Review: Spy X Family (Part 1)

The three main characters of Spy X Family dancing in their living room (ED1)

As I recently (rather, not so recently) posted, I’ve gotten back into anime! After poking the nearly-dead corpse of VRV and then turning to Crunchyroll to thrust myself back into this medium, I knew immediately what show I needed to watch first: Spy X Family.

Every now and then, there’s a big show that rises above the quarterly tumble of seasonal shows, and Spy X Family is one of the latest ones to do so. Anyone around me (in person or online) who was still talking anime, this was one of the biggest points of discussion. So… it’s time to jump on that bandwagon!

An Introduction

Spy X Family has a pretty basic concept: we follow the life of a spy man who’s introduced to us by his secret spy name: Twilight. Twilight is cunning, smooth-talking, and efficient – overall very good at his job at being a spy. So good that the country he’s working for – Westalis – has tasked him with the highest priority and hardest job yet: to start a family.

More specifically, he needs to get in and cozy with a certain Ostanian politician named Donovan Desmond, and Westalis determined the best way to do that is to have a spy shove together a fake family and use their fake child to get into the same academy that Donovan’s son is currently attending. Son and fake child become friends, and thus Twilight and Donovan become friends, and then Twilight can feed all of Donovan’s thoughts back to Westalis. Totally the most direct, un-convoluted path to that end goal.

So that’s what happens. Twilight doesn’t seem a good name for an affable middle-class father, so instead he takes the name of Loid Forger (which I’ll use from this point on). And of course, if there’s a father, there has to be a child… this random kid from the orphanage named Anya will do, I suppose. Father… child… what else… oh! A mother! Luckily a woman named Yor Briar pretty much lands right in Loid’s lap. Alright, family put together, step 1 done!

Turns out, no one is this family is just some normal person though. Obviously we all know that Loid is secretly super spy “Twilight”, but soon we see Anya is an esper – a mind reader. And Yor too, she’s actually secretly a super deadly assassin. So the real question here is, are these three able to keep together the appearance of a loving family while also avoiding revealing their secret identities to the world (or each other)? Well, the rest of this show is answering that very question!

This takes place in what’s essentially Cold War-era Europe – I’m thinking around 1970s. Westalis and Ostania are thinly veiled imitations of West and East Germany, and I mean thinly veiled. The city this takes place in is called Berlint, for goodness’s sake.

The Plot and Characters

When I heard that this show was becoming popular for the spring 2022 anime season, and I heard the basic synopsis… I was a little underwhelmed. This sounded like a permutation on an existing trope, something akin to Nisekoi or How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days… One or both characters enter a relationship under false pretenses, end up falling for each other, and then drama begins when they have to choose between the relationship or those original “false pretense” goals. I figured this was going to go down the same path, and surprisingly, it kinda did but also mostly didn’t.

Let’s take a step back though. Throughout the whole series, Operation Strix (the name given to Loid’s totally not-convoluted spy mission) forms the backbone of this show’s plot – which isn’t that surprising, given the premise of the whole show is seeing Loid pull off all parts of Operation Strix as excellently as a professional spy usually does. Pretty much every episode does tie back to it in some way, even the later episodes after he’s already put together his “family”. Once the family is established, the operation and the plot moves forward to getting the kid Anya into the academy and going from there, but I’ll circle back around to all of that later. I’ve seen a number of slice of life shows which start off with such a serious premise but uses that to simply establish a status quo that later episodes can draw from for random daily adventures; Ouran High School Host Club comes to mind. Here, however, there’s an actual advancing plot from episode to episode, with the goals of Operation Strix being the major driver that doesn’t get cast aside for random adventures (usually).

A big part of this is Loid himself. I said Operation Strix is a major driver, but really, Loid is the one in the driver’s seat. His spy training and personality causes him to try to plan out every single move ahead of him, and it can lead to him dominating a lot of conversations and what other characters do. There’s a lot of “okay, you’re going to do this, and this will be happening, and then you’re going to have to do this because of that”; even when he doesn’t actually say it out loud, he’s still thinking it and then he ensures things play out in just that way. While it certainly can be fun to see a plan come together (or see Loid and the cast make adjustments as new problems arise), it also comes across as a bit suffocating and limiting too. No one’s allowed to stray too far from “the objective”.

