I had the pleasure of reading Spy x Family, vol. 1, thanks to the dynamic duo of VIZ and Twwk.
At first blush, it’s a normal (?) family: a father, a mother, and a six-year-old girl. But one of them is a spy, one is an assassin, and one is a psychic, and two of the three don’t realize just how complicated their situation is. Spy x Family is a droll genre mashup with a lot of heart. It draws on classic spy thrillers like the James Bond and Mission: Impossible films, mistaken identity comedies, two-people-pretend-to-be-in-a-relationship-but-fall-in-love-for-real romcoms, and reluctant-adult-suddenly-becomes-parent-to-cute-kid-and-family-ensues stories. Volume 1 details the start of this peculiar relationship dynamic.
Twilight is a covert intelligence operative in a world roughly modeled after Cold War-era Europe. He’s assigned to investigate a reclusive politician whose only known public appearances are at events as his son’s school. So Twilight has a week to find a wife and kid and enroll said child at the same elite private academy. This will, theoretically, grant Twilight a chance to get closer to his target. Under the alias Loid Forger, he finds an apartment, then visits a rundown orphanage that’s undoubtedly in violation of multiple laws and adopts a seemingly clever little girl named Anya. Of course, Twilight expects to ditch the girl and send her back to an orphanage as soon as his mission is over.
Anya truly is a gifted child, but not in the way Twilight hopes. Unbeknownst to him, this six-year-old girl escaped from some creepy mad science project after they did something that turned her into telepath, which has utterly hilarious results! For one, Anya easily learns her new papa is a spy, and thinks it’s super cool. Moreover, as a spy, Twilight often doesn’t want to share what he’s thinking…except Anya knows it anyway and often responds unpredictably to words he didn’t actually speak. She quickly gets attached to her cool new spy papa, and determines not to let him go. The next major hurdle arises when the super elite private school’s admissions process requires a family interview…which both of a child’s parents must attend. So Twilight needs to recruit an accomplice a wife within forty-eight hours.
Separate and apart, a clerk at city hall named Yor Briar faces pressure from coworkers and her younger brother to get a boyfriend. She ends up telling her brother she already has one…and quickly winds up in a situation where she’ll need to provide an actual human being to prove it to him. Also, Yor is an assassin known as the Thorn Princess. After she rips her nicest dress while slaughtering a bunch of dudes at a hotel, she goes to a clothing store, and chances upon Twilight and Anya out shopping for nicer clothes to the replace the ones Anya received at the orphanage. Despite their unwitting mutual interest (Twilight needs a shame wife, Yor needs a sham boyfriend), nothing happens…almost.
Fortunately, Anya is a telepath. She quickly learns that Yor is a super cool assassin and decides wants Yor for a mother. Anya also realizes that Yor and Twilight need each other for their respective situations. Thus the six-year-old cleverly plays matchmaker between the spy and the assassin. Initially, Twilight agrees to accompany Yor to a party to uphold her lie to her brother, and Yor agrees to pose as Anya’s mother for the family interview. After a bit of a violent sidequest the same evening as the party, Twilight arrives late, bloody, and battered…and he mixes up his roles, claiming to be Yor’s husband instead of her boyfriend. But Yor is actually on board with this – a marriage will better provide cover for her work as an assassin than remaining single. Stuff happens, as they end up legally married.
The resulting family contains three members, each trying to keep a huge secret to keep from the others, allthough Anya already knows their big secrets because, hey, telepathy. Both Twilight and Yor expect this to be a temporary arrangement in which they use the other to provide cover for their real work. Anya, meanwhile, is doing her best to make them a real family. And there are some cute hints that Twilight and Yor are starting to actually like each other.
Lots of other stuff happens in vol. 1, but that summarizes the main cast and how they wind up together. But you didn’t come here to read my scintillating summary, did you, dear reader? Of course not. Fortunately, while it seems this manga probably won’t be taking itself too terribly seriously, there were a couple of thought-provoking moments on which I shall pontificate further.
The story opens with this declaration: “Everyone has a secret they don’t show to other people.” Certainly secrets are a defining force in the lives of Twilight, Anya, and Yor. Those of us who aren’t spies or assassins don’t tend to find quite so much need for secrecy. Yet even we plebes can have secrets, both trivial and terrible. Secrets sometimes arise for positive reasons, but often they seem to stem from less healthy sources: shame and fear at best, or outright evil motives at worst. Secrets of this sort tend to be burdens. Of course, in the manga, someone does know the secrets of both Twilight and Yor: their adoptive daughter Anya (who knows thanks to her own secret!).
Anya brings to mind the one who knows all our secrets. Or, perhaps, it would be better to say that when it comes to God, we have no secrets. Long before we existed, God already knew everything about us. He knew every sin we’d ever commit. He knew exactly how flawed and broken and foolish and weak we’d be. Knowing all of that didn’t stop him from taking on human form, sacrificing himself for us, and creating us. I find this reminder especially relevant when it comes to prayer. There’s nothing so trivial or embarrassing that we can’t talk to God about it. Indeed, considering how much the Bible says about prayer, it seems God actually very much wants us to talk to him about our lives.
Another interesting moment in the manga was a realization Twilight has. He had remarked earlier about how he can’t stand to be around crying children. Later, he recognizes why: suffering children (like Anya) remind him of his own difficult childhood. Twilight acknowledges that trying to avoid these painful memories was warping his attitude toward children. In this, Twilight illustrates the reality that our childhood experiences have profound, dramatic, and often unexpected effects on us.
When I was a kid, my emotionally abusive dad was always right about everything. His authority was absolute, and anything other than instant compliance with his commands was sinful disobedience. As an adult, I learned that my dad was anything but always right, that parental authority is not absolute, and that my dad wasn’t remotely deserving of the extreme reverence I’d been raised to have for him. This has affected my attitude toward all authorities and is something I still wrestle with. After all, the central authority of my childhood, toward whom I had this warped sense of veneration, turned out to be wrong and untrustworthy in some really big ways. I can’t help but project that experience onto most other human authorities, leaving me leery of giving any of them too much trust, too much respect, too much obedience.
Whether those around Twilight will help him develop a healthy relationship with authority matches my own life: a progression that remains to be seen. Putting aside my own transformation, though, I’m eager to see how Twilight grows throughout the course of Spy x Family, and the same for the rest of his makeshift family. And so, I recommend volume one of Spy x Family—a most oddly cute and romantic comedy-action-spy-manga.