What’s it about ?
Adaptation of a novel series about spies in ’30s Japan.
The show is built around “D Agency”, a spy training organization created in 1937 by one Lt Col Yuuki. After some intense selection and training, they now have weeded down to eight trainees, who certainly at least talk a good game.
Interestingly, our actual point-of-view character for now is Lt Sakuma, who comes from the regular Japanese army and is clearly the odd man out here. From what I can gather, he’s been sent as a liaison from high command… with the explicit mission to find any single issue that could be an excuse for shutting down this dodgy agency that has yet to produce any results. Now, Sakuma himself is way to straightforward to act shadily ; that’s exactly why he despises the liars, cheaters and cowards trained by the agency he’s overseeing.
The case of the fortnight involves a “totally not a spy” US resident that D Agency is tasked to find evidence against. Which is of course utterly pointless from a counter-intelligence point of view, but hey, that’s the orders from on high.
Perfectly good ; the depiction of the period feels authentic enough to work. And you can never go wrong with a Kenji Kawai score to build an oppressive and claustrophobic mood.
What did I think of it ?
First, the elephant in the room : given its subject matter, the show is doomed to confront the fact that the Japanese military did some really dodgy shit in that time period, and by “dodgy” I mean “huge war crimes”. The good news is that for now, the show is sidestepping the issue by portraying D Agency as a group with no patriotic links, and just doing the same shit that every other modern country is already doing (with the precise example of the 1922 Washington Conference). Also, they seem to spend just as much time and energy in feuds with other branches of the military as doing any actual spying/counter-spying (the US spy in this first story is as much a pretext as anything).
With that out of the way, this is a peculiar first episode. Most of it is devoted to characters telling Sakuma he’s an idiot who understands nothing about spying. Which is true, of course, but he feels more like someone to be exposited to for narrative convenience than an organic component of the story, at least until the final twist. Even then, I feel like the show may have been better served without him being around. Show, I already think that spying is inherently cool despite the dodgy ethics ; I don’t need a “but spying is EE-VIIL !!” mouthpiece to be proven wrong every couple of minutes.
Now, you might think I didn’t like the show. That’s not true ; there’s a lot to enjoy here, and I definitely plan on watching it throughout. It’s just that I hope that the clumsy writing quickly gets out of the way once the series’ found its narrative feet.