What They Say:
The journey through the wild countryside continues for the merchant Lawrence and his traveling companion, Holo the untamed harvest goddess. As their winding path takes them from village to village, Lawrence and Holo reap the bounty of an ever-strengthening bond, depending on his street smarts and her animal instincts to lead them to the feisty deity’s northern home.
Contains episodes 00-12.
Please Note: This review is of the Blu-ray side of the DVD/BD combo. Everything is the same except for the audio/video and menu side of it.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty solid as it contains the two language tracks in lossless form using Dolby TrueHD. The original Japanese language track is in stereo which is definitely a well done mix that handles the dialogue and the ambient sounds of the city and the small areas such as the inns they stay at. The music aspects of the series really come across well in this form as well with the softer side of it having a good deal of warmth to it. The English mix gets bumped up to 5.1 and that does mean a noticeable increase in decibels but also additional clarity when it comes to the dialogue and a bit more oomph in a few scenes when needed. The series is not a big action piece by any stretch but it does have some well done areas that shine here. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2009, the transfer for this HD native TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread over two discs with eight on the first and four on the second where the extras are also located. Similar to the first season by animation studio Brain’s Base, Spice and Wolf has a fairly distinct look to it that’s rather earthy. It fits the kind of world it wants to be about with a rough and natural feeling and it’s well captured in the transfer. It has some moments where it shines with its colors, often with Holo’s naked moments or the colors of her dreams and outfits, but even there it still keeps to a natural and softer look. The darker scenes are well handled without noticeable breakup or blocking or much of anything in the way of banding. Colors generally are strong and solid and even the night time blues come across very well.
The second season of Spice and Wolf comes in a heavy chipboard box with a filler box inside it to give you room to slide the first season in, which is quite welcome. The box has some great illustration artwork to it with the front of it showing Holo lying in bed all curled up with a soft smile to her face that’s quite alluring and yet cute too. The back panel uses another great illustration framed classically with Holo in her day clothes with the pouch around her neck. It’s a different kind of smile here but it’s just as appealing as the other cover. Inside the box we get the filler box that has two sides worth of really appealing artwork that is more colorful with the other characters from the series and we get the single sized keepcase as well.
The keepcase has a very outgoing illustration of Holo against the blue sky that is almost infectious with how happy she looks. It’s got some really nice detail to it but it’s also very simple in its approach. The back cover is rather text heavy with its layout as it has only the two strips of shots from the show that surrounds the summary of the season. There’s a good parchment feeling used for the white space here where they put the logo and a cute tagline for the show. The rest of the cover is given over to the technical information that covers both formats very cleanly in an easy to read fashion. While there’s no show related inserts included, we do get artwork on the reverse side of a great two panel shot of Holo in a short skirt sitting on the hillside as the wind blows through her hair. It’s a great anime shot of her that really looks vibrant and appealing.
The menu design for this release is pretty nice as it uses the full screen for animation from the show with a simple travel aspect to it that’s relaxed and pleasing. It uses the brighter daytime scene so we have lighter blues and greens to go with the earthy tones elsewhere. The navigation is rather simple but it fits in thematically as well as it has a small board along the left side of the screen which is also used as the pop-up menu during playback. The navigation is straightforward with the usual selections and with the extras on the second disc it gets the additional tab for things. Everything load quickly and without problem and the design overall makes it something that sets the mood pretty well prior to starting the show.
The extras for this release are rather minimal overall, if cute, as they total just about six minutes. More than half of that is the inclusion of the always welcome opening and closing sequence but we also get a brief stretching video showing Holo doing her thing as well as a brief studying clip that’s cute and needs to be seen.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the first season of Spice and Wolf tricked us into getting into a series about economics, we all came back hungrily for more. And that, in a nutshell, is what the second season is. It’s more of Holo and Lawrence on their journey as they search for more clues about Holo’s origins while they travel north to where they think she might be from. And it has a lot more economics mixed into it as we see how the world is dealing with a new change to the status quo in how it affects not only the merchants but the ordinary citizens as well. It’s a pretty educational show on a basic level to be sure, which is one of its surprising strengths as it does draw you in.
The season is essentially split into two story arcs and each of them covers very different things both in economics and in the relationship between Holo and Lawrence. The first arc brings them to a town on their journey northward where he meets up with an old friend that was once a peddler as well but has settled in well to the life of a merchant in the busy marketplace. The trade and banter between the two is well done since it feels like they’ve known each other a long time even if they don’t interact often. The differences in how they operate permeate things, but it’s only towards the end of the arc that it becomes a problem.
What this arc brings into play is some fun with fools gold, a particular rock that’s gained a lot of fans in the town that’s being manipulated by another group. Lawrence sees a way to manipulate things in his favor and it runs parallel to a story that involves Holo meeting up with another young merchant man that wants to marry her after they spend some time together. The six episodes covers both sides well because we continue to see the way that she and Lawrence joke about things but there are underlying issues as well as she brings up a few times the way that she ages differently and it could cause problems. The two of them do talk more than you see some other couples in other shows, but they’re still dancing around their feelings for each other because of this reality. Seeing the events unfold together, especially with Holo agreeing to the marriage to the other merchant, it lights some interesting fires across the board.
The second arc has them moving further north and this one has a similar story unfold in terms of economics, though it gets more complicated because it involves a female merchant that they end up working with for awhile as well as the church. With the way religion is handled here with the various pagan religions out there and the problems that are happening further in the north, we see the mixture of its effects here in this town along the sea as they’re focusing more on trying to shore up their revenue and status in a few ways and this new merchant offers up a way to take advantage of it. For Lawrence, there comes a point where the potential for the kind of shop he wants to set up becomes possible, and that starts to affect things since he’s also wondering how much longer he can journey with Holo.
Spice and Wolf has a few things to balance but what makes all of it work across both arcs is that it actually does spend the time to let it happen naturally. Most of the time stories like these would be handled in one or two episodes with some decent montages and highlight moments to show how it all happens, but here they want to go through the drama and tension. And not just for the economic side of it but for the relationship and character driven material as well. What makes it all authentic though is the animation as they don’t skimp here in making it earthy, worn and realistic. It takes its time with the details, especially with the merchant side with how it handles market trading and other aspects, which helps make it even more fully realized. Sometimes more attention is paid to the details of futuristic shows but sometimes these details are even more important in shows like this.
The first season of Spice and Wolf was a lot more fun than I expected and this one builds upon it in the same slow, methodical and highly engaging way. While some shows change things from one season to the next, this one is very much a slow evolution in a larger sense but it does put some interesting things in front of the characters when it comes to how their relationship works. It’s grown and changed, incrementally, but also in a way that only comes from traveling together and really getting to know the person. In the end, everything that made the first season as fun as it was is still here and it tweaks it just enough to keep it fresh and evolving rather than just more of the same in a bad way. This is a very fun show and one where you’d want to follow their journey for as long as possible. Very recommended.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, “Studying” with Holo, “Stretching” with Holo: Yoitz Style, Textless Opening Song, Textless Closing Song
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: August 30th, 2011
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.