Spice and Wolf


Watched via DVD



PLOT: Oh Spice and Wolf. The show is exactly what you would expect from an anime with wolf in the title. This series is really just an excuse to watch a half naked wolf girl make cute faces and fall in love with you…I mean Kraft Lawrence.

The gist of the series is that nondescript Gary Stu of a character Kraft Lawrence is a traveling merchant who sells goods across the country. During his journey through the small village of Pasloe he happens across wolf deity Holo. She convinces him to allow her safe passage to her hometown, one of the few places wolf deities are still welcome amidst the fast development of the church.

As Crystal mentions there are two main story arcs to Spice and Wolf. The themes of both center around basic economics and church politics. I am in agreement that the economics were boring, but mostly because they were over emphasized as a gimmick for drama. Essentially it’s all about value and the rate of exchange. People try to one up each other for the better end of the bargain and there are a couple instances where the protagonists get the short end of the stick, which they then have to rectify.

In other instances Holo’s presence causes conflict as her identity is questioned or her role as an unmarried woman is brought up. While these story elements aren’t necessarily unhistorical, they are just presented in a way where I couldn’t bring myself to care. Also I think the flow of the show was very confusing with events and characters just popping up out of no where. I don’t know if I was spacing out too much, but this may be a show better watched after reading the original novels.

You were probably spacing out too much. While I do prefer watching this dubbed, you still have to pay attention to know who the characters are, their motivations, and their resulting actions. Brain = engaged!

PLOT: Spice and Wolf centers around two main characters who, unsurprisingly, reflect the title of the series. The “spice” part refers to the merchant Kraft Lawrence, who at one point gets called that by a client. He travels around selling merchandise, and at the beginning of the series we winds up in Pasloe, where Holo, the “wolf” referent, watches over the townsfolk as a god of the harvest. Naturally, she can take either a wolf or human form, though her human form has wolf ears and a tail. Because times and attitudes towards Holo have changed, she decides to travel with Lawrence on her way north to her homeland of Yoitsu.

Along their journeys, there’re the standard getting-to-know-you conversations and banter. These are the most enjoyable parts for me, as I love the dynamics between the main pair. However, Lawrence and Holo also run into difficulties related to economics and being a merchant in rough times and areas. The first season of Spice and Wolf covers two light novels from the original series, which means there are two major arcs that divide up the season.

These arcs are a good way to split up the show, and they have the benefit of keeping you from being stuck with one economic idea for too long. The economics-related parts were the worst for me, since I have a rough grasp on the concepts and had to just accept that the characters when what they were doing (kind of like in shows with lots of politics). Because of the economics, I think it’s best to watch this show dubbed so you can zone out a bit if you want. I definitely find the rest of the show worth it watching, but the economics can just get overwhelming and boring at times.

I think the biggest problem with the economics is how the show either over explains concepts to make them more confusing or it jumps from scenario to scenario too quickly.

SETTING: I’m not really sure where the setting of Spice and Wolf is supposed to take place. I suppose it is a representation of an alternative Western world where the church is still developing an influence on various areas and small villages are beginning to lose their faith in pagan deities.

The problem I mostly had with the setting was that Holo looks like a kitsune to me, which is extremely out of place in a Western Middle Ages time frame/location. Rather than being treated like a typical fox spirit or pagan deity, Holo is condemned by the church in similar fashion to how the typical unmarried or foreign woman would be accused of being a witch.

One could argue that the setting is important to adding flare to the show as the two fight to stay together. Personally I think any old setting would have worked just as well to create the exact same scenarios. Spice and Wolf could have capitalized on these motifs much more to give them a stronger purpose.

SETTING: This show takes place in a world that’s roughly analogous to medieval Europe in terms of the economy and world layout. Of course, because this setting is very foreign to a Japanese audience, liberties have been taken in its presentation. The clothing sticks out the most, as it tends to look too modern, but there are a few other historical inconsistencies that pop up.

What’s most interesting about this world, though, are its politics, especially where religion is concerned. Holo’s world is at a point where pagan gods are being rejected for a version of the Christian faith, much like what would happened in Europe over a thousand years ago. This shift makes things difficult for Holo and Lawrence on their journey, and it makes for a good source of speculation for the audience. I enjoy that the creators brought in this portion of Europe’s history, even if the timeline is extremely mangled.

CHARACTERS: The two main characters of the series are Kraft Lawrence and Holo, both of which are unoriginal as both anime and romantic leads. Kraft Lawrence is a traveling merchant who dreams of having his own little shop some day. Holo, on the other hand, is, as I previously mentioned, a wolf deity. Lawrence tends to be the more laid back and logical of the two, with Holo being more emotional and sharp.

