Tatsuya Endos Spy x family seems to have struck at the perfect time as anime is more entrenched than ever in mainstream pop culture internationally. Endo’s original manga series began serialization in Shueisha Shounen Leap+ Bi-weekly digital magazine, and since then it has transcended its parent medium to become an international juggernaut in the anime industry.
It certainly helps that animation studios Wit Studio (attack on Titan seasons 1-3, Vinland saga Season 1) and CloverWorks (The Promised Neverland Seasons 1-2) beautifully adapted Endo’s endearing art style for vivid impact, but its characters elevate a simple premise into a thoroughly investing watch. From blending genres to innovative art direction to compelling character dynamics, Spy x family has a welcome sincerity that connects audiences with this colorful cast of unlikely family members.
A refreshing change
There’s no question that some of the biggest contributors to the anime genre, which has surged in popularity around the world in recent years, belong to the shounen demographic, which has some of the highest-reaching manga and anime series when it comes to appeal. And while they can feel like copies of each other in some ways, the potential in their space is great for creative talent willing to make it happen.
“Battle Shounen” like Jujutsu Kaisen or Demon Hunter are expected to have that MCU-like reach when it comes to mass-market appeal, though Spy x family managed to hit the right chords with the same audience and more with a lighthearted story that keeps “battles” in the background. Countless fans were just as enthralled by the charmingly dysfunctional yet mellow character dynamics and debauchery of Loid, Yor, and Anya Forger as they were of The game of Thrones-like political intrigues and brutal action of attack on Titan this year.
It’s a refreshing series that gets things down to earth without losing the medium’s inherent penchant for fantastical and over-the-top settings. At the same time, Endo’s characters, story, and world are executed in a way that knows exactly how much to take herself seriously, when to lighten up, and when to feel emotionally real at the same time.
And cheesy as it sounds, this is the perfect reason for fans to indulge in a bit of escapism, cheer on the Forger family, and feel cozy and at home in their stylish, 1960s-inspired world.
The perfect mix of comedy and feel-good storytelling
Given the charming premise the main characters find themselves in, it would be easy to lapse into an overly cheesy story full of over-the-top reactions, low-hanging jokes, and fan-service. However, Spy x family avoids the sticky pitfalls that usually deter the uninitiated.
In the series so far, there’s been a tasteful balance of comedic relief and genuine, heartfelt storytelling centered around the main trio. The general structure of the story is fairly simple: a world-class spy is tasked with raising a fake family in order to handle a high-stakes diplomatic mission that ironically proves to be his greatest challenge yet.
The varied personalities of the Forger family make the storyline a compelling one, however, and each of their motivations for participating in this initially absurd dynamic is believable without feeling that the show is struggling to nail down a consistent tonal identity.
Loid’s backstory as a war orphan turned spy, Anya’s as an orphaned telepath longing for a family, and Yor’s decision to help her little brother be an assassin all become excellent vehicles for emotional character arcs and natural sources for more comedy Relief used without undermining the emotions moments. There are even touching undertones of anti-war themes that manage not to wallow too much in sermons.
A revival of old sitcom tropes
“Charming” is perhaps one of the best descriptive adjectives Spy x family, and it cannot be overstated how well it conveys its charm without being too derivative. This success is made even more impressive as it draws inspiration from what is arguably one of the most derivative genres in television history: the laughter in a can sitcom.
From the aforementioned ’60s/’70s aesthetic of the fictional world the counterfeiters live in – which is also kind of modern at the same time – to the structure of this lovable unique nuclear family, Spy x family takes classic sitcom tropes from western television and makes them feel refreshing again. Loid acts as the family’s “straight” husband, Yor is the airy wife, and Anya is the adorable Michelle Tanner-like daughter.
These are all sitcom tropes made to death and back, but Endo deftly puts his own spin on them Spy x family to water. Even with the over-the-top and melodramatic reactions to jokes that seem to try to blow audiences over the head in both live-action sitcoms and anime, none of the main characters feel like lazy caricature.
Anya, for example, could easily have been an annoying character on almost any other series. Instead, her personality, coupled with her motives, allows her to come across as equal parts endearing, funny, and witty. She doesn’t survive their welcome, and since she could be the first character to backfire narratively, Loid and Yor pretty much earn their place in this story, too.
Spy x family combines all of these elements into a perfect cocktail of narrative serotonin, and it makes the anime industry more lucrative than ever all the better for it. It’s a show that will appeal to both longtime fans of the genre and new viewers curious about anime. As such, it has the potential to be the next best crossover hit ripe for a live-action adaptation.
The first 12 episodes of Spy x family season 1 can be streamed on Crunchyroll and Huluwith episode 13 premiering this October.