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Spice and Wolf: MERCHANT MEETS THE WISE WOLF Episode #01 Anime Review

5 min read
© Isuna Hasekura / ASCII Media Works

“The Harvest Festival and The Crowded Driver’s Box”

What They Say:
Lawrence is a traveling merchant selling various goods from a horse-drawn cart. One day, he arrives at a village and meets a beautiful girl with the ears and tail of an animal! Her name is Holo the Wisewolf and she brings bountiful harvests. She wishes to return to her homeland, and Lawrence offers to take her. Now, the once-lonely merchant and the once-lonely wisewolf begin their journey north.

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sometime back in 2008 when I watched the first season of this series, I remember saying “That’s a spicy wolf” in my best faux Italian accent and it stuck with me from there. Which was helpful because Funimation re-released that two-cour series a lot in various forms so it always came up. While fans have had the light novels ongoing since then and the main manga wrapping up in 2017, there have also been a few VR2 games and some additional manga that has kept people happy. But if you’re into the anime, it’s been fifteen years since the work went off the air in 2009 and nobody really expected there to be more, even in this age of reboots and attempts at doing shows better or more accurately than they might have been done before.

Set in a medieval world that plays things very straight by and large, Spice and Wolf tells a somewhat leisurely tale that will span two-cour over twenty-five episodes yet is one that can be quite tense at times. The story revolves around a man named Craft Lawrence, a traveling peddler in his mid-twenties who works across numerous towns transporting goods and selling his wares when and where he can. His main goal is to one day save up enough money so he can open a store in a decent-sized town and build a full life. But until then, he’s the kind of peddler who’s very happy doing what he does, figuring out the tricks of particular trades, and spending time with people that he does get to know during his travels. With the framing of this being a story told to a child sometime in the future, the main story opens with him visiting a few different towns as he peddles his goods, engages with the locals in different ways, and creates the connections he needs. But while traveling after one town where there’s a ritual related to the local god of the harvest, his life changes in the middle of that night.

The reveal of a young woman mysteriously appearing in the back of his wagon amid all the wolf pelts is definitely a haunting visual. As it turns out, the girl is named Holo, which is the name of the goddess of the region that is responsible for the health of the crops. Her influence has been dwindling among the farmers for some time as the area has provided new ways and means for ensuring better crops, so they haven’t been needing Holo like she was. Holo reveals that she truly is the goddess in question, though the details seem to paint her more as a godling of sorts in that she’s not as eternal and is part of a larger family from the far north of where she’s been operating out of for so long. Lawrence doesn’t need too much convincing to grasp that Holo is that same Holo, since she does have the ears and quite the bushy tail, but his mercantile ways serve him well here as he agrees to travel north with her to find where she came from while taking advantage of her ability to read others in his business. Since that facilitates her living conditions along the way, as well as food and clothes, it’s a good agreement they reach.

Much of the design of the series is that it focuses on the relationship between the two people as they get to know each other over their travels. Two main stories happen throughout as Lawrence goes about his business and Holo gets involved from time to time, but all of it serves more to foster the relationship between them. Because of appearances, Lawrence tends to take a protective role of Holo, but she often corrects him because of the age difference since she’s far older than him. She brings in some amusing stories from time to time of people she’s known in the past and some of the things they’ve done that have some correlation to events in the present. Holo is entirely charming throughout the show, though she plays between being the “wise wolf” and the impish young wolf who likes to tease and torment Lawrence. Lawrence himself is also quite charming as he has a bit of wisdom about himself as well since he’s run his own business for a while, but he’s still learning some of the tricks of the trade. He’s not exactly young-looking because of his hair color, but he has a certain youth to him that mixes in with his relaxed and analytical personality.

In Summary:
As I (re)learned with Urusei Yatsura, it’s very hard to go back again and often it’s just impossible. It’s easier to remember the pieces from the past and that ends up leaving you conflicted while watching the new because you just see the changes to it and not really engaging with the story as presented. What we get here is a more layered and fleshed-out version as it adapts the original work and it does so in a really good way. More time with Lawrence at the start is a good thing so that we understand him well and the show has a very appealing look with its designs and color work. The leisurely pace is very much there and it’s an easy series to connect with and to find something to take from it. But having read some of the light novels, the manga, and the original anime, my mind is just drawing on those other sources and that makes it a bit harder to connect with. It’s a beautiful show at times and something that I’m glad so many people will be exposed to for the first time and hopefully find out why it’s so magical to so many people all these years.

Grade: B+

Streamed By: Crunchyroll

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