Spy x Family’s first-ever anime movie, with an original story, is out in theaters, and we’ve seen it.

Last week was a big one for Spy x Family. Not only was Saturday the seasons finale of the hit anime’s second TV season, the previous day was the debut of the franchise’s first theatrical feature, Spy x Family Code: White. It’s a pretty major accomplishment for anime franchise to make the jump to the big screen in such a short time (the Spy x Family TV series is at just 37 episodes so far), and Code: White’s theatrical run is off to a great start in terms of commercial success, earning 1.2 billion yen (US$8.3 million) and being the number-one movie in Japan in terms of ticket sales on its opening weekend. But setting its financial fortunes aside, is the movie worth your time to watch?

Right off the bat, we should establish that Code: White is an original story, not adapted from the Spy x Family manga like the TV series is. With the manga itself ongoing, and quite a bit ahead of the TV series, that makes Code: White a Spy x Family side story, or gaiden, if you want to use a Japanese term…or a filler story, if you want to be harsh. In other words, Code: White can’t do anything to advance or alter the plot, characters, and relationships that are on pause between Seasons 2 and 3 of the TV series. Instead, its mission is to entertain and engage viewers over its 110-minute runtime, and some of the movie’s creative choices serve that purpose better than others.

▼ Trailer for Spy x Family Code: White

Let’s start with one of the biggest issues, the initial crisis that sets the movie’s events in motion. The setup of Spy x Family is that male lead Lloyd Forger, a spy posing as a psychiatrist, has entered into a sham marriage with Yor (an office worker who’s secretly an assassin), and together with her has adopted a young girl, Anya, as their daughter. Lloyd then enrolls Anya in a prestigious school that’s also attended by the son of a prominent politician from a country that’s in a cold war situation with Lloyd’s home nation, with the aim that this will allow Lloyd to get close to the politician and glean information from him that will help prevent open war between the two countries, a plan Lloyd’s espionage bosses have dubbed “Operation Strix” (Anya, being secretly a mind-reader, is the only one who knows everyone’s true identities and motivations).

After a rather lengthy intro to get the audience up to speed on all that, the story of Code: White kicks off with Lloyd’s handler telling him that the higher-ups have decided to replace him with a different agent for Operation Strix, which would also mean the dissolution of the Forger family. Lloyd doesn’t want this to happen, out of a mix of professional pride (his proposed replacement isn’t a capable operative at all) and unconscious growing personal attachment to his officially fake but increasingly genuine-feeling family. In a last-ditch effort to show his bosses some significant results, Lloyd sets his sights on a dessert cooking contest at Anya’s school that, should she win, will help him get closer to his target. Knowing that the judge is fond of a particular kind of cake originating in a snowy northern region of the country, Lloyd proposes a family trip to taste it, ostensibly for Anya’s education. Anya, meanwhile, knows how high the stakes are for her to win the contest, and her desperate attempts to get ready for it during their trip are what sets the Forger family on a collision course with the movie’s villains.

The problem here is that while the stakes feel high for Lloyd and Anya, for the audience, there’s no dramatic tension whatsoever regarding the chance of Lloyd being removed from Operation Strix and the family breaking up. We know there are more Spy x Family manga chapters and TV episodes to come, and there’s no Spy x Family without the characters being a family. Likewise, it’s a foregone conclusion that the Forgers’ attempts within Code: White to keep their true identities secret from one another will be complete successes, since there’s no way that such dramatic reveals would take place in a side story instead of the series proper.

This is a problem that’s common to pretty much all mid-series side-story anime movies. The most common way to address it is to add an original character who plays a major role in the movie, usually a new friend to the regular cast of heroes who needs or provides help, so that the audience won’t know until the end whether this new character survives, accomplishes their dream, etc. However, Code: White doesn’t add any new friends or allies to the Forger’s social circle. Instead, the new characters are pretty much all villains, including the primary antagonist, an Ostania general named Snijder, and there’s little doubt as to whether his diabolical plan is going to succeed, since we know that by the time Code: White ends, the slate has to be wiped clean so that it doesn’t get in the way of the plot of the third season of the TV series.

