Sergeant Honma, newly assigned to the Shanghai Military Police, is tasked by his captain, Oikaiwa, to find a traitor within the police’s ranks. Oikaiwa’s house is bombed, but the incident is not investigated due to the local authorities’ distaste for Japanese foreigners. Honma meets up with an old acquaintance, the reporter Shiozuka Hajime, who is covering the bombing. Shiozuka reveals that he suspects Kusanagi, a known anti-Japanese radical and left-wing writer.
Later, Honma just happens to bump into Kusanagi on the street. He follows him to a dance hall, and is able to bribe his way in using a strange coin Kusanagi planted on him. Inside, he sees Oikaiwa and realizes that the entire incident was staged by his captain. He confronts Oikaiwa, who willingly admits his crime. Five years in Shanghai have made him corrupt and possibly insane; he has been selling the military’s opium stores to fund his gambling and whoring.
Honma threatens to expose Oikaiwa and have him dismissed or court-martialed. Before he can, another soldier, Private Yoshino, shoots and kills Oikaiwa. He tells Honma that Oikaiwa was responsible for the death of his lover, a male employee at the dance hall, and kills himself as well.
In the end, it is revealed that both the reporter “Shiozuka” and the activist “Kusanagi” were the spy Fukumoto in disguise, manipulating Honma in order to eliminate Oikaiwa without directly involving D Agency. Fukumoto chooses to stay in Shanghai, finding the “city of corruption” fascinating.
I’ve seen some criticism that this episode is too similar to Sakuma’s arc in the first two, what with focusing on a military protagonist who interacts with D Agency and discovers that one of his superior officers is not as moral as he seems. However, I would argue that this episode has one major difference from Sakuma’s story: rather than being about the (nominal) hero, it’s all about the villain. Honma, while nice enough, is a static character, who does not change or grow much over the course of this episode. He is a principled, diligent military man who remains a principled, diligent man to the end, despite the corruption he uncovers.
In my opinion, the true “main character” of this episode was not Honma or Fukumoto, but Oikaiwa. Though we viewed it through Honma’s eyes, it was Oikaiwa’s journey we witnessed – from an upstanding, loyal Military Police officer to a corrupt madman. I may be biased, as the “authority figure who falls from grace” is probably my favorite villain type, but I found Oikaiwa fascinating, and his downfall, while unexpected, definitely had a sense of poetic justice to it that I quite enjoyed. I think Oikaiwa is the best “bad” character we’ve seen in Joker Game so far, and his laughing mad breakdown makes a great contrast with the always-calm-under pressure D Agency men.
My only quarrel with this episode is with its depiction of Shanghai. In previous reviewed, I praised Joker Game for its objective portrayal of multiple places and sides in this conflict. However, we lose a bit of that “there is no true moral right or wrong” in this episode. Shanghai is repeatedly referred to as “the city of corruption,” much focus is placed on the ‘sinful’ pleasures available here (especially the young crossdressing boys at the dance hall, implied to be sex workers). There are also many uncomfortable shots of Honma feeling like he is being watched by a crowd of sinister, sneering faces. It even felt like the blame for Oikaiwa’s fall was placed on the city of Shanghai rather than Oikaiwa himself. It was a shocking and unpleasant departure from Joker Game‘s usual depiction of its various settings, and I hope it does not continue in later episodes.
Out of 5 Dios:
The setting and time shift yet again – to 1939 London. The spy Kaminaga, posing as photographer “Izawa Kazuo,” learns from Lt Col Yuuki the story of Robinson Crusoe, who was trapped on an island for 28 years with only a single companion, Friday. We then cut to a scene of Kaminaga being arrested for…well, spying. He is brought before the British spymaster, a strange-looking man named Howard Marks. Marks injects Kaminaga with truth serum and reveals that they have audio evidence identifying him as a spy. Kaminaga, under the effects of the serum, is convinced that Yuuki himself is responsible for his blown cover.
A now thoroughly broken Kaminaga agrees to aid the British. However, this is a ruse as he attempts to escape during a trip to the restroom. He follows a map he saw earlier to an emergency staircase, only to find that the staircase does not exist and the map was a trap set by Marks. Some hope remains, though, as he sees a door marked with a Venus symbol. In Japanese, “Venus” and “Friday” share a character. Yuuki telling Kaminaga the story of Robinson Crusoe was actually a clue to the existence of “Friday,” a Japanese sleeper agent planted among Marks’s men. As he escapes, reflects on his true mission: to purposely get sold out to Marks in order to expose a diplomat who had been leaking confidential Japanese information to the British.
I did feel that this episode was a little slower paced than the previous ones. I get that the goal was to keep the tension high during Marks’ interrogation of Kaminaga, but the result was a lot of long shots of Kaminaga or Marks’s faces that seemed kind of unnecessary. (Especially since Marks is so creepy looking. He really stands out among the otherwise realistic character designs in this show, and I wonder why this character in particular was chosen to break so drastically from the mold. It made it pretty hard to take him seriously.)
However, I did really like this episode’s overall plot. The “Robinson Crusoe” parallels were interesting and fun to pick up on (though I imagine it will be difficult for someone without any knowledge of Japanese to realize the connection). I also liked the fact that we actually saw one of the D Agency boys in genuine danger. Even though getting turned over to Marks was part of Kaminaga’s mission, he still needed Friday’s assistance to escape once he was fooled by the fake map. It’s nice to see them as not entirely infallible and needing to be rescued themselves sometime.
These were a strong pair of episodes, but one thing that did bother me was that Yuuki didn’t appear in either of them. He had no presence at all in 4, and though he did show up in Kaminaga’s flashbacks in 5, it was only for a short amount of time. As Yuuki is the closest thing Joker Game has to a “main character” right now, I hope we get to see more of him in the future.
This was not my favorite episode, but it still managed to keep me interested in the story. I think it says a lot about Joker Game that even a “weaker” episode still has a compelling story and a unique plot resolution that keeps me guessing until the very end. As always, I eagerly await next week (and specifically hope for more Yuuki)!
Out of 5 Dios: