I have to admit: most of the stuff I review is for teenagers and adults. This time however, the series is actually marketed for young children. And for me, it was a very entertaining watch that also taught me a few things about what’s really important in life.
But let’s face it: the people reading my blog probably couldn’t care less about my thoughts on this show as if I were a child. So instead, I will attempt to convince you to watch this show with your children (or nieces and nephews), because to me, this is a show for family.
Joker (Kaitō Joker, or Mysterious Joker) brings us into the world of the phantom thief (kaitō) Joker, who steals all kinds of treasure from around the world. You could say that he’s a burglar; just about everyone who isn’t a phantom thief sees no difference. But to Joker and his friends, phantom thieves separate themselves from the burglars with at least one crucial detail: the stolen treasure isn’t the objective, but the prize. A phantom thief never steals anything without intention, and they’re very specific about what exactly is to be stolen, leaving little to no trace behind. Joker even makes it a point several times to return items that he “borrows,” because taking it wasn’t part of his original plan.
Joker and his fellow phantom thieves announce exactly what they are going to steal to the treasure owners, just before nightfall. The announcement is seen as a challenge to see if the police can catch him before he steals the treasure. So in that way, taking the treasure is more like a game.
Joker may be about a bunch of criminals, but it still falls in the market for children. Each character’s name is an allegory to things we see in Poker (called “Trump,” if you live in Japan) or Hanafuda, so the characters themselves act like they’re part of a game. The vast majority of gags in this show are slapstick humor, with the occasional play-on words that show just how confusing the Japanese language can actually be.
Joker even pulls off incredible stunts to take treasure or occasionally save the day, dubbing himself the “miracle maker.” And while most of the stunts are very much fictional, every one of them can be explained by a concept in science. But you don’t have to turn to me to explain that. Let Joker’s master Silver Heart take the lead on that one!
But this show is more than just about slapstick gags, stealing treasure, and outsmarting the police. Joker and his friends all became phantom thieves with the help of their Master Silver Heart, a white-bearded old man who took Joker, Spade, and Queen as his own after each of their parents were tragically killed as a result of another phantom thief who stole their house treasures.
Not to spoil the mystery, but it becomes blatantly obvious that this murderous phantom thief is Professor Clover, and his goal is to steal time. Unlike most anime series where the villain has some kind of justification, Professor Clover has no redeeming qualities, so it’s easier for us to know the good guys from the bad guys.
While I’m sure that most people who watch this aren’t actively thinking about it, Joker brings into account its own sense of justice. No one doubts that what Joker does are crimes, hence why the police are constantly going after him. But even so, Silver Heart always taught him and his friends that there is no need for murder. For them, life is the most precious treasure of all, and taking that away from someone makes them no better than Professor Clover taking their parents’ lives. And while this show does treat law enforcement like comic relief villains, even their sense of justice can be examined without taking it on face value.
Oniyama makes a huge point to arrest Joker all the time, but deep down, he does respect that Joker gives him a job to do and occasionally even sides with the same values Joker has. And in the one episode where Joker is arrested (only for him to make a miraculous escape), his treatment had raised questions on what really justifies the prison system and their treatment of criminals (again, albeit it’s fictional and somewhat exaggerated).
The very roots of things Japanese society values can also be challenged. Such is the story of Hachi, the ninja in-training.
It’s probably just a gag on ninja lore, but Hachi was born and raised in a ninja clan, but never quite succeeded as a ninja. Traditional Japanese culture often puts pressure on children (not necessarily just ninjas) to carry on the family business, but Hachi fails to do so. When he was taken in as Joker’s phantom thief assistant, Hachi was given an opportunity that had nothing to do with his ninja heritage, and frankly, he became more useful as a phantom thief than a ninja anyway. I mean, the guy can cook a mean curry! That’s gotta be worth something!
You might say he brought shame to his family by not being a ninja, but his family still loves him just the same. And in the episode where we do meet Hachi’s family, they are proud that he can at least do something for others, even if it wasn’t something they had expected.
We can expect all the results we want from our kids, but we can’t lose sight of their own self worth. That, to me, is more important when it comes to family values.
But aside from the questioning of values and the funnies and stuff, the real joy of this series is the treasure hunt. Joker steals a lot of material things with high monetary or cultural value, but to him, each one is treasured not for the quality, but because he legitimately earned it in a phantom thief way. For phantom thieves, treasure that is taken exclusively for power or money is no treasure at all. So what is treasure? The show explains this in several instances.
Life is the greatest treasure. Family is the eternal treasure. There is no treasure more precious than children. But most of all…
So if you’re looking for a children’s anime series where there is something for the whole family, check out Joker. Now if you’ll excuse me, I just got a mysterious card on my doorstep. Better watch out for them phantom thieves!