Anime’s latest talk of the town! Spy x Family has assumed its position upon the top of the medium’s most beloved properties in the last several years. Everywhere I went, particularly on Twitter, it was Spy x Family this, Spy x Family that. At one point, it was within the top 5 highest-rated anime on MyAnimeList (#27 now, as of writing). With all of this hullabaloo, my own curiosity grew too large to ignore, so I took the plunge to see if this family was all that they were hyped up to be.
Before getting into it, I would just like to acknowledge that I actually finished this about twenty days ago. My prior output of articles during the latest Steam Next Fest really squeezed the desire to write out of me, so I took the time to relax and play some games in the meantime. (Side note: Game reviews will come after this.) Though it’s been a little while, I’m confident my memory and feelings on the series’ quality will hold firm.
“World peace is at stake and secret agent Twilight must undergo his most difficult mission yet—pretend to be a family man. Posing as a loving husband and father, he’ll infiltrate an elite school to get close to a high-profile politician. He has the perfect cover, except his wife’s a deadly assassin and neither knows each other’s identity. But someone does, his adopted daughter who’s a telepath!“
Let’s do something a little different today. Given by historically cynical nature—particularly towards series with an extensively quantitative fanbase—I’m going to talk at length on why Spy x Family is worth its popularity.
More than anything, perhaps, is its level of animation. Having just gone through the incredibly lethargic, listless Aharen-san anime adaptation, this series is superior by a substantial margin in terms of visual precision. Particularly in episode five, which may be my favorite episode, the series goes out of its way to embellish the obscenely goofy nature of the plot and ride it towards the palm of exuberant entertainment.
Flashy, spontaneous, level-headed, and oft-times silly, there’s a clear awareness of its own convenience in writing. Wisely using this as a means of comedy and expression allows the show to take its plot for particular episodes in fun directions, even if occasionally at the expense of its wholesome measures (more on that later). The worst series, at least from my experience, are those that try to be serious with nonsensical writing. Here, there’s flexibility in tone, usually ranging between lackadaisical and heartwarming.
Much of the flexibility in tone is showcased through the animation. Without spoiling too much, episode five is, ironic given my preferences, essentially filler. Yet the vivacity of its setting and progression make it such a joy to watch. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the humor works in that it’s ironic and dumb. Also with episode ten, which I didn’t like nearly as much, there’s a great examination of how to make an already dumb premise more enjoyable through visual gags and expressive animation.
On a less praiseworthy note, one of Spy x Family‘s favorite aspects to exploit is its obvious themes of family. Have you ever seen any Pixar film involving two or more characters who initially don’t care for one another too much? Have you seen any piece of media that follows someone within a position in society that requires apathy for efficiency? Smash those together and you get this, though I acknowledge this is something of a gross generalization.
Its insistence on creating an environment of surprise surrounding the main character, Twilight’s, growing empathy towards his “fake” family is kind of forced. Anyone with half a brain cell can piece together just from premise alone that they will eventually become close through familiarity. So seeing this grown adult struggle with thoughts of, “Why am I losing my focus so much when my daughter is getting insulted???” portrays them more like a teenager of a harem instead of, y’know, having any awareness of his own emotional intelligence.
And if the argument against this is, “Well, he was abandoned as a child and nobody loved him so he’s clearly emotionally constipated,” then I would prefer if his character was actually more… dull. Like a robot. Doesn’t sit right if he just acts like a normal, intelligent person.
Though some of the more intimate moments between the family members, specifically involving Anya, the daughter, are occasionally cute. Obvious as it may be, seeing them come to terms with their growing fondness for one another is among the more enjoyable aspects of the plot. Then again, I am partial to pleasant characters interacting more than I am to gripping narratives, usually. These characters—together—offer a lot of substance to the events that unfold.
Now then, let’s talk about… talking! Indeed, like many (many!) Shounen anime, these characters simply monologue or regurgitate basic information and obvious plot set-up far too often. Most taxing in the first three episodes or so, it eventually grows less prominent. Regardless, it’s pretty annoying to be spoon-fed information that is very clear to anyone with eyes about the given situation. Very recap-heavy and expository for absolutely no reason than to pad.
This might be my most controversial opinion, but I don’t like Yor, the mother, as a character. Her importance to the series seems far more superficial than the other two, and her level of development as a character is less crucial. She’s kind of just… there. Nothing for her to do other than to serve as comic relief over how her inner self is so darkly violent. Otherwise, she seems more interesting by virtue of her circumstances… and appearance.
I don’t know, perhaps she should have more time to actually go off on her own and… do something. A lot of what the series shows is her in support of Twilight or Anya (or her brother). She comes off as more one-dimensional than the others, even if she has potential to be more interesting than either of them. (I would hope she’d be more interesting as an individual than an actual child, psychic abilities aside.)
Finally, I’ll briefly mention that the final three episodes were weaker than what came before. The sweet spot came around the mid-point, when things were more focused on all of them getting to know each other’s quirks and training their image. Once it got to Anya as more of a focal point, it started to drift off into vaster territory, providing more opportunity to miss the mark. Ended poorly, though still not necessarily “bad.”
Entertaining, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and has some cute moments along with great animation. If only it wasn’t cursed with incredibly on-the-nose writing that goes overboard with explaining the obvious and putting an uneven spotlight on its characters. Is this the greatest anime ever? No. Is this worth the hype that it has? Also no. Is it a good, perfectly recommendable series nonetheless? Certainly. In all likelihood, you’ll enjoy it more than I did.
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.
For more anime reviews, check out the associated archive.
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Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.