Release the Spyce
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Release the Spyce ?
This week, Release the Spyce pushes Momo and Yuki's story to the side to focus on Fu and Mei's relationship. Even the villain of the week and the drug-trade subplot that comes with him are essentially afterthoughts, as they're only included to give the episode an opportunity to showcase the different stages of conflict and reconciliation that Fu and Mei go through. Most interestingly, this episode makes it incredibly easy to read Fu and Mei's relationship as explicitly romantic.
In fact, the term “subtext” might be too ambiguous for what “Never Say Never Together” presents us – from the dreamy montages, the familiar romantic narrative beats, and the emotive soundtrack, every single aspect of this episode's writing and direction frame Fu and Mei's story as a love story. In the opening scenes, we see a financially strained Momo encounter Mei busking with her guitar, and she's quickly entranced by Mei's singing. Later, when Momo and Goe stop by Mei's place for some bonding time, we discover that the mentor and the apprentice have been living together for some time; they share plenty of laughs in between their constant bickering over chores and spending, and the others remark that the pair seem just like an old married couple. (This will get brought up multiple times throughout the rest of the episode, in case the show was being too subtle the first time around.)
However, the bickering has bled into the spies' field work, which becomes more and more of an issue. Fu's frustrations go beyond simple disputes over chores; she feels like Mei is constantly pushing her into a supporting role and treating her like she's useless. While Fu does perfectly fine in scoping out the expanded drug trade that's taking over Sorasaki's streets, she gets cocky when she and Mei need to face down a band of thugs head on, and Mei is nearly killed when she has to toss Fu out of the line of fire. At first, it might seem like Fu's inferiority complex comes from her impoverished upbringing and a sense of debt she feels to the Tsukikage for lending her assistance. However, when Fu decides she needs to stay with her own family for a few days after she and Mei have a falling-out, it becomes cleat that this is a much more personal struggle. Fu doesn't just want Mei to recognize her value, she wants Mei to recognize that she can offer as much support and protection as she has received.
This is where the episode goes all in on its romantic themes, expressing Mei's regret in a song that was unfortunately not translated as of this episode's initial airing, though its emotional meaning couldn't be any clearer. The two girls are clearly lost when they don't have one another, with the both of them gazing at the full moon in a nod to one of Japan's most famous metaphors for romantic longing. It's revealed that the precious guitar pick that Mei uses to sing her songs was a gift from Fu, and it's incredibly sweet when the two finally reunite to make their amends and take down the masochistic villain-of-the-week drug dealer. It's a strong action sequence in its own right, but it also serves as a solid indicator of how well the episode has characterized these two girls, both as a team and individuals.
I highly doubt that Release the Spyce is ever going to be as explicit as I would like about the exact nature of Fu and Mei's bond, but when the episode ends on this image, there isn't much left that needs explaining. Release the Spyce functions perfectly well as an action-adventure spy procedural, but in this episode at least, it has proven its ability to develop compelling relationships between its cast as well. While I still have reservations about how safe the show's approach to genre and plotting continues to be, “Never Say Never Together” is an excellent standalone narrative about two people who are stronger together than they are on their own. Not every story that Release the Spyce tells needs to be a love story, but I sure am happy that we got this one.
Release the Spyce is currently streaming on HIDIVE.
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