Following the shocking assassination of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, memes have been circulating on Twitter connecting the veteran politician to the manga series Spy × Family (stylised as SPY×FAMILY).

Pronounced “Spy Family”, Spy × Family has been running since March 2019. Its author and illustrator, Tatsuya Endo, has been active in the industry since 2007.

Shinzo Abe was shot twice while giving a speech in the city of Nara on Friday morning. Security officials tackled a gunman; a 41-year-old suspect is in police custody.

But what is the meaning of the memes connecting Shinzo Abe to Spy × Family, and why are they flooding Twitter all of a sudden?

President Obama Meets With Japanese P.M. Shinzo Abe In Hawaii
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Memes connecting Shinzo Abe to Spy × Family flood Twitter following politician’s assassination

If you go onto Twitter looking for responses to Shinzo Abe’s death, part of what you’ll find is a trove of tweets about the popular Japanese manga series Spy × Family.

One user tweeted that Abe had died after all 12 episodes of Spy × Family came out. Another made comments about family structures and the government.

Someone paid tribute to Abe, lamenting that he didn’t live to see the second cour of the series (anime series are measured in cours), “and see the booming rise in pregnancies in Japan following the screening”.

If the relationship between a veteran Japanese politician and a manga series about a spy who adopts a telepath is new to you, you’re probably not alone.

What’s the deal with the memes about Shinzo Abe and manga series Spy × Family?

Abe himself was from a prominent political family, and first entered the Japanese house of representatives in 1993.

During his second outing as prime minister, Shinzo Abe allocated a significant portion of the fiscal budget to boost programs helping single people find potential mates.

Abe spent millions on “state-sponsored dating events” to boost its “slumping birth rate”, wrote UK-based academic Aya Homei in 2014.

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit
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Japan’s birth rate was at its lowest since records began in 1899, per The Telegraph. Trends as they were then, Japan would have lost a third of its population in half a century.

How Abe’s policies relate to the manga series’ overall message

Shinzo Abe allocated ¥3 billion (about $22 million) to matchmaking events in order to boost Japan’s birthrate. Although Homei notes, even successful matchmaking doesn’t necessarily lead to more children – only more couples.

Meanwhile, Spy × Family follows a spy (codenamed “Twilight”) whose mission is to “build a family” in order to execute a mission.

Japan's Prime Minister Abe Announces Resignation
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However, he doesn’t realise that the girl he adopts as his daughter is a telepath, and the woman he marries is an assassin.

Narrative complications aside, the protagonist has to create the illusion of being part of a happy family – with a child. This detail appears to have resonated with readers, given Japan’s declining birthrate and issues around families.

The first season of a TV adaptation just ended

The first season of the TV adaptation of Spy × Family drew to a close on 25 June 2022.

Hart to Heart | New Season Official Trailer | Peacock

Hart to Heart | New Season Official Trailer | Peacock

In it, Twilight’s mission is to “get married within one week and have a child”.

This, given Shinzo Abe’s policies aimed at increasing the rate at which people married and bore children, makes Spy × Family politically interesting.

And this, I hope, explains the jokes people are making on Twitter about the former Japanese PM’s relationship with the manga series. He oversaw an attempt to boost Japan’s birthrate; Spy × Family sees a character very deliberately fashion a family of his own.

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