The Spring 2022 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Community score: 4.7
What is this?
Agent Twilight, the greatest spy for the nation of Westalis, has to infiltrate an elite private school. In order to do so he assumes the identity of psychiatrist Loid Forger, adopts an orphan girl, and marries a city hall employee. Unknown to him, his daughter Anya is a telepath and his wife Yor is an assassin. The three learn to become a family while working to complete Twilight's missions and maintain world peace. (from manga)
How was the first episode?
As this season's Jump+ entry, SPY x FAMILY is easily the most anticipated series out of the three dozen or so series that have premiered over the last couple of weeks. And for once, I'm right here along with everyone else who was anticipating the heck out of it. That's because unlike most of the magazine's series that get turned into anime megahits, SPY x FAMILY's focus isn't primarily on fanservice, but on some of the most consistently funny, wholesome comedy in manga today.
I'm aware that as an American adult woman, I am well outside of SPY x FAMILY's target demographic, so please understand that I'm being tongue-in-cheek when I say this but: this series was made for me. Loid Forger is stunningly attractive both dressed up and dressed down, and doing his best to be a dad to Anya, who is melting his heart despite his attempts at retaining cold professionalism. Anya's psychic powers may get her out of scrapes and let her look smarter than she really is, but that doesn't make her overly precocious or sassy. When it comes to things other than giving correct answers, it's an accurate representation of how young children try to piece together meaning out of what they overhear from adults based on their limited understanding of the world. The two play off each other beautifully, and their relationship quickly becomes heartwarming as it becomes clear that Loid needs Anya not just as a spy on a mission, but as a person who is starved for human connection.
(Oh, and Yor isn't here yet but she's hot too and that's why SPY x FAMILY is bisexual culture.)
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to review comedy in a way that isn't just reciting the best jokes while I chuckle to myself, which is terribly unfunny to read so I'll spare you that pain and just encourage you to give it a shot, even if you're already familiar with the manga. I've always liked Kazuhiro Furuhashi as a director – I'm one of those weirdos who prefers the looser 1999 adaptation of Hunter x Hunter, which Furuhashi helmed, to 2011's shot-for-shot remake of the manga – and here he serves the source material well, with a consistent sense of comic timing to perfectly deliver each joke.
If you only watch one anime this season… pick the series that sounds most interesting to you, because taste is subjective and we all have our own preferences. But if you're stymied by the selection, SPY x FAMILY is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser and a solid choice for almost everyone.
Hot damn! That is how you handle an adaptation. I am woefully behind on the manga version of SPY x FAMILY, but when I read that first chapter a while back, it made a huge impression, compelling and entertaining as it was. An anime was practically inevitable, and hype for the series only grew when it was confirmed that Wit Studio would be handling the production (alongside CloverWorks, who admittedly have a spottier track record as of late). I don't think anyone was ever expecting this show to be anything less than very good, but I have good news for any of the doubters left out there: SPY x FAMILY isn't just “very good”, it's fan-freakin'-tastic.
The key to SPY x FAMILY's success is the strength of its foundations. A comedy-thriller about a stone-cold spy becoming the father figure of an impossibly cute child (who also happens to be a telepath) is just a kickass concept, no matter the medium, and author Tatsuya Endō takes advantage of every hilarious and heartwarming ounce of potential that he can squeeze from it. Twilight/“Loid” is a great protagonist for this story, because his complete detachment from his own emotions makes perfect sense given his dangerous occupation, but it also allows for some damned funny shenanigans to ensue once he gets roped into the absurdity of “Operation Strix”.
The breakout star of the show, though, is clearly going to be Anya, who is so utterly precious and delightful that SPY x FAMILY ought to be arrested for conspiracy to drive its tens of thousands of viewers into sweetness-induced comas. Other anime need to take note: This is how you write a smart and intelligent kid that still sounds and behaves like a reasonable approximation of a real human child. My favorite scenes of this premiere all came from Anya just being a little goofball despite her powers and her smarts, like when she inadvertently summons a hit squad to her new villa when she messes around with Twilight's spy gear.
