Manga Review – Spy x Family

Spy x Family Volume 1

Spy x Family
ENDO Tatsuya
Shounen – Action, comedy, mystery, sci-fi
62 Chapters / 7 Volumes (ongoing)
MANGA Plus / VIZ Media

Summary:

Codename: Twilight. Elite spy and master of disguise. But his next investigation requires him to take on his most difficult persona yet: a family man! In order to approach his next target, Twilight has no choice but to find a woman and child as cover — all without revealing his identity. But he may not be the only one keeping secrets…

Review:

Reading Spy x Family is like eating my favorite dessert.

In a place that is clearly an alternate version of 1960s-ish Germany, the nations of Westalis and Ostania have reached an uneasy peace after a long war. But just because they’ve agreed to a ceasefire doesn’t mean they trust each other. That’s where spies come in. Westalis’ top agent is only known as “Twilight”, as he specializes in taking on different personas and impersonating people.

As an elite undercover agent, finishing one job means soon getting another. And his latest orders are to investigate a man named Donovan Desmond.

Sounds fairly typical, except, as Twilight’s mission brief explains, Donovan is so paranoid that the only time he emerges is to attend events at the illustrious Eden Academy. I guess the agency figured that impersonating a teacher or whatever still wouldn’t guarantee entry, as Twilight is ordered to marry and have a child — in a week! The short timeline is obviously an issue, and so is the fact this man who has spent his life doing solo missions must now rely on others — especially a young child who needs to get into Eden Academy. Fortunately, he quickly finds an orphan named Anya who seems to meet his credentials. Even though Twilight, now playing the role of a psychiatrist named Loid Forger, starts to reconsider this whole mission, young Anya says she wants to stay with him.

Since the agency is down to so few agents that they can’t even find someone to be the role of Twilight’s wife, and that brings us to the second chapter. Enter Yor, a spacey, mild-mannered worker at city hall who coincidentally needs someone to play her boyfriend for a party. While Twilight had just planned on sweet-talking her into marriage, after a slip-up, Yor is moved enough by “Loid” to propose to him. Also because at 27, people are starting to offer Yor sarcastic sympathy, even “warning” her that single women of her age can be viewed with suspicion.

Well, turns out, people should be suspicious of Yor; she’s a hitman (hitwoman?) known as “Thorn Princess” operating on behalf of Ostania! So there’s a bit of Mr. & Mrs. Smith vibe here, as Loid and Yor are a married couple who have no idea the other is working for the opposition. Except Twilight (Loid) and Yor are a fake married couple, and of course there’s Anya. Adorable Anya loves peanuts and a particular kid’s spy show. She often tries to imitate the adventures she sees on TV, often to the confusion of Twilight and Yor. But she’s still cute. Plus, you know, kids say the darndest things.

Or think the darndest things. Because, you see, Anya is a mind reader. So the secret identities of her “papa” and “mama”? Not a secret to her!

So the fake Forger family is born with the goal of getting Anya into Eden Academy.

Spy x Family Sample 1

(Please excuse the weird lines.)

Yes, the setup is pretty farfetched. But what works in its favor is that it’s so ridiculous but yet easy to explain — and the whole spy vibe is something a lot of people will instantly be familiar with thanks to the James Bond franchise and similar media.

But what Spy x Family does best is operate as a comedy story that’s perfectly supported by the action and heartwarming/family genres. I mean, the bombastic proposal scene is the perfect example of this. (Wink wink.) So many creators would have made this a “gruff loner learns to lighten up (love) thanks to a kid/family” tale. Yes, the series is that to an extent, but Twilight is pretty fallible right from the start. While reading his Operation Strix mission briefing, Twilight does a spittake and rips up his paper right in public, showing of his tsukkomi tendencies. In that same opening chapter, he starts to second-guess the whole mission — not because it’s ridiculous but because he’s going to put a child in danger, and he tries to send Anya to a better orphanage than the one he found her at. So unlike a lot of protagonists who are elite soldiers/bodyguards, Twilight is not aloof or unflappable at the start.