Of course, this does keep the anime focused. Sometimes, you do need that “driving force” or otherwise a show can become aimless and lose what originally drew people to it in the first place (or you end up with tonal whiplash with one episode being a fun, relaxing beach episode and the next one being like “oh yeah, the whole planet is at risk”). But I guess I wish there was a bit more of a middle ground here, where sometimes Loid would loosen up a bit. Episode 5 is a great example of that, and I wish there was juuuuuuust a bit more.

Unfortunately, Loid doesn’t really have much of a personality beyond this goal-oriented thing though. He comes across to others as a mild-mannered, positive and relatively charismatic guy, but we the audience know this is him keeping up a ruse. Is this his actual personality though, or is there more to him that we don’t know? We only rarely get glimpses into what he’s thinking, other than “Strix Strix Strix Strix Strix”. (Although, there is some fun to see him having to juggle and mode switch between being a serious spy and a mild family guy, without letting anyone be the wiser.)

On the other hand, we have Yor, who makes for an excellent character and a joy to watch, but her real job as an assassin is brushed aside pretty quickly in comparison to Loid’s spy profession. Yor is gentle and caring, and while she’s clearly still learning about what it means to be a mother and a wife, she’s putting her all into it. We rarely actually see her acting as an assassin, and never at all after episode 5 (and even in that episode, that was an imagined scenario); the only reminders we really ever get about her actual profession are her showing off her impressive hand-to-hand combat skills or Anya overhearing (overreading? overthinking?) Yor’s thoughts about how bloody or deadly her job is; if we didn’t actually know Yor was an assassin, one could excuse her thoughts as simply Yor having a quirkily morbid, macabre inner dialogue. I would’ve enjoyed seeing more of Yor in her element, as I think it’d make a fun juxtaposition to her kinder appearance, but I’m not going to complain about what we got. Seeing Yor trying her best each day is a pleasure all in itself.

Actually, now that I think about it, of the main 3, Yor is the one who doesn’t really have a goal here. In regards to Operation Strix, as long as she exists as part of the “family”, that’s kind of all Loid needs out of her (and her having a husband of any sort is kind of all she needs for her own goals). Anya has goals she needs to accomplish in the academy, and Loid needs to make sure his whole plan doesn’t go belly up. As of these 12 episodes, Yor’s accomplished the goals she’s had. I suppose the development she has now is working on becoming a better wife and mother, but that seems supplementary to her character and goals, not a core part of it. But while anyone technically could’ve filled the role of “wife”/”mother” here, I’m glad the one we got is Yor as she is a joy to have on screen.

Lastly in this little family here, we have young Anya. Being a little kid, it’s fun to just watch her doing little kid things (similar to Kanna from Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid), with a wonky, childish train of thought, and her applying advice given to her in an inappropriate but amusing way. The show is definitely aware of how enjoyable she is to watch, given how much screen time is devoted to her (and also the focus on her in the opening and ending credit animations), but she is also a plot-critical character.

After getting into the academy, Anya has to acquire 7 golden Stella Stars (awarded for impressively good deeds or exemplary… student-ness) whilst also avoiding 8 Tonitrus Bolts (which is grounds for immediate expulsion). Getting 7 Stella Stars and befriending Damian, the son of the target Donovan Desmond, is what Anya needs to accomplish to further Loid’s goal… So naturally, her first day at the academy involves her getting into a fight with Damian and earning a Tonitrus Bolt. Great work! Such a numerals- or ranking-based system is so common in anime, that when the concept of stars and bolts were introduced, I rolled my eyes a bit. It is what it is though, and having a definitive measurement of how close Anya is to her end goal is kind of nice.

