Release the Spyce
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 3 of
Release the Spyce ?
Momo may have passed the training exam, but her real test as a member of the Tsukikage begins this week with her first missions as a full-fledged member of the team, which go about as well as you'd expect. In keeping with the traditional narrative path it's followed thus far, Release the Spyce's third episode chronicles Momo's struggle with adapting to the pressures of trying to make her mentor Yuki proud – naturally, she eventually learns the value of performing her role on the team to the best of her ability, which is a tried and true theme for a story like this at this stage.
What's most surprising about this episode is how gritty and mundane the crimes the Tsukikage tackle are. I expected that we would dive into more of the stylized action that the first episode showcased, especially given that this episode is named “Moryo”, after the capital-E-Evil organization that serves as the SPECTRE to the Tsukikage's collective James Bond (one of the girls even dishes out a direct reference to Agent 007's most famous catchphrase). While that climactic action sequence does eventually arrive, first Momo has to play the damsel in distress to help the gang bust a chef who's been dosing his customer's meals with illegal drugs supplied by Moryo. After that, the Tsukikage essentially run a bust to catch the chef's dealer at the horse track, and later Yuki and Momo have to go undercover to investigate a brothel that has been implicated both in the drug trade and sex trafficking.
The material is a little heavy, and I'm not sure if Release the Spyce fully nails the shift in tone demanded by this brief dalliance into more grounded criminal enterprises. For the first half of the episode, this show might as well have been called Ninjas & Spies: SVU, which isn't at all what I was expecting. I understand why the episode focused so much on these kinds of smaller cases though; Momo's failures as a novice agent are much easier to showcase in circumstances that rely less on action and spectacle. She's eager, but naïve; she wants a flashier role on the team, but she can't man a post or collect evidence without letting a suspect nearly run free or, worse yet, risk the safety of her other teammates. This naturally leads to Momo falling into a brief cloud of self-doubt, which Goe and Fu need to help her out of by giving a good old fashioned pep talk and empathizing with her struggles. By the end of the episode, Momo truly is ready to do her part to take on Moryo, and this character growth leads us to the showdown against the fierce young fighter Byakko, which provides all of the satisfying swordplay and ninja-skills we'd been anticipating.
If anything, it's all a little too neat and clean for my taste. Release the Spyce's most critical shortcoming so far is how safe and predictable it plays its narrative beats and character tropes. Momo's growth into being a genuine spy and defender of the people has been entertaining enough, and the other girls are all perfectly enjoyable in their own right, but the lack of surprise or suspense has left Release the Spyce feeling somewhat hollow in these early stages. There are no surprises to catch us off guard, nor have there been any stylistic flourishes that allow the series to make a truly unique mark on the season. Ryouhei Sataka's groovy score is maybe the one exception, but even it feels under-served by the often subdued mix of the soundtrack, with the best cuts of music usually being buried beneath ambient noise and dialogue. While the show's visuals remain appealing, and the straightforward writing and direction keep things moving at a brisk pace, I hope that future episodes provide a little more to chew on, emotionally and thematically speaking.
There's enough to like about Release the Spyce's third episode to stick with the series for now, at least. Fu and Momo's fight against Byakko is the highlight of the week, and I liked how Yuki's affection and pride for her pupil is allowed to be relatively understated; it feels more appropriate for her character. I'm also digging how the show allows itself to indulge in even the goofier spy-fiction tropes, such as Moryo's use of a memory erasing gelatin pack that only works when the person who ate it experiences fear; in this case, that means all of Byakko's memories are kaput when the Tsukikage interrogate her by dangling her above their inexplicable pit of lava. It's a wonderfully goofy moment, and I hope that Release the Spyce will commit more and more to its campy instincts as the Moryo plot gains traction and Momo becomes more comfortable in her new role as a protector of the city.
Release the Spyce is currently streaming on HIDIVE.
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