A single man needs to find a family. Not an uncommon societal problem, nor a compelling premise for a television show. But make him a super spy, and the family a mission that could lead his country to victory in the cold war it’s waged with its neighbour for years – and you have the basics of Spy x Family, the thrilling and hilarious adaptation of the award-winning manga by Tatsuya Endo.
Our suave secret agent is Twilight, a Westalis spy undercover as psychiatrist Loid Forger on Operation Strix in Ostania (fictional analogues for West and East Berlin). To jumpstart his fake family, he heads to an orphanage where he adopts the seemingly brilliant six-year old Anya. Next, he enters into a marriage of convenience with Yor Briar, a lonely civil servant who is all too happy to pose as his wife.
If all that seems too easy, that’s because it is. Unbeknownst to Twilight, the precocious Anya is a telepath – an escapee from a covert government programme that creates psychics. Likewise, his new bride is secretly an infamous assassin within the Ostanian underworld known as The Thorn Princess.
Naturally, the mind-reading child instantly knows both her new parents’ secrets – and she goes along with the ruse because she finds both their jobs incredibly exciting. Meanwhile, Yor is facing societal scrutiny as an unmarried woman. By hiding behind the facade of a traditional nuclear family, she feels that she’ll attract less suspicion, all the better to continue her criminal activities. Despite the foundation of lies, the real joy of the series is in watching each member of this found family come to genuinely care for one another. While the Forgers do come together out of practical self-interest, they stay together for the unexpected bonds they form.
The crux of the conflict and comedy of Spy x Family lies in our protagonists’ willingness to prioritise the emotional needs of their domestic partners alongside their hidden agendas. Loid and Yor’s develop a heartwarming attachment to their adorable, pink-haired little girl as they juggle the more mundane stresses of newfound parenthood with the dangers of their double lives. Similarly, Anya is so fond of her adopted parents that she’ll do anything to help maintain their covers and achieve their secret objectives (short of revealing her esper abilities).
While there is plenty of thrilling, death-defying action involving Loid’s James Bond-esque missions and Yor’s John Wick-esque hitwoman escapades, the main thrust of the story so far involves enrolling Anya into an elite private school so that she can befriend a fellow student whose father is a high-ranking government official. Anya is game, but the academic, etiquette and social requirements of the Eden Academy prove arduous for an awkward girl who’d rather laze around at home eating peanuts and watching cartoons.
If you’ve ever wanted a whole sitcom version of The Americans, Spy x Family is it. The car chases, gangland murders and impossible missions may provide the flourish, but the heart of the show lies in Loid, Anya and Yor’s domestic fulfillment. The situational comedy is absurdly funny and expertly done, delivering multiple laugh-out-loud moments per episode. Whatever problems arise – whether it’s Yor’s brother turning out to be Ostanian secret police, or Anya’s mark bullying her to hide a growing crush – they get through it all not with superpowers or superskills, but with each other’s unwavering emotional support.
Eye-catching animation by powerhouses Studio Wit and CloverWorks, a ridiculously fun premise and a wholesome slice-of-life approach to espionage tropes have made the first half of Spy x Family’s debut season something extraordinary. No freshman anime in recent memory has come in with as much hype as this one, and 12 episodes in, it’s safe to say those lofty expectations have been more than met. Spy x Family perfectly translates the wit and warmth of Endo’s manga to deliver the most charming and enjoyable anime of 2022 thus far.
Spy x Family season 1 part 1 is available to stream on Netflix and Disney+