Review: "Spy x Family" Stretches its Legs for Season 2
'The Best Show' evolved in interesting ways this year
If you follow me on any form of social media, you’ll know I was immediately and overwhelmingly smitten with the Spy x Family anime when it premiered in 2022. While I’ve often been intentionally hyperbolic with mypraise, I really do adore the series on a very deep level. Its spectacular premise – a spy, an assassin, and a telepathic child pretend to be a family in a sort of alt-history East Berlin, but only the mind-reading little girl, Anya, knows everyone’s secrets – is an engine for so much crazy and varied comedy, but also so much real and well-earned warmth, that the whole thing is impossible to resist. Handsomely and confidently mounted by Wit Studio and Clover Works, with a tremendous voice cast and the best jazz-driven score for an anime since Cowboy Bebop (though in spirit it’s a lot more in line with Yuji Ohno’s Lupin the 3rd music), Spy x Family simply rocks, and through that 25-episode first season, all the pieces came together to work wonders over and over again.
The 12-episode second season, which finished airing earlier this month, definitely maintained the general quality of production, and even stretched its legs a bit further in terms of animation and visual ambition in a few episodes, but it also struck out in some new tonal and structural directions that took me a bit by surprise. I haven’t read the original manga by Tatsuya Endo, so I don’t know if this is just how the series progresses in the stretch of chapters the anime adapted this year, or if this change of emphasis is related to the series’ new head writer, Ichirō Ōkouchi – the wildly prolific anime scribe who created Code Geass, wrote Lupin the 3rd Part V, and most recently wrote the mega-popular Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury – but Spy x Family definitely strikes out in some new directions in its second season. In structure, it blends the one-off comedy episodes that were the first season’s bread and butter with a longer serialized story that runs six episodes in the middle of the season. More significantly, though, the tone gets darker and a lot more violent in places, but also a touch more serious and earnest in others. The third episode is primarily comprised of a mostly joke-free segment, “Mission and Family,” following Yor’s brother Yuri, an agent for the government’s secret police, as he tails and arrests a dissident, while the season’s centerpiece cruise-ship arc focuses heavily on Yor’s role as an assassin. It depicts both jobs as fairly harrowing, and implicates Yuri – a mostly comic character in the first season – in some truly dark behavior, while getting more into the politics and pressures of the series’ pseudo-Cold War setting, which feels in line with Ōkouchi’s affinity for politically-literate world-building in the writer’s past work.
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Similarly, this season, and the cruise-ship arc in particular, also pushes itself towards slightly more earnest, straight-faced reflections on the family unit at the story’s core, particularly in the montage of the island day-trip in the tenth episode, where Loid, Yor, and Anya enjoy a nice, uncomplicated day as a family after all the killing and the big bomb scare on the boat, and all reflect on how much they like the simplicity of it. There are some funny images in that sequence – scored to a lovely insert song, “Uneven Fruit,” by Know Name and NIKIIE – but the scene isn’t really about jokes. It’s just straightforwardly sweet, simple and idyllic, with a twinge of real melancholy as everyone also reflects on how this family unit is tenuous and contingent, a theme that permeates the entire cruise ship arc in interesting ways.
I’m less sure of how I feel about the sheer amount of violence in that arc, though, which gets much more extreme than I expected out of a show that, up to now, was definitely a family-friendly affair you could watch with kids of all ages. Yor’s big battle with the myriad assassins in the eighth episode, “The Symphony Upon the Ship,” is the show-stopping centerpiece of the second season’s production, a relentless and balletic dance of action choreography set against a sky filled with fireworks, all of it worthy of 90s John Woo or the John Wick films. It is, in a vacuum, extremely impressive. It is also really violent, even more bloody and gruesome than John Woo or John Wick tend to be – despite defining the Hong Kong ‘heroic bloodshed’ genre, the Woo model doesn’t usually involve big blood sprays or globs or viscera flying out – and it feels a bit incongruous with a show whose main character is the almost criminally adorable Anya Forger. The best bit of ‘violence’ in the season comes a few episodes later, when Yor is desperately rushing Anya’s friend Becky to the hospital, gets absolutely pancaked by a car, and then recovers instantly to catch the child, a moment that does involve a comical blood-spray, but is much more Looney Tunes than the assassin material.
That’s the thing: While like the six-episode cruise ship arc, and appreciate some of the bigger swings it takes, my favorite part of the whole thing is the final segment where Anya tries to brag to the other kids at school, followed closely by Loid’s existential confusion over how to be a good vacation dad in the arc’s second episode. And by favorite bits of Season 2 overall were the one-off comedy segments before and after the central arc, like Anya competing with the other Eden Academy kids for a pastry rumored to have academic-boosting powers, or Becky trying to act upon her extremely childish crush on Loid. This series is so ridiculously good at episodic character-driven comedy, in a way that recalls the heyday of similarly high-concept anime comedies like Ranma ½ or Urusei Yatsura (all the examples I’m reaching for are Rumiko Takahashi shows), and that’s still where Spy x Family shines brightest: making you belly-laugh while also warming the heart along the way.
