Spy x Family: Family Portrait

By Aya Yajima, based on the series by Tatsuya Endo. Released in Japan as “SPY×FAMILY: Kazoku no Shōzō” by Jump Books. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Casey Loe.

It’s always difficult to review these spinoff/tie-in novels. By their very definition, they cannot affect the main series in any way. There can’t be plot progression, or significant character development. Usually, there also can’t be a dramatic plotline or cool action scenes either. The novel is not here to provide anything that can’t be done better in the parent manga. Instead, it’s here to give us fun stories using the series’ sandbox to play around in. The author thinks of cute ideas, gets approval from the creator and the Jump editorial staff, and then writes them down. Then Tatsuya Endo reads the stories and gives us an illustration for each of them. If you want to call it a success or failure, then as a product it’s a definite success. This feels very Spy x Family-esque. As something a fan of the series can read and think “I think the world of the manga is better for these short stories”, it’s probably a failure. These are very basic.

The book consists of four “main” stories and one very short story. In the first story, Anya, Damian, and the class go on a “Nature’s Classroom” expedition, and an overconfident Anya causes her and Damian to get lost in the woods. In the rain. In the second story, Yuri is asked to babysit Anya, and ends up taking her to a children’s career fair, where kids can pretend to be any number of things, from a police officer to a jewelry maker. In the third short story, Franky meets a blind singer in the hospital when recovering from an injury, and consoles her about an upcoming operation, while also bemoaning his appearance. The fourth story is the “title” story, as our family, on an outing, is seen by a painter, who wants to paint them. Unfortunately, he’s incredibly famous, and Yor is worried that if her portrait is seen everywhere, it will jeopardize her assassin job. In the final short, two waitresses moan about the lack of good men and gush over regular patrons the Forgers being the “perfect” loving family.

The best story in the book is easily the one with Yuri and Anya, and Endo agrees with me. It’s a clever idea, makes good use of the characters, and is funny. Its only problem is it stars Yuri, and I hate Yuri, so I did not enjoy it. But that’s on me. Aside from that, the stories suffer from having the most obvious resolution there is. Anya and Damian find a cave, and both get closer when the rainstorm brings lightning. Franky’s story would be touching if it had not already been done eighty times before, and the family portrait story, while fun, also has a punchline that I predicted the moment the painter said “can I paint you?”. In addition, Loid and Yor really don’t get much to do here except in that one story, and the book feels a bit empty without them – Anya can’t carry everything on her own, much less Yuri or Frankly.

This is, as I said, perfectly good product, but it’s also the definition of inessential.

Spy x Family, Vol. 1

By Tatsuya Endo. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Jump+. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Casey Loe.

I have technically reviewed this before. Back when Spy x Family was a brand new manga on the Mangaplus app, I was so taken with it that I did a review of the first four chapters even though it hadn’t even been collected into volumes in Japan. Since then it’s gotten up to four volumes there, been picked up by the Shonen Jump app, gotten ludicrously popular (though rumors of an anime coming soon are likely merely rumors), and now we have the first volume from Viz. Is it worth a reread if you’ve already seen it on the app? Of course. This is a manga that rewards rereads. It’s also the perfect combination of funny and heartwarming, and the Spy and the Family in its title are in almost perfect balance. It also features three leads who can each play the clueless one when the plot allows (yes, even Loid). And of course it’s a found family manga, showing off that when you have people you care about, it can be hard to see them as just pawns for your mission.

Spy x Family takes place in not-Cold War Germany, with tensions brewing between thinly renamed versions of East and West Berlin. Agent Twilight is a master spy, good at almost everything, who is now forced to have a wife and child so that he can infiltrate an exclusive private academy. Going by the name Loid Forger (why not Lloyd? I dunno. Why not Gerald instead of Jellal/Geord?), he goes to an orphanage to adopt Anya, a girl who seems brilliant to him, but it turns out she’s a telepath who just reads his mind to get the right answers. She really wants out of the orphanage, and things Loid is cool. As for a wife, he meets Yor, an office lady who is over 25 yet has no husband, suspicious in this cold war environment. She and Loid both agree to have a sham marriage to prop each other up. Oh yes, she’s also an assassin for the other side. Neither Loid nor Yor know each other’s secrets. Anya knows both, but she thinks it’s really cool, so it’s fine.