Speaking of the hit squad, another thing that SPY x FAMILY has going for it are it's gorgeous production values. Wit and CloverWorks are clearly going for broke here, because some of the kickass action scenes that we get between Twilight and the bad guys are straight-up cinematic in their framing and fluidity. SPY x FAMILY is a comedy first, but it doesn't forget that a spy story damn well better have some thrills in it, if only because it makes the jokes and the drama that follow hit that much harder.
Ultimately, though, what won me over to SPY x FAMILY is its heart. This show is just so cute, you guys, and I can't handle it. When Twilight picked up Anya and told her how well she did after the entrance exams, and you see her beam with pride and love…I cried like a baby, okay? I'm an easy mark for stories like this already, and SPY x FAMILY makes it impossible to resist when it does everything it sets out to do so damned well. This show is adorable, funny, and cool as hell, and it shot straight to the top of my Must Watch List of the season, just like I knew it would.
To call this show the most anticipated title of the season would be a bit of an understatement. The original manga is about as close as you can get to an instant mega-hit, having already broken 15 million copies in circulation before its anime has even aired. With the impossibly polished trailers and visuals released ahead of this premiere, you had a perfect recipe for hype. Thankfully, all that buildup was worth it, as SPY x FAMILY is easily the sharpest, slickest premiere of the season, and quite possibly the whole year.
Just pardon me for a moment while I gush about how good this show looks. The character designs do a beautiful job bringing the simple and expressive nature of Tatsuya Endō's art to life, while also looking perfect in motion. The storyboarding and direction are in a class of their own compared to anything else that's aired this season, channeling the thrill of a classic spy movie without ever feeling gimmicky. And the amount of expressive character animation, be it in action scenes or simple comedy bits, brings the cast to life wonderfully. Through the visuals alone, this is about as close to a dream adaptation as you can get. That's no easy task considering how wide a net the show casts in both tone and plot, bouncing between cute-as-hell family comedy and life-or-death action setpieces. But this episode manages to portray both with equal energy and impact.
Of course, looking good wouldn't salvage things if the story and characters weren't engaging, and that's where this series really shines. Twilight (now “Loid Forger”) is a perfect conduit for the mix of silly and serious spy shenanigans shown in this setting, acting the stone-faced straight man to his ludicrous mission while nonetheless taking it 1000% seriously. It makes Anya his perfect foil as she breaks through his stoic exterior, both with her telepathy and sheer dumbassery, and every moment we see them interact is hilarious, right up until things suddenly get emotional. This could very well have gotten by on just being a comedy about a spy dad failing to keep secrets from his adoptive daughter and letting hijinks ensue, but by the end of this episode you feel a genuine connection between Loid and his new daughter, even if he wouldn't admit it himself. That's the crack in his façade that really matters, and it gives a slick and confident premiere that little extra heart it needs to be outstanding.
Though that particular dichotomy is perhaps the biggest place where this premiere might lose folks. SPY x FAMILY operates in a very precarious space between a goofy comedy of coincidences and a serious spy thriller, where the result is a world that mostly runs on cartoon logic. But that balance is hard to nail down, and the introduction struggles with it the most, trying to pull genuine emotion out of a Master of Disguise-style spy and a girl who randomly has mind-reading powers. Ultimately the resolution of this episode is sweet and earnest enough to make that work, but I wouldn't blame anybody for scratching their head when the narration nonchalantly explains that Anya has superpowers. That's just how this world works, and you've got to be on board for that to get to the good stuff.
If, however, you can roll with this wacky take on the Cold War, this is a fantastic time that promises to be one of the highlights of the season. And if you're like me and already a devotee of the manga, then you can rest assured that this adaptation is in great hands so far.
