Spice and Wolf
In the town of Pasroe, the annual pagan ceremony of harvest is performed, made to honor the god of harvest who is the caretaker of the huge wheat field alongside the city. As Craft Lawrence, a trader in training, passes through, he encounters Kenrou Horo, a wolf girl who just happens to be the god of harvest for the town of Pasroe.
Through the long years, she feels that the town has abandoned her, so she makes a deal with Craft, leaving the village behind and travelling with him as she sets her sights for her home; in the mountains far to the north.
I've been partial to quite a few new shows over the last few years, but there haven't been many that have truly taken me by surprise. Spice and Wolf is one of those "once in a blue moon" kind of shows that has you wondering whether something that panders to the nekomimi (or in this case, inumimi... or maybe okamimimi? Try saying THAT ten times fast. Ow!) can actually be anything worthwile, and then actually proving to be so much more.
True fact: when I first laid eyes on a promo image of this, I actually mistook it for Kanokon, a show I just know will hurt me deeply when I eventually get to it later this year. It's an honest mistake; it wasn't a very large image, and both shows pretty much has a cast members with fox/wolf ears. However, Spice and wolf takes the old animal-ears-on-cute-girl fetish and turns it completely around.
It also certainly helps that the art is downright lovely. When I actually sat down and watched this, the (mainly female) character designs reminded me a little bit of the MariMite OAV. Don't ask me why, though. I have no idea. Anyway, the art is quite nice and the animation is also quite good, keeping in mind that the show isn't very heavy on action. Also worth noting is the show's opening and ending theme. The opener is a sweet, yet melancholic theme about travelling and searching, which suits the show like a glove. The ending theme, however, is a rather Yellow-Submarinesque bizarre affair about apples and other random things. In fact, if you can get through the ending animation without thinking about the Yellow Submarine movie, then you haven't seen the Yellow Submarine movie.
Unlike a lot of the other shows I've fallen in love with, Spice and Wolf isn't really all that character driven. Lawrence and Horo aside, there aren't a lot of characters that get all that much airtime, being mostly relegated to being business partners in passing. The show is mainly about travelling, trading and about Lawrence and Horo's growing relationship, which, as of yet, is still undecided.
Let me warn any potential viewers right now, though. While Spice and Wolf takes place in a fantasy world, the workings of said world is very much like middle-age Europe, when the Church used to be an actual superpower in itself. It dabbles heavily into trade and economics, which is the only part where the whole deal get somewhat uninteresting for me, partially because, like I mentioned, it's based on places that do not actually exist. So I'm basically asked to remember a lot of names that has no real life references, which makes the whole trade/bartering setup a rather loose affair, especially since we do not really learn a whole lot about this world, not even enough to make parallells with actual historical events. In other words, while I enjoyed this show a great lot, I did wish for less business talk at several occasions.
What makes the show such a joy to watch, though, rests almost purely between the characters of Lawrence and Horo. Watching the two -- the businessman in training and the wolf god -- interact pretty much makes the show. There has been an upswing in male leads like Lawrence these latest years; crafty and full of personality. And while he does have a bit of a problem keeping his defenses up around cute girls, his verbal spars with Horo are always a delight to behold. (And, thankfully, their English voice actors were more than up to matching their Japanese counterparts.) He's also 25 years old, which makes him positively ancient compared to most anime leads.
Horo, on the other hand, is maybe the most interesting female lead I've ever seen in any shows bar none. That's really saying a lot, since females in anime generally tend to be portrayed in a far more diverse fashion, barring your arcetypical high-school love romances. She's sassy and smart-mouthed, yet clever and wise (as she often takes delight in reminding Lawrence, both directly and through various trade encounters.) She's got several hundred years' worth of life experience underneath her furry ears, which the show actually manages to portray in a believable manner. You actually do get the feeling she's not a human through the way she acts around Lawrence -- the only person to know her secret in the beginning -- and yet, the first time you behold her transformation to a full-sized wolf god is none the less an eye opener. On top of that, for all her posturing and grandiose claims -- certainly not unfounded ones, mind you -- underneath her form rests a character as vulnerable, flawed and human as anyone else in any show worth its salt. She fears solitude and loneliness as much as anyone else and finding exasperations with the ones she cares about as much as anyone else as well. Furthermore, I've never seen anyone who loves apples as much as she does.
And it's because of this that Lawrence respects her and listens to her, even despite the fact that he takes great enjoyment in teasing her whenever he can. The two share a strong bond, the kind of which hasn't been settled yet, but this is the kind of bonds between characters that, to me, makes a show worth watching. There has been quite a few hints that they might grow to love each other, which certainly won't be unproblematic for a variety of reasons, but if any show can pull it off, then this one definitely will.
It was much too short, over much too quickly. Despite being quite informative -- sometimes TOO informative -- this Spice and Wolf TV series is merely the beginning, and I can only hope that more seasons will follow. Again, the one drawback for me in this show is its tendency to resort to business talks far too often for my liking. In lieu of rattling off long conversations about economy and trading, I would have liked hearing more about this fantasy country, its agriculture, traditions and superstitions, especially since Lawrence is actually travelling with a personification of the very superstition in question.
Still, I recommend this. I'd recommend it any day, for anyone who wants a bit of light fantasy heavy on the believability factor. It certainly helps that the show manages to balance the location and the populus quite nicely, spicing it up with a nice helping of familiar history elements and superstitious beliefs. It's the surprise show of the year.
Too much economics for me at times, so if you are an economist or trader, add the last star and get ready for a huge feast of a show. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: Horo spends most of the first episode and random later moments stark naked, and yet this nakedness is strangely... non-erotic and not the least bit pandering. It's there, though, for those who care.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, bilingual
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Spice and Wolf © 2008 IMAGIN, J Film.
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