Spy x Family: The Appeal of “Feel-Good” Anime
[This is a collaboration article by Kaisah and Kelley]
Released less than a year ago, Spy x Family has won over millions of hearts worldwide. The first episode of the second half of the first season (Episode 13), premiered with over 9.9 million viewers across 5.8 million households. With action, drama, comedy, romance, and overall fluffy and heartwarming moments, this anime has managed to encapsulate everything that audiences love. The popularity of such feel-good anime is particularly interesting, especially when compared to other well-loved anime like Demon Slayer and Attack on Titan that cover darker themes. So why exactly is Spy x Family so popular?
For the unfamiliar, Spy x Family was first shown to the world on the 9th of April, 2022. Twilight, aka Loid Forger, is an elite spy on a mission to get close to Donovan Desmond, a high-ranking politician in a neighbouring country. The trouble is, the only place where this mysterious politician has shown his face is at social gatherings held by the prestigious Eden Academy, which Donovan’s sons attend. Tasked with getting a child and a wife, he finds Anya in an orphanage and meets Yor at a boutique. Unbeknownst to him, Anya is a mindreader, while Yor is an assassin. As the story continues, the audience follows them on a journey of becoming a true-blue family. We watch as they navigate the ups and downs of entering and excelling at Eden Academy, all while getting to know each other and growing together as a family.
With an easy-to-understand plot and enough twists to keep you hooked, Spy x Family still manages to keep it lighthearted while exploring deeper themes that pull at your heartstrings. The true appeal of this anime lies in following an unconventional family growing closer together, with the typical (and not-so-typical) shenanigans along the way. The audience waits with bated breath as we see Anya play her role as the adoring daughter, all while knowing what her parents really do for work. The budding romance between not only Loid and Yor, but also between Anya and her classmate, Damian (son of Donovan Desmond), excites audiences as we wait for sparks that we know will fly, sooner or later. The tropes at play here are basic but much appreciated.
We also see comedy being used effectively here. Despite Anya being a mind reader, she is still only 6 years old and does not always make the right decisions, regularly interrupting Loid’s carefully laid plans. Her access to her parent’s inner thoughts also gives us hilarious parallels, like Yor thinking about the gory demise of her victims while making tea for Loid and Anya. The balance of humour against the backdrop of the more serious and dramatic scenes in the anime makes it all the more appealing. The family also eventually adopts a dog, adding even more cute and magical elements to the story. Bond (named after Anya’s favourite anime) is a dog who can see the future. Together, Anya and Bond form a truly comedic duo that would melt hearts around the world.
This slice-of-life story also means that the anime is extremely beginner-friendly. Nowadays, people no longer recommend Attack on Titan or Demon Slayer as often, as they do not wish to be faced with horrified reviews from their friends when they finally encounter the darker themes in these anime — both shows portray their main characters constantly experiencing external and internal conflict as they seek to uncover the secrets of the world they know little about. While these emotionally driven and action packed shows have a substantial viewing, they may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Spy x Family stands out amongst other shows that have been running for much longer. Nowadays, it is easily a popular “first anime” that comes to mind when people are looking to introduce their friends to anime. Spy x Family is a comedic family-centric show that is easy to understand, with cute animations and a wholesome fandom to boot. Although it does cover some serious themes like the need to protect the peace between the West and East, the anime does well in ensuring that each episode maintains its humorous and heartwarming nature.
On the flip side…
Despite the international traction it has gained, there is one person who does not like the Forger family, and it is none other than their creator, Tastuya Endo. “I gave up on what I originally wanted to draw and drew what the world wants to see, not myself, so I have no attachment to the characters.” Endo shocked many fans when he revealed in an official fan book for the series titled “EYES ONLY” that he has no attachment towards Anya or the Forger family. The character designs we know and love today actually underwent numerous revisions to satisfy his editor, Shihei Lin, who, according to Endo, strictly believed that manga succeeded with a combination of “cool” and “cute” ones.
A later interview with Lin revealed that the two came up with Spy x Family after combining the strengths of Endo’s previous works — early titles Tista and Rengoku no Ashe tell the story about a serial killer and witch hunting respectively. For example, the horn accessories to the hair colour and texture of Ashe from Rengoku no Ashe were probably the primary inspiration for Anya’s character design. The clothes that she’s wearing also resemble the Eden Academy uniforms.
Based on its ever-growing international audience, his editor’s advice might have been for good reason. Unlike Spy x Family, his other works Ishi ni Usubeni and Testsu ni Hoshi, which Endo had full creative freedom over, did not go on to be as successful as the series. Looking at the emergence of other shows like Buddy Daddies that follow the same themes as Spy x Family, this phenomenon could be a testament to what the audience wants today.
Source: Buddy Daddies poster
Released just after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the anime provided a breath of fresh air for audiences worldwide. The target audience of Spy x Family was definitely the youth of today. It provided young, anxious audiences with relief from the reality of assignments and deadlines. The popularity of the anime can thus be attributed to escapism. It relates back to a popular media effects theory named uses and gratification (CNM majors, this is your time to shine), where consumers use the media to satisfy specific needs or desires. Hence, the conventional and predictable plotlines provide a sense of much-needed familiarity and comfort for audiences.
To be continued
Fans around the world are eagerly awaiting the release of Season 2 in 2023 and there has also been a spin-off movie set to be released in the same year. With such high viewership rates and excitement for these releases, it is safe to say that the Spy x Family hype train is not going away anytime soon. Love it or hate it, it is definitely here to stay.