A couple of years ago, when Spy x Family only had one volume out and was considerably less ubiquitous, I was trying to convince someone to give it a shot. I was already hearing good things about this fresh new series, and I had gotten my hands on said first volume. I remember, I started reading it on the way to a dinner at a friend’s place. It was a bad idea. All through the evening, I would sneak out to the restroom to read a few more pages or wait until my dinner companion stepped out for a minute to grab the manga once more. It was very ungrateful guest behaviour and I am sorry. But I couldn’t help myself.

And because I had discovered this manga that I really liked, I naturally wanted other people to share the joy. And maybe make myself look not as bad in comparison when dozens of people started reading mangas in the middle of dinner. I’m not sure my great master plan had any success at all. I never heard about anyone reproducing my faux pas. But I do remember that when I was trying to describe Spy x Family to someone that had never read it and had little experience with manga in general, I said “it all starts with this really suave guy, you see. He’s basically a James Bond type…”

nice trenchcoat!

A few weeks ago, I was watching a YouTube series that examined the movie Mad Max: Fury Road. I quite enjoyed this series (here). It mainly discusses how Fury Road subverts the classic action movie genre in subtle and not so subtle at all, ways. Especially when it comes to gender tropes of the genre. And why this makes the movie better or at least more interesting.

To the casual observer, it may seem like I just threw out a couple of paragraphs that have nothing to do with each other. Maybe I’m having a slow stroke of some sort. But I’m going somewhere. I’m just taking a slow and very winding road to get there.

As I was listening and thinking about the Fury Road series, I immediately thought about Spy x Family and how it was subverting the classic Spy Thriller genre in similar ways. And then I realized that I, myself, had thoughtlessly called Loid Forger a James Bond type. Loid Forger is NOT James Bond. And I would like to say that in this case, that’s a very good thing.

Now the fact is, if we just do a straightforward character comparison, you could call the two extremely similar. Almost the same. I wasn’t lying at the time. Loid is a man in his prime. He’s tall, handsome and very good in a fight. He has interesting gadgets and knows how to use them. He keeps his cool in tense situations and stays calm and collected as bullets swarm around him. He is a professional that always gets the mission done and he knows how to deal with obstacles swiftly and efficiently. We’ve even seen him take advantage of the affections of women to get his job done. He’s definitely a James Bond type, right?

nice glasses

I’m hoping this post will be fun to read. Like we’re having a conversation. A little part of me is afraid that this stream of consciousness style is going to get more annoying than anything else. Let me know!

Yes in a straightforward way, Loid Forger is James Bond, just like Spy x Family is a spy thriller and Max Rockatansky (did you know his last name is Rockatansky !?!) from Fury Road is a standard action hero. But in a piece of fiction, it’s not just about what the characters are. It’s not all about a series of qualifiers you can give them. Tall… dark… handsome! It’s about how they make you feel, and what they make you think!

One of the big things that set Loid apart from a lot of classic spy thriller protagonists, is that he’s not the star. It’s an ensemble. Granted a small ensemble of three people but still an ensemble. The story isn’t told from his singular point of view, and we are not meant to relate only to him and his experience. Just that changes everything. Let’s face it, a lot of the action genre and related subgenres of which spy thriller is definitely one, are a power fantasy. And we occasionally hear that expression as a negative but this isn’t how I’m using it here.

A power fantasy isn’t a bad thing. It’s a way for the audience to get the vicarious pleasure of feeling like they have control or they really matter by watching someone on screen be very cool. And that’s very fun. Escapism is one of the things we all look for in fiction once in a while and power fantasies are a great way to escape.

escaping is important sometimes!

The thing is, power fantasies tend to look kind of silly and much less appealing when the point of view is made external. Loid is cool, but Yor and Anya can clearly see that sometimes he panics, no matter what he might want to tell himself. Sometimes he says something that doesn’t fit the situation, and he doesn’t even notice. What’s more Anya and Yor find him endearing because of that. And because we see the world through their eyes, so do we.

Sure Loid is a super cool super-strong secret agent that can destroy a whole gang of armed men with his bare fists in a matter of minutes. But we like him because, after that, he saw a little girl in the street and decided to take care of her. That’s the really cool part of Loid. And that’s just not something James Bond could do. His lifestyle and character simply can’t work if he’s a caregiver. The impact of the character is completely different.

And when you take a step back, you start to see that the entire show is completely different.

Spy x Family uses all the building blocks of a classic spy thriller. There’s a political intrigue happening in the background. It’s there but not too intrusive. There are nebulous powers that be but we really only care about the specific spy or spies involved. You have a lot of action, out of the four first episodes 3 included high-action battles with bad guys and the last one had a stampede. There’s a nerdy informant who gives us lots of high-tech but believable gadgets. There’s a beautiful femme fatal and an innocent little girl who would be the perfect damsel in distress. There are even innocent bystanders who could nevertheless blow their cover so they have to be both mindful and wary of everyone. It’s all there. A paint by numbers spy thriller.