In that vein, my two favorite episodes of the season by far where the two starring the Forger family’s dog, Bond – “Bond’s Strategy to Save Alive,” the second episode, and “Part of the Family,” the finale. Bond is a wonderful character in his own right, and since he was introduced in the first season’s second half, these are some of his first big showcase episodes. I love the way the character reasons through scenarios – logically and with human-scale intelligence, but still with a dog’s perspective on the world, which in that second episode leads to an entire adventure to find Loid so he can avoid Yor’s horrible cooking – and I enjoy seeing how expressive the animators make his very simple character design. Both of Bond’s big episodes also happen to be focused on Loid, and that dynamic between the two of them – who are actually quite similar in their hyper-logical, high-effort approach to the world, but can’t understand each other because of the human/dog language barrier – is extremely funny. And it’s also very sweet, in the way Spy x Family is at its best, where Loid winds up seeing parts of himself in Bond’s selflessness and nobility; Loid is also the kind of person who would run into a burning building to save a single individual, after all, and once he recognizes the import of Bond’s ‘mission’ – to save an adorable puppy from the fire – Loid throws himself at it with the same heroic commitment he does everything else in life.
I like that Spy x Family doesn’t feel the pressure to make its finale a big plot-heavy blowout full of major revelations – that’s not what this show is or needs to be – but “Part of the Family” still feels like an appropriate cap to the season, as it continues and solidifies the idea of how these characters can’t help becoming a real family even as they know it’s technically ‘fake,’ and shows Loid softening in spite of himself to start prioritizing his family for the sake of family, not just his mission. The last little montage showing all the side characters, after the credits, scored to one of the best jazz pieces written for the show yet, with that great big horn solo, is a joy – a reminder of the surprisingly deep bench we’ve got around the core family.
Speaking of Bond, I also love that his voice actor, Kenichirō Matsuda, is, as an official member of the Forger family, billed fourth in the credits, despite only ever saying one word (“Borf”), and above much bigger names like Kensho Ono (Yuri) and Emiri Katō (Becky). You go, dog.
And while we’re talking about vocal talent, the performances remain outstanding all around – Atsumi Tanezaki is almost criminally hilarious as Anya, and one of the best things about the cruise arc is hearing Saori Hayami stretch her legs as Yor and explore more sides of the character than she got to in the first season – but I think the MVP for me this season was actually Takuya Eguchi as Loid. The character is resolutely the straight man, almost never given a direct ‘joke’ to play, and very rarely asked to go over the top in the way Anya or even Yor often are, but he still makes me laugh with damn near every other line delivery because he is so good at playing off everyone else’s shenanigans. It’s an extremely controlled, dialed-in performance, one that has to sell a lot of emotions and reactions within an intentionally limited vocal range, and the way Eguchi consistently threads that needle is a wonder and a joy to behold.
All in all, Spy x Family Season 2 remains a wonderful show, and while I wasn’t in love with every turn the season took, I have to imagine the tonal variations the series tried out this year will pay major dividends later, since, unless this series just tries to run forever without an ending or a firm continuity (a la Doraemon or Detective Conan), there will eventually come a point where secrets are revealed and the plot and character arcs have to find some major resolution. I don’t need that point to come any time soon, since the core joys of this series aren’t found in narrative plot momentum (and viewers who want to prioritize that above fun character-driven comedy are simply watching the wrong show), but when it does arrive, the tonal tightrope to walk is going to be very tricky. And other than figuring out how to best dial in the violence – I think you can keep the balletic choreography without some of the bigger blood sprays and more graphic kill shots – this season suggests the series will be more than capable of pulling off that balance when the time comes, even if the best parts are probably always going to remain the straightforwardly comical and/or heartwarming.
(Also, while we’re here, can we spend a second praising the ridiculously great Opening and Ending themes from this season? Not so much the songs – which are great in their own right, with a killer opening by Ado and a particularly outstanding closing by Vaundy and Cory Wong – but the animation, both of which were guest directed by outside creators. The great Masaaki Yuasa did the opening, and brought all his surreal free-wheeling style to it (I particularly love the moment when the characters look to the camera and lip-sync the song’s title, ‘Kura Kura’), while Eugene Winter (aka Yujin) brought their incredible penchant for papercraft to the closing. Honestly, between the two, I think I’m even more smitten with the ending animation – by the time you’ve got the whole Forger family playing instruments on stage, I find my heart swelling mightily. And ending with the beautiful animation suddenly reduced to one of Anya’s crude drawings, with Loid looking on in disgust, is a great way to punctuate that feeling with a laugh).
Now, if Crunchyroll could please get the Code:White movie out in theaters here ASAP (it released in Japan last month), I would like to buy a dozen tickets right now. Waku waku.
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