Release the Spyce Series Review

Spies Eat Spices And Look Cute Doing It!

Release the Spyce was an anime that from its first episode grabbed my attention with its cute girls doing spy antics but even then there were a few warning flags that made me wonder where this would go. What followed was a series that awkwardly attempted to balance high stakes spy scenarios with a story about cute girls doing cute things at school kind of story and the mix just didn’t work. It isn’t that it couldn’t have worked, however Release the Spyce didn’t have the strength of writing or characterisation to pull it off.

Release the Spyce Episode 5 Mei and Hanzo

Not to mention the logic in the story just never worked no matter how you looked at it. While I get anime, and fiction in general, doesn’t need to be totally true to life (in fact as a fantasy/horror fan I prefer it when it isn’t), I do need to be able to suspend disbelief. Between a training sequence that utterly turned the main character into a nearly unstoppable powerhouse in a matter of weeks, the ‘spyce’ only working on teenage girls for reasons that will never be adequately explained, the villains targeting the one city where they know the opposition are hiding despite being able to carry out their plan more or less anywhere, and the really terrible explanation that the words spy and spice are somehow related (solid no on that one), this anime really worked hard to push me out of the narrative at pretty much every opportunity.

Release the Spyce Episode 3

Persevering in the hopes that we’d get to some decent spy and espionage kind of moments, the results are kind of mixed. On the one hand, the visuals are pretty good. Bold and bright colours dominate and it is all a bit sharper than a lot of the pastel colour palettes that seem to be dominating a lot of the anime I’ve been watching. Every screen cap really stands out in the folder and it isn’t garish (outside of the OP).

Release the Spyce Episode 12 Momo

The action also works reasonably well with fight sequences being pretty tightly controlled in time and scope. There’s a few too many girls fighting hordes of mindless robot fights, but for the most part the actual action sequences deliver decently. Now, I’d like to know why our spies spend so much time in direct combat rather than sneaking about, but that’s probably another one of those questions I just shouldn’t ask.

Release the Spyce Episode 4 Mei and Fu

Interactions between each of the apprentices and their mentor are fairly solidly constructed. Now, this is a blessing and a curse. It means in the episode focusing on that pair, the two get great moments to shine and there’s some solid character work. On the other hand, that pair may not necessarily interact well with the others (or in interesting ways) and in episodes where they aren’t the focus sometimes it is difficult to remember if they actually have a personality. This anime didn’t balance things very well and couldn’t move the spot light from one pair to the next without totally sidelining the rest of the cast. Then it had to awkwardly transition back to the whole group facing a threat and it just didn’t do a very good job of it.

Release the Spyce Episode 10 Momo

Finally, the season ending. It ends. It hits all the usual notes for spy stories. It just isn’t compelling enough. I have nothing against generic stories that follow their genre beats. But you have to give me something and here we had average characters going about an average final mission with no surprises because all the twists were exactly what you were expecting and delivered with very little fan-fare or anything else.

Release the Spyce Episode 1

As I said, not bad, just not really worth the time or effort. Still, you could certainly do worse than this piece and provided the opening song doesn’t give you a headache (it really is flashy for those with light sensitivity), there’s not a lot that this anime does that is actually worth criticising. It just doesn’t manage to do anything particularly well either and given it potentially could have been so much better there was definitely a sense of disappointment as week after week this one seemed determined to be at best average.

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Karandi James
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Sugar and Spyce and All Things Nice

Release the Spyce Episode Review Title

Release the Spyce Episode 12 Review

And so no-one is actually a traitor and no-one is actually dead, and no-one is actually surprised. This toothless ending fits the tone of the show and allows everyone to be all sweet and nice and become friends and trust in others and it is an utterly flat narrative. Given the characters never really went anywhere, I was hoping the plot would eventually pick this one back up but tragically that hope went unfulfilled as this final episode wraps everything into a neat little package.

Release the Spyce Episode 12

What that means is Release the Spyce has managed to be competent. Nothing more or less. The ending defeats the bad guys, sees the heroes wrap things up, and if the story was primarily Momo’s journey (or at least that is how the series has been book-ended), then that narrative at least is brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

Release the Spyce Episode 12 Momo

Still, there was a lot more potential in this series and these characters. So while what is here wasn’t particularly bad it was a little disappointing that the show could never rise to be more than what it became.

Release the Spyce Episode 12 - Villain

However, brainwashing machine go boom, the city gets a new pretty flower, and the girls all get on with their lives or with spying. Can’t really argue with it even if I wanted more.

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Karandi James
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NENDOROID NO. 1041 RELEASE THE SPYCE: YUKI HANZOMON
NENDOROID NO. 1041 RELEASE THE SPYCE: YUKI HANZOMON

Things Are Getting Spycy As Time Runs Out

Release the Spyce Episode Review Title

Release the Spyce Episode 11 Review

For all that this anime hasn’t really gone as well as expected from its premise, I do have to compliment its sound design this week. That was actually a thing of beauty and the whole series has actually had remarkably good sound effects and a pretty awesome soundtrack. However when I’m reviewing the penultimate episode and my major compliment goes to sound design that probably spells trouble for the rest of the episode.