But that’s not what you’re left with when you read or watch Spy x Family, is it? Sure those things are all there but that’s not the spirit of it. It’s a found family tale. Anya is an innocent child. She could be used as a damsel in distress and was up to a certain point in episode 1. Arguably you could say she had that role again when the mean teacher made her cry. But that’s not all she is. She’s often the comedic relief as the combination of her clumsy cuteness and all the misunderstandings her telepathy causes often makes for some very funny moments. She’s also a hero because there are specific things that only she can do. The story can’t progress without Anya. And she can’t be replaced by anyone else. She’s also a protagonist at times as the story shifts to her perspective and values her experience over those of the others.

I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that she’s adorable

And I could say the same for Yor. She’s the gorgeous assassin. A stereotypical female character for these types of stories. Fujiko Mine anyone? But she’s also not, is she? To think of Yor as simply a sex bomb is a little odd. She’s a goofball more often than not. She ridiculously trusting but either through great instincts or great luck, has been able to survive in a very dangerous profession for a long time. So to dismiss her as overly naïve is probably not smart. She has very clear ambitions but they also happen to be quite modest. She wants to give her brother a good life and that now extends to her new family. And these aren’t just incidental traits. Things we learn about Yor in a special flashback episode to really give the character some substance. These are foundational. That is who she is, she just also happens to be pretty and good with knives. A bit too good…

Basically, all of these characters are archetypes. Highly recognizable character tropes of the genre. But the story refuses to see them that way and forces the audience to also see them as people. When you put that together with the way Spy x Family treats action (as a catalyst for introspection and feelings), you end up with something that both clearly is and isn’t at all a spy thriller. That’s kind of great, right? I mean it’s really fun. It could all go downhill of course and there’s only so long you can depend on subversion. Not saying the show doesn’t have anything else going for it. But as a deconstruction, it’s kind of wonderful, wouldn’t you say?

So back to Loid, because I put his name in the title. When you cut through all of it, Loid is a traditionally masculine character. Strong, smart, intimidating, reliable… But with just a few tweaks in presentation and perspective, he’s suddenly unexpected. As I’m writing this, we’re just at episode 4 and we’ve already seen him entirely lose his cool because someone was mean to his fake wife and daughter. He reacted with violence that time but I could see him panicking or crumbling should either of them end up in danger he can’t easily get them out of. James Bond would never lose his cool like that, let alone panic. Ridiculous. But Loid would because he’s not James Bond. And I like that about him.

22 thoughts

  1. As usual, I love your in depth meanderings that reach an excellent point. And now I want to watch SpyXFamily. It sounds like everything I fell in love with anime for. Plus… hate me for it if you must but as a man of a certain age, I have a lingering fondness for the old “man’s man” that the Bond movies were for and about and I’m interested in how that is going to translate into this brave new world we live in now.

  2. As someone who slightly remembers watching the older Bond movies with my Dad , this is a great analysis. I do enjoy some of the older bond movies even if they were goofy but I think there might a bit more to Loid. deep down he totally just wants to be a family and I love this show for it.

  3. I find your breakdown on Bond fascinating! I think you’re spot on about a lot of his overall character. I do think the writers of the Bond films have found themselves in a bit of tight spot at times over the past two bonds, struggling with Bond’s hedonism (Brosnan) and man-on-a-mission (Craig). Even in the latest Daniel Craig iteration, they show Bond drunk for the first time in sixty years, and touch base on his unresolved trauma from past missions and severe alcoholism. Now typing this all out loud maybe, I should look into SpyXFamily. It seems like most of the fun and humor has been sucked out of my own favorite Spy the past ten years. I could use a fresh take 😂

  4. I like how we see right from the start Twilight is not as much of the calm, collected type as you would think. The first mission briefing here, a lot of elite spy/agent characters (especially in Western media like James Bond as you mention) would have just thrown out the paper in a “I’m too cool for this crap” fashion. Twilight, however, is very much “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!” with his coffee spitting and ripping the paper. And then just building the family from there is fun in so many ways that most other works about a tough guy softening up with his charges/fake family can’t match.

  5. I think you’ve really hit on the main reason how the characters (because yes: as you say, they’re an ensemble) make the comedy work so well. All three of them take on roles that are unexpected, so there’s a lot of “fish out of water” sitcom laughs to be had.

