The Fall 2018 Anime Preview Guide
Release the Spyce
How would you rate episode 1 of
Release the Spyce ?
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How was the first episode?
Release the Spyce's closest comparison point for me would be Princess Principal, the steampunk-infused girl spies show from last summer. I slept on that one, and was rightly called a joyless curmudgeon for finding its first episode too absurd to enjoy. A year later, I definitely feel more amenable to embracing the silliness inherent in this genre conceit, and can happily say I enjoyed this episode. Release the Spyce is pretty silly, but it owns that silliness, and offers an altogether sturdy first episode.
Likely the biggest thing currently working in Spyce's favor is its heroine, Momo. Shows about newcomers entering secret supergroups often simply have their heroes stumble into these situations, but Momo's entrance into the vigilante Tsukikage organization feels like a natural result of her strengths and interests. Momo's passion for helping others, fostered by her deceased father, means she's already something of a detective and peacekeeper when this show starts - and when the action happens, Momo isn't there by chance, she's there because her excellent sense of smell and general intuition told her something was up. Momo's persistent agency throughout this episode both solidified the show's drama and gave me a clear starting point for investment, offering some sturdiness in the midst of all the absurdity.
Speaking of absurdity, this episode's mix of self-serious spy drama and persistent dashes of comedy felt like a very natural mix. Release the Spyce is clearly evoking properties like the Mission Impossible franchise, from its high-tech infiltration capers to its synth-heavy sound design. There are moments in this episode that strive and succeed at being genuinely cool, but those moments are counterbalanced by equally strong random gags. I loved the brief saga of the overconfident security captain at the beginning, and was basically sold by the time they introduced a frog “who has received ninja training.” By focusing its dramatic weight on Momo's very human feelings, the show is able to make all of its other variables a love letter to over-the-top spy thrillers.
Couple all that with generally sturdy art design and some fluid animation highlights, and you end up with an all-around solid spy vehicle. If you're in the mood for a character-focused thriller that absolutely doesn't take itself too seriously, give Release the Spyce a shot.
None of the premieres this season have blown me out of the water so far, but a good few have landed solidly in the zone of Fun Anime Comfort Food for me, and Release the Spyce is another title to add to that list. I'm always game for for superhero team-up shows, and “modern-day ninja girls with spice-induced superpowers and cool gadgets” is a goofy premise that I can fully get behind. Combine all of that with a likable cast and some solid direction, and you have a show that is shaping up to be one of the fall season's highlights.
We open with a brisk and entertaining sequence of the Tsukikage girls taking down some bad guys and their robots, which starts Release the Spyce off on the right foot by giving it a fun, Saturday-morning-cartoon vibe as it introduces its various heroines. After that, much of the episode focuses on introducing us to our main character, Momo, the enthusiastic daughter of a deceased police officer who just wants to uphold her father's legacy, though she lacks the conviction to confront the ne'er-do-wells she encounters on a daily basis. She also has the unique abilities of super-smell and the ability to read people's physical and emotional states by licking them, which puts her on Tsukikage's radar. The interluding scenes of Momo getting to know some of the girls better are cute – she has a huge crush on Yuki, she gets along great with Mei and Goemon, and Fu is a perpetually grumpy presence lurking in the distance. Even though these girls are all playing to very recognizable types, they've got the necessary chemistry to get a story like this off the ground, and I expect they'll become more and more fleshed out as the series continues.
The second half of the episode also covers the usual beats with admirable style: Momo acts in a reckless but genuinely brave manner to save her policewoman friend, and the Tsukikage swoop in to save the day. The action here is all well done, and I especially enjoyed the car chase, as it got to show off the girls' Bond-esque super car, while Momo mulled over her future with the ninja girls as Fu held a memory-eraser gun to her head. Yuki also gets more time to shine in a brief but exciting display of her swordsmanship – I know the show is probably going to stick with framing Momo's affection for her as ambiguous infatuation, but I would be more than happy for those two to be an item. They're cute together.