This manga is funny. It’s filled with great lines from everyone. Loid’s over-seriousness is mined for comedy. Anya’s childishness and ability to read minds is mined for comedy. Yor is perhaps the best at it, as despite being a lethal assassin, she’s also an airhead of the finest kind. I’d happily read this if it were just broad comedy. But the other reason everyone loves it is the gradual love and affection the family develops for each other, particularly on Loid’s end. The entire reason for him doing this was to infiltrate the school (which they do, in a ludicrous chapter that involves a child stuck in mud, a stampede of wild animals through the campus, and THREE different outfits for everyone “just in case”), and yet when they get there and one of the interviewers starts to humiliate Anya and Yor, Loid snaps and almost hits him, then walks out. His family became (even briefly) more important than the mission. It’s fantastic.

There’s a joke that says that the author came up with the idea of this manga by reading the most popular AO3 tags and mushing them together. It does feel like that at times. But like the best found family/enemies to lovers fanfics, it also has a strong plot, and it’s a lot of fun. I can’t wait for the next volume, even if I have read it before on the Shonen Jump app. It’s just that good.


By Tatsuya Endo. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the online magazine Shonen Jump +. Released in North America by Shueisha on the Manga PLUS platform. Translated by Colin Milliken.

Over the last few years, North America and Japan have been trying to do something about piracy in various different ways, one of which has been simulpublishing. Putting out chapters at the same time as they’re released in Japan, for either a nominal charge, a yearly fee, or just plain for free. This means that we’re not merely getting popular new series from Japan after they’ve taken off, but we’re also getting potential hits – or bombs – as they debut. Shueisha, a few months ago, stuck their feet in the water with their Manga PLUS app/website, which gives readers a pile of series to read for free, from older titles like Naruto and Assassination Classroom to the newest chapters of current Jump series. Most of these are, I assume, done in conjunction with Viz Media. But they also had a bunch of debuts that run either in Jump Square or in Jump +, their online magazine, that are translated by the Media Do people. And none have quite hit the manga readership quite as hard or fast as Spy x Family.

Lloyd (aka Twilight) is a brilliant, if somewhat emotionally stoic, young spy, who is known for success. He is asked by his superiors to infiltrate a private school, the only location where a reclusive enemy is known to appear, and take him out. Unfortunately, the school has rigorous rules that are set in place, so in order to infiltrate, he’ll need a wife and child. The child is Anya, who he finds at an orphanage and snaps up when he sees she can read and write. The wife is Yoru, an office lady who is at that age where she really needs to have a man in her life (mostly as the Berlin Wall-esque world they’re living in tends to arrest unmarried older women as security risks). Together they can infiltrate the school. Oh, yes, there are a few more things. Yoru is actually Thorn Princess, a powerful hitman/assassin. And Anya is an esper, and can read the thoughts of everyone around her. The key to the series is that Lloyd and Yoru do not know each other’s secrets, and neither one of them know Anya’s. Anya can read minds, so knows both their secrets, but that’s OK, as they’re SO COOL!

If you’re wondering why this series has gotten so much buzz after a \mere four chapters, well, it does nearly everything right. The characters are cool yet flawed, and each also have the opportunity to be funny. The future plotline will, I hope, have Lloyd and Yoru falling for each other for real, and that will be terrific, because they’re perfect for each other. And we all await with baited breath the moment that they find out about each other (though really, Yoru should likely have guessed when she was proposed to using a grenade pin as a ring). The series runs on cool and funny, and carries both off, from the sleek action moves when we see Yoru killing any number of bad guys, running after purse snatchers, or even judo flipping an enraged bull, to the ‘this is ridiculous’ savvy of Lloyd and Yoru packing multiple different outfits just in case their clothing is damaged and they have to change. And then there’s Anya, who is adorable and cute to the nth degree, and you just want to pick her up and hug her forever. Seeing Lloyd trying to open up to her, and her attempts to manipulate things so that he doesn’t abandon her like everyone else has (being a young esper is not a fun life) is incredibly sweet.

To sum up, this is a well-written, cool and hilarious series that you can read legally for free. And it’s only four chapters long (the first chapter is about 85 pages, so there’s a lot of content here), so you aren’t trying to catch up but are getting in on the ground floor. How long will it last? Well, I suspect that’s up to Japanese readers. I will say that it’s currently the 6th most popular series on the Manga PLUS site. Which, given it’s up against most of the current and past Shonen Jump lineup, is quite a feat. Go read it and make it even more popular.