On top of all of that, as a telepath, Anya’s pretty much with the audience as the only character knowing what’s truly going on here. A number of gags involve her overhearing Loid or Yor thinking about a deadly or serious part of their actual job and reacting in shock (I suppose in shock of how casually they think about this cool-sounding thing), similar to how an audience member like you or I may react – maybe a bit less exaggerated though. She’s not just an “audience insert” though, as beyond her being an adorable kid, she was able to discern the goals of Operation Strix from Loid’s thoughts, and so she genuinely tries on her own to accomplish what’s needed of her too, which is admirable and enjoyable to watch.

In fact, she uses her telepathy in a number of interesting ways throughout the show. Some of the examples I like the most are when she’s trying to further another character’s goals without revealing that she read their thoughts. For example, in episode 3, Loid’s thinking about trying to find a purse snatcher in a crowd, and Anya finds the criminal via telepathy. Then, she points out a bakery saying “I want to eat there!”, drawing Loid’s attention to the bakery that the purse snatcher also just happens to be running in front of. Really fun stuff.

I’m not sure I’d classify this as an action anime, as although we definitely do get a handful of scenes where Loid is showing off his abilities and/or Yor pulling some sick moves of her own, the actual fights are relatively short and more feel like something the characters have to get through to get to their end goal. Instead, I’m more inclined to put this in the “drama” genre, with an ongoing solid plot and a lot of time spent on watching characters talk and think their way through a situation – sometimes with some comedy too, and sometimes with some juicy action. Either way, the characters is definitely what sells the show and makes this a good watch.

The pacing here is good too, slow enough to give scenes what they need and not lose any viewers, but also fast enough that people don’t end up becoming bored… that being said, this anime does occasionally fall into the age-old trope of action taking a while because we need to watch an inner monologue and a flashback before a character can make a single move. But I’m being nitpicky here, and the biggest “offender” that uses this does it for comedic effect. That said, there’s some fairly good comedic timing here – there’s a number of small jokes that they will just casually toss out, and it’s done well.

Unfortunately, with only 12 episodes out for this first cour, it felt like things were starting to get real interesting before the run came to an end. Luckily, there’s also the second cour of 13 episodes (which I’ll cover later), and recently a proper 2nd season and even a film were announced too.

Similar to Nisekoi, each of the main characters are hiding something from each other. But while Nisekoi has its main cast hiding their romantic feelings from each other and each episode had the characters inching just the tiniest bit towards confessing (but yet it never happening), Spy X Family has the parents hiding their true professions (and Anya, I suppose, hiding her superpower). This does make a notable difference… but there’s some cracks. To a reasonably understandable extent, it makes sense why Yor and Loid aren’t sharing their true professions with one another: Loid is living in enemy territory, specifically that of an enemy with a strong, pervasive counter-spy operation and so blowing his cover to anyone would be a bad idea. For Yor, simply revealing she’s an assassin would probably scare off this (as far as she knows) normal family, which she doesn’t want to do (as a single woman at her age actually raises the suspicions of said counter-spy operations, and she definitely doesn’t need the government knowing her real job). Anya, for her part, actually had a bit of trauma growing up, and it was drilled into her that no one can know her true powers.

Of course, as the omniscient audience, we know all these things, and it is relatively easy to look in from the outside and say “things would be so much easier for everyone if they were just honest with each other”, and I’ll admit I had felt such an annoyed feeling at times. But of course, none of these people suspect such a thing at all from each other (although I’m surprised Loid isn’t more questioning given he’s seen a glimpse of Yor’s skills), and are more concerned about not blowing their own individual covers. You could also probably argue part of the tension and conflict with this series might be ruined if each of their abilities are revealed, as part of the fun is seeing Loid and Yor pulling off their main professions while also attempting to look like a normal family. Episode 12 is a prime example of this.

