Release the Spyce
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Release the Spyce ?
Release the Spyce takes us back into the hunt for Moryo and the drugs that are flooding into Sorasaki, with Momo and Yuki working to track down clues that link the criminal syndicate to the mysterious company known as Kytuen Science. The girls brave an attack from one of Moryo's most intimidating goons yet, we're one step closer to fully revealing the identity of Tsukikage's traitor, and Momo even learns a lesson about taking some time for herself once in a while. The resulting twenty-four-minute adventure is another perfectly entertaining, well-directed, and mostly well-animated spy romp, though the heavy emphasis on the Moryo stuff this week goes a long way in highlighting that spark of flavor that has ironically been missing from Release the Spyce so far.
I think it's telling that my personal favorite chapter of Release the Spyce was last episode, which mostly ignored the the Moryo shenanigans unless it was using them as a means to the end of a character's emotional journey. When the nitty-gritty of the lore and plot are used as fuel for character-focused storytelling, I think Release the Spyce really sings. When RSP goes all in on its spy-ficton indulgences though, I find myself checking out a little, and not for lack of effort on the show's part. “Phantom Protocol” has all of the mainstays you could want from a spy piece: fancy gadgets, a fight with a muscly henchman that takes place on a train, a conspiracy that seems to reach into every corner of Sorasaki's criminal underworld, and a possible traitor that's luring our heroes deeper into Moryo's clutches. The mysterious woman in charge of Moryo even has a cute bird with its own little villain-scar, which remains an adorable touch.
Unfortunately, while all of these elements should make for a thrilling caper, Release the Spyce just can't seem to imbue them with the energy and suspense that the show reaches for. The ground-level gangsters, Emo and Marco, hardly make for threatening antagonists, and Moryo's brutish assassin Dolte is too easily taken down both times she tries to make a move on our heroines. The train fight between Momo, Yuki, and Dolte is likely the weakest action sequence that RSP has delivered so far, feeling uncharacteristically flat and sluggish for a series that usually has no problem making such scenes feel breezy and fun. There's also little for the team as a whole to do; the girls all make a big show of using Hatsume's invisi-cream to sneak into Kyuten Science, but not much comes of their infiltration, and the too-brief raid on one of Emo's drug operations is little more than an excuse for the other girls to throw Momo a birthday party. That's cute and all, but it's hardly the best use of the narrative's time.
The birthday B-plot is the other main focus of the episode, and even it feels weak in comparison to what's come before. Now that Momo has discovered the world of spies and spice, trained her body and mind to work with the Tsukikage, and overcome her rookie instincts to become a valuable member of the team, Momo's central conflict this episode is that she's not taking time to rest and relax. Sure, RSP makes an effort to tie this into Momo's continuing struggle to feel worthy of Yuki's mentorship, but I think there's something amiss with the story's sense of escalation when our protagonists' issues can be solved with a nap and a birthday cake.
It may sound like I'm down on Release the Spyce this week, but it's only because I still feel the show is capable of more than it's accomplishing right now. It's still a good-looking action series with fun characters and a great soundtrack, but it's also failing to make an impression with its story. The post-credits stinger names Hatsume as the mole selling Tsukikage out to Moryo, and putting aside whether or not this is a red herring, the biggest point of concern is that I had to double-check the show's wiki to remind myself who Hatsume was, because she's had so little to do outside of whipping up gizmos for the other girls to use. Hopefully next week's episode will give Hatsume and other members of the cast some more opportunities to stand out from the pack, and with any luck that more personal connection to the traitor-plot will give Release the Spyce a much-needed kick in the pants.
Release the Spyce is currently streaming on HIDIVE.
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