    They all subvert their character stereotypes, although I wonder how much of the “Loid” alias is “tough guy pretending to be a normal dad” and how much of it is “rediscovering the softer side he tried to admit that he didn’t have.” It’s also interesting to me that all three of them inhabit a secretive, dysfunctional and even cruel world, but are all motivated by a desire to make society better.

    I can only speak for the movie incarnations up to the first Daniel Craig adaptation, but the way that Loid specifically subverts the “James Bond” character stereotype is both funny and moving. I don’t think it’s the only way to do this: my favourite “deconstruction” of the Bond-style hero is that of Jason Bourne, who replaces Bond’s womanising, gimmicky gadgets and effortless confident swagger with a lonely individual who has to rely on his wits and is a stranger even to himself. So yeah. There’s more than one way for a spy story to be conspicuously un-Bond-like, but Spy Family is probably the funniest way of going about it. Can you imagine Matt Damon pretending to be Loid?! Me neither XD

    1. Aww I thought you were gonna say the naked gun…
      I kind of want to see Matt Damon pretending to be Loid now.
      Since you mentioned Matt Damon, you know what is also an interesting character study of the archetype, although not a spy movie. The Talented Mr Ripley

  6. Did you remember to take into account the one shot Bond Lazenby (On Her Majesty’s SecretvService) when you made your calvulations? Just wondering.

    But it’s not like Bond is the only spy to pattern your character on. We have… Pardon me if I don’t get them names spot on accurate… Napoleon Solo from The Man From U.N.C.L.E., we have the lead from the British spy series The Avengers, we have The Kingsmen movies of recently, and a rich history of Anime/Manga spies as well as Japanese prose fiction spies to draw from as well.

    Or Loid is simply an amalgamation of several characters blended into a unique character created by his creator, and owes no one single source as the inspiration for his character. Oh well. One of these days I’ll get the DVDs and review them. Bye.

      1. He got married after his one movie and his wife was killed immediately after? I think it matters… But then again I think this brand new knowledge that there is a Lucoa spinoff manga in Japan also matters. Because Miss Kobayashi-verse confirmed or something. Anyway the second half was more important than the first in my previous comment.

        1. That’s what I mean, both of Bonds wives are transient characters. Their inclusion doesn’t really change the archetype or the narrative focus which is what I was looking at. And in general, even if there was an exception, and there are in fact a few, the idea that the general construct and specific brand of escapism normally associated with the genre are in my opinion different creating a new appeal. The same can be Said for the man from UNCLE, most LeCarre Books, Our Man in Havana, the Quiet American, all Bourn movies… The structure and core thematics are simply geared towards different elements even though the individual set pieces and plot devices are the same. And amalgamation of characters that all centrally represent an individual protagonist on a hero’s journey is still going to be a individual protagonist on a hero’s journey.

  7. I never really thought about it, but you’re right! There are some really important differences between Loid and Bond and those differences really do make Loid more likable.

  8. Bond (at least the book Bond; I’ve lost track of film Bonds) is basically amoral, with no private life. He gets the job done and that’s really all we know about him (which is also what makes the gimmick for the book in which Bond marries; the premise wouldn’t have worked otherwise). Both Loid and Yor actually fit the live-for-the-job description, but neither of them fit the amoral description; and the gap between what moves them and what they’re asked to do makes them feel more naive than cynical (which is Bond’s basic state). The live-for-the-job angle in SpyXFamily isn’t targeted at the political angle (at least not so far), though. Their naivety doesn’t (yet?) look like a set-up for a realisation that they never were the good guys and that there are only bad guys in the business (overstated even for the Bond books, but definitely for the movies). Their naivety has been put top down into the family situation. So it’s more the violence intrusion into daily life: our protagonists may have good intentions, but they tend to solve their problems with voilence and subterfuge, because that’s all they know. Neither of them know how to live normal lives, and neither of them intend to; they just have to put up the front for their own personal reasons.

    And that’s why Anya’s so important. At that part in the story, she’s the only one who wants the family to last indefinitely, and she knows she’s the only one. Her attempts to manipulate are awefully obvious to the audience, but not (maybe) to the other two players, precisely because they’ve little experience with what normal life looks like. I feel they’re more going along with Anya than falling for the ploy, because they have no insinctive plan for that sort of situation, and also because Anya’s the sort of person they feel like they’re doing their job for. (And they either don’t notice or don’t acknowledge that they’re growing closer.)

    So far it feels like the family part’s the story, and the spy part’s the flavour (waku waku).

    Also, geeky me thinks Yor’s closer to book Bond, while Loid’s closer to Roger Moore Bond. But, yeah, neither’s really Bond. (‘Cause art and character sheets suggest Bond’s a dog? Can’t wait for the introduction.)

    1. I think Bond the Dog is a very moral character. I’m looking forward to his introduction

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