Ever watched the 2005 Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie film Mr. and Mrs. Smith, only to think that it needs to be turned into a manga? Yeah, that’s what I thought. You’re definitely up for reading Tatsuya Endo’s SPY x FAMILY.
There’s been a considerable amount of buzz surrounding this series in recent months, in part due to its availability for free via Shueisha’s Manga Plus service, which carries many Weekly Shonen Jump and Jump Plus properties in English.
Availability certainly might be one factor, but there’s a whole lot more than meets the eye with SPY x FAMILY – much like its own double-faced main trio of characters. Let’s get into it.
SPY x FAMILY follows the story of ‘Twilight,’ a legendary spy who works to protect the peace of the world. He’s taken on countless seemingly impossible jobs to this end over the years, but he definitely wasn’t prepared for how hard his next mission would be – assume a new identity, get married, and have a child.
After forming his fake family, he must then use them to get close to and silence the leader of a rising nationalist party, whose son attends the prestigious Eden Academy – all to protect the fragile equilibrium that has formed between the ‘East’ and ‘West’ in his fictional world’s Cold War-like conflict.
The hilarity of such a premise is communicated well in the above PV, which was what first turned me on to the series.
While that synopsis might capture the comedic side of the series, what I discovered when reading SPY x FAMILY for myself using Manga Plus was that it had a lot more heart than you’d perhaps initially think.
Twilight, in attempting to carry out his mission under the new identity of Lloyd Folger, inevitably runs into problems along the way. One of the first is the issue of his daughter, Anya, whom he adopts from an orphanage in order to get her to enroll in Eden Academy.
The only problem is that, far from being a normal girl, Anya actually has psychic powers as a result of being a test subject for a mysterious organization – as she puts it, she’s an ‘esper’ who can read minds.
This means that, as much as her father might try, she’s able to deduce his true job as a spy and his fleeting motivations for adopting her straight away – all while her father thinks that he has her fooled.
While this has some tragic undertones – no child should feel unwanted, after all – the series is mostly able to play this dichotomy with grace, presenting us with plenty of chuckle-worthy gags and situations based on it.
This issue of double identity, both on the part of Lloyd and Anya, however, isn’t the only time this pops up in the series. Rather, the family that Lloyd ends up forming for his mission is far from normal, as he ends up not only adopting an esper, but marrying a contract killer as well.
Yoru, Lloyd’s eventual wife and mother to Anya, also maintains a double life – working as a seamstress in the day, before retreating to the shadows at night to carry out grisly murders per her boss’ orders under the identity of ‘Thorn Princess.’
Lloyd, of course, isn’t aware of this – nor is she aware of the fact that he’s a spy – which creates a hilarious case of dramatic irony for the reader, as well as plenty of amusing situations where each of the respective family members’ identities bubbles to the surface.
Beyond comedy, however, what’ll you’ll find at the core of SPY x FAMILY is remarkably more serious and, at times, downright heartwarming. This is because, over the course of the series, all three members of this dysfunctional family are able to find what they’ve always been missing in one and other.
In Anya’s case, this is obviously the absence of parental love and familial belonging since the death of her own parents and her time between being a test subject and living in an orphanage.
For Lloyd and Yoru, however, what they find hits much more at the core of their very beings.
Lloyd’s career as the super spy ‘Twilight’ has meant that he’s been forced to throw away many much of his life and the connections he’s formed for the greater good, as he changes identities for each mission.
But in his family with Yoru and Anya – however ‘fake’ it might be – he begins to reclaim that which he’s been forced to abandon so many times over so many years, finding joy and happiness in his relationships with others as separate from his ‘mission’ once more.
This kind of change is one I’d expect to have a great effect on Lloyd’s overall psyche, and will no doubt form a growing tension as the series moves forward.
Much the same can be said for Yoru, whose work as contract killer ‘Thorn Princess’ has sapped her agency and lowered her self-esteem as she struggles with the weight of her actions.
It’s in her relationship with Lloyd and Anya that she begins to take more of a positive outlook, however – even if she only got into the relationship in the first place to provide ‘cover’ for her more illicit activities.
Even so, at the time of writing, it must be said that Yoru’s story is the least developed out of all of the three characters’. I have no doubt, however, that author Tatsuya Endo will make up for this as the story moves forward. What makes me even more confident about this is how well Endo has handled the story so far, keeping it focused and straightforward. Although a lot of the minutiae of the manga is focused on comedy and comedic moments, the manga adopts a distinctly shonen-like overall structure, with clear objectives and missions for each of the characters to fulfill.
As stated, the overall narrative goal of the series is to assassinate the leader of the rising nationalist party to preserve world peace, but the story takes great care to spell out how exactly Lloyd, through Anya and with the support of Yoru, will achieve such an aim.
Currently, Lloyd’s aim is to have Anya become a model student at Eden Academy so that she can get close with the son of the leader, which will then – hopefully – get Lloyd and Yoru invited round for dinner, during which Lloyd will do the deed.
Keeping the characters’ goals clear and keeping the reader up to date on them does wonder for the pacing of the manga, as it keeps the narrative focused and easy to follow, as well as limiting the amount of superfluous comedy.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the author doesn’t afford himself more isolated character or story moments. Rather, precisely because of how isolated these elements are makes them even more special and heartwarming – one particular example being when all three members of the dysfunctional family work together to catch a purse snatcher.
SPY x FAMILY might only have eight chapters published as of the time of writing (with more published every two weeks via Manga Plus) but, if the series can keep up the promise it’s shown so far – especially as it enters into a new major narrative arc at Eden Academy – then we might end up with something really special with its unique blend of espionage, comedy and real human drama.
You can read the series in English via Shueisha’s Manga Plus.