What They Say :
Hunting for riches more precious than gold! Lawrence, a traveling merchant searching for profit, finds a naked girl with the ears and tail of a wolf asleep in his cart. Her name is Holo a harvest goddess with an untamed beast lurking inside who longs to return to her beloved northern home. Armed with his street smarts and her animal instincts, a simple peddler and a forgotten deity begin a journey through the wild countryside. Along their path, the riches of happiness shall be reaped, even as the bankruptcy which dwells in the human heart is exposed.
The Review :
The menu is set up very basically, a horizontal widescreen view of Holo on a grassy floor on a sky like background, shown in both discs. The selections are easily accessible between Play All, Episodes, Set Up and on Disc 2, Extras. It’s very standard, no issues in selection choices on the menu or during the show, and nice to look at it, but little imagination. It works enough, simple as that with no scene selection in the episodes choice which is now commonplace.
The only extras available on the 13 episode set are the cleaning opening and the ending of the series.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Spice & Wolf is a series that is somehow both very unique yet manages to catch us with some usual practices to lure fans in. A gorgeous female lead with mythical properties…hanging round with a merchant and using her knowledge as a god to help him out as she tries to return to her village in the north? To say that this series was very different to what I was expecting is an understanding. However, it’s certainly isn’t bad – in fact, this was one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve had the pleasure to witness.
We are introduced to our male protagonist, Kraft Lawrence, a peddler and merchant who travels with his wares, all for the dream of eventually opening his own store. He is well known around, has friends but always seems to be alone due to his travels. Stopping in the town of Pasloe, and re-integrating with some friends and a potential love interest/business partner Chloe, he returns to his cart, where emerging from the wheat that has been stored there, is a naked girl with wolf like ears and a tail. She claims to be Holo, the wolf god that pagan legend dictates has to be pacified in the wheat fields to keep their crops good for the upcoming harvests. However, the wolf god tires of this and wants to return to her home village known as Yoitsu, where she only knows is ‘somewhere up north.’ Of course, Lawrence is rightly shocked and unbelieving, but thanks to Holo showcasing her wolf form, he is soon convinced of her legend…and is then convinced to bring her along as a companion, also helping her interests in returning home for the first time in 6000 years.
Having a pretty female companion however attracts some onlookers throughout his journey, so under the guise of being a nun and hiding her wolf characteristics, Holo becomes a very worthwhile asset to Lawrence, able to both judge people when they are trying to swindle him, or able to use her intellect and charm to be able to part fellow merchants with more money for Lawrence’s’ wares. However, her wolf nature is also a problem, with uneasy questions between the two plus the interference of the church (especially shown when Chloe returns in one episode when Holo has been caught by the church). Rival companies try to ambush Lawrence and Holo when deals are being made, with Lawrence having to use his connections to save Holo or indeed himself from danger. The first half of the series delves into their initial travelling to the townspeople of Pasloe thinking Holo is indeed the Holo of deity, and want her back for their harvests, whilst the second half later deals with Lawrence making an error causing him to go into debt, forcing him to work on a very risky scheme with the aid of Holo and a charming young shepherd by the name of Nora…whilst in between you get some witty banter, possible romance between Lawrence and Holo, jealousy when Nora enters the scene, and a lot of Holo squealing over new foods and ale she had yet to try. And a lot of intelligent gatherings about economics and how the business works – like the price of silver and the variety of coins used. It’s been a while since I’ve had an anime that combines a bit of eye candy visually both in animation and in the female lead, but also make me think as it is an intelligent show as you follow Lawrence’s hardships, as Holo herself isn’t an all powerful god granting him luck – in fact, because of her beauty she inadvertently causes as many issues as she does in helping out.
Holo herself is an incredibly complex character, and very intriguing. She’s got 6 millennium worth of knowledge and experience, and she showcases it throughout with her techniques to help Lawrence out, yet at the same time has a very childish charm as any profit Lawrence gets usually goes to her eating apples, trying out new dishes and a lot of alcohol. At heart, she definitely is a lonely girl, despite her ability to transform into her true form when needed, she only seems to want a friend, yet hides behind that with her pouting, snarky, and natural charm which surfaces to help haggles goods, get cheaper rooms, or just to annoy Lawrence. She’s a lot of fun, but she is shown she can have her heart broken (during one scene during Lawrence’s darkest hour, he does take it out on her, which leaves her upset despite her being way stronger than him) and whilst the series ends quite well, with the plot of her wanting to return home, there is a second season to be shortly reviewed so I’m looking forward to how her issues are handled. Lawrence is also a great male lead, showcasing intelligence in all his actions yet is not perfect, and is capable of making mistakes, whether small or large, and yet has the determined nature to either calmly sort it out (trading some money for pepper to be used for sales) or panicking and pleading for help (pleading with the merchant guilds to help out Holo or his plan to smuggle gold via sheep, which led from panic to calm, rationale thinking). The show revolves around these two as no other character is in the show for far too long, with the only other two characters of note is Chloe, who turns from possible partner to jealousy and anger around Holo, and Nora who is much more likeable, a trouble shepherd who seems to have the devil’s luck, and because of that the church treats her horribly, allowing Lawrence to ask for her help for his gold smuggling plan.
Indeed, the last few episodes of each half of the arcs in question are fantastic, because you get to see Lawrence panic in different methods – once for Holo, and once for himself. In both situations he’s able to think about it and think of a solution, whether physically or mentally, yet there is always a doubt of success in both situations. It’s then you are reminded of Holo’s true power, which is barely mentioned unless absolutely necessary. In fact, you will forget that Holo is in fact, a pagan wolf god, and just see her as this snarky wolf girl who teases Lawrence with a hearty appetite and intelligence well beyond her youthful looks. Indeed, she has aspects of jealousy suggesting much more of an interest in Lawrence bar companionship when Nora enters the fray, especially considering wolves and shepherds are natural enemies – it gives a silent tension especially when Nora has to be involved in the gold smuggling plan, and even more so when Lawrence is apparently betrayed by his company, and a tense ending between Nora and Holo as Holo reveals her true side…
The show is magnificent to look at – detailed cities, some great atmosphere with the music and the European-esque citing which gives it a nice feel. A show that only uses two characters as the main focus need to make sure they are interesting enough to carry the show, and fortunately Holo and Lawrence do this in spades. The only weakness I can really say is that it’s not very exciting. It’s not a series that will make your blood pump with action, instead you’ll be listening to two characters haggle, talk economics and then retire to the inn. However, this is why Spice & Wolf is a unique experience – it is entertaining, just in a different way. It absorbs you into its world, whilst still adding enough bits of humour, fanservice (not to a huge extent, Holo’s face is fanservice for the Spice & Wolf world enough) and character development to keep you interested. The way it does is really your choice if you think it appeals to you, so if you came off this after my DBZ review, then you won’t enjoy it. However, if you are more a fan of a show like maybe Aria or Kino’s Journey, you will love this.
Spice & Wolf is really a pearl inside the sea of anime. A series that is both familiar and yet completely in its own element. Combining economics and trading with a beautiful wolf girl isn’t exactly the first idea when it comes to a show, but I’m glad it did. Holo and Lawrence are an entertaining and intelligent duo, their comic timing is dry but entertaining, they make you think and even learn during their travels, but when they finish up, you will remember why you don’t want to mess with Holo. Gratifying in all levels, it’s hard to recommend to everyone but I’d definitely give it a shot just to see if it is your liking. A personal recommendation but not a worldwide one, you decide.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Textless Opening/Ending
Content Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C-
Released By: Manga Entertainment
Release Date: June 18th, 2012
Running Time: 325 minutes
Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.