And because of that, he plays so well off of his newfound family members. Just as how he makes some potentially critical mistakes, like bursting into Yor’s party and introducing himself as her husband instead of her boyfriend/date, the ladies in his family also aren’t that good at hiding their true selves. Yor spends their first meal together swooning over guillotine art and dinner knives, and she has taken down a cow using “acupuncture” skills. I think she could take on Wonder Woman in a fight. Meanwhile, Anya almost blows Twilight’s cover and even her own secret several times. They’re all so abnormal that they don’t realize the others are also abnormal! Well, Anya knows, but she’s clearly a child who thinks in terms of absolutes like fun, not fun, interesting, helpful, bad guy, etc.

That’s why, despite her fantastical sixth sense, Operation Strix is hardly a cakewalk. To approach Donovan, Anya has to somehow either earn eight special awards (Stella Stars) or become friends with a boy named Damian Desmond. Yes, Desmond, as in the second son of Twilight’s target. Anya wants nothing more than to make her adopted father happy by helping fulfill his mission. But… well, Anya is not only not a great student and is very adverse to studying, seemingly due to her pre-adoption days, she doesn’t like the snooty, haughty Damian. So while Twilight’s organization is hoping Anya can earn eight Stella Stars in four months, Twilight thinks it’s more possible that she could eight demerits (Tonitrus Bolts) in two! Plus, the idea of Anya and Damian becoming close enough to have him invite her over seems so unlikely when they fight like cats and dogs.

And, as Damian would explain, of course his face becomes red and his heart pounds around Anya because of anger! Of course he’s mad! There’s no other reason why he feels funny sometimes!

He’s just one of the many extended main and supporting characters in the story. Many chapters of Spy x Family are set at school, following Anya as she tries to avoid failing her classes or to become friends with Damian. We also get chapters from Twilight’s perspective as he sneaks into Eden or attempts to get Anya to study at home. But the manga doesn’t stick to just being a school story. Twilight has to report on Operation Strix to his boss, and he is still sent out on other missions. These may require the help of his informant, Franky, or a junior agent. Yor wants to be a good wife/mother, and her brother, Yuri, has some very… strong emotions about his sister’s marriage.

Spy x Family Sample 2

The manga is made up of single chapter episodes and longer arcs. For the former, it’s a mix of lighter fare (including some characters I doubt will be revisited again or, if so, will be in another filler story) and character/plot development, like introducing Twilight’s kohai or Yor second-guessing her contract killing career. Either way, short or long stories, Spy x Family has both adventure arcs and slice-of-life tales… or as slice-of-life as you can get with these adorably screwball characters who are all so powerful yet have major blinders on. And I don’t just mean the Forger family either! They’re not all in every chapter (and other times barely included), and Spy x Family usually takes a hit when Anya is not around. There are going to be mixed opinions with siscon Yuri or the elegant-loving teacher take a more active role in a chapter, but at least they are recurring and will have non-negligible fanbases thanks to their quirks. The few one-off characters the manga has had so far are the weakest. There are a few details dropped that could play important roles later, so we’ll see how the author ties them into the overall narrative.

Yes, there’s always the possibility some of the randomness will end up being significant after all. Twilight can’t keep his identity as Loid Forger forever, either because he’s exposed or because his agency wants to give him a new mission. Will Desmond be the goal for the whole series, or will it be one of those situations where we go through a couple rounds of “wait, the true culprit is someone else!”? Will the manga stick to Anya’s first school year? Have a time skip so we perhaps see Anya move up all the way to middle or even high school? Or will conflicts between the two nations mean that the school setting will be abandoned completely at some point? This is the type of series though where the ending is almost certain because of how much Twilight, Anya, and Yor care for each other already, but whether we see that family just with a young Anya who gets into mischief or an older Anya who perhaps has skills she’s acquired (directly or indirectly) from Twilight and Yor is uncertain. And since war has shaped the lives of characters and the threat of it is never too far off, while many antagonists right now are relatively easily twarted or dispatched, the manga will likely have even more serious moments and tougher fights/infiltrations as it continues.

Spy x Family Sample 3

I keep mentioning Anya since she is the true star of the series. Twilight is fun with his exasperation and snark, plus he is very good at espionage. Yor’s combination of boke and yandere is also hilarious if sometimes underused. The lady can take down a car but is truly impressed when Anya scores 100… when you add up all of her test scores together. Anya… Anya is something else though. It’s not just that she’s truly a child, mixing up information or worrying that her stuffed animal is even “deader” when he’s ripped up even more or offering a classmate a leaf she just found as a going-away present. It’s her expressions. In fact, instead of a typical character poll for Spy x Family‘s first anniversary, Jump had a “best Anya expression” contest. Adorable Anya, mischievous Anya, helpful Anya, clueless Anya, dumb Anya, proud Anya… I could go on and on. Anya is a meme master. Some of her best reactions come from reading Yor’s mind, as her mom’s mind tends to go straight toward violence.

