Spy Classroom: Lily of the Garden

By Takemachi and Tomari. Released in Japan as “Spy Kyoushitsu” by Fujimi Fantasia Bunko Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Nathaniel Thrasher.

I am always pleased when a book meets the expectations I had for it. I’d heard good things about Spy Classroom when it was first licensed. It’s an award winner, and it seemed to be balancing humor and espionage in equal measure. The premise is simple enough: a group of girls, all of whom are in various schools training to be spies, and all of whom are failures and washouts for one reason or another, are removed from their schools and assigned to an “Impossible Mission”, i.e. a mission that a previous group of spies has tried to do and been killed for it. Success for those “redo” missions is about 10%. Fortunately, they have Klaus, a fantastic spy who they can never quite get the drop on no matter how many times they try, to teach them. That said, there is a slight problem. He’s so intuitive about everything he does that his explanations are ludicrously bad. No, normal teaching is not going to cut it here. We need teaching by example. Which means trying to kill the teacher over and over again.

The description makes it sound a lot like Assassination Classroom, even down to the name, but it’s not very much like that series at all. As you’d expect with a cast herd like this, we only really focus on a couple of the girls in this volume – indeed, except for these two, even the names of the other girls are obfuscated for the most part. Lily is the girl on the cover, a cheerful, somewhat arrogant young girl who is also, well, really terrible at spy school. She has one very big thing she can do, and it works well… the trouble is everything else. Oh yes, and she doesn’t want to die, which means the idea of an Impossible Mission freaks her out. The other girl we get to know is Erna, who is a bit of a type, the classic case of the “girl with bad luck”. Her luck tends to lash out at both her and everyone else, and it’s left her personality pretty much the opposite of Lily’s. They were both very well fleshed out.

As for the espionage part… much as I tend to be a walking spoiler factory in my reviews, I’m trying not to do that this time. There are several “shocking swerves” in the narrative, very much in the classic mystery genre way where after reading it you kick yourself for not noticing things beforehand. Indeed, the author and artist even take advantage of this, tricking the reader as well as the enemy into what they believe. The battles are exciting and honestly, I did worry there would be some main cast killed. It’s pretty clear this was written as a one-shot, so all bets are off, really. That said, being framed as a single book also helps to keep things tense and fast-paced – a lesser author would have spent the first book just having wacky spy teaching stuff and left the mission for a Book 3 or so, but we know what it’s safe to skip over and what isn’t. (Also, skipping stuff helps to keep the mystery going.)

Fortunately, there is more in the series, which makes me very happy. This was one of the best light novels I’ve read in months, and it also really makes you want to go back and re-read it after you’ve finished to spot the clues and smack your forehead. Also: FOUND FAMILY FOUND FAMILY FOUND FAMILY.

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