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A comedy/adventure anime about a phantom thief named Joker and his bumbling ninja sidekick, Mysterious Joker (also known simply as Joker) is one of many anime derived from the Arsene Lupin-inspired archetype. In fact, this anime began the same season as a similar show, Magic Kaito 1412, and in that respect Mysterious Joker initially seems pretty unremarkable. Having watched the first 4 episodes, however, I noticed a couple of interesting qualities about the series. First, is that the visual designs of its characters are really indicative of a comics lineage that gets somewhat less attention from English-speaking audiences. Second, is that each episode has been better than the last.
In regards to the first point, I’m referring to the fact that Mysterious Joker was originally a children’s manga. However, when people talk about a category like “shounen,” they probably think of series like Dragon Ball or Naruto. Though titles like those are indeed meant for children, what some might be unaware of is that there are also manga magazines dedicated to very young kids, and chief among them is Corocoro Comics. This is where Mysterious Joker (created by Takahashi Hideyasu) comes from, and while the anime cleans up the look of the characters for consistency (generally a must when it comes to commercial animation), their appearances remain colorful and bombastic, with large facial features beyond even what people typically expect out of anime.
The reason why I bring all of this up is that I think it can make Mysterious Joker feel somewhat odd even for those who are accustomed to most other anime that are targeted towards children, as many of them, even if they do not expect an additional older readership, have qualities that almost inherently appeal to a roughly 15-21 demographic. This is not to say that Mysterious Joker is a show that can only be enjoyed by kids, as it can be quite clever in how its mysteries and puzzles play out, and the humor is delightfully crass at times without being crude, but it requires on some level an acknowledgement that it is indeed a kids’ show and that older viewers may not even be taken into consideration. I think this can be a sticking point for a lot of anime fans, particularly teenagers, and so enjoying Mysterious Joker, even on a basic level, requires something of an open mind.
As for the second point, which is about how the show seems to improve with every episode, it’s as if each episode adds a bit more to the story and the world of its characters, and motivates viewers to keep watching. I originally planned on stopping at Episode 3, but then saw the reveal of a female rival phantom thief, which compelled me to see how that turns out. Episode 4 doesn’t feature her in any way, but it explores the friendly rivalry between the main character and another established in the previous episode, and in doing so gives even more reason to keep watching.
I looked up the staff for Mysterious Joker and was surprised to see that Satou Dai of all people is responsible for series composition. While I can’t say how much of the story’s quality comes from the original manga and how much Satou himself is a factor, from my experience with his work I think you get a true sense of what it means to be responsible for series composition. Eureka Seven, another show of his, builds upon itself beautifully. Satou wasn’t around for the sequel, Eureka Seven AO, and it really shows. A more relevant work of his Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin, which took the humble card game anime and made it into something more substantial and mature, yet still very attuned to its young audience. While I’ve not seen all of Mysterious Joker, I would not be surprised if it ends up developing in a similar way.