There was Tista before there was SPY x FAMILY. One might notice that really only the “Catholic Church sponsored assassinations” is missing from Yor and Anya’s combined pasts. Tista Lone, the heroine of Tatsuya End’s most recent serialized work, is an orphan who turned into an assassin after the Catholic Church experimented on her and implanted her adoptive father’s eye into her head. It’s somewhat puzzling why the NYPD hasn’t yet realized that Tista is somehow connected to the church given that she goes by the code name “Sister Militia” and all of her weapons and ammunition are inscribed with Latin phrases with very obvious religious links, but when the story opens, lead detective Macky is still perplexed and the FBI is about to join the hunt.
The story probably sounds more ridiculous than it is. The two-volume series, which is set in contemporary New York City, follows Tista as she starts to experience a simultaneous crisis of faith and mental breakdown—both of which are wholly logical given her circumstances. Tista was given to an adoptive father who was the previous incarnation of Sister Militia, though we don’t know his covert name, after being taken in by the church after she was orphaned (something, a flashback suggests, that she wasn’t too saddened by). She received one of his eyes in a transplant after he passed away, giving her the capacity to view everything as though through a rifle’s scope. As this book progresses, we learn that it also appears to have caused her to develop a form of dissociative identity disorder, separating “Tista” and “Sister Militia” into two largely distinct individuals.
She has mostly remained to herself even in her school courses, perhaps as a result of this. The unfortunate Arty Drawer, a third-year art major at her institution, changes this, and as she starts to want to be with him, her life starts to break apart from within. Following their meet-cute when he saves her from being hit by a car, Tista seems to think that she can be friends with Arty (who may want to be more than just friends with her), and following their hangout, they almost go on a date. The guardian of the orphan Arty, who is using his art gallery as a front for drug trafficking, turns out to be her next victim, which throws everything into disarray. On top of a religious problem, Tista is abruptly thrust into a full-blown identity crisis. She discovers that she is unable to manage the moral binds she has found herself in. Does it matter whether a drug dealer is someone’s father figure if it’s still moral to kill him? Is it acceptable for her to murder people merely on the orders of her father figure(s)? It’s as if Tista built an internal wall that has suddenly fallen, making it impossible for her to keep “Tista” and “Sister Militia” apart. As a result, Tista must now consider what Sister Militia accomplishes and what that implies for her. Without Sister Militia, is Tista even permitted to exist? Or is she indebted to those who took her in for her life? Even while we on the outside can see that what the church did to her is unspeakably cruel, it’s not a simple issue for her to respond given that it was them who initially turned her into a murderer.
Arty, meanwhile, isn’t ready to give up on Tista. Although he has a sneaking suspicion that she might be Sister Militia, he still wants to find her. He seems to believe that if he can just figure out what her problem is, he can find a way to save her, which is both remarkably innocent of him and dangerously naive (and serves as a reminder that boys get poisoned by fairy tales just as much as girls do). There are no assurances that she can be saved in the grim reality of the book, which Arty is either unaware of or deliberately disregarding, and the priest who is Sister Militia’s overseer is wrestling with. The church appears to be using the logic that it is worthwhile to sacrifice one person in order to save many others. There is no guarantee that Arty will concur with it, let alone be able to change it.
Endo definitely hasn’t found his footing yet, as evidenced by the character names (which also include a shady FBI “psychoanalyst” named Snow, and Tista’s name presumably derives from the Latin for “sad”), and the plot isn’t campy enough (or at all) to sustain the type of absurd name scheme he’s using. The artwork is remarkably strong, with a strong feeling of setting, a great use of fuzzy, squiggly outlines to depict how Tista views the world without her spectacles, a wonderful sense of motion, and a thoughtful application of selective gore. The story is at times so gloomy as to feel overwhelming, and there is a noticeable gap between the artwork, content, and character names.
With themes of what we owe to those who “save” us, how much authority any one person (or organization) should have, and a content warning for the explicit death of a child, Tista is a challenging narrative. However, just because you appreciate the adventures of the Forger family does not guarantee that you will enjoy this; in fact, it may be the complete opposite. It is only two volumes long, so it is not a large commitment.