Funny expressions aren’t exclusive to Anya. Everyone has their goofy side, from Twilight’s “dwah” face when caught off-guard or Damian’s angry blushing face. However, the author includes a lot of other humor through the art. Some of the gags are more of the aside or subtle type, like Twilight narrating his mission in a serious tone as some kid puts his snot on Twilight’s jacket. Several visual jokes come from the characters’ imaginations, like the already legendary “swole chihuahua”. Meanwhile, Yor’s power is off-the-charts, but then she casually continues with her day. Reminds me a bit of Izumi from Fullmetal Alchemist.

Beyond the comedy, the art starts off clean and solid and stays that way. Some of the minor characters have… let’s go with non-standard designs, like a boy whose head is shaped like a strawberry. So odd character designs are intentional, although I am not a huge fan of the idea that all underlings look (objectively) ugly, with big hairstyles and odd heads. But that’s not too uncommon in manga. The action scenes are usually pretty short (no long exchange of blows and special attacks), but there are some exciting or thrilling sections. More importantly, these scenes — in fact, chapters as a whole — flow very well. However, the manga can be a little jumpy going from chapter to chapter as the series tends to be episodic. Even the latest arc is a sudden, unexpected flashback. But each chapter is smooth and concise. Like most comedies, they typically end with a laugh, but it’s often an “uh-oh!” versus the ultimate punchline. English often peppers the pages, adding to the European feel of the story. Of course, that may seem a bit odd since the world is inspired by Germany, but it is fiction after all. The comic Spy Wars is shown in right-to-left format though. But this is a series where you don’t have to adjust to the art, and Anya’s expressions add a whole other dimension to the manga.

Translation:

Note that the name for this series is written in Japan as SPY×FAMILY, but most places use the easier Spy x Family format. Either way, as in most cases, the series’ name is pronounced as “spy family” even though that is a bit of a misnomer. Pronouncing it like “spy and family” would make the most sense in English, but obviously that’s the intention anyway. It’s also interesting that VIZ uses a slightly altered version of the series logo. The original is the same font and in the same position, but they’ve slightly altered the “m” in “family” with cut-out art of the Forger family. Kind of curious why.

Note that this manga had a different translation when it first appeared on MANGA Plus. But a combination of Viz Media gaining rights as well as the author announcing how the names should be written in English meant that the early chapters were redone. The most notable revisions were changing the two main adults’ name to Loid Forger and Yor instead of Lloyd Folger and Yoru and honorifics being removed.

In Japanese, Anya refers to herself in the third person. She does have some trouble pronouncing words just like in English, although it’s not a 1:1 match between the two. In fact, her dialogue is written almost exclusively in hiragana, even for words that should normally be in katakana like “spy” and “peanuts”. So this emphasizes her very young/baby-ish speech. I do have to admit missing her addressing herself as “Anya”, as it emphasizes how young Anya is. She calls Damian “Sy-On Boy” in English, a mispronunciation of “scion boy” (because he comes from a rich family). In Japanese, she calls him じなん, second son. Also, she’s an エスパー, esper in Japanese. The English version uses the more common “telepath” to describe her.

The protagonist’s codename is a direct translation of his name in Japanese (Tasogare –> Twilight). Nightfall is 夜帷, which is read as “Tobari”, Night Curtain. She also calls Twilight “senpai/Tasogare-senpai” in Japanese. Shopkeeper for “Tenchou”. “Damian-sama” is changed to “Boss/Boss man”. The “strix” in Operation Strix refers to an bird-like creature in Greek/Roman mythology that is now often associated with owls. According to Wikipedia, “The strix (plural striges or strixes), in the mythology of classical antiquity, was a bird of ill omen, the product of metamorphosis, that fed on human flesh and blood. It also referred to witches and related malevolent folkloric beings.” Interesting inspiration, and it may provide a clue as to WISE’s plans.

