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Spice & Wolf Season 2 Anime DVD Review

6 min read

Is Holo the Wise Wolf worth her weight in gold?

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.

The Review:
Audio:
I can’t say the audio quality of the series is a huge deal. As low key as it is, it really can’t be. The original Japanese mix is in stereo, and the English mix brings whatever it can in 5.1 surround sound. In the grand scheme of things, however, it really was meant as a stereo show. The most exciting thing comes in the form of the occasionally piercing music meant to highlight the drama in certain scenes, and hardly anything else.

The series continues to be enjoyable in both English and Japanese (the English dub opting for a more mature-sounding Holo, which I believe is fitting). Performances are strong across the board, but as the dubs lean more “real” than just generic “anime” off the wall craziness, it can come across as slightly underwhelming in the acting department. Everything is a lot more subtextual, which I believe is a very positive thing overall.

Video:
Unfortunately for everyone, Spice and Wolf has never been a fantastically animated series. This season is no exception. It’s not terrible, but I think “lazy” is a good word to describe the animation. It seems as though this show may have been greenlit by virtue of the fact that very little of it requires exquisite animation. Most of the show consists of talking heads scenes, and nothing of great visual interest seems to ever happen. I do wish the animators had taken advantage of this in order to make what few great scenes there are as good-looking as possible. On the whole, it is passable, but a bit disappointing. As far as the DVD goes, the transfer is passable, but hardly anything to write home about.

Packaging:
N/A

Menu:
The menus on this DVD consist of a homepage with a colored drawing of Holo very reminiscent of the art in the light novels. In the background plays decidedly Celtic music from the soundtrack. The options are displayed near the bottom, with the selected text very clear and evident. It’s very simple, and effective. Each option chosen leads to a still from an episode with another song from the soundtrack playing. Once again, very straightforward.

Extras:
As expected with most releases of this sort, the extras are minimal. On top of the usual FUNimation trailers and textless opening/closing, we are treated to two very short “instructional videos.” The first is called “ ‘Studying’ with Holo” where we learn more about the food in the Spice and Wolf world. The second is a “ ‘Stretching’ with Holo: Yoitz style” short, where we… I guess, are supposed to stretch along with Holo? The whole video seems to be a strange way to lead up to weak punchlines scattered throughout where Holo stretches her ears and tail (since most people have neither wolf ears or tails, I gather few would have great uses for these techniques). It’s cute, I suppose, but hardly worth watching, especially since these videos seem to take away from the maturity and cockiness we learn to expect from her character in the series.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Spice and Wolf has always been a bit of an impressive series to me. It takes a typical fantasy setting and turns it on its side into something more grounded, relatable, and—dare I say—educational. Even more impressive, it takes a character archetype we’ve seen in anime many times over and makes it not only tolerable, but quite likable, in the form of Holo, a wise wolf god who travels with Lawrence, a merchant, in hopes of finding her home.

When we last left the two, they had just carried out a gold-smuggling escapade, where Lawrence’s general livelihood as a merchant was put at stake. As the sequel to the first series, it would seem natural that the stakes would only get higher, but luckily for us, the writers were a bit smarter than that. Rather than simply let the stakes keep escalating over time, they opted to make the stakes less to do with money, and more to do with relationships. In this series, the true test is in Lawrence and Holo’s own trust.

The past season established a strong and interesting interaction with these two. They constantly flirt and banter with each other in a way that is both believable and charming, and in this season, their attraction for each other is no longer something that is in question. There may be a few blushes here and there, but on the whole, the way they speak and work together is a far cry above your typical anime cliché (usually consisting of denials of attraction, nosebleeds, and pointless arguments). The two genuinely care for each other, and seeing that bond tested in this season is interesting and potentially heartbreaking. As a viewer, the last thing I wanted was for this solid ground to be shaken.

Yet even as I dreaded this, the way they approached it was incredibly well done. The way in which they tampered with their relationship isn’t done in a cheap way consisting of dramatic irony, misunderstandings, and the overhearing of phrases out of context. It generally does a great job of avoiding such Shakespearean clichés.

Season two also does a fantastic job of taking what we love about the two leads and capitalizing on it. Lawrence continues as the smart, capable, and confident lead in the story, knowing well his skills and luster that can help bring about a profit. Holo firmly establishes herself next to Lawrence as an equal in his eyes, occasionally using her own schemes to complement his own without him even realizing it. As mentioned earlier, it is a wonderful dynamic that never resorts to painting Holo as a weak damsel in distress or Kraft Lawrence as an inept traveler who happens to fall into attractive company.

The writing and characterization in this story builds so well on the first season, and continues to improve on it, that I can almost forgive the series biggest flaw. Almost. That flaw lies in the animation. While not outright terrible, I haven’t noticed such a missed opportunity as I did here. With a story this strong, an amazing animation budget and director could have resulted in a more attractive, classic series. It could have attracted a much greater audience and shown how great a smart animated series could be. Fortunately, the series succeeds greatly in spite of this distracting flaw.

In Summary:

As a follow-up to the first season, Spice and Wolf 2 succeeds on all levels. I can’t foresee current fans being disappointed, as the story and characters only get better from here on out. Unfortunately, I can’t really foresee any new fans to the series jumping onboard as a result of season 2, either. A great deal of the tension lies in our current knowledge of past events and of Holo and Lawrence’s relationship. Those without prior knowledge or those who don’t already care about it going in may not get as much out of the series as those who have been watching since the beginning. Also, considering how lackluster the animation and art is, there are probably few who would check out the series because it “looked interesting.” If anything, at a glance the series can be easily mistaken for any other run of the mill fantasy series out there. But if they were to just sit down and give it a chance, I have little doubt they’d realize they’d stumbled onto something special indeed.

Features:
Japanse 2.0 audio, English 5.1 audio, English subtitles, “Studying” with Holo, “Stretching” with Holo: Yoitz Style, Textless Opening, Textless Closing, FUNimation trailers

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: C
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: August 30th, 2011
MSRP: $64.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL-40EX400 BRAVIA EX400 LCD hdtv 40 inch. Sony SLV-D370P DVD Player. Electrohome ELE-HTB920E 5.1 Channel Surround Sound Home Theater Speaker System

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