A review of Spy x Family (first cour)

If there was ever a post I didn’t need to write, it was this one. But since my entire blog is unnecessary, that means there’s no such thing as a more unnecessary post than usual.

So here’s a look at the first cour of Spy x Family, the massive smash hit anime that just finished the first part of its run. Just about everyone was watching this. Even one of my cousins who never watches anime had heard of it, and if she knows about an anime, that means people damn well know about it, and well outside the usual fan circles. It was hyped up before it even started airing based on the source manga, and now that its first cour is done, the anime so far has been praised to the heavens, getting close to the top of the charts on MAL and Anilist.

But does this first cour of Spy x Family live up to all that praise and hype according to the asshole who writes this blog? I’ll answer that question in way too much detail below. (I should also clarify why I’m calling this the first cour* and not the first season: because it seems like it’s specifically meant to be a “split cour” series of 24 episodes in total, with the second set of 12 airing again in the fall season. So it’s not exactly two seasons, even if it technically is airing over two seasons. I guess? I’m still not sure about these naming conventions. Fuck it — on to the review.)

Our story opens with a spy codenamed Twilight from the state of Westalis. As a top Westalian intelligence agent with a talent for depiction and disguise, Twilight is entrusted with difficult operations, but his next mission may be the most difficult and delicate yet. Twilight is commanded to travel to Ostania (yeah, they purposely weren’t too creative with the countries’ names) and to start a family, complete with wife and child, as soon as possible.

Twilight is shocked by this command, considering how much time and effort starting a family normally takes. But he doesn’t have time to spare: prominent Ostanian politician Donovan Desmond is poised to start a massive war between their two states, and Twilight has to make contact with him under false pretenses to stop his plan by getting his kid into the same elite school as Desmond’s and befriending him. Twilight’s bosses at WISE tell him this is the only way to get within reach of this guy considering how cautious he is. So he accepts and puts on a respectable family man act, taking on the identity of the doctor “Loid Forger”, securing an apartment, and immediately afterwards heading down to the local orphanage to pick out a child smart enough to pass Eden College’s entrance exam.

Enter the first member of Loid Forger’s new family. When Loid asks for a kid who can read, he’s brought to Anya, a small girl who hardly looks more than four or five. Despite that, she can fill out a difficult crossword puzzle perfectly and without hesitation right in front of Loid, so he picks her out for his new daughter, figuring he’s struck gold. What he doesn’t realize is Anya is cheating at the puzzle by reading his mind while he watched her: she’s a telepath, the product of a shady supernatural power training program. The upshot of all this is Anya instantly realizes her new father is putting on an act and that he’s a spy.

Luckily (?) for him, Anya loves spies and similar excitement, so she’s happy to come home with him and to keep his secret. But since leaving the training program, she was told not to tell anyone about her mind-reading powers, so she conceals those powers from Loid.

After having an all too real spy adventure in the second half of episode 1 in which she’s briefly kidnapped and rescued by her new dad, Anya takes the Eden College entrance exam with some help from Franky, Loid’s connection/fixer who gets them an answer sheet. But there’s still another complication: applicants are also required to hold family interviews with the headmasters of the school, including both parents. No exceptions. Anya points out that Mama doesn’t exist, so Loid is off to find a wife.

Hack Hollywood romcom writers take note of this meet cute, you can’t do better

And finally the family is complete when Loid runs into a beautiful woman at a tailor’s shop. Yor Briar is stressed out because of her single status, with both her younger brother breathing down her neck and insisting that she start to settle down and her colleagues at her job at Town Hall gossiping about her. Yor’s been invited to a party and is expected to bring her boyfriend, who doesn’t exist. There’s an initial spark between Loid and Yor, and Anya, using her telepathy, realizes that they’re perfectly matched to play fake boyfriend and wife respectively but that neither of them are recognizing it themselves, with Yor assuming Loid is married since he has a daughter. So Anya starts singing out loud about how her mother doesn’t exist and how much she misses said non-existent mother like it’s a tune from a musical.

Loid and Yor explain their situations to each other and agree to play their respective parts. However, later that evening, Loid attends the party late after taking on a quick but extremely bloody side job from WISE, and in his rush and confusion he declares himself Yor’s husband. By accident, their relationship is now pretty much cemented, so they decide to run with it, and by the start of the third episode they’re legally married.

