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.
The Spy Classroom books, for the most part, are stand-alone but also very much intertwined with each other, and this is especially true of this fourth volume, which features Thea’s existential crisis that began with the third volume. She’s always felt like the most mature, together one of the group, despite her “sex mad” character tic, and so seeing everyone else continuing to only get better and better while she has what amounts to a book-long panic attack can be a bit depressing. The scene with the most impact in this book comes near the start, where Klaus is praising everyone for the most successful attack on him they’ve ever done, and when he gets to Thea (who was deliberately left out of it) he basically says what amounts to “sorry I got nothing”. Unfortunately for Thea, while the others try to help her as best they can, it’s a mental issue, so it is something she eventually has to fix on her own… with the help of a surprise guest, of course.
We’re going to America! Or the Spy Classroom equivalent, which changes the names but still has the team in New York City. There’s a big Economic Conference there, and the city has been infiltrated by multiple spies from multiple countries to try to either stop it, influence it, or just straight up murder a bunch of spies. That last one seems to be the main plotline, as the enemy this time is Purple Ant, a spy who kidnaps and brainwashes civilians to be his “worker ants”. As such, Sybilla is fighting blind, Monika faces a deadly game of darts, and Lily… OK, Lily is the comedy relief. That said, everything is going from bad to worse, and they really need their leader to save them. Except their leader is having a crisis, OK?
Purple Ant is such a loathsome villain that it actually took me away from the story a bit. Spy Classroom tries to balance the funny and serious parts, but its serious parts can get ludicrously dark, so sometimes it overshoots. (Sometimes it overshoots the other way, too… I found the solution to “76 dead spies” near the end to be amazingly mean to Lily.) This is Thea’s book, though, and how much you enjoy it depends on how much you can empathize with her plight. At times you really feel terrible for her, and at times you sort of want Monika to hit Thea over and over again till self-confidence comes out. That said, I really appreciated the “gimmick” in this book… most of the books so far have a twist, and this one is good, tying in to both Klaus’ previous work and Thea’s past, while also finally giving her the ability to kick ass in a way only she can.
So this was a good volume, despite my reservations about a few points. And the girls are now real spies, rather than trainees! What next? What would YOU do, if you were a Japanese publisher? That’s right… short story collection.