All that said, though, the movie is far from all bad, especially if you go into it with the right mindset. Within the story, the reason for the trip to the Frigis region, as the Forgers’ destination is called, is to research the cake Anya is going to make. Really, though, it’s an excuse to show the characters dressed up in cozy sweaters and stylish winter long coats, pose in front of twinkling illuminated decorations and visit an outdoor Christmas market-like event, and also to tap into the seasonal spirit of the movie’s late-December release. If you can accept that Code: White is, in effect, an extra-long Christmas episode of the Spy x Family TV series with a bigger budget, there’s a lot of heartwarming fun to be had.

▼ Some Japanese theaters even have standees of the cast in their new threads.

Visually, aside from the new costumes, the backgrounds get more detail than you’d see in a weekly TV episode, which helps give Frigis a strong sense of place and really make it feel like you’re on vacation in a different part of the country from where the Forgers live. With the TV series already having pretty solid character animation, your jaw isn’t likely to drop from the movement or camera work in the movie’s first half, but once you get to the bombastic action set pieces in the latter half, they go several steps beyond what a TV budget allows, and they really help hammer home that despite their friendly, mild-mannered demeanors in their husband-and-wife guises, Lloyd and Yor are actually a pair of highly skilled combatants proficient with a variety of weapons and fighting techniques.

Unfortunately, the movie format necessitates a more or less continual ramping up of the danger, which leads to some pacing and story stumbles. Fantastic action and relaxingly sweet family life are the peanut butter and chocolate of Spy x Family, two presumably discordant elements that fans actually equally enjoy. Over the course of a 25-minute TV episode, you can start with a dash of daily life, transition to spy stuff, then resolve the conflict with enough time for a quick denouement back in the Forgers’ living room, all at a brisk pace, then repeat the format next week. As a theatrical feature, though, Code: White builds to a bigger confrontation than a typical weekly episode would, so it needs to show you almost all of its slice-of-family-life scenes before the start of its lengthy action climax. Seeing the Forgers spending quality time together will always put a smile on your face, and Anya is as adorable as ever in Code: White, but the first half of the movie can feel like it’s dragging its feet a little since it knows it’s going to be hard to go back to cozy comedy after the story crosses a certain line of seriousness (though that’s not to say the back half of the movie is entirely devoid of levity, such a whimsically magical art-shift sequence that lovingly depicts the euphoria that comes at the moment of release of a gigantic poop that you’ve been holding in for far too long).

There’s also an extra-large dose of suspension of disbelief that’s required once the sparks really start flying. A lot of the fun in the weekly Spy x Family TV episodes comes from Lloyd, Yor, and Anya having to think on their feet and find a clever or comedic way to explain why they have some skill or got into some situation without revealing their true identities. With Code: White’s action sequences being on such a grander scale, though, it’s a little strange to see Yor so easily accepting that her husband, who as far as she knows is a psychiatrist, can easily fly military aircraft, or Lloyd’s almost complete lack of surprise that his office-worker wife can casually infiltrate an army black ops stronghold.

Ultimately, though, despite a fairly complex premise and a long-term story setup, most fans will be quick to tell you that the real appeal of Spy x Family isn’t the intricacies and granular movements of its espionage underworld. It’s that the series has one of the most likeable and charismatic core character casts in all of anime, and seeing their charms at play on the big screen is a pretty big treat. Lloyd is gallantly earnest, Yor sweetly and strongly protective, and Anya precociously precious. Throw in a romantic moment or two between Lloyd and Yor, plus some funny facial expressions and mispronunciations from Anya, and Code: White is an enjoyable watch as long as you’re in the mood for what it is, a winter vacation getaway with the Forgers.

Photos ©SoraNews24
Screenshots: YouTube/TOHO animation チャンネル
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’s thankful to his dad and brother for taking him to see the Silent Mobius anime movie when he was a kid.