'Spy x Family' is a hilarious anime comedy that has dramatic consequences

The anime about a household made up of a spy father, an assassin mother, and a psychic daughter works because it grounds its silliness

Shanjida Nowshin Chowdhury
Published : 10 March 2023, 12:58 PM
Updated : 10 March 2023, 12:58 PM

An undercover spy, a vicious assassin, and an adorable telepath come together to form a dysfunctional nuclear family. It's a hilarious idea, and Spy x Family was an immediate success when it debuted as a manga. The anime adaptation sent sales skyrocketing and made the Folger family the face of the medium in 2022. But what maintains the show's fandom and the manga is that the comedy has real dramatic stakes. 

The story follows the spy Twilight, who goes by the name Loid Forger, as he tries to ensure peace between the nations of Ostania and Westalis. Loid gets a simple mission – get inside information from government officials. To do so, he has to infiltrate the schools where the most powerful families of Ostania send their children. Lamenting that there's no formula for instant microwaveable families, Loid decides to adopt a child. He takes custody of Anya, an orphan girl with telepathic abilities who can stay a few steps ahead of everyone by reading their minds. 

Adorable and clever, Anya is the glue that holds the show's drama and comedy together. As a psychic, she learns Loid's secret identity and gets the bright idea of setting her new father up with the nation's greatest undercover assassin, Yor Briar. 

Now that the perfect nuclear family is together, they must keep up appearances while hiding their true identities from each other. It's a classic case of dramatic irony as the audience knows more than the characters, making each of the misunderstandings and close calls much funnier and more intense. 

Loid is the most devious spy in the land but is oblivious to his wife's monstrous strength. Yor is a bloodthirsty assassin who is nervous about trying to be a good wife and mother. Anya can stop robberies and save lives with her powers, but she can also fail a school test because she cheats off another student who didn't study.

Spy x Family is endlessly funny, but what makes it different from gag-heavy anime like Pop Team Epic and Nichijou is that the ridiculous jokes actually have real consequences. We praise comic shows that don't take themselves seriously, and many comedy anime bank on throwing a barrage of throwaway jokes at the audience instead of an actual plot. But Spy x Family succeeds because it grounds the goofy antics in its world.

In episode 5, for example, Anya demands that Loid play dress up because she succeeded in getting into a prestigious elementary school. Knowing that world peace hangs in the balance, Loid calls in backup from his agency for an emergency mission of playing dress-up, so Anya doesn't quit school. 

Is it hilarious that every spy in the nation is playing a kid's game to appease a six-year-old? Yes. But does the show treat Loid's mission as severe enough to world security that they would be so dedicated to their jobs? Also yes. 

The show has purpose and weight, even when being silly.

The joy of the show comes from the significance of every little action. It makes you laugh by taking mundane situations and making them more ridiculous, but it also gives you a deeper appreciation for your family and all the small things they do for you. 

The monumental success of season one means more shenanigans are on the way. Let's hope it strikes a balance between making jokes and maintaining the drama as sharply.