And oh yeah, Yor is an assassin.

Here’s an unlikely family dynamic, then: a father pretending to be a psychiatrist who’s actually a spy working on enemy ground, a mother pretending to be a normal citizen who’s actually an assassin, and their daughter, a telepath who doesn’t tell anyone about her powers but knows her adoptive parents’ real occupations, though she can’t tell them she knows. While Loid, Yor, and Anya are all deceiving each other, they’re also together in deceiving the rest of the world about their relationship as a legitimate family.

A joint production of studios Wit and CloverWorks, Spy x Family is an adaptation of a popular manga that I’ve heard recommended to me for a while. It’s too bad I’m so lazy about following up on manga recommendations, because I’m sure I would have taken to this one instantly. Normally I wait until I’m a bit further along these posts to start heaping praise on something I like, but there’s no point this time: this first cour of Spy x Family was excellent, starting with the unique “fake family” setup and following through with a lot of great comedy and some nice action, sometimes mixed together in the same scenes.

And all in the context of highest-stakes plot imaginable.

The strongest aspect of Spy x Family for me so far is not really its plot, however, but its characters. The overall story makes for a nice spy thriller, but taken on its own it’s not that special. Cool handsome spy man has to save the world by taking on a disguise and starting a family in the rival country to his. Before getting to the disguise and family parts, that describes the plot of every James Bond movie ever made (and I guess every James Bond novel, though I’m not sure what else that weirdo Ian Fleming might have written that didn’t make it onto the screen.) And maybe Mr. Bond even takes on a disguise sometimes, though from what I remember he usually doesn’t bother too much with that sort of thing as long as he can punch and fuck his way through his problems.

In the first episode, Twilight seems like he might be exactly this James Bond type — sitting across from a woman he’s in a fake romantic relationship with under an assumed identity, and a relationship he literally gets up and walks away from after telling her he’s dumping her. All for his job, but he does come off here like the cool and even cold James Bond type. But that’s all overturned by the end of the first episode, when his new daughter Anya starts to become attached to him. Even his reasoning for abandoning her at this point goes against his mission: he doesn’t want to put her in harm’s way and reasons out that he can somehow carry his mission out without using a fake son or daughter. But he gives in and keeps Anya, and seemingly not just for the sake of his job.

This isn’t for the mission at all — it’s Loid actually being a man with feelings, maybe for the people he cares most about even if he doesn’t realize it yet? Yeah, that’s where this is going.

The same turns out to be true of his new fake wife, Yor. Loid again reasons out that he’s doing all this false family stuff for his mission. But we see him getting genuinely angry with people who give Yor a hard time for supposedly doing some unseemly things with men for money (which she didn’t — a cover for her assassination job, which is a lot more unseemly really) and for being a stepmother who can’t cook or be a “proper” wife as she is at the party and the later family interview with the headmasters at Anya’s school. He even wonders at how and why he’s getting emotional over these attacks on a woman he doesn’t really care about when it comes down to it.

But then we can guess where all this is headed. As Irina wrote in a post I linked a while back, Loid isn’t James Bond, and that’s a good thing in so far as he seems to be forming real emotional bonds with his new family despite his intentions. He’s actually a good guy and a genuine one himself.

If you can get a wife who’s normally cute and pleasant but does this if your child is threatened, you got a good one

Yor is more of a mystery at this point. We’re in Loid’s head far more often, and even in Anya’s especially when she’s at school. Yor seems very much like a genuine person too, a woman who despite appearances is insanely strong and skilled at fighting. She also doesn’t seem to realize her own strength, which even makes her feel more honest of a person to me while also making her more of a menace to society and to the people around her.

Even so, she really comes off as wanting to be a good wife to Loid and a good mother to Anya, even when she realizes that she’s taking part in a complete put-on to fool her colleagues and her brother, and for Loid’s sake to fool Anya’s school. I think this along with her earnestness and near-complete lack of guile makes her pretty endearing. Though there’s still a giant question mark about her real job, which she continues to carry out. Should Yor get a pass for murdering people, even if they’re pretty shitty people from what’s been suggested? And is she only getting a pass from everyone because she’s hot? These are interesting questions, and I hope the second cour helps us answer at least one of them (but I’m pretty sure part of the answer to the second question is yeah, probably. I’ve seen the fanart, I know.)