Release the Spyce Episode 11

Firstly, Hanzomon isn’t dead. Which I guess we all knew. And given Goe hasn’t accepted her mentor as being dead either I’m guessing she’s going to make an appearance soon. So all the dire outcomes of last week are more or less swept away. Particularly if we consider the apprentices escape in about three minutes without all that much effort because the villains are dumb enough to try torturing and breaking their spirits rather than just killing them (and they don’t even hang around to do it themselves but leave it to an underling taking any potential suspense right out of the scene).

Release the Spyce Episode 11

About the only thing that stuck from episode 10 to this one is that Mei is still working for the bad guys. Only I’m still not convinced it isn’t some kind of ruse or that she won’t change her mind again. Given they backed out of every other major plot point I’m pretty sure this isn’t the kind of story where she’s actually going to betray them and that is going to stick.

Release the Spyce Episode 11 - Brainwashing device

And therein lies the problem. Release the Spyce isn’t exciting enough or cute enough or anything enough to be the kind of story that doesn’t commit to its plot on top of that. What we’re ending up with is a fairly watered down affair that has zero tension or stakes and I’m not attached enough to the characters to just buckle in for the ride. While it isn’t bad, not even close, it has become one of the least interesting stories I followed this Autumn.

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Karandi James
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NENDOROID NO. 1028 RELEASE THE SPYCE: MOMO MINAMOTO
NENDOROID NO. 1028 RELEASE THE SPYCE: MOMO MINAMOTO

This Week They Really Spyced Things Up

Release the Spyce Episode Review Title

Release the Spyce Episode 10 Review

I don’t know if I’m ever going to remember how to really spell ‘spice’ after this. It is almost like ‘Parasyte’ all over again where it took months to retrain my brain to actually spell int correctly.  Whichever way, episode 10 of Release the Spyce decided to take the position of killing off crucial characters and having the rest of the cast either betray their friends or get captured in order to plunge us into what I assume will be the climax next week.

Release the Spyce Episode 10 Momo

And while it is all well and good to go for super dramatic and embrace the usual scenario with spies, Release the Spyce hasn’t proven itself all that capable of delivering on the actual spy elements so given it leans heavily on teamwork, friendship, and cute girls, I kind of suspect everyone is actually fine and we’ll realise this is all a ruse to get access to the enemy headquarters. Which kind of takes some of the cliff-hanger anticipation out of the wait for next week.

Release the Spyce Episode 10

I could be wrong. Maybe characters really are dead. In which case, I’ll be pleasantly surprised that the story took it that far and will enjoy where-ever it goes with that. Still, far more likely it is all just part of the plan.

As to who the traitor is, well I’m wondering if we were given any hints earlier only I’m not quite interested enough to go back and look. I certainly hadn’t guessed it. 

Release the Spyce Episode 10 Mei

One thing I do respect is they didn’t try to create some angst ridden story as to why she betrayed them. While it might seem like a weak motive, it kept things simple and fairly believable, even if I don’t believe it.

Guess we’ll find out next week how real any of this was.

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Karandi James
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RELEASE THE SPYCE (TV ANIME) ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK
RELEASE THE SPYCE (TV ANIME) ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

The Disastrous Day The Mentor Character Died

Release the Spyce Episode Review Title

Release the Spyce Episode 9 Review

This week, Release the Spyce turns its attention to the driven Yuki Hanzomon as she attempts to convey to Momo the story of her mentor. I guess timing wise this makes sense given Hanzo slapped Momo last week for being rash and they never have revealed the story behind Hanzo’s scar so with only a handful of episodes to go, this one feels purposefully placed.

Release the Spyce Episode 9

The problem, I feel at least, is that we really could have skipped a whole bunch of steps between episode one and here without appreciably being any worse off. It just makes some of the episodes earlier really feel more fillery than they did while watching, and some of them felt very fillery while watching.

Release the Spyce Episode 9

I don’t really like to review by comparison, but I can’t help but feel Princess Principal took this basic idea of team of teenage female spies and did a much better job of building them up as characters while continuing to draw the main plot together.  Release the Spyce has a more modern setting but otherwise comes off as a fairly pale imitation, and that may not be what they were going for and it may not be how others see it, but that’s more or less how it has settled in for me.

Release the Spyce Episode 9

Still, that doesn’t really review this episode and to be honest, once we got into the flash back and actually saw the girls and their old mentors parachuting in and doing spy things, it was actually really fun. There was some genuine drama around revealing how Hanzo got her scar and what happened to her mentor and it was perhaps one of the better sequences this anime has given us since its first episode.