Over the course of the series, we get to see the two begin to warm to each other as they presumably heal each others’ previous wounds. At one point in the series, Lawrence mentions having had several encounters with wolves that didn’t go well and Holo insinuates her own bad run-ins with humans. As the two get to know each other better and have witty banter, they learn to cope with each other and grow an affinity for the other.

As far as the romantic elements of the show go, I don’t really have any qualms with the characters or story line. Sure Holo is a bit annoying at times when the tsundere and fan service aspects are played up, but typically her character is depicted as being mature and smart. I found her to be a nice contrast to the typical heroine who needs to literally be taken care of like a pet.

So Holo’s both an unoriginal heroine but also original because she’s independent and smart? Good job being confusing. I think she has elements of your standard tsundere, but she overcomes them realistically.

CHARACTERS: Since this show is so focused on Lawrence and Holo, your success with the show will depend heavily on how you feel about them. I love both of them, but I’ve seen complaints about them, as well.

Most complaints about the show focus on Holo’s temperament, as she can act like a tsundere at times, going from haughty pride to sensitive melancholy quickly. What works for me is that Holo has reasons behind her emotional shifts that are rooted in her character’s past as an immortal, and sometimes lonely, wolf god. More importantly, she changes throughout the series and steadily warms up to Lawrence. Given all of this, I love Holo. She’s a delight to watch, especially when she’s playing with Lawrence in proper form.

Lawrence is also fun to watch, since he’s a good counterpoint to Holo. He’s less easily ruffled and always thinks things through carefully. Of course, he also warms up to Holo and begins to treat her more kindly and to worry about what’s best for her. He’s also refreshingly human, and I loved his reaction to when he first saw Holo as a wolf. Some anime would sidestep or downplay it, but not this one.

Other characters are minor, either showing up infrequently or only for a specific arc. They’re mostly likable, but there are always those characters that I find insufferable. Mostly those characters seem to interrupt my ship, so your mileage may vary….

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: The art style for Spice and Wolf is kinda awkward. The design for Lawrence feels a bit off. Something about his neck/jaw area just doesn’t look right to me. All the men in the series have the same sort of banal treatment that comes from shows where the animators don’t know what to draw if they aren’t making cute stylized girls. It’s hard to feel swept away by the romance when Lawrence tends to fade into the background like wallpaper. In juxtaposition is the vixen Holo who is just dripping with sexual appeal and personality. You can tell that a lot of energy went into animating her well.

As far as everything else goes, the show has a very muted palate. I had to go back and look up images of the show because I couldn’t recall the supposedly great animation Crystal is referencing. Having looked at it again, I would say that it does, in fact, look great; it just doesn’t leave an impression. The studio appears to have saved energy to draw good key art by having sparse activity and fewer numbers of characters. There are usually only a few people interacting at any given moment and there are a lot of simple traveling scenes where people aren’t required to move dramatically.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Spice and Wolf has a weird art style that I just can’t fully get into. I think it’s how distinct and different everything feels. The characters all look somewhat pointy and shiny, with bold colors and sharp shading. Meanwhile, their surroundings are all lushly painted for a realistic feel that contrasts strongly with the character animation. I much prefer the illustration style from the light novels, which you can see in the awesome ending sequence.

Despite its weird mix of styles, though, the series looks great. Everyone is well animated, and I don’t recall the budget ever noticeably dropping. I’m not itching to upgrade my DVDs to BD, but I wouldn’t have minded owning the BDs if they’d come out at the same time. This is yet another of those series that seems like it would have a low budget due to its slower nature, but somehow it got enough of a budget to look nice the whole time. Must be the rabid Holo fanboys.

I don’t really see this being worth a BD purchase. Maybe if you were adamant about BD or got a good deal. Otherwise just stick with good old DVD if you really feel compelled to buy it.

OVERALL: I suppose I must be too “immature” to fully appreciate Spice and Wolf, but really I think the show isn’t living up to its potential and could really push itself plot wise. Unfortunately the series is based off of light novels, so unless the source material gets better, this show has no chance of doing its unique premise justice. Spice and Wolf is full of over dramatization, such as when Holo buys a bunch of apples (a waste of resources) only to make a killing on selling their furs because of the new and lovely apple smell the furs gained. Why would someone buy furs because they smell like apples, and how is it that that somehow made it into the show to represent Holo’s amazing intellect? That’s just one example of the quasi economics that riddle the show.

