Spy x Family

3 out of 5

Directed by: Kazuhiro Furuhashi

covers season 1

When I first started getting in to anime, the thing I had to get used to – coming at it from an American TV perspective – was the way it will just jump into ideas, without any need for explanation. The TV I was used to might be sci-fi, or fantasy, but those very general genre guidelines acted exactly as that – guidelines – and anything that strayed from that norm would either be presented as a purposeful twist, or explained away. Meanwhile, anime (and manga, as I began to read that as well) can surely be classified into general genres as well, but even with the more voluminous delineations within those genres, it’s still often the case that you’ll get a spattering of random seeming details that are just… accepted. They’re not the point, really, and so you shouldn’t go in expecting / hoping for some hand-held explanation as to why they’re there. And after you embrace this structural concept, it’s freeing: yes, there are tons of generic shows still, but there are also so, so many ideas that are fun from the outset and wouldn’t fly in other formats, let off the leash by not needing a reason for their various oddities.

Spy x Family knows its idea is a good one, and it arrives dressed to the nines with that confidence, sauntering through a Lupin-esque title sequence bravado and proudly displaying its Cloverworks / WIT pedigree, which absolutely delivers on slick character designs and fantastic comedy / action pacing.

…And then it hardly does anything but the bare minimum with its setup. All the bravado still works: it’s an absorbing and entertaining show, but each episode turns out to be stuffed with fairly weak, popcorn-distraction hijinks, and the potential of its concept is mostly unexplored.

We have some fictional warring nations – Westalis and Ostania – and star Westalis spy “Twilight” (Takuya Eguchi) has been tasked with buddying up to a particular Ostania official, to ward off some world-ending plot. Twlight’s Westalis handlers have the way to achieve this: the official’s kid goes to a prestigious school, so just fake up a family with a child, and use the kid to navigate your way to a friendship. Easy peasey.

This alone would be pretty good fodder for a show: due to some acceptably logic-skipping writing, the spies can’t just put agents in place as subs for Twilight’s family, and instead, he must have a seemingly lawful marriage to a real (non-spy) partner, with a (non-spy) child within a few days. He manages to meet the perceived-as-naive Yor (Saori Hayami), who agrees to a rushed faux-marriage as her singledom is essentially impacting her job prospects; and by this point, Twilight has already adopted Anya (Atsumi Tanezaki), whose precociousness Twilight keys on as what will be needed to quickly acclimate at the challenging school. So trying to run this makeshift family while keeping his spy secrets safe? Let the sitcom hilarity ensue.

And now for some anime bits: Yor also happens to be an assassin; Anya also happens to be psychic. You’ve just tripled the potential for hijinx.

But the show rarely uses any of that, except for the most mundane purposes: Yor will whip out some acrobatics and surprise Twilight; Anya will “intuit” something at some fortunate moment, surprising her new parents. So the show mostly functions at the first level proposed: Twilight schemes ways to raise Anya through the ranks at school, and tries to hide his real life from them. The comedy application of the extras is juxtaposing Yor’s “job” skills with her failure at more stereotypical mom stuff, like cooking; that Anya is really maladjusted socially, and stumbles across some last-minute saves with her mind reading; meanwhile Twilight is trying not to fret about all of this, and keeps having to tell his bosses that the plan – ever changing – is still on.

None of this is bad; it’s excessively pleasant. But it’s such a ripe setup for what amounts to very episodic adventures, never pushing the espionage angle into anything very serious – so there are no stakes that sneak up on you; it’s very low key – or venturing far from its initial pitch. And had it stayed with that initial pitch, perhaps expectations would be different. But unfortunately, when you throw an assassin and psychic kid into the ring with superspies, it tends to make one hope for a bit more.