Also unlike Nisekoi, we don’t really see Loid and Yor falling in love with each other over the course of these 12 episodes, as I expected I would. It’s definitely clear that they’ve gotten closer and begun to feel comfortable with the life situation they’ve arranged here, but you’ll constantly still hear them reminding themselves that this family is just a front. I’m… not sure if this is what I wanted or not, to be honest. On one hand, I’ve already seen the “secretly falling for each other” situation play out in in other anime already (such as Nisekoi or B Gata H Kei) and it also feels like the predictable and obvious end result… but on the other hand, seeing these people put together a family built on convenience and not love makes the whole relationship feel a tad cold and forced, which also isn’t as fun to watch. This could be a slowly developing thing though, so future episodes/chapters may have them getting even closer; a slower, more realistic progression may be the best choice here.

All in all, I do feel for these characters though. I want Loid to succeed in his spy mission, I want Anya to succeed in the academy, I want Yor to… keep being Yor. The setting is interesting, and the premise was surprisingly interesting too, regardless of my first impressions when I first heard of it.

Art, Animation, and Audio

This animation team don’t seem to have the most confidence in producing action scenes, a bit of a surprising lack given the fact that two of the characters here are a spy and an assassin. While it’s possible they may be directly adapting what was in the original manga (which for anime I review, I usually have not read, I’ll add), one would expect that adding more choreographed action would be something one would do in an anime adaptation. Instead, a lot of action scenes use still frames or have the action occur mostly off-camera and we simply see people or things fall into the scene. It is effective enough for what needs to be done, and there are definitely times where they do bring their A-game and something cool happens on camera, but it would’ve been even better to see them step up to this more often. (Was this maybe done as a clever way to implement any needed censorship of violence/gore? If so, that isn’t the impression this framing gives.)

Otherwise, the animation is rather decent, if not a bit reserved. Characters move well and have strong and memorable reactions, with a look of shock being a common sight – especially from Anya as she “overhears” thoughts from her spy of a father and assassin of a mother. The show lacks the fascinating cinematography or over-the-top fluidity of animation as you’d find from shows that top my list of favorites, but what’s here is good, if not great, and we do not always need something that goes extra and strays from par. Just as well, there’s never a scene that makes me feel “ooh, that could’ve been done better” or anything like that; there was never really a bad moment of animation present here.

All in all, it’s clear the artists here are definitely talented. You can pause this anime at pretty much any frame and it’ll be a well-drawn and good looking shot. Colors are vibrant (but not crazy), and the artists definitely nail the feel and look of a mid-20th century German town. The characters always look on model and on point, and they usually do not fail in making Loid look cool, Anya look cute, and Yor looking cool or cute as needed.

Some details I want to point out in episode 4: first, a broken table, smashed by Loid, in particular shocked me with how detailed that was drawn. I also want to point out the scene of animals rushing into the courtyard earlier in that episode: the horse in the top-left is flailing its head around wildly like it’s one of those air dancing tube guys, and it cracked me up. This is absolutely not a complaint at all, minor things like that actually help with the personality and memorability of a show – this is, I’ll note, extremely minor, but it’s permanently reserved a spot in my brain.

Ahem, anyway, moving on from that, the voice acting is pretty dang good, I’d say.

Takuya Eguchi plays the role of Loid Forger, and he expertly pulls off the voice of both a cool, suave spy and a charismatic, affable dad. Saori Hayami also sounds great as Yor, and Atsumi Tanezaki knocks it out of the park as Anya. Of pretty much all of the recurring Japanese cast here, there’s not really a single voice I’m upset with: maybe how Natsumi Fujiwara voices Damian Desmond could be a bit annoying, but it seems in line for a voice of a young boy. So yeah, no real complaints.