OVERALL: Spice and Wolf is definitely not for everyone, but if you want a well done, mature anime, it’s totally worth watching. The interactions between Lawrence and Holo made me glad I came back for more, and you’ve got to admit that the economics-centered premise is original. I find it a soothing watch, even though there are high stakes events going on. Really, I wish Whitney would watch the second season so I could talk more about what I like there. Just know that it gets even better, especially if you like Lawrence and Holo. If you’re too immature or impatient for a slow-burning romance and an offbeat plot, then go elsewhere, but if you love the idea of an anime that works for grown-ups, then watch away. It’s a good, nicely different time.


5 thoughts on “Spice and Wolf

  1. Honestly, I think one of the best parts about this Anime was how in depth they went into economics. I understand that not everyone is into that sort of thing, but I think that it is rare to find a good anime with intelligent concepts being taught. The fan-service was not enough to really distract me from the rest of it, so it didn’t really bother me.

    As far as the apples scene, watch it again. It is less about the apples than it is about her ability to speak the merchant’s language and play to his beliefs, mistaken though they may be. Not only that, but she passed on the sales technique to merchant in question. And finally, if you’ve ever smelled fur, you would know that immersing them in the smell of fruit immediately made them worth more to the everyday buyer, because smell can make or break any sale.

    • Thanks for sharing your insights. You are definitely correct in emphasizing what Spice and Wolf does bring to the table. It isn’t too often we see a series that is willing to impart fresh ideas or concepts on its audience.

      Personally I wish it had been pushed a little further. I suppose I could equate it to watching television shows like House M.D. (Hopefully you know the basic premise of the show so my comparison makes sense.) In the show House is seen as one of the top diagnosticians in the area and people travel all across the US just to have him as a doctor. So you would think that his skills are unique. However, the show is written by everyday people, who aren’t experts in the medical field, therefore what they think is a unique diagnosis can actually be diagnosed by your every day doctor. Spice and Wolf functions in a very similar way. The concepts in the series are displayed in a fashion that would make Lawrence and Holo seem very innovative and clever, but in actuality a lot of the economics are basic principles and common sense. In conclusion, I feel that they could have gone further to show their prowess by having scenarios that go beyond making furs smell nice.

      As for the fur and apples. Furs don’t stink, so don’t really need to smell better (or at least the smell they do have seems to be accepted easily by those who collect them anyways). Apples don’t smell that strong to begin with. I don’t really see how furs with a hint of apple would sell any better. If anything they could have put pine needles or something stronger on them if they really thought it was a big deal. The apple seems to me to just be a gimmick. -W

  2. The fur thing always bothered me too. Probably the least convincing scene in the series in the end. The author could have handled it better, but I guess not everyone’s actually handled raw fur before.

    Most people I know tend to watch this one for the interplay between Lawrence and Holo, because that’s ultimately what it’s about: two lonely people traveling together. It’s definitely more about their relationship than the (sometimes flimsy) economics lessons.

    Season two was a bit more consistent, but also mostly about their relationship. If you found those parts the most enjoyable, especially the character dynamics and romance aspects, then you’ll probably get better mileage out of it than the first season.

    Personally I think a lot of people are quick to pidgeonhole characters (“tsundere”) because anime’s trained us to think in those terms. But this is one of the rare anime where you can tell that it’s because the characters are lonely and emotionally fragile people.

    I can see why a guy who’s traveled on the road for seven years might be a bit on the dim side when it comes to relationships, and I can totally see why a wolfgirl who spent centuries alone in fields of wheat would have trouble dealing with her emotions (clearly she waited for a Gary Stu’s cart to roll around before she hopped onto it).

    • I bet Crystal would be in agreement with you on that. She keeps telling me that I need to watch the second season as the key points, the relationships, really start to take off.

      Hmm…I don’t know about the tsundere. Usually there is always a reason for it in anime. After all, one out of every two main characters has at least one immediate family member who has passed away (this data is completely made up and a stereotype and should not be taken seriously).

      Now that I think about it, it could really all boil down to setting. The characters may not be completely unique, but I’ve liked much worse characterizations in other series. I think for me it’s the matter of them being those characters in that specific time era (even Escaflowne and Scrapped Princess didn’t grow on me as much as they probably should have). I tend to avoid the middle ages like the plague. I can definitely concede that this show has the potential to appeal to a lot of people. It just really didn’t appeal to me. -W

      • Yeah, that makes sense. If there’s one thing you can safely say about Spice and Wolf it’s that “it’s not for everyone”. You really do have to either identify with the characters, or just like awkward adult romances (instead of awkward teenage romances).

        By the way, nice plague pun!

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