I’m far from the first to comment on Spy x Family (pronounced just ‘Spy Family’ with no ‘x’), the weapons-grade charming manga and anime series by Tatsuya Endo, the second season of which is due out in October, while a feature-length film is scheduled for a December release date. But it really does deserve all the attention it’s been getting as a refreshingly wholesome and uplifting piece of entertainment that celebrates family life (not to mention being extremely funny). If you’ve missed it, or perhaps you just aren’t the kind to watch anime, then you are in for a treat.
Following a devastating conflict some decades prior, a tense cold war persists between the nations of “Westalis” and “Ostania” (fictionalized versions of West and Easy Germany circa the 1960s). Ace Westalis spy ‘Twilight’ works tirelessly to protect the peace, giving his entire life to his job and eschewing all emotional attachments in favor of his career. His current objective: to make contact with an important Ostanian government official who potentially holds the balance of war and peace within his hands, and whose life is so controlled and guarded that the only way to reach him is at a social event for top students at an elite preparatory school. Thus, in order to reach this man, Twilight must embark on his most demanding mission yet: get married and start a family.
A series of events leads to Twilight – under the name ‘Loid Forger’ – adopting an unspeakably adorable and affection-starved orphan named Anya (“You are to call me ‘Father’.” “Papa!” “Close enough”). Soon after he meets and joins forces with a beautiful, kind-hearted, but socially-inept office worker named Yor Briar, who agrees to a ‘fake marriage’ with him in order to avoid attracting the attention of the Secret Police by her suspiciously single status.
Unbeknownst to him, Yor is actually one of the deadliest assassins alive (though she only targets truly horrible people and her sweet personality is genuine), code named ‘Thorn Princess,’ who is using their marriage as cover to carry on her work.
And unbeknownst to either of them, Anya was the subject of a top-secret experiment that has left her with the power to read minds. Meaning that she alone of the whole cast knows all of what’s really going on. Though, as she’s six years old (at most: it’s hinted that she’s lying about her age), her understanding of and ability to use her knowledge only goes so far. A lot of the jokes revolve around her being shocked by thoughts that were never meant for her ears (“To make this simpler, I’ll just think of it as a dismembered body...”).
From that setup all kinds of adventures and hilarious mishaps ensue, as Loid tries to get the precocious, but unfocused Anya into the elite school, then make her a model student, all while he and Yor continue their respective secret careers of thwarting bad guys and preventing war.
As I say, it’s a really wonderful series; a kind of affectionate parody of the classic James Bond films while turning the material in a more wholesome, family-oriented direction to preach the message that one of the most important things anyone can do is simply to get married, raise a family, and put their children first.
One interesting aspect is that the lead couple initially get married for purely practical reasons with zero romantic feelings. Loid is a serial seducer who, as part of his spy work, has been with dozens of women without forming the smallest emotional attachment (we meet him coldly throwing off his latest ‘girlfriend’—the part of the Bond formula that is usually skipped), while Yor is so awkward and inexperienced that any hint of intimacy tends to terrify her into violence.
But this doesn’t matter at all to little Anya, who loves her new parents unconditionally and only wants them to stay together forever. She thinks their jobs are ‘so cool,’ but the important thing to her is just to have an intact family, and she’s terrified that any damage to the status quo might cause the family to break up and herself to be abandoned. The presence or absence of romantic feelings between them are irrelevant to the little girl who only wants her momma and papa.
On the other side of things, whatever their initial motives, it isn’t long before Loid and Yor begin to place Anya’s happiness and well-being before everything else. Barely five chapters in, and Loid finds himself putting the whole mission at risk to protect his daughter against a bullying school master. Yor, meanwhile, takes to motherhood like a duck to water (it helps that she raised her younger brother as a child), even while worrying over her spotty homemaking skills and general inexperience with normal life. That is, they naturally come to realize that it isn’t so much about them as it is about her. This is driven home when his interactions with Anya cause Loid to remember that the whole reason he became a spy was to “create a world where children don’t have to cry.”
Meanwhile, despite their initially pragmatic reasons for marrying, the mere fact of managing a home and raising a child together begins to draw out feelings between the Forger parents that neither quite knows what to do with. Yor worries over whether Loid might be more attracted to a co-worker, for instance, while Loid is surprised to find himself nervously flinching when their hands brush together. Their growing relationship serves to illustrate what Uncle Screwtape pointed out: that romance is less the starting point for marriage than it is the result.
What all this amounts to is a core message standing in direct opposition to modern society, arguing that it isn’t about you, your feelings, your desires, and your goals. Rather than a glamorous life of a high-profile career and a string of shallow seductions, the good life consists in subordinating yourself, taking responsibility for others, and, above all, starting a family. It’s through family and children that you’ll find satisfaction, meaning, and romance.
Because, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about; all the governments and wars and intrigue all ultimately comes down to the goal of creating a world where families can raise their children in peace.
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