By Takemachi and Tomari. Released in Japan as “Spy Kyoushitsu” by Fujimi Fantasia Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Nathaniel Thrasher.
(As a warning, this book deals with the sexual assault of an underage girl near its end, and this review briefly discusses that.)
Spy Classroom has, as one of its main goals, to strike a careful balance between gripping, and frequently deadly, spy drama and the wackiest and goofiest of comedy. Sometimes it manages to hit this goal a bit better than others. The first story in this book is a good example: it’s almost entirely light-hearted, then gets more serious towards the end, then gets very serious as we’re reminded how screwed up Annette is. By contrast, the Erna story pinballs between very dark themes and “ha ha, Erna suffering emotionally is funny” so fast that I could not keep up, and it jars. That said, on the whole these short stories are stronger than the first collection, both tying into the girls’ backstories (Thea especially) and expanding on some of the books – the 4th short story is blatantly “there wasn’t room for this in the fourth volume”, as the author admits. And, as a Lily fan, I’m pleased with this, though it does not really remove my irritation of how she’s treated in the actual 4th book.
The wraparound story has Thea trying to decipher a note left to her by Hearth, the spy who mentored Klaus and also rescued Thea from kidnappers. Unfortunately, several of Lamplight get a very wrong idea about the note. In between this, we see Annette being the best waitress ever in order to see if a former spy front is now a legitimate restaurant; Sara gets a secret admirer and Thea tries to make sure that she has the best date ever while also making sure the guy is good enough; on the cruise to not-America in preparation for the 4th book, Erna discovers a suicide cult that makes her their leader; and during the events of the 4th book’s climax, we see how Lily managed to escape getting brutally murdered by Purple Ant’s people.
Some of the comedy in this is very amusing – Annette being a fantastic waitress, and everyone’s reaction to this, is probably the highlight. I think I’d have appreciated Erna’s story more if the suicide cult had not been… well, a suicide cult, and its attempts to show off how the war destroys the underbelly of society needed greater depth, I feel. Sara essentially takes over Thea’s story, and we are reminded that she is the one girl in Lamplight that everyone loves unreservedly. Reading Lily’s story I wondered if the author has read the Excel Saga manga, as Lily very much reminds me of Excel at times (what are you, Steel God Jeeg?), and her truly monstrous stamina is terrifying. And then there’s Thea’s backstory, as she confronts repressed memories of being raped by her kidnappers. Fortunately, the author knows this is NOT the time to insert some laughs, and it’s handled fairly well.
So yeah, good stuff. That said, I’d like to read the next few books of the actual series soon. How are things with our FILTHY TRAITOR? :)