Spy Classroom: Fool Erna Once

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

It should go without saying, but the series Spy Classroom involves spies. And spies can sometimes be not nice people. Downright unpleasant, in fact. We’ve seen that in previous books, with villains working for other countries ranging from weak to comically evil. But for the most part, we know our girls. Those wacky, lovable scamps who are all dropouts but come together in the end with the power of friendship. Surely they’re all different! Well, OK, not Annette. We already know fro previous books that Annette is one of the only girls in Lamplight who can, when push comes to shove, do something cruel. But she may not be alone, as we learn in this book that focuses, for once, on the character the anime tried desperately to adapt and failed miserably. The character that even the publisher tried to avoid drawing for the longest time. A girl plagued by misfortune. Which even extends to this review, because sorry, Erna, Sara is my favorite character in this book.

After the triumph of the fourth book, and becoming an official team, things are not going very well for Lamplight. They’ve been screwing up mission after mission, and believe it or not, it’s not JUST Lily. Things take a turn for the worse, though, when they meet two members of another spy organization working for their country, Avian. If Lamplight is composed of dropouts and washouts, Avian is composed of only the top graduates of spy schools. And recently, their handler was killed, meaning they don’t have a leader. After discerning that Lamplight are pathetic and awful, Avian decide that Klaus should be their leader instead, and Lamplight can all go back to spy school where they truly belong. Of course, the girls are not going to take this lying down, and it ends up becoming a competition to see who the best spy team really is!

If you thought that my description of Lamplight in the last paragraph was a bit mean, you ain’t heard nothing yet. Avian may be just as eccentric as Lamplight, but they’re far, far more skilled, and they have a heaping helping of arrogance to go with it. They’ve also had actual completion of spy school, which means they have an extra technique the Lamplight girls do not, and much of this book amounts to our heroines “trying to reach their second form”. Sara comes close, and actually manages to kick ass and take names (yes, Sara, the animal girl), but of course Erna is the star of the book, for spoilery reasons, and it’s her own development that provides the big climax. It also allows Klaus to have a paternal talk with her, which I appreciate, as Klaus as a hottie everyone wants to bone is not my favorite thing. (That also comes up here, alas.)

All this plus one of THOSE epilogues, the ones that really like to kick you in the teeth and then make you wait for months or so for the next book. This book, though, was good, and arrives just in time for the second half of the anime, which… has nowhere to go but up.

Spy Classroom Short Story Collection: Bridal Royale

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

When I reviewed the 4th volume of The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady the other day, I talked about how the success of the anime gave me a new appreciation and love of the books. The same season that that anime ran, we also had the first season of the adaptation of Spy Classroom. Sadly, here I have the opposite problem, as I have to remind myself that I actually did enjoy this series and was looking forward to the next book. Fortunately, this short story collection is in prose, which is the series’ greatest strength, and so I don’t have to worry about lame attempts to hide Erna under a table. Also, I know it’s a short story collection, so am not really expecting it to be more than it already is. As such, I am pleased to say that this is a solid book in the series, with the ending especially pleasing me a great deal, even as it really leans in to having its cake and eating it too.

The wraparound plot, and final short story, involves the girls finding out that Klaus has married one of them on paper for the sake of missions where he needs a wife. However, no one is admitting they’re the wife. As such, interrogations ensue, which form the four main short stories. We see Klaus and Sybilla embark on a miniature Oliver Twist story, only one where Bill Sikes rather than Fagin is the leader. We then see Sara, who already has low self-esteem in regards to being a spy, trying to make herself usual by repairing the mansion, which ends up turning into a contest. Monika goes on a solo mission where we learn her backstory, and she also bonds with the mark she’s trying to take care of, despite her best efforts to be cool and collected. And Grete tries to help Klaus by saving the local meat pie shop he likes, which ends up becoming an escalating comedy of errors. Finally, there’s only one way to resolve the wife question… have a winner-take-all fight to determine who gets to be Klaus’ new bride!

The four main stories all ran in Dragon Magazine, which exists primarily to run short stories for light novel franchises. They’re all pretty decent, though the meat pie story was struggling to keep my attention. The four girls who star were chosen as they weren’t the focus of the first volume in the main series, so this fleshed them out. (This takes place mostly before the climax of Vol. 1, with the rest happening right before the start of Vol. 2). If you like romance, you’ll enjoy this, as most of the cast are in love with Klaus, and a few are not shy of saying so. If you hate the idea of romance, though, you will also love this, as Klaus makes it very clear that he sees his relationship with the girls as teacher and students, does not want to cross a line he shouldn’t, and hopes they all find other partners. I am in the camp that prefers this cast as a found family, so to me this was the best part of the book.

So yes, wipe that taste of the anime out of your mouth, the books are fine. What’s more, for some odd reason, this SS volume did not follow Yen’s normal publishing schedule, meaning we only have a month till the fifth book in the main series. I look forward to it.

Spy Classroom: Thea in Dreamland

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

The Spy Classroom books, for the most part, are stand-alone but also very much intertwined with each other, and this is especially true of this fourth volume, which features Thea’s existential crisis that began with the third volume. She’s always felt like the most mature, together one of the group, despite her “sex mad” character tic, and so seeing everyone else continuing to only get better and better while she has what amounts to a book-long panic attack can be a bit depressing. The scene with the most impact in this book comes near the start, where Klaus is praising everyone for the most successful attack on him they’ve ever done, and when he gets to Thea (who was deliberately left out of it) he basically says what amounts to “sorry I got nothing”. Unfortunately for Thea, while the others try to help her as best they can, it’s a mental issue, so it is something she eventually has to fix on her own… with the help of a surprise guest, of course.

We’re going to America! Or the Spy Classroom equivalent, which changes the names but still has the team in New York City. There’s a big Economic Conference there, and the city has been infiltrated by multiple spies from multiple countries to try to either stop it, influence it, or just straight up murder a bunch of spies. That last one seems to be the main plotline, as the enemy this time is Purple Ant, a spy who kidnaps and brainwashes civilians to be his “worker ants”. As such, Sybilla is fighting blind, Monika faces a deadly game of darts, and Lily… OK, Lily is the comedy relief. That said, everything is going from bad to worse, and they really need their leader to save them. Except their leader is having a crisis, OK?

Purple Ant is such a loathsome villain that it actually took me away from the story a bit. Spy Classroom tries to balance the funny and serious parts, but its serious parts can get ludicrously dark, so sometimes it overshoots. (Sometimes it overshoots the other way, too… I found the solution to “76 dead spies” near the end to be amazingly mean to Lily.) This is Thea’s book, though, and how much you enjoy it depends on how much you can empathize with her plight. At times you really feel terrible for her, and at times you sort of want Monika to hit Thea over and over again till self-confidence comes out. That said, I really appreciated the “gimmick” in this book… most of the books so far have a twist, and this one is good, tying in to both Klaus’ previous work and Thea’s past, while also finally giving her the ability to kick ass in a way only she can.

So this was a good volume, despite my reservations about a few points. And the girls are now real spies, rather than trainees! What next? What would YOU do, if you were a Japanese publisher? That’s right… short story collection.