Saturday, January 9, 2010

Anime Review: Spice and Wolf

Anime Review # 003
Title: Spice and Wolf
Release Type: Complete Season One Set

After a long week of anticipation, disappointment, elation and surprise (sometimes all at once) I, Richard J., your blog navigator and borderline manic depressive, welcome you to another of my attempts at objective anime reviewing!

Applause go here. Go ahead, I'll wait.

So let's talk about the show you watch for the "economics." Spice and Wolf isn't a series that easily fits a genre. You have complex trade economics, a wolf girl who is occasionally naked (though not so often to make this a fanservice show) and classic tale with overcoming loneliness at it's core. The first season has 13 episodes on two discs in Funimation's set. A second 12 episode season has been made and due to positive sales may likely be licensed. The series director is Takeo Takahashi, who has also worked on Rozen Maiden and of course the second season of Spice and Wolf. Animation production is by IMAGIN and the series is based off of the light novels by Isuna Hasekura. (I may review the novel in the future too, the anime differs from it in some interesting ways.) Production handled by Spice and Wolf Production Committee.

To help me sell this series to you, I asked a lovely merchant to assist me. Ms. Chloe, are you ready?


Chloe: Of course, a good merchant knows that time is money. Lawrence taught me that.

Richard J.: I knew you were the right person to help me on this one. I'll leave it to you to talk about the plot of Spice and Wolf then.

Chloe: I'd be glad to! Spice and Wolf is a tale with a timeless theme of overcoming loneliness. Though it may at times seem to be just a story of a simple merchant and his traveling companion, a wolf deity made wise by countless years of living, the story itself revolves around loneliness and how it affects even a being like Holo. Lawrence, a traveling merchant, stops at a small village holding a harvest event centering on Holo, the wolf goddess who watches over the fields.

However, though once the people of the village truly needed Holo, new farming techniques have made her unnecessary. Unable to connect with the people anymore, Holo is discovered by Kraft Lawrence, who's long journeys from town to town trading goods make him dream of the day he can open his own shop and marry. Lawrence is such a kind man, he deserves a happy ending. I fear that his association with Holo may bring him to despair.

The church of this age is powerful and seeks to destroy beings like Holo, who they consider no better than demons. Holo must hide who she is as she and Lawrence journey toward the North, where Holo's homeland once was. What she will find there isn't a question answered yet as the journey is far more important. You can easily say that Spice and Wolf is the story of two hearts joining while also conducting complex business. Economics and trade are deeply integrated with the overall plot and Holo's nature as a wolf goddess makes her uniquely capable of assisting Lawrence in making money, though both know that she is also a liability to him. Trust is very important between them.

I rather envy Holo, being able to spend so much time with Lawrence.

Kraft Lawrence is a shrewd but vulnerable trader. Though quite knowledgeable for his age, Holo can often out think him, causing some embarrassment as she appears to be far younger than she is. He is an honorable man but certainly not above using trickery to get an advantage in a deal. (This is perfectly normal for merchants though and occasionally it does cause him trouble.)

Holo is the self-proclaimed Wise Wolf, though her seemingly boastful insistence on calling her such is very much appropriate. She appears quite lovely and young but her age is great. Having learned many things, she is frequently amused by Lawrence's moments of naivete though he can fluster her quite easily. One of the truest joys of watching this series is the interaction of Holo and Lawrence. The conversations between them are very well-written, coming across quite naturally.

It is safe to say that if you do not like Kraft Lawrence and Holo the Wise Wolf, you will not like Spice and Wolf. They are not only the main characters but virtually the only characters of significance. Myself and a young shepherd girl named Nora are also important.

Richard J.: Wow, you're not leaving me much to talk about are you?


Chloe: I do try to be worthy of my pay.

Richard J.: I very much enjoyed your character's role in this series. Now, let me give a little run down of the positive and negatives for this series.

First, as previously mentioned, you must like the leads to like the show. Holo and Lawrence are very important. I really don't think you can enjoy this series if you don't like them.

