Now, isn’t that just the sweetest: three enigmatic introverts — Twilight, the world’s greatest spy; Yor, a deadly female assassin, and Anya, a telepathic tyke — banding together to forge a pretend “family” for their own respective agendas. Each hiding their true identities and supernatural abilities, the false family pulls all the stops to maintain this facade for the sake of world peace! Or, uh, so Yor can camouflage her assassinations all the while deceiving her overprotective younger brother. Or so Anya doesn’t go back to the downtrodden orphanage. Whatever works, but this “raising a family” mission makes infiltrating terrorism cells and contract killings look like a walk in the park: there’s blending in with society, comprehending basic common knowledge, and last but certainly not least — parenting.
Sprouting as an overnight success in Shueisha’s Shonen Jump+ app last yea Tetsuya Endo’s Western debut in Spy x Family follows two decades’ worth of obscure Japan-only oneshots, short-lived serials, and playing assistant to Blue Exorcist/Fire Punch; as I understand it, much of Endo’s prior repertoire leaned towards more sobering subjects and themes, with Spy x Family treading a more delicate balance in light-hearted comedy of the rom-com variety, punctuated with violent (if not exaggerated) scenarios and government conspiracies. An unusual blend, sure, but why complain when Endo’s output is this good? So taken am I with the heartwarming antics of this pretend family that after reading this volume, I instantly took the leap into VIZ’s Shonen Jump vault and made it my own mission to catch up. (“What, you’re telling me there’s only 28 chapters?!”) “Wholesome” may be the latest victim of our internet’s overused lexicon, yet I find myself at a loss in how else to describe my newfound passion for Spy x Family; namely, my hopes in that this fake family can grow into a real one.
Much of the series’ homely quality lies in the strength of our characters, not the least in our protagonist: a world-renowned spy, code-named “Twilight”. (Or “Loid Forger,” the newfound alias for both family and stranger alike.) Throughout the first chapter alone, what’s initially established as an aloof, strict professional gradually unveils himself as a conflicted individual — the shock of this sudden “get a family” assignment summoning forth emotions he thought were discarded long ago; again, a common trope, but one tried-and-true, as it’s a kindred soul in little Anya that reminds Twilight of his original purposes in becoming a spy. What’s fun about deciphering his character is how his temporary personas cloud his true intentions to the reader, so we have fun recognizing potential instances where his true emotions slip. (Can we truly say he’s genuinely not happy for Anya’s admittance into Eden Academy, or that he’s simply buttering up Yor for her “self-defense” skills?) As we fervently point out examples of a beating heart pounding beneath his stoic exterior, we grow to wish his dream of a better world is one allowing his true self to emerge.
That looks like a really comfy chair.
However, he’ll need a loving mother to show him the ropes, and what better partner than Yor: a clumsy ditz by day, a blood-stained assassin by night. While skilled at her deadly profession, Yor’s day-to-day interactions leave her floundering with fish-out-of-the-water social skills, birthing no end of insecurities regarding public gatherings and marriage prospects. Her chance meeting with Twilight presents an opportunity to further heighten her skills, but a careful study across Yor’s two-chapter introduction has us recognize her sham family’s only but a flimsy excuse in falling for her pretend husband. While she’s woefully oblivious to Twilight’s true profession (enough, even, to worry an Aspie like me; girl, don’t you think Twilight’s “concussive therapy” stretches the boundaries of disbelief?), her desperation in sticking with “Loid” is a last-ditch effort to avoid loneliness, as he may be the one person who can accept her quirks: a woman who can’t hair-dress right, fail to appreciate the fine arts, and finding herself enchanted by macabre artwork or sharp cutlery. As the seeds of love begin to sprout, fellow introverts like myself may find Yor the most relatable character.
Of course, anyone with a passive interest in Spy x Family is likely already familiar with the innocent ray of sunshine that is Anya. Indeed, Anya’s gift in telepathy elicits masterful parallels to real-world child-rearing, where spontaneous outbursts and regressive public demeanor induce nothing but constant embarrassment and fruitless frustration. (Indeed, Twilight’s struggles with raising an esper child should certainly captivate the nodding, sympathetic parent.) And yet, while her powers grant Anya insight into her parents’ true motives, Endo’s cautious enough to have her tread the balance of childish desire and masterminding her family’s growth; putting it this way, while Anya recognizes her newfound parents are deadly operatives, that only bolsters their appeal to a little girl fascinated by spy cartoons, and so she’s intent on turning this false family into a real one. By the end of the first chapter when she snuggles up tight to a sleeping Twilight, Anya’s not just the family member we end up rooting for the most — she may very well be its rock. (An unbearably cute rock, but a solid one all the same.)
Through rigorous, heart-pounding entrance exams, disastrous dinner dates, and adventerous family day-outs, Spy x Family‘s artificial boundaries gradually bloom into feel-good entertainment. proving itself as a refreshing slice of sweet family comedy. As the culmination of twenty years’ hard work, I cannot recommend the fruits of Tatsuya Endo’s labor enough. From the laugh-out-loud comedy to heartfelt drama and character development, Spy x Family may well be the finest new manga release of the year.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a review copy provided by VIZ Media.