Of course, getting used to the voices in one language will make hearing the characters portrayed by actors in another language a bit of a challenge. Alex Organ actually sounds decent enough as Loid; he doesn’t provide the vocal range to pull off the suaveness and gentleness that Takuya Eguchi can do, but he gets the job done. Natalie Van Sistine is also alright as Yor. However, I’m not sure about Megan Shipman’s portrayal of Anya – it sounds weird at points – although if I watched this show in English first and not Japanese, I might feel differently. There’s also the occasional issue where it’s not always clear when a character is saying something or thinking something in their head; this could give the wrong impression of characters blurting out things where they’re actually just thinking it… that being said, the Japanese side isn’t exactly perfect in this regard either, but I think it is a bit easier to tell. Overall, I’d say the Japanese voice acting is the better way to go, but it’s not like the English side is rough or bad.

Spy X Family’s soundtrack is just as varied as the differing moods present here: more industrial, cooler sounds for the action parts (as well as bringing in the brass and even bongos for the stereotypical spy themes), a combo of piano, guitar, and drums for the more casual moments, and an even gentler piano and strings when it’s sad backstory time. I do applaud the variety of instruments utilized in the soundtrack here; I especially like the acoustic guitar and drums really help give a different vibe than something you might find in a slice-of-life or more straightforward action anime. I’d definitely call this a good soundtrack, although, as is common for me, nothing here yet has driven me to try to listen to it on its own.

The opening theme “Mixed Nuts” by Official HIGE Dandism is a pretty fun song, and feels appropriate. The opening animation is wild, to say the least. A lot of it is displayed in a more abstract art style with little to no line art and less defined character shapes, with Anya running around the city while secret spy and assassin related stuff goes on in the background. It’s fun, and I kind of wish the whole opening was depicted in this style rather than switching to the more standard anime style during the chorus of the song. The “upset stomach” icon used towards the end of the opening animation also confuses me, although I’d bet it’s some reference to something in the manga. Regardless, I quite enjoy the opening theme and animation a lot.

I have slightly more mixed feelings about the ending theme, “Comedy” by singer-songwriter Gen Hoshino. It’s not a bad song, but I do wonder about the choice to use it as the ending theme. The ending themes do tend to be on the more mellow side though, so I suppose this fits. Either way, I always enjoy shows that put time and effort into a cool ending animation, and that’s 100% the case here. I love the ending animation a lot – is it overboard? Who cares, it’s great. And any complaints I have about the song all wash away when the chorus kicks in and we see Anya, Loid, and Yor all dancing in their living room – the chorus is a bop and the animation is just exceedingly cute.

As previously mentioned, the second half of this first season aired towards the end of 2022, and we’ve now gotten confirmation of both a second season and a film coming up. So there will be more of this little faux-family for us to watch for a while. Crunchyroll is handling all international streaming, including also producing an English and Spanish dub (and maybe even others). A bit surprisingly though, I’ve not seen any news yet about a Blu-Ray release coming, at least in the US. Perhaps right now is still a bit too close to the end of the second cour, but I still would’ve expected at least an announcement by this point.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Despite how much this anime was talked about, I came into this show expecting myself to enjoy Anya but otherwise be underwhelmed (it’s happened before). However, probably to no one’s surprise, I had a really fun time here, and I liked how all of this came together. I could sit here and try to draw similarities to Nisekoi or spy films or whatever, but this show has forged its own identity, and I’m looking forward to watching more of the Forgers.

Anya is just as cute and fun as expected, and Loid was executed well as a cool and resourceful spy, but the big surprise for me was how much I enjoyed seeing Yor on screen. Combine this lovely trio of characters with an impactful and ever-forward-moving plot, with a mixture of action, comedy, and more heartfelt moments, and this show is a winner.

Spy X Family probably has enough action and fun stuff going on for the standard shounen fan, but even those who usually stick more to the romance or slice-of-life genres can get some fun here too. Gore isn’t frequent and isn’t excessive when it is present, and the wholesome moments of the main cast acting as a family is just nice. This anime seems like a nice middle ground that pretty anyone can get some enjoyment out of.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Put This On Immediately
Plusses: Anya and Yor are delights, great visuals, great opening and ending themes/animations
Minuses: things got interesting just as this run ended, not enough of Yor in her element, please show us your true feelings Loid

One thought on “Review: Spy X Family (Part 1)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s