Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The master spy known only as Twilight has never failed a mission. His actions have helped to keep the people safe from the shadows, and there is no task he hasn't been willing to take on…until now. The superspy's latest mission involves getting close to a politician who only socializes with the other parents at his child's elite academy, so that means that Twilight needs to acquire a wife and child as soon as possible in order to get near his target. He's got his doubts, but sets out nevertheless – and somehow manages to end up with a wife who's secretly a master assassin and a daughter who's telepathic! Is this destined to be the first mission Twilight can't carry out?
SPY x FAMILY has gotten a lot of praise in its native Japan, and there's a good reason for it – it's a delightful combination of spy caper and family comedy with just the right amount of zaniness thrown in for good measure. Taking place in what appears to be a fictionalized version of East and West Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall (a newspaper headline looks like it says something about it being the 80s), the series' first volume not only does a good job of establishing its world, but also of introducing and beginning to develop its characters, making it feel much more solid than many an introductory book.
One of the most impressive places we see this solidity is in the world building. Creator Tatsuya Endō never actually says that it's intended to be a pseudo Germany in the latter half of the twentieth century, but that's something that comes across via the details he provides. The aforementioned newspaper headline, which also contains article titles that support the theory of where and when this is taking place, isn't thrown at us; rather it just happens to be what Twilight is reading, affording us a look at it. That the countries that he's working for/against have the words “ost” and “west” in them (“ost” being German for “east”) is another good clue, and then, just in case we're not getting it, the story takes place in the city of “Berlint.” While this last is anything but subtle, it still very nicely sets the scene, and in all fairness comes last in the list of scene-setting devices Endo plants. The time period is well set by similar means; we never see a cell phone or a computer, personnel files are kept in a filing cabinet, and the only major piece of technology we see is the television Anya watches. That the orphanage Anya comes from looks suspiciously like one featured in Naoki Urasawa's Monster is both a nice homage to more serious titles and another good indicator of the where and when of the story's setting.
With all of these details, it's almost more entertaining that large parts of the book's humor are reliant upon characters not knowing basic information about the people they're interacting with. For Twilight, this of course doubles as humor about his line of work; as a spy, he prides himself on knowing everything about his targets and those he's working with at any given moment. In this case, however, he's woefully unaware that the woman he's chosen to be his (temporary) wife, Yor, is actually a highly successful assassin, instead attributing the fact that he didn't notice her walking up to him to being distracted by his newly minted status as a father. But while he might be expected to figure Yor out (and vice versa; she is a skilled assassin, after all, and would have honed a few of the same skills he has), he has exactly no way of knowing that his (temporary) daughter Anya is actually psychic. In another great nod to other works in the genre (and to Monster again; that definitely feels like one of Endo's inspirations for SPY x FAMILY), Anya acquired her powers thanks to unscrupulous scientists who experimented on her and who presumably destroyed the records when she escaped. Since she showed up in the system without anything but her name and she's not inclined to share the fact that she has powers, that means that no one knows what she can do – Twilight and Yor included.
This leads to some very funny sequences with Anya reading her new parents' minds and basically being the only person in the entire book who knows everything that's going on. While sometimes that slips out (she is only somewhere between four and six, after all, despite her insistence on being six years old in order to get out of the orphanage), when it does Twilight attributes it to her favorite cartoon being a spy show or to Anya being precocious. For her part, Anya has zero intent of giving up her cozy new life with her fun and cool new parents, and she's smart enough to use her powers to do exactly what they want and expect. But she's also cute and sweet enough that this doesn't make her come across as either a brat or a character who escaped from Hinamatsuri; in many ways she feels like an authentic little kid just out of toddlerhood, and that natural sweetness does a number on Twilight.
Twilight's, and to an extent Yor's, emotional ignorance is in some ways the backbone of the family portion of the story. Because Twilight has spent so long telling himself that love is a liability, he's taken completely by surprise when he finds himself feeling paternal love for Anya, and that causes him to act in unpredictable ways. It also helps to endear him to other characters, especially the most influential interviewing at Eden Academy, where he needs Anya to go to school for the sake of his mission. But mostly it makes him a stranger to himself, and the fact that he's starting to value Anya as something beyond an asset is a good balance to the humor and spy caper antics.
SPY x FAMILY is off to an excellent start. It blends story elements well, subtly builds a world that helps enhance the humor and caper aspects, and is just an all-around well done book. Hopefully the creator can keep it up, because this is looking like a genuine winner.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Funny, exciting, and a little bit heartwarming. Great world building, good pacing for the most part.
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