Eden Academy usually called イーデン ( ( in Japanese, but its full name is Eden College. The school gives out (read as Stella, called Stella Stars in English) and 雷 (read as Tonito, called Tonitrus Bolts in English). Stella and Tonitrus are Latin names, just as Strix is from Latin. So while the series is clearly taking place in an English-speaking world, Latin seems to be important. However, I haven’t found any explanation as to why the negative point pins are read as トニト instead of トニトルス or トニトゥルス — simplicity’s sake? To match the three Japaneses syllables in stella (ステラ)?

Henderson’s cries of elegant/エレガント is more varied in the English version, with a lot of “elegance” and other such forms. He does use other English terms like “very” and “brilliant”, but this isn’t reflected in the English version. Bond’s “boofu/borf” is usually rendered as “worf” although sometimes “borf”. The original “swole chihuahua” joke was 知は力, chi wa chikara (knowledge is power), which Anya heard as チワワ力, chiwawa chikara (chihuahua power). Bravo for that localization, as not much in English can the word “chihuahua” be confused for. I guess it could have just been written involving a dog in general, but it works very well.

Overall, I would say the English version is a little more localized than the average manga release. It’s not just because of the Western-inspired setting. Here are some examples with my own translation and the official version:

“Welcalm to Anya house!” “I hope we’ll get along, Anya-san.” (or “It’s a pleasure to be here, Anya-san.”)
“Welcome to Anya’s house!” “Thank you, Anya. It’s lovely.”

“That’s unforgivable!”
“You’ll pay for that, thief!”

“Aah, Anya suddenly wants Mama to spoil her!”
“Oh, Mama! Sometimes I just love you so much!”

“Not elegant!”
“I am surrounded by inelegance!”

I didn’t have very good examples right now, and there’s not a dramatic difference. But there are a lot of cases where short statements become fuller sentences in English. The biggest difference to me is Anya’s speech, which seems to emphasize the fact she’s almost certainly younger than what she claims comes across more clearly to me in the Japanese.

Final Comments:

Spy x Family is one of Jump‘s fastest-selling series in its history (second only to Assassination Classroom), and it’s not hard to understand why with its likable characters, accessible plot/setting, and great cartoonish faces. Considering this series can be read for free or cheap, at least give the adventures of the fake Forger family a try.

Crunchyroll is streaming the anime adaptation.

Reader Rating


5/5 (1)

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9 Comments

  1. crimson

    I’ve been really curious about this manga for a while now since it’s been mentioned so much and wow, now that i know more about it…i just want to go bulk buy the whole thing xD like i am so sure i will enjoy this based on your review lolol

    Reply
    1. Krystallina (Post author)

      I really think you’ll like it! If you still are unsure or just want to see what all the hubbub is, you can read the first 3 chapters free (and the latest 3 too) on Viz/Shonen Jump and MANGA Plus. Plus, right now on MANGA Plus, all chapters for Spy x Family and other manga have a 1-time free read. So while I think it’s worth a purchase, you can marathon it for free. At the very least, volumes have sometimes been hard to get with the reprint situation, so you can catch up as you wait for bookstores to get copies.

      Reply
      1. crimson

        oh wow! i didn’t know that :0 will check it out in the meantime

        Reply
  2. dreager1

    I just started this series the other day and it’s definitely a lot of fun so far! I rented the first 6 volumes but am waiting for someone to return the last copy of volume 3 so once I have that it’s marathon time. I do think the premise here is excellent and the characters are a lot of fun. Where I’m up to the dog hasn’t appeared yet but I already like the dynamic with the main 3. The anime’s getting a lot of hype too so I definitely see this being the next big hit and hopefully it’s around for a long while!

    Reply
    1. Krystallina (Post author)

      I’m planning on watch ep 1 later tonight, but early reviews are good so I’m sure that will boost the series’ popularity even more. Hope vol 3 is returned soon so you can catch up! Doggo is worth the wait.

      Reply
    1. Krystallina (Post author)

      Another good series — I need to catch up on Kaguya again!

      Reply
  3. alsmangablog

    I love Spy x Family. It’s hilarious, action-packed and super cute. Plus, as you point out, Anya is just the best! And thanks for clearing up what Strix means. Every time they’d mention “Operation Strix” I’d be like “I should look up what that means.” But I never did. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Krystallina (Post author)

      Glad I could answer that question for you! Who knows how a Strix ties into the picture, with the adorable Anya involved, the mission is sure to be wild!

      Reply

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