Spy x Family Makes Good on a Ridiculous Premise

A spy, a telepath, and an assassin walk into a bar.
A screenshot of Yor, Anya and Loid from Spy x Family surrounded by confetti.
Image Source: Spy x Family

Spy x Family, an anime based on the popular Shonen Jump manga of the same name, is remarkable for how much warmth it packs into a grim premise. It’s about a spy who goes by Loid Forger, whose new assignment tasks him with getting close to a government leader who only makes appearances at his son’s school. Loid thus has to find a kid to pose as his own, and, because the school is pretty conservative, also find a wife—in 72 hours. In a remarkable stroke of luck, he finds a precocious kid and a woman willing to pose as his wife, and they remain totally unaware of his secret identity as a spy. They have secret identities too, though: His daughter, Anya, was experimented on by the government and can now read minds, and his wife, Yor, is a deadly assassin.

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Everyone in Spy x Family has a secret identity. The man at the cigarette stand that’s Loid’s best friend is also his information broker. The dog that Anya demands the family adopt is the product of another government experiment and can tell the future. Yor’s brother Yuri is a member of the secret police and is determined to uncover spies, putting him at odds with Loid. Even the kids at the elite private school Anya attends have secrets, though the more mundane ones that come with being a kid. Her best friend, Becky, is super rich, but also alienated from other children by her wealth and very lonely. Desmond, the diplomat’s son that Anya is supposed to get close to, isn’t actually very close with his father and is desperate to live up to his family name to get the parental love he craves.

It’s this non-stop comedy of errors that fuels most of the plots in Spy x Family. While Loid is concerned about his secret agenda actually coming to fruition, Anya is totally aware of it, and Yor is trying to hide an agenda of her own. But what makes the show more than just a fun comedy is the sweetness of these characters’ interactions. Most of this has to do with how well-written Anya is as a character. Her telepathy makes her an unusually savvy child, but she’s also never had to learn anything because she can just cheat by reading minds—she’s smart, but also stone cold dumb. So she’ll be able to manipulate Loid into renting out a castle to act out an episode of the spy-themed cartoon she’s obsessed with, but not able to think about anything more nefarious she could do with her mind reading powers. To Anya, an orphan who had already been adopted and returned to the orphanage half a dozen times, having a loving mother and father is enough.

As you can probably tell, Spy x Family doesn’t exactly take a le Carréish approach to espionage and politics; it may be about conservative institutions and how outsiders to them can function within them, but it’s a farcical anime, not something focused on critiquing the conditions and that create repressive structures. The suggestion it makes is sly and personal: That for those outside of or who don’t fit into such a system, the way to get by, and even flourish, is simply to find people who love them for who they are. The show’s ending credits portray this central conceit most clearly. In the outside world, as Loid and Yor walk Anya home from school, they’re illustrated as grayscale shadows. But once they get inside their apartment, they burst into full color, dancing to the music and embracing Anya in their love.