April 6th, 2016.
The Great Game:
This is the new show I’ve had the highest hopes for airing this season. Things could turn around yet, as we’re only in week 1, but how did it turn out? Pretty darn well, thus far. Well, let’s get to it.
Aside from a single 5-second background shot where people walked awkwardly and a couple of seconds where lip-flaps weren’t perfectly synced with the voice-acting, this show’s presentation was impeccable. I bring it up every so often, but some anime series feel like movies, in terms of their care for shot composition, the care they put into how things look, and just general atmosphere. This is such a show, which feels quite similar to Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade in how it carries itself. This is also what I feel Baccano! would look like if it were made today.
So, movie atmosphere. “Naturalistic,” the focus on small details, on things where the scenes is “taking a breath”.
The voice acting is solid all around, with nothing “exciting,” but there’s no call for excitement yet. Held back as it should be. Solid music.
I did chuckle when we met our “foreigner,” because he looks just like the Dutch person in Samurai Champloo, and sounds just like “Well-acted foreigners” in anime overall, where it’s clear to us that he’s not a native English speaker, but where actual effort into not sounding terrible was made. I really love this screenshot, and I think it has to do with the uncanny valley you get when anime gives you its “Everyman European Westerner”, that just feels so slightly wrong and off from how everyone else is depicted when going for the “realistic art-style”. Now that I think about it, his face also reminds me of Sword of the Stranger’s westerner.
Anyway, this show’s production quality is top-notch, and the direction feels competent enough for now. It’s slow, but it’s deliberate about it.
OP – The music didn’t blow me away, but it was pleasant enough to listen to that I could have it playing on repeat in the background without an issue. The visuals are interesting, especially considering how little actually happens in them. An atmosphere that brings James Bond songs and “openings” to mind.
ED – Alright. It’s not bad, but it’s not rocking my world. Could grow on me. Visuals are again, good-looking but unexciting, less impressive than the OP’s which created an atmosphere.
Themes / Story:
This show had 3 reveals, 1 early and not very important, and 2 towards the end of the episode. I saw all three coming: That the person with the book was looking in on Sakuma’s cards, that the unit was sent there in order to fail, and that the unit in turn was going to use the incident to get rid of Sakuma, or to “flip him over” to their side (which I expect to happen next episode, as he sees his superiors have no loyalty towards him and his fellow “soldiers”, and as the spies extend him a helping hand).
This is not criticism for the show for not being shocking, nor is it me praising it for making me feel clever. What this means is that the show is genre-savvy, and works within the confines of its genres, with the internal logic it demands, and which genre-fans could figure out for themselves as they watch the show. This is important when you want the world to feel “real”, and in such shows, when nothing is real, the world obeying some rules is all-important.
So, Sakuma really kept hammering about “cowards”, eh? They also had him noting how things were different in ye olde Military Academy, and conveying how unseemly the situation where the elite spies aren’t military men is. He’s our moral compass, so when he snaps in this wicked world, the show will be saying something. And it seems like he might have to bend really soon.
The notion of how the spies do it all for themselves seems to run counter to the fact they’re risking their lives for their country. Sakuma didn’t notice how much bravery is asked of them. And they reject bravery as well, and doing it for their countries. So if they don’t do it for their countries, how do you know they won’t turn and become double agents? You don’t. And the show is telling you that they might flip. It’s telling you that agents can be flipped in its own name and how it goes about explaining it: The Joker Game.
Speaking of which, going after a “spy” who’ll be burnt the moment he’s suspected is not useless, but actively harmful. Since you can feed the spy who doesn’t know he’s been made false information, or try to take note of the information he passes back. But then again, you can’t tell if his senders will trust the information he relays back, because just as in the Joker Game, there might not only be fake signals, but the distrust born out of not knowing if your agent has been turned.
And into this convoluted web of distrust and where you might be closer to another agent than your operator, an atmosphere that was often employed in fiction covering the Cold War, we send a straight and honourable military man, who doesn’t trust his allies, and is growing to distrust his superiors in the military.
Fun stuff. And it’s all done quite well thus far. Though we’ve had a bit of a cliffhanger, we’re lacking a strong “hook”. Yes, the potential plots of the show write themselves, but the show needs to commit to one. But how good it is about the slow boil while hinting at the frenetic distrust in the background means I’m on board.