spy-tastic situation in which our protagonists use experience, training, and deduction to complete their mission, usually with a witty twist. Safe to say, this article is going to be full of spoilers.
Joker Game excels in its attention to details. You can really tell this was a labor of love for its animators. With strikingly historically accurate situations and locations, espionage has never been so detailed in anime, including some Easter eggs of spy-specific techniques that are shown, and not told through narrative exposition. Production I.G doesn’t slouch in details when it comes to its characters either. At the beginning, it may be hard to distinguish the characters if you’re not Seiyuu Fan #1, because distinguishing physical characteristics are subtle, as per Spy Rules 101. By the end of it all, we can easily recognize the characters by their unique personalities and skill sets.
Although it’s really hard to pick favorites, we’re going to countdown the top ten spy-tastic characters in Joker Game, with spoilers.
10. Gamou Jirou
- Featured episodes: 8, 9
Gamou Jirou is the only featured spy who isn’t affiliated with the D-Agency, but rather its rival organization, another Japanese spy group called Wind Agency. As the Japanese military had yet to officially incorporate an intelligence agency, both D-Agency and Wind Agency are vying for the single open spot to be recognized by the military. Gamou Jirou is one of the star members of this group, who also has a lot in common with his D-Agency counterparts. He’s a civilian who wants to become a spy for the mental stimulation.
Gamou is highly skilled in reading people, finding out how they tick. With this skill, he has become a master at chess and gained notoriety among foreign diplomats. He also uses this skill to aggressively manipulate people to complete in his missions. Easily slipping between appearing friendly and downright menacing, it’s hard to tell which is his true nature; but compared to the D-Agency members who don’t kill, Gamou is quite violent. Gamou has many qualities that could easily make him a top spy, but it becomes clear the importance of rigorous training when he is flawlessly bested by D-Agency’s Jitsui in Episode 9.
Preview quote: Chess isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about living or dying.
- Featured episodes: 12
Odagiri is hand-selected by spymaster Yuuki to join the D-Agency. He is one of the only spies to be affiliated with the military. Additionally, he is the only spy whose real name is revealed in the anime, along with a detailed background story. Odagiri is deemed “un-trainable” by his military superiors after he openly refuses to follow his superior’s commands in order to help another soldier. Just when Odagiri is ready to put the military behind him, Yuuki picks him up and brings him into the D-Agency.
For the most part, Odagiri feels a little out of place amongst the civilian spies. Although not adhering to military mannerisms as much as Sakuma, he does have a “military man” feel to him, especially when he assumes that spymaster Yuuki has taken him off of his mission after what he sees as a major failure. With strong power of deduction and detailed investigative skills, Odagiri is a very competent spy and eventually can extract all the information he needs; however, he is distracted by the specter of his former caretaker. After realizing this himself. Odagiri leaves the agency and returns to the military as Lieutenant Tobisaki Hiroyuki.
Preview quote: “We are all beautiful in passing,” right?
- Featured episodes: 7
Amari has a friendly and approachable demeanor. He easily gains a report with strangers and is seen as trustworthy by those around him, even if they are only acquainted with him for a short time. People naturally let out information around him, even though he does give even the smallest bit of information himself. It is also implied that Amari is popular with women, with whom he is constantly breaking up, because there is “no point in staying with one for too long.” Add on top his calmness under pressure, and what we get is a well-dressed, well-liked, womanizing spy, much like Mr. You Know Who.
But this friendliness isn’t all for show. After discovering a covert assassin, instead of being ruthless, he empathizes with her and lets her turn herself in. After this, he does end up becoming the temporary guardian of a little girl and her dog, but in the end, he is able to successfully uncover the secret to the mysterious death of his target.
Preview quote: Flow into the ocean. What awaits beyond is boundless freedom.
- Featured episodes: 6
Tazaki is one of the more recognizable characters due to his particular magician-like skills. Not only is he highly skilled in card manipulation and slight of hand, but he also carries around pigeons in his suit. Pigeons in his suit aside, Tazaki is has a caring way of talking that allows him to win over people with ease. In a train assassination mystery, Tazaki employs the help of three young boys in order to solve the case within a short time limit. He pulls together a multitude of little pieces of information in order to discover the assassin and the motive. He also is able to rope in a new foreign operative that will be useful to Japan’s young intelligence network.
With a youthful face and a mature way of talking, D-Agency’s magician has a pleasant charm to him. As his feature episode closes, we get a nice look into his inner thoughts, which much like the way he talks is extremely intellectual. He laments about not being able to effectively use the information they collect and about the diminished value of spies once war is declared. Nonetheless, he is satisfied with his career choice and his spymaster’s guidance.
Preview quote: It’s not the cards I’m manipulating. It’s your heart.
- Featured episodes: 4
We learn in a mind-blowing and episode-ending reveal that Fukumoto is a master of disguise, who prefers to work behind the scenes on his missions. In Shanghai, a “city of sin,” where corruption is running rampant in the Imperial Army, Fukumoto has taken on the identity of a journalist for quite some time. He has already gotten a number of connections with the military police, who are not aware of his primary profession. Tall but unassuming, Fukumoto easily blends in with a crowd, which makes the identities he takes on that much more amazing. He invents another clandestine identity in order to lead a military officer Homma to uncover that his captain Oikawa is involved in drug trafficking and civilian murder for his own monetary gain. He easily accomplishes his mission to uncover and bring to light corruption in the military without necessarily doing so in person. He remains at his post in Shanghai for an extended period of time without gaining attention and avoiding suspicion. Fukumoto is a spy that you will never know existed.
Preview quote: (On gambling) To taste the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
- Featured episodes: 9
Jitsui is soft-spoken but can become hostile and even sadistic in front of an enemy. He uses his appearance to take on an identity specifically made to entrap the rival spy organization Wind Agency. Under disguise as a houseboy for a prominent Japanese diplomat, Jitsui dedicates his life to the assumed identity for over a year, much to Gamou Jirou’s surprise. Although much smaller in stature, Jitsui also bests Gamou physically with surprise and superior fighting skills. Highly skilled and dedicated to a fault, Jitsui is a spy we can’t help but root for.
Despite being put up against Gamou Jirou, there are a lot of similarities in their personalities, especially with the transitions between kind and hostile. Gamou fails when he underestimates Jitsui based on his usually correct judgments. Jitsui lets himself appear to be threatened by the Wind Agency, thus convincing them that he can be used and manipulated. The hunters of the Wind Agency have no clue they are being hunted by the D-Agency, thanks to Jitsui’s impeccable performance.
Preview quote: You need to be prepared for consequences if you go tomb raiding. Sometimes the mummy hunter ends up becoming the mummy.
- Featured episodes: 5
Kaminaga is sent specifically to take on one of the finest intelligence networks in the world in the heart of London. After arriving in the United Kingdom, Kaminaga is promptly arrested for espionage after an unfortunate information leak. Taking on both truth serum and British spymaster Mark Howards, Kaminaga relies on his training in order to deliver the message he has been captured, and then to make his escape with the help of a sleeper, a foreign operative who only “wakes up” as an intelligence support operative in times of trouble.
In the end of Episode 5, we learn that not only did Kaminaga start his mission with knowledge that he would be caught, but he was also given no information about the existence of a sleeper in London. Well, we know that Kaminaga wasn’t sleeping during training. With the book Robinson Crusoe as the only clue given to him by Yuuki, Kaminaga is able to recognize a marking on a door as a symbol of a support sleeper, the astronomical sign of Venus, which is associated with the day Friday, the name of a main companion character in Robinson Crusoe. He makes this connection in a split-second. Kaminaga begins his return trip to Japan, hopefully wondering where his next mission will take him.
Preview quote: Sleep when you’re sleepy. When the time comes, you’ll wake up on your own.