Something else I noticed about Release the Spyce is the abundance of diverse female characters on display; not only does Momo have different girls to interact with in Tsukikage, she also has a variety of professional, personal, and familial role models in the older women she interacts with and looks up to. Even though the show's costumes feel a bit fanservicey, I'm glad to see that attention has been paid to the different relationships Momo is building as she grows into her new life in the Tsukikage. I don't know if Release the Spyce is a masterpiece in hiding or not, yet, but it gives you what it says on the tin: a fun action romp with a cool team of ninja girls kicking butt and being friends. That's perfectly fine in my book.
Considering that Release the Spyce is supposed to be an action series, this premiere sure does spend a lot of time ambling its way through leisurely conversations. Sure, the main characters are a team of ninja girls who fight hardened criminals and killer robots, but apparently that doesn't stop them from taking a huge chunk of screen time to shoot the breeze over some curry. Even this episode's climactic car chase affords them enough time to explain their mission and backstory while dodging missiles. Who knew fighting crime fell into the same category as having tea in a school clubroom?
This apparent lack of urgency is partly due to the episode's uneven pacing. It's something of a start-stop affair, jumping from an opening action sequence to the protagonist's thoroughly ordinary school commute, followed by a handful of equally low-key scenes that eventually give way to a final action sequence. That big gap between the moments of action is so long that any momentum the show builds up in the opening minutes is spent by the time the Tsukikage girls swoop in to save Momo. This episode is also burdened with an abundance of expository dialogue from start to finish, so all that downtime doesn't result in as much character development as it should.
On the upside, the action scenes here are reasonably well-presented. There's a decent amount of variety amongst the girls' fighting styles, and this episode turns in a few moments of impressive animation. More importantly for a story about nocturnal vigilantes, Release the Spyce appears to be the rare anime series that actually bothers to light its nighttime scenes, which means the audience can actually see what the heck is going on. Momo also gives the series a bit of heart in her role as the main character and newest Tsukikage recruit. She strikes a nice balance between heroic intentions and believable hesitation, with just enough initiative to make her own decisions.
If Release the Spyce can dial back the info-dumps over the next week or two, it should be in much better shape. That should hopefully make the action scenes more engaging and add some more personality to the ordinary school life stuff. The optimist in me sees the potential for this series to evolve into an entertaining action title along the lines of Princess Principal, though the modern ninja aesthetic lacks some of that show's unique visual charm. Above all else, I want it to succeed so I can spend this whole season making lame spice puns.
I'm probably dating myself here by making this comparison, but as I watched the first episode of this series and the way the girls powered up by eating little treats, I couldn't help but think of the old American cartoon Underdog. That series was censored in later airings because of the inadvertent drug connotations of Underdog's Super Energy pill, and it's hard not to read those into this series too; after all, the mind-altering power-up agent is even called Spyce. Given the drug experiments shown in the epilogue, I'm going to assume that the power-up agents that Tsukikage is using are somehow connected to those. But will this series ever show negative consequences to these power-ups? Given the lighter attitude of the series so far, I doubt it.
Beyond that, this is basically just an excuse for teen girls to dress like mini-skirted ninjas in a secret vigilante squad. (And while there's not exactly fan service, the camera isn't shy around the girls' costumes, either.) The concept has its own appeal, and the first episode has just enough action to keep things lively, with a variety of cute and muscular girls to hold the audience's attention. The plot so far is a fairly standard “recruit the newcomer” scenario, although the suggestion that one of the Tsukikage team might be a double agent offers possibilities for later on.
What actually makes the first episode at least engaging is Momo. Her reluctant desire to be an agent for keeping the peace is pretty typical, but her very unusual talents stand out; she has heightened vision, sense of smell, and taste. She can accurately tell a lot about a person's emotional state just by licking them, which of course provides a reason for cute scenes where she licks or kisses other girls, and I have to think this is going to be a major element of the series going forward. She also has an endearing personality, whereas most of the others beyond Jealous Girl are blandly nice.
The technical merits by studio lay-duce are pretty decent, with more involved fight animation than usual and relatively smooth motion. Overall, the series offers enough to be worth checking out, though whether or not it's a keeper remains to be seen.
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