Anya is a fantastic little character, isn't she? She is the heart and soul of this anime and it wouldn't work even half as well without her. The duality of her character is perfect. On one hand, she is very young—likely younger than the 6-year-old she claims to be. On the other, she is psychic and can read people's minds. The way these two halves collide is the core of both the drama and comedy of the series. Just because she can see what a person is thinking doesn't mean she is any smarter than any other girl her age. She thinks spies are like what she sees on TV and can't imagine the real danger that her new life now harbors.
Yet, despite all this, there is a legitimate connection between her and Twilight. At first, the spy has trouble connecting with the girl, simply planning to use her as cover for this latest operation and then discard her. But when he realizes that he was her as a child, abandoned and alone with no one to rely on, he knows that he can't simply abandon Anya—no matter if that is the tactically correct choice. After all, everything he's doing as a spy is to stop what happened to him from happening to others. It's great character growth, pure and simple.
But what would the characters be without a world to inhabit? Spy×Family is set in a fascinating fictional reimagining of Germany during the Cold War when the country was split in two. The technology, likewise, seems to be equivalent to that of the 60s and 70s—so we have TV and ham radios but not cell phones or laptop computers. In other words, we have a world from before the internet where the spy game was at its most personal. The aesthetic is fantastic and makes for a visually interesting world.
All in all, this is a solid premiere episode. It's got great characters and solid worldbuilding. And I am more than a little excited to see what happens when “mom” enters into the strange new family next week.
I've said in basically all of my reviews of the manga SPY x FAMILY is based on that Anya is the beating heart of the series, and I'm pleased to report that the same holds true of the anime adaptation. That was by no means a certainty – as we've seen in other shows, getting little kids right is no easy feat, and Anya could easily have come off as twee or artificial. And yes, she does have a few “what adults think kids are like” moments, but that doesn't take away from the way that she wriggles her way into Twilight's life and makes a place for her there. It's like a dad anime with a dose of Cold War spy caper thrown in for good measure.
Of course, it's technically the other way around. Twilight, our protagonist, is a spy tasked with maintaining peace between East and West Totally-Not-Germany during the mid-twentieth century. (Despite a couple of clear shots of the number “89,” it looks more like we're in the 60s than the 80s based on technology and vehicles, to say nothing of Twilight's flashback to what appears to be WWII.) His latest mission is the most dangerous and difficult yet: in order to get to his target, he needs a family. At first it looks like just a kid he can get enrolled in the target's prestigious school is enough, but by the end of the episode, it turns out that a wife will be necessary as well. Since he's clearly learning this “meaningful human interaction” thing from the ground up, this is very likely to be his toughest challenge yet.
Does that make it a good thing or a bad thing that the kid he picks out at the world's shadiest orphanage is a psychic? The jury's still out on that one when it comes to the mission, but in terms of the story, it's definitely a good thing. Anya, who is absolutely not quite six years old as she claims, is desperate for a family, and since her favorite cartoon involves spies, she's thrilled to have a new dad who is one – not that he knows that she knows. But it's also a source of insecurity for the little girl, because she can hear every single thought that goes through “Loid Forger's” head, and that plus her abandonment issues makes her a very insecure child desperately craving security. The episode doesn't shy away from that pathos, although it also doesn't dwell on it; quiet scenes like Anya snuggling under a sleeping Twilight's arm give us reassurance even as Twilight's struggle with parenthood and Anya's powers are played for laughs. It's a tough balance to strike, but the episode largely pulls it off.
There are also plenty of very good details in the backgrounds and props of the story, which give this the feeling of a grounded, fully realized world. They can be a bit on the nose, of course – one newspaper clearly shows the words “cold war” just in case you didn't get when the setting is – but mostly they just work to enhance the reality of the setting. Animation is fluid when it needs to be, such as the fight scene in Twilight's apartment, and if Anya's pink hair stands out in the otherwise realistic color scheme, that's very likely on purpose. As a fan of the source material, I'm very happy with this adaptation, and even if you haven't read the manga, this is absolutely worth checking out – especially if you're a fan of found family stories.
discuss this in the forum (308 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history