Title: Spy x Family

Type: Anime TV

Year: 2022-2023 (Seasons 1 & 2)

Country: Japan

Genre: Comedy with some thriller/action

Status: Ongoing? (Movie forthcoming, and sequels likely)

Platform: Crunchyroll (watch here)

Appropriate for 30+?: Somewhat

My rating: 3/5 stars

(Rating scale: 5/5 = masterpiece, 4/5 = quite good, 3/5 = mostly good, 2/5 = bleh, 1/5 = I regret ever being exposed to this series, 0/5 = affront to humanity)

Watching Spy x Family can feel like rolling a roulette wheel: is this week’s episode going to be a spy thriller? A gorey action sequence? A goofy comedy of misunderstanding? A slice-of-life? A heartwarming tale of family? All of the above smooshed together? At its core, the series is a sitcom: the premise rests heavily on the unique traits of each cast member, so the plot almost always revolves around how those characters interact with each other and resolve a variety of situations that get thrown their way, usually in an humorous manner (so yeah, situational-comedy).

The series’ elevator pitch: because of circumstances, a super-spy undercover in enemy territory, a secret assassin, and a child psychic (and later a dog with precognition) form a fake family that slowly becomes real as they spend time with each other, while frantically keeping their secrets from each other. The series introduces various side characters, like the sis-con brother who covertly works for the secret police, who also have amusing traits that interact with the main cast in funny ways (that’s the idea anyway). And sure, there are some funny scenes and moments that result from these interactions. But like most sitcoms, both character and plot development are horribly stifled by the fact that the entire series revolves around each character’s set bio, and any change to that would disturb the series’ delicate balance. This removes a lot of tension from any action scene or occasion where a character’s identity might be found out, because we the audience know that any major plot development would spell the end of the series, thus encapsulating everything that happens in a thick layer of plot armor. It also results in repetitive situations (how many times can you joke about the sis-con brother’s unhealthy obsession with his sister before it gets stale?) because there’s only so much material to work with without changing the base dynamic, and as nothing can be taken seriously in a series with such a preposterous premise, the wacky-hijinks factor is quite high. It can feel like watching Saturday Night Live: some skits are haha-funny, some are heh-funny, and some are not funny at all (and feel like a drag to get through). There are some cute and hearwarming moments and I’d say that this was at least a turn-your-brain-off wholesome-comedy series, if it weren’t for the sporadic fight scenes, which are sometimes “TV-Y7” levels of violent, and other times quite bloody.

One of the difficulties with being a long-time fan of anime is that the cliches really start to wear on you after a while. While Spy x Family has some novelty to it, it also has jokes (so many jokes) about how the mother character’s cooking is terrible to the point of inducing severe illness. Throw in the complete lack of character development among the 2-dimensional cast, multiple boring “skits” (there’s an episode where the entire plot is two characters look for a lost cat and surprise! hijinks ensue, 'nuff said), lackluster plots revolving around the spy/thriller/action sequences (while there is a TON of room for political drama and nuance given the setting, the series is way too frivolous to include any), stir it all together and you get a series that’s just okay.

Despite all this I’m not surprised Spy x Family is a popular series; I’m sure I would have enjoyed it quite a bit had I watched it as a teenager, especially because anime has historically struggled with making comedy that’s actually funny—part of this is the lost-in-translation factor, part of this is just the vast heaps of mediocrity out there—and Spy x Family is undeniably funnier-than-average when compared to other comedy anime. But it’s not funny enough (or consistently funny enough) to be a pure comedy series, it falls horribly flat when judged by any other genre, and it overall has a feeling of immaturity of plot and premise. It’s not a show that couldn’t be enjoyed by adults, but I definitely felt like I was watching a show aimed at the teenage demographic. At least the parts I found cliche were boring rather than grating, which saved the series from getting a much lower rating.

As always, this review is nothing more than my personal opinion. Anyone familiar with this work is encouraged to express their own in the comment section. Or submit your own review… it’s a free country fediverse.

  • @[email protected]
    23 months ago

    We have an active community over at [email protected] a lot of whom probably watched SxF, if you want to share/cross-post your thoughts over there.

    p.s. I’m pretty jaded, and SxF is a bit too corny for my tastes. Lloyd, Anya, and the snooty school are cool, but Yor’s ingenue act despite her supposing to be this deadly assassin doesn’t strike as true to me.

    • @fireweedOPM
      23 months ago

      Done, thanks for the suggestion!

      Yeah, I’m not sure how such a clueless person would be a successful underground assassin. Although Lloyd isn’t much better, being really oblivious at times (which seems like a fatal flaw for an international super-spy!)