Not all of them can be the novels by Sasaki and Miyano. I think it’s unfair to judge light novelizations of manga series to that level; Kotoko Hachijo is an exceptionally good imitation of Shō Harusono’s tone and style of writing. Furthermore, considering that those stories are simple BL slice-of-life stories set in the present day, it’s arguably a simpler process. No additional study beyond the first series is needed. With SPYFAMILY, that isn’t the situation. Light book author Aya Yajima must not only capture the characters but also delve into the setting and era of Cold War-era Germany, as original creator Tatsuya Endō created a very complex world. All of this is not to suggest that Yajima fails; rather, it’s to state that, despite their best efforts, the overall impression isn’t exactly the same as that of the manga or anime.
The first story, which centers on Anya and is set during a school trip, reflects it. Loid believes that Anya and Damian would have the ideal opportunity to strengthen their friendship during the two-day, one-night camping trip that Eden Academy is organizing for its students. Even though her dad has pushed ties to get Damian and his friends into the same little group as her and Becky, Anya is into it too—until she forgets all about it. However, things don’t go quite as planned. The biggest problem with Anya’s psychic powers in prose format is that, while they function well as a plot device in speech bubble style manga or narrated narrative anime, they feel a bit clumsy here. Even with the thoughts italicized, it’s difficult to establish a strong sense of comedy, and reading about Anya’s expressions isn’t the same as really experiencing them. Although Damian and Anya’s exchanges are usually interesting and the plot is still enjoyable, there is a distinct sensation that something is missing from the story, which detracts from it.
Much better, and perhaps the best story in the book, is the second Anya-driven tale. This narrative, which is recounted from Yuri’s point of view, finds him having to spend his day off watching his niece, which doesn’t exactly fill him with enthusiasm. He makes the decision to take Anya to the neighborhood children’s museum. However, it ends up being far more than he had anticipated: in contrast to other children’s museums, this one is specifically designed to let children and the adults who are accompanying them perform real-world tasks. Yuri is far from ready to play in the vast array of occupations available to her. The fact that he’s unaware of Anya’s abilities adds to the enjoyment of the story, and it’s great to watch as an adult who has never spent time with children get completely blown away by her play-acting. The plot also gives Yuri the chance to develop into a more fully realized person. Sure, he remains a vicious con artist, but we get to learn more about his motivations and the realities behind his seemingly mad façade. Yuri is restraining Yuri, and we see a hint of the person he might become as an adult.
Another intriguing aspect of this novel is Loid’s characterization, though I’m not sure I agree with it totally. Compared to his manga or anime counterparts, Yajima’s Loid seems more cold-blooded, and when we peek inside his head, it seems like he’s deliberately preventing himself from being a true father to Anya. This makes sense and is a realistic description of the character, but it feels a little abrupt—that is, before volume ten, which is when this book takes place. Loid appears to be more surprised than aloof toward Anya, even in his inner monologue in the manga, as though his “Loid” persona is constantly on the edge of being more authentic than “Twilight.” This is missing, and although it makes sense in the chapter that Franky narrates, it seems a little strange in the chapter that gives the volume its name.
It’s unfortunate that Yor doesn’t appear frequently in this book, but this is also true of many of the first manga volumes. Though not to everyone’s taste, Franky’s chapter is a lot more bittersweet love adventure than we usually see from him. Still, it works. Yajima writes in an easy-to-read style. Both in terms of vocabulary and content, the novel is about middle grade level; assassination and spycraft are discussed but not actually included in the narrative. But I wouldn’t say that SPY×FAMILY: Family Portrait is a must-read; it’s just a delightful addition to the series, and that’s all it should be.