And does her little brother Yuri get a pass too? This guy is nuts for all kinds of reasons, but I really like him so far. But I’ll leave him out of this post so you can find out for yourself.

Then there’s Anya, the face of Spy x Family as far as I’ve seen. Anya is the rare case of a child character written in a way that’s not 1) unrealistic or 2) annoying. That’s hard as hell to do. I haven’t even bothered trying it myself, not yet. There are a lot of pitfalls there, and especially with a child character who has a special ability like Anya does. It’s easy to write a kid who’s precocious and extremely irritating for just that reason.

Yet I haven’t seen anyone say that about Anya, and I wouldn’t say it either. Like her parents, she’s just endearing. It helps that despite her telepathic powers, there’s not much special about her. She’s certainly not a genius, and she’s about as uncoordinated as any average kid her age would be. Anya is really just a little kid who likes spy cartoons and wants to mess around and doesn’t care for studying or practicing proper table manners.

That contrasts nicely with the fact that Anya is the one with the most information about all the rest of the characters in the series by far. Loid tries to get her to act in accordance with his mission by telling her to study hard and to get make friends with Desmond’s son Damian, but since she can read his mind, she knows world peace hangs in the balance, so despite not really wanting to study or to be friendly with Damian (at first seemingly a rich little shit, but actually with a bit more to him) she decides to do so anyway. She doesn’t even seem to mind that her mom is an assassin, though Yor’s casual thoughts about blood and death still shock her a little.

Anya is just doing her best, and in a world that up until now has rejected her. She also seems to be the glue holding the family together. She’s still too young to put it in these terms, but it feels appropriate since her new parents are both outcasts and outsiders in their own ways too.

She also realizes along with us where the Loid/Yor relationship is almost certainly headed, nice setup here

The above was probably far too much to write about characters in a comedy, but what the hell — why not. These are excellent characters with a lot more to recommend them than just their designs, which are great too. Credit to manga author and illustrator Tatsuya Endo for all of that, and also to the studios Wit and CloverWorks for putting it all into beautiful-looking and stylish anime form. And credit to Gen Hoshino for the really nice ending theme Comedy, an appropriate title too.

I’ll save the rest for when Spy x Family returns this fall for its second cour. I’m hopeful that it will keep up the consistently high quality we got with this first cour — aside from a couple of unexpectedly goofy episodes like the fifth and the final one it was all amazing, and even those were pretty fun to watch even if they felt a little over-the-top or out of place.

Looking forward to more of Anya’s elite private school life, which isn’t sugarcoated either

And if you haven’t seen Spy x Family at all yet, go and watch it. You don’t have much excuse for skipping this one — I watched it on Crunchyroll, but you can also find it on Netflix and even on Disney+, so if you’re only subscribed to Disney for all your Star Wars and Marvel movie and series needs, try Spy x Family for a change. This feels like one of the rare anime series that might have a lot of appeal outside the usual fanbases. i.e. feel free to recommend this one to your normal friends, something I almost certainly won’t say about the next anime I’ll be having a look at. I have a couple of games I’ll probably be writing about first though. Until then.

 

* Bonus unnecessary explanatory endnote: I was interested to know where “cour” comes from since I’ve never heard it used outside of those anime-watching circles. Apparently it’s been taken as a loanword from the Japanese クール / kuru, which itself is a loanword taken from the French cours meaning course as in a series of classes. That’s the explanation I’ve read most often anyway, and it’s interesting if true, since the word would have changed a lot in meaning in its jump from French to English via Japanese. Really unusual path for an English word to take too, since most of our French-derived words come directly from French, both old Norman (thanks to this asshole) and later varieties.

I don’t know, is any of this shit interesting to you? If it is, go check out the History of English podcast. Sounds dry from the description but it’s both extremely informative and entertaining if you like words, and maybe you do if you read my overlong posts.

One thought on “A review of Spy x Family (first cour)

  1. Pingback: A look forward to next season: “Comedy” from Spy x Family | Everything is bad for you

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