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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
They are really hammering this mentor-student relationship point. Last week we focused almost exclusively on Mei and Fu and this week we shift back to our focus on Momo joining the team and her relationship with her Mentor (and does anyone else find it a little creepy how often Hanzoumon is just kind of hanging around where Momo is. Throw away line or not about mentors always being near their students doesn’t make that less stalkerish.
However, the episode this week focuses on the girls following up a lead so they actually do something that looks spy like as they infiltrate a lab. Only it kind of looks like the lab is a bust and they end up getting distracted with some petty criminal gang trading drugs. This leads to a fight on a train with the drugged up woman from a few episodes back and they really pushed this one for credibility.
Stronger and tougher I could buy, but biting through a knife and catching bullets in her teeth is just a little bit extreme. Not to mention, Momo’s attacks did nothing. After all the training she has done I somehow doubt she’s that weak. And then the mentor comes into the fight and quickly ends it. It kind of feels a little anti-climatic given I can’t imagine what would actually hurt Hanzoumon at this point.
Still, if you want your feel good moments, Momo getting to celebrate her birthday, spending some quality time with her friends from school and with the spies, both give a little bit of cheer to this otherwise fairly by-the-numbers affair. I was wondering if they would figure out they’d been sent on a chase with the drugs but of course Hanzoumon is on it. After all, she’s amazing.
You know, there are secret organisations afoot, drugs being traded, human experimentation, and all kinds of weird, but for whatever reason this anime feels that spending an episode dealing with the mentor-student relationship of Mei and Fu is the absolute best thing it can show us. This episode really does make it clear that despite the trappings of a spy story, at heart this one just wants to be a cute girls in a club kind of thing and the only real difference is occasionally they face life threatening situations.
That doesn’t make this bad, but it does mean that the threat and the spy side of this story really aren’t to be taken overly seriously. I mean, who cares about all of the secret agent type stuff when there are household accounts to balance?
If it seems I’m being a little snarky it is probably because I don’t know that either the audience or the characters gained anything from this episode. I mean, sure, Mei and Fu go through a bunch of stuff, end up fighting, after that gets Mei hurt on a mission Fu moves out, but then they reconcile and take down the random token drug dealer Fu had spotted earlier in the episode. Fu realises that her mentor does appreciate her and they all live happily ever…
Wait, why did we need a whole episode to come to that realisation?
I’ve described this show as average, and realistically it still is. But the bottom line is it isn’t a particularly compelling cute girls in a club kind of thing nor is it a very competent story about a team of female spies, so what we’re ending up with is a tepid serving of both genres and it makes for a viewing experience that is kind of good enough but not particularly memorable.
I was really hoping for more than a work as part of a team and play your part kind of resolution to Momo’s troubles starting out as a spy. I mean, it makes logical sense that she needs to work as part of the team and follow her orders, but it just seems like in the process of getting us to this resolution they jettisoned all of the training that she did last week and took her back to more or less square zero.
Outside of that minor complaint though, this week we get a series of missions from the team as they close in on small leads of their enemy and work their way up the food chain. Despite Momo’s repeated blunders, the team succeeds at gaining what they need each and every time, though the ease of these missions makes more sense when you realise the enemy seems to just be playing them and waiting to see if the traitor’s information is actually reliable.
I do think the villains are going to run out of minions if they keep turning all of them into drug test subjects, though that’s a minor worry in a world set up as implausible as this one is in the first place, so not the biggest issue going.
One thing the show does right is it remains energetic, it keeps things moving, and the interactions between the characters are still pretty fun. All and all, this show remains enjoyable but also pretty average from the plot point of view. Still, average is good enough as long as it is entertaining.