- Featured episodes: 3
Before Japan allies with Germany, Hatano is posted in France as a foreign exchange student. He befriends a group of people working with the Resistance movement in France. At the beginning of the episode he awakens after a blow to the head with amnesia. Although he doesn’t have memories, he instinctively knows to keep much to himself and remain in his assumed identity. Hatano is unaware of his primary mission, but he quickly takes assessment of the information around him. He even has the capacity to make a dust bomb from flour and reassemble a gun as he and his friends escape German soldiers. Noting suspicious behavior in one of his French friends, he takes note not to trust her and outs her as a double agent.
After his memories return, he gains a stronger connection with the remaining Resistance member, who invites him to enter the Resistance, his primary goal. Unfortunately, though, his time in France comes to an end, as Japan allies with Germany. In his usual cheeky way, Hatano tells Yuuki, “Next time, give me a mission that requires a little more mettle.” Hatano may have included amnesia in his calculations, but if memory loss isn’t enough to trip up this spy, perhaps nothing can.
Preview quote: Don’t worry about it. Memories aren’t important. It was the right decision.
- Featured episodes: 1-2, 11
Miyoshi is one of the first spies we are really introduced to when he is put in charge of a mission to find hidden microfilm obtained by an enemy spy. Spymaster Yuuki normally turns to Miyoshi first for answers on spy theory and appears to trust his espionage skills the most. As brainy and narcissistic as he is, Miyoshi is the best at knowing what make people tick. He has the respect of Yuuki and his fellow spies and is thought to become Yuuki’s successor.
Knowing fully well that Sakuma looks down on spies, Miyoshi reveals to Sakuma the shortcomings of the military, namely how little they value the lives of their soldiers. By putting Sakuma in the position of giving his life for military duty, Sakuma is able to use quick thinking to save himself. Miyoshi is devoted to espionage and believes in the value of gathering intelligence. After creating and controlling the local spy network in Germany, this devotion is later exemplified in Episode 11 in a tragic but fitting ending for a spy that completes his mission even in death.
Preview quote: What we’re looking for may be closer than we think.
- Featured episodes: 10
Who else could possibly top Miyoshi but the spymaster himself? Lieutenant Colonel Yuuki’s past is shrouded in mystery, although we can easily gather that his military contemporaries hold a lot of resentment for him. After learning espionage in Europe, Yuuki is determined to bring Japan into the intelligence game by founding Japan’s first intelligence agency. This conflicts with the military’s interpretation of spies as “cowards,” but Japan is feeling the pain of lack of information, and they start to see the benefits of having covert operatives.
Yuuki fabricated a back-story in order to out foreign spies looking into the D-Agency. The story is so airtight that we may never know the true story. Still, we do know that Yuuki was once a spy in Germany and was captured due to an information leak. He escaped by blowing his own arm off. Although the spymaster, Yuuki will often join missions because he can enter places where his young spies would appear suspicious. Master of disguise and manipulation, with veteran experience and body-sacrificing determination, Yuuki is a spymaster in more ways than one.
Honorable Mention: Sakuma
- Featured episodes: 1, 2
We can’t forget Sakuma, the military officer meant to a messenger between the military and the D-Agency. He uses his own quick thinking and knowledge of the military police in order to uncover where a foreign spy has hidden microfilm with Japanese military secrets. He may have just been trying to save his own skin, but Sakuma’s quick thinking under pressure is not his only spy-tastic trait. He also is able to investigate Yuuki without the spymaster’s knowledge and discover that Yuuki is actively working to get more funding from the military through information collection. These skills attract Yuuki’s attention. The spymaster asks if Sakuma wants to take the D-Agency training and join the spies he’s been living with. Sakuma would probably make a darn good spy.
An unexpected ending
Joker Game is an anime for spy story lovers, filled with amazing and clever characters to get all of your brain cells working. If you like spies, you’ll definitely find at least one character in this group you’re going to like. Joker Game hasn’t been renewed for another season as of now, but we are happy to have had such a unique title in the 2016 line up. Who was your favorite spy?