Anime Review: Spice and Wolf

Spice and Wolf is fairly unique among all the anime I’ve watched. Following the journey of a peddler and his unusual passenger, the show is a realistic fantasy and a love story, with some mild adventuring and action here and there, heavily involving economics both to give the story texture and to drive the plot forward. I can’t think of another anime with a setup quite like that. This offers a freshness and originality that I’ve largely found to be lacking in the industry and even entertainment as a whole.

There’s no doubt, that’s part of what I like about it: how unique it is.

But uniqueness alone is not enough to enthrall for long, so the fact that I consider Spice and Wolf to be among my favorites leaves more to be said.

The story of Kraft Lawrence and Holo the Wise Wolf is exactly that: their story. It begins with the circumstances surrounding their first meeting and their mutual decision to stay together. It follows what happens to them, what they go through, and how their relationship develops. It concludes with a more permanent decision to be together.

From the start, Spice and Wolf is both entrancing and realistic in unexpected ways. The animation and the music are as magical as befits the story of a mystical wolf that became a “god” and then became a human-like woman. The attention to detail, including how Holo acts, how she’s depicted with fangs, ears, a tail, and eyes that glimmer in the dark, how Lawrence trips in the dark, the conversations they have, etc., creates a believable portrait of what it’s like to be these people in their situation. I’ve only heard the English dub by Funimation, but the voice acting is absolutely top notch, endearing the characters to us even more. And, as much validity as there is to to this image…

…I have never seen any anime depiction of a nude or near-nude female that was so tastefully done and non-sexual in nature. Alluring, yes, but not sexual.

That, by the way, is something that a friend of mine warned me about while also encouraging me to see this anime, and it’s a good thing too. It can be pretty shocking in a way that turns some people off of a show. But I was impressed and intrigued by how they were able to show us such content, without it being vulgar in any way, and certainly without making the female lead overly sexual. I didn’t even know that was possible.

But, still, possible or not, one must keep it in mind for one’s own tastes, and for considerations of anyone from the younger generation possibly being in the room at the time. As an uncle, that sort of thing has become a particular point for me to consider more. There’s not much of it, but there is mature content you may want to be wary of if you have kids. That is, of course, your individual choice.

As for myself, I rather loved this anime, even before I finished the first episode. It was unusual for me at the time, to like something that was so lacking in action, but I just couldn’t help it. The first arc, about half of the first season long, was fantastic, weaving a story that, while having a few predictable elements, was entertaining, intriguing, and emotional.

The second arc was a small step down, but still delivered wonderfully. The second season, though, lost a little steam for me. It just wasn’t quite so gripping, and some of Lawrence’s antics with Holo began to make a little less sense, and so felt a little more forced. Still, it was pretty good, and we were starting to get a picture of the true travesty of Holo’s past, the terrible truth that awaited her on her eventual return to her homeland. It’s not uncommon for a story to slump a little in the middle, setting up the personal stakes that drive the big finish. I was fine with that, really.

Sequel = Proof that the story is unfinished.

…and then it ended. Story unfinished. Which is a pet peeve of mine.

I don’t know exactly how far along story they got in the anime, but I know that things eventually end happy in the manga and it even has a sequel, following Kraft and Holo’s daughter, so I know there’s more material for them to draw on. So why not?

It does need to be said, though, that it generally says something good when one’s biggest complaint is, “They didn’t finish it!”

A slightly lesser complaint, but still important, is how the story relied on economics. It lent a unique weight to the show, but there were things I didn’t quite understand. How being owed money suddenly changes to owing money, for instance. I barely understood the poisoning of credit, but that was only because they put it in plain terms in a contract. And then there’s the stupidity of a town government trying to forbid people from selling or buying furs or some such.

There’s some less economical, and more personal, things that made little sense to me. There’s also how Lawrence’s “friends” were somehow offended by Holo’s presence when he asked them for help. I just didn’t get that at all. And what was with the shepherd girl, Nora, being hated by the church that originally took her in, and trumping up the idea that she survived danger because of the Devil instead of the providence of God? That made no sense to me at all.

Perhaps another reason the first story arc is my favorite is because everything made perfect sense and lacked all confusion.

I’ve been talking a lot about flaws for this review, nit-picking things. But, really, that’s all I have against it: little details to nit-pick.

All in all, I found Spice and Wolf to be an enjoyable story. It starts out stronger than it finishes, and leaves us hanging in the end, but I liked the adventure, the journey. I liked how things could be tense without much action. I liked how Holo is so strong and wise, but also sometimes silly, and certainly vulnerable and in need of someone so she would not be alone. And Kraft was so clever and driven to succeed, but also kind and honorable. I love them, warts and all.

Rating: I’m giving Spice and Wolf 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Plus.

I guess I just like these two! 🙂

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