Release the Spyce
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Release the Spyce ?
A Yuki backstory episode has been a long-time coming for Release the Spyce – after all, you don't give badass facial scars to one of your heroes in a ninja-spy series without taking some time to tell us how she got them. “Destiny Group” finally lets us in on just how Momo's mentor managed to become the stoic leader she is today. This story unsurprisingly involves a mission gone wrong and a fateful encounter with Tendo, the current face of Moryo's plots against Sorasaki City.
In keeping with Release the Spyce's grand tradition of overwhelming romantic tension, we begin the episode with Momo finally getting her long-awaited
hot date mentor-apprentice bonding time with Yuki; things have been awkward between them since Yuki lost her cool and slapped Momo last week, but she thankfully admits that she was in the wrong, so the pair are able to enjoy a night out together. However, Yuki admits that she hasn't come entirely without pretext; her scare over Momo's fight with the snake man in Okinawa has put her in a sharing mood, so she proceeds to explain the story of her own relationship with her mentor Nagaho, and how her experiences have made her unwilling to ever lose a loved one again.
Yuki comes from a long line of martial artists, and she'd always known that her skills had to be put to good use someday. When Nagaho and the Tsukikage arrived to recruit her, it only took one demonstration of Nagaho's superior fighting skills to convince Yuki to sign up as Nagaho's apprentice, and their partnership produced fantastic results. While nowhere near as cool and detached as she is now, the younger Yuki was still a serious-minded and laconic sort, who was consistently shocked at how her master could be such a slovenly layabout off the field, yet a master of tactics and combat whenever a mission called for it. Yuki learned the same lessons that Momo and the others have, and her work with Nagaho was largely successful, though everything changed when it came time to destroy a tower being operated by Moryo off the coast of the city, the ruins of which Yuki and Momo can still see in the present day.
Technically speaking, the mission was a success. The others were able to subdue the Moryo stooges and their robots, and Nagaho was even able to use her perfume and a well-timed sword strike to take down the burly Russian agent who was running Moryo's operations at the tower – a fun little encounter, even if old Aleksei is a generic brawler straight out of Anime Villain Central Casting. The next fight brings an oni-masked Tendo into the picture, and this is a much less fun time for Yuki and Nagaho. Tendo actually knows how to use the drugs Moryo has given her, so she proves an equal match for our heroines. Yuki means well when she charges in to take on Tendo, but she's too inexperienced, and Nagaho has to put herself between Yuki and Tendo's blade as a result. Yuki is forced to watch as her mentor takes a fatal blow and triggers a personal explosive to try and take Tendo out with her. In the present day, a recommitted Momo understands her mentor's pain, and the two work to track down the mysterious figure that's been caught on cameras all across Sorasaki, who bears a striking resemblance to the woman who cut Nagaho down.
It's a well-executed episode overall; the music and visuals are in fine form, and Nagaho is well-written and likable enough to justify how Yuki could be so broken up over her death. My main issue with this story is the same shortcoming that's dogged even the best of Release the Spyce's episodes, which is that there just isn't anything especially surprising or creative going on. These are well-executed tropes, which means they're still perfectly entertaining, but surprising twists and subversions are what make spy thrillers so much fun, and almost every major plot point that Release the Spyce has hit feels more perfunctory than anything. Even if Tendo turns out to be a red herring and Nagaho was revealed to somehow be alive and an agent of Moryo, such a turn would feel like just another familiar pearl in the series' string of fun but shallow allusions to more famous spy stories.
In many ways, Release the Spyce feels like a narrative chimera. Anything to do with Momo, Yuki, and Moryo has been generally pleasant but not exceptionally riveting; the side stories involving the other girls have been much more compelling to me. It's as if that main plot could have filled out a decent feature-length movie, but instead it was stretched to fill out the majority of an anime season. The series' best stories in episodes 4 and 7 were all extraneous narratives that flesh out the characters and world, but they haven't been critical to the central plot at hand. I like Momo and Yuki just fine, and even the Moryo stuff is getting better, but it's telling that the show's best episodes had little to do with any of that. The potential for an excellent anime is present, but Release the Spyce has to reach higher in this final arc to wrap all of those bits and bobs together into a more satisfying whole.
Release the Spyce is currently streaming on HIDIVE.
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