Next, I'd like to point out the fluid narrative of the series. The first disc of this set covers the first storyline and the second covers the next, more or less each story arc is based on one book from the series, meaning that each disc covers a full-length tale. Each story arc in this set focuses on economic and trade conditions that Lawrence tries to use to his advantage. Holo's presence makes some things easier for Lawrence but she also complicates his life. The first arc revolves around a rumor of a kingdom planning to reissue their silver coins with more silver while the second arc deals with Lawrence's attempt to make a very big profit. Neither plan goes smoothly and Holo is key to resolving each situation

The English dub features a truly excellent performance by Brina Palencia as Holo. I'm not sure any of her other rolls have been quite like this one. The writers for the English dub wisely gave Holo's lines a slightly different manner to the other characters which combined with the way Brina delivers them, gives Holo a feeling of age and wisdom. She also easily shifts from playful teasing into more somber moments, where Holo laments the fact that she is no longer needed or worries over the trouble she's causing Lawrence. Some of her best moments are in episode 6 Wolf and Silent Farewell and episode 12 Wolf and a Group of Youngsters.

Lawrence is brought to life with a hint of snark by J. Micheal Tatum, who kind of reminds me of an older and wiser Kyon from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Lawrence is smart and capable, a kind man, but also someone who can be quite devious. He's a perfect match for Holo, who is quick to remind us all that she is a wolf. Unlike many series with a animal eared and tailed girl, Holo acts like a wolf in many ways and Lawrence is sometimes afraid and sometimes angered by her. However, he relies upon her almost as much as she relies upon him and teases her quite effectively at times. The entire second disc is a long stream of moments showcasing his effectiveness in the roll of Lawrence.

Other major players are Chloe in the first arc, played her by Jamie Marchi. This is a very well played role for Jamie and one any fan of her's should check out. Chloe is a friend of Lawrence and a fellow merchant.

Nora, a shepherd working for the church, is a major player in the second story arc. As someone who knows how to battle wolves, she has Holo's respect though not her good opinion. Leah Clark performs surprisingly well in this role, considering I've come to associate her with tough tsundere-types like Eri Sawachika in School Rumble. The quiet and sweet yet strong Nora is a very pleasant surprise.

Since a review has already been done of the packaging for this series, I'll just include one pic I think is important.


That's right, this discs aren't in an overlapping case. The design with a flap instead of one disc half covering the next is VERY MUCH PREFERRED by me over previous single keep-case releases that featured overlapping discs. In fact, I'm hoping to replace overlappers with flippers.

Now for some of the negatives.

As previously mentioned, Spice and Wolf is a character driven drama about economics, trade and overcoming loneliness. If you're in it for the naked wolf girl, you may be disappointed. Simply put, unless you like the leads and find money talk at least vaguely enjoyable, you probably won't like this series. While cleverly written dialogue is wonderful, the series suffers a bit in more action oriented moments, where Holo essentially saves the day single-handedly. Of course, the second arc shows that unleashing an enraged wolf goddess might not be for the best when you're hoping to avoid collateral damage.

This brings us to another factor. Holo is a wolf. There are moments when she painfully reminds both Lawrence and the audience of this, such as in episode 2 Wolf and Distant Past as well as the last two episodes. It's easy to think of her as just a sweet, slightly animal-esque girl. Holo is a wolf and she can be very badass when she wants.

Also, for anyone who is very religious, the portrayal of the church in this series may seem jarringly negative. It's important to note that this series seems to be set in a sort of medival European setting and the church was at one point the strongest government in Europe. A focus on a church that taxes, spies and kills heretics isn't unusual in a setting where the church is part of the governing authority.

Aside from these possible issues, I personally found Spice and Wolf to be absolutely fantastic! Cat Girl Scorecard reads:Photobucket


Chloe: Aoooooo! You should buy it and howl with happiness!

Richard J.: I agree! Howl for Holo!

Spice and Wolf is available from the following retailers: Robert's Anime Corner Store, Amazon, Best Buy, FYE and The Right Stuf. There's currently a Funimation sale on The Right Stuff too.

If you'd like to check out a few episodes of Spice and Wolf before buying it, you may want to visit Funimation's Video Portal!

Well, that's it for another anime review. I hope you enjoyed your visit to my shop (blog) and that you will come and visit again! Until then, the Spice and Wolf must flow! So buy it sooner rather than later!


Chloe: Buy it for me? Please?

Richard J.: Come on, you know you want to learn economics and see an occasionally naked wolf girl.


1 comment:

  1. Nice review.
    It's definitely true that to like this show you have to like Lawrence and Holo.
    If they weren't the leads, and it was instead some other characters that aren't very interesting, this show would be boooring.