Content Warning: Blood, Mild Fanservice
What’s it about? Following a devastating great war, nations have sworn off warfare–at least overtly. Now, war is waged in the shadows between spies, one of which is Klaus, a notable young man. However, when he loses his father-figure and mentor, Klaus gets a second change at continuing his work as a spy in the form of a rag-tag team of girls who are going to need a whole lot of training before they’re ready to wage warfare, much less even act as professional spies.
It feels like we have at least one spy show every season: and if not spies, one show reflecting on war and the nature of war. Spy Classroom seemingly aims to do both, setting its story in the near echo of recent, very bloody, war as it starts to realign with a sense of normalcy while the shadow of death looms over society. It’s a really interesting look when applied via a Japanese lens onto a western-esque society, too, which is the case with this series and its premiere.
On paper. this is a fascinating premise. It might be a bit rote, but in the right hands, it can be a robust look at humanity. But I’m sad to say, up front, that that’s not what we’re getting.
And “yet” is very, very powerful word.
Episode 1, “Mission: Flower Garden,” is purely a tone-setter: it’s an infodump because Spy Classroom’s world kind of necessitates it, given the ensemble cast we’re working with and the fact that we need the get the two main characters–Lily and Klaus–together as spies and teacher and student.
That said, the world it establishes is interesting. We enter a kind of WWII-esque world that reminded me, initially, of Spy x Family’s mishmash of the mid-1900s where young women, too, can fight in the new kind of war: espionage, a bloodless battle between nations. This world is one that still uses horses and carts, but also has trains and advanced weaponry seemingly on par with what was used in WWII. More accurately, the setting borrows from the Between Wars Era of the 1920s and 1930s, when there was calm before the storm of a second global war. Like I said, curious, especially with the addition of using spies instead of shedding blood.
Enter Lily, a provisional graduate who…is immediately a bit hapless. She’s quickly paralleled against a group of seemingly skilled (but utterly and equally as skill-less) girls who form a special unit called Lamplight, made up of spy school washouts who are supposed to, somehow, run the most special of special missions.
Spy Classroom is shockingly average in its execution: the animation, provided by feel., a studio best known for Dropout Idol Fruit Tart and Please Teach Me, Galko-chan!. It’s just okay, as is the background music and voice acting. Nothing really stands out, and that includes the twists that occur around female protagonist Lily.
That last bit–the twists–is really critical to this show: the tension of a spy series, even in its peaceful moments, is kind of crucial to a viewer’s enjoyment. That tension, that kind of holding your breath feeling, is necessary to hook you and keep you hooked. I felt none of that here, and while this is just the premiere, it does set the tone for the rest of this series, which is unfortunate.
I think there’s a lot of potential in a series that explores the wounds of war through the lens of bloodless fighting because humanity still craves war, but ultimately, needs it to be pleasant. I actually think that’s a really powerful narrative to use for the foundation of a series. It’s just that Spy Classroom doesn’t quite seem comfortable handling it–at least not yet.
Spy Classroom has a lot of things I like, but…there’s just something missing. I can’t tell if it’s the somewhat average animation style, the somewhat underwhelming execution of its premise, or the fact that I think Spy x Family has set my standard for espionage anime. It’s likely a combination of all three, even though Spy Classroom is ultimately trying to do its own thing.
My hope is that the narrative will become more robust and lean into the more action oriented scenes we get in the premiere: give me more of Lily being a badass and more of Klaus being the worst teacher. Give me more of them having to use one another to achieve their own goals while serving their nation via spying and obtaining all manner of secrets. Give me more of the genuinely comedic dynamic between Lily and Klaus. Those moments really make the show shine, and provide just enough calm to really ramp the action, when it happens.
This is one that I’m on the fence about: I’d say give it until episode 3 to warm up, but maybe don’t expect a lot from this adaptation unless you’re already attached to the source novels. That said, I’m going to be sticking with this one to see if it becomes this season’s dark-horse series. It’s nowhere near that, but…you never know what can happen when it comes to spies.