However, as a whole, Release the Spyce hasn’t quite packed the punch I’d really have liked from it, and even looking at it from the perspective of a cute girls show where they just happen to be spies, it isn’t overly great.

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Karandi James
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RELEASE THE SPYCE: YUKI HANZOMON
 RELEASE THE SPYCE: YUKI HANZOMON

Snakes? Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?

Release the Spyce Episode Review Title

Release the Spyce Episode 8 Review

Following the lead from the flower, the trainees and Hanzomon travel to Okinawa where they pretend to be tourists, meet up with a nearly wiped out group, and then plan and carry out an infiltration of an enemy facility. It all moves rather quickly and on the surface works beautifully. However, looking a bit closer this episode is kind of a rush, there’s limited sense behind a lot of the actions, and much like every other episode ultimately the lead doesn’t pan out and the are back to square one.

Release the Spyce Episode 8 The Team

The first issue comes with the clear laziness of the tourist moments. The girls decide to act like tourists to keep suspicion away from themselves and we are then subjected to entirely still images with panning. They aren’t even low animation scenes, they are stills, and they are definitely pandering to fan service and servicing zero narrative purpose. On top of that, they just aren’t interesting.

Then we get the introduction of the viking girl that we all know is actually going to be working for the bad guys. She’s a fairly ludicrous character walking around in her viking helmet and her fighting against Goe and then making friends and helping them out is a character arc that is delivered with break-neck speed and while it might work on paper it has almost zero emotional impact. 

Release the Spyce Episode 8 Viking Girl
I’m sure they mean ‘precisely’ and not ‘preciously’. Then again, with this show, who could tell.

Throw in a villain with trained snakes to protect him and all and all this is just one bit of silliness after another and I can’t even tell if Release the Spyce is asking me to take it seriously or not at this point. There is one more serious moment where Hanzomon realises that the time the spyce is working for her is lessening, indicating her time as a spy is nearing its end, but otherwise much of what happens here feels largely inconsequential in any kind of grand scheme. 

Release the Spyce Episode 8

Still, it isn’t as though it isn’t fun. It just doesn’t hold up when you think about it. Besides, dropping the floor out from under intruders and having them fall into a snake pit is such a classic move you just have to appreciate the audacity of anyone actually using it.

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Karandi James
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Game Soundtracks CDJapan

Victory For Power of Friendship; Complete Loss For Originality

Release the Spyce Episode Review Title

Release the Spyce Episodes 6 + 7 Review

Right, we can skip right to the end of this and just say, “Power of friendship, yada, yada ending”. Yeah, I don’t have high hopes for Release the Spyce anymore but I kind of want a little more out of a story about teenage spies than a mentor telling her student she’s wonderful being enough to snap her out of a drug induced rampage. After two episodes of eye-roll worthy moments, that one just capped the entire thing and left quite the sour taste in my mouth.

Release the Spyce Episode 6

Now in case you think I’m just jaded and mean, both of which might be true to a point, I will point out that I do not mind anime that pull the power of friendship card for a finale, particularly when it has been a well developed theme with characters who have overcome enough obstacles and rallied together enough that it feels earned. Sailor Moon season 1 is an awesome example and I will never fault that ending where Serena calls on the power of her most likely dead friends to defeat Beryl.

Sailor Moon 1990's Serena and Rei
They are good friends, you know it.

Yet here it doesn’t feel earned, it doesn’t feel rewarding, it doesn’t even make sense. I get that the whole way along the argument is that Aoba’s thing is she makes friends with whoever she decides to. The backstory with Teresia, her reaching out to Teresia even knowing she was likely spying on the spies, and all of the other characters endlessly telling the audience how nice she is and how persistently she pursues friendship, kind of hit us over the head with this idea that Aoba makes friends.

Release the Spyce Episode 6

Does that make it any more likely that she was going to succeed in hugging it out with someone who was drugged and crazed? Does it feel like she earned that happy ending when we’ve actually seen little of her friendship making abilities and simply been batted over the head with them for the duration of two episodes? I’m going to say no.

This feels very much like the same issue I had with Devilman Crybaby, in that the story endlessly felt the need to tell me how compassionate and kind the main character was and yet the never showed anything other than him occasionally crying to make that feel true. Though here it is worse because at least that show gave the one character a whole season to develop whereas here we have a character trying to present herself and resolve a crisis in two episodes because it’s an ensemble cast and they all need their moment to underwhelm us.

Release the Spyce Episode 7

Release the Spyce is at its best when it actually gets on with the spy training and shenanigans. It is at its worst every time it tries for one of these after school special moments between student and mentor. Other viewers may disagree and quite enjoy these ‘touching’ moments, but for me they simply feel cheap and I’m just not that interested.

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Karandi James
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RELEASE THE SPYCE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKRELEASE THE SPYCE (TV ANIME) ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK