Holo is a powerful wolf deity who is celebrated and revered in the small town of Pasloe for blessing the annual harvest. Yet as years go by and the villagers become more self-sufficient, Holo, who stylizes herself as the "Wise Wolf of Yoitsu," has been reduced to a mere folk tale. When a traveling merchant named Kraft Lawrence stops at Pasloe, Holo offers to become his business partner if he eventually takes her to her northern home of Yoitsu. The savvy trader recognizes Holo's unusual ability to evaluate a person's character and accepts her proposition. Now in the possession of both sharp business skills and a charismatic negotiator, Lawrence inches closer to his goal of opening his own shop. However, as Lawrence travels the countryside with Holo in search of economic opportunities, he begins to realize that his aspirations are slowly morphing into something unexpected.
Based on the popular light novel of the same name, Ookami to Koushinryou, also known as Spice and Wolf, fuses the two polar genres of economics and romance to create an enthralling story abundant with elaborate schemes, sharp humor, and witty dialogue. Ookami to Koushinryou is more than just a story of bartering; it turns into a journey of searching for a lost identity in an ever-changing world.
Wolf and spice can be summed up fairly easily. Be prepared for ALOT of dialog. In essence, its about a story about merchant trading during medieval times. A time when the word of the catholic church was more important than anything else and anyone else was deemed a witch or heretic. Since it is set in such archaic times it would be a perfect fit to have an anime about merchant trading.
Ever since i was in middle school I used to play video games with trading and how prices rise and fall from location to location and how supply and demand and even risk margins for investing in certain things to turn a profit. That was the main goal, to make money. And that is the main goal of our main character Lawrence Kraft. Through his travels he entrusted a small heretic town that believed in a wolf god named Horo that watched over their crops. And it just happens that Lawrence Kraft befriends this god and he soon finds out that she just wants to go home. And so the adventure begins....
Being a story about trading goods there is bound to be alot of dialog between bartering, negotiating, trading information and the chemistry between Horo and Lawrence. If theres going to be alot of dialog an my anime it better at least intelligent and make sense. Luckily this show does it very well, almost perfect. And its safe to say this is because how Horo and Lawrence feed off each others energies so well that you almost feel like you're right there arguing with Horo. Theres no "voice in the head" in this anime, all their thoughts and ideas go between each other and nothing is never left out. Although little background details are left out for time constraints, viewers with an open mind can understand most of the unmentioned side stories. Those who cant figure out the small things, the subbers (ayako) were nice to place side notes for every episode. Its very refreshing to see an anime that actually takes time to explain things to the point that you are convinced enough to believe the situation at hand.
Lawrence and Horo are the only main characters of the show so having a good chemistry between them was key but also having a strong seiyu cast for those two is another reason why this show is addicting. Their voices emit their emotions perfectly and the background music just makes this show so much more elegant and beautiful. Its basically consists of a string quartet. Who ever composed all of the background music must be one of the best composers I've ever heard. I never knew so many emotions can come out of just a group of strings. Environmental sound effects are just as what you would expect after hearing the beautiful strings and artwork. Crickets chirp at night, flames flicker and click, they're all of high quality. But they never interfere with the dialog at all which I enjoy the most.
The last component that brings this whole show to masterpiece status is the artwork. This show is best shown on HD resolution definitely. You can see all the painstaking detail it took for all the artists to draw all the settings of the medieval towns, each cobble stone looks different from each other, the stained glass is painted with perfect care. Even all the guild halls and churches have a massive feel to them. Everything about the artwork screams perfection and is easily one of the best artwork I've laid my eyes on. The character animations aren't as greatly skilled as the background and static animations but it does hold a medium-high quality at best. But Horo and Lawrence are still quite memorable throughout the whole show.
Overall this show crams so much information and dialog to the viewers its easy to say that its not for everyone. But this is indeed a very intelligent, beautiful, and intriguing show. Its a show that you will either understand or not. As for me I love shows like this that leaves JUST enough out for the viewer to make them think and analyze about the episode they just saw. And I am a total sucker for beautiful artwork and music, but character chemistry is what drives me (and all my other 10's on my list) to score this a 10.
This is a review of BOTH seasons of Spice and Wolf, but I have gone to great lengths to make it completely spoiler-free.
Personally, I believe Spice and Wolf's central theme to be a rephrasing of the saying 'Never judge the content by the cover'. The story is one of the most unique in anime, despite the presence of a naked wolf girl that would normally slap a bold 'FANSERVICE' stamp right across the middle. Spice and Wolf is inexplicable, to be honest. It's a medieval fantasy, but has nothing to do with swords and spellcraft, but rather trading and economics. If I try to explain this in any further detail, I will risk adulterating the amazing experience that is the show.
In my opinion, having watched the anime first, the light novels don't cut it (well-written as they are). Spice and Wolf isn't just beautiful in context to the (basic scaffolding of) a story, the world, the atmosphere, the narrative, or what I believe to be the greatest female lead of all time. It's one of the most visually and aurally appealing stories out there. Only three or four shows have made it into my top ten before I even completed the series, and this is one of them.
As has now become customary, I will proceed to rate the show on the subject of story, characters, its visual aspect, its aural aspect, and its overall entertainment value, plus any bonuses or deductions it might earn along the way.
The story of Spice and Wolf is not exactly a story. It earns points for setting everything just right, but gives the story the freedom to be divided into arcs; most of which are thoroughly enjoyable, and the origin stories to provide background are well-written, but still enough to shroud the subjects in mystery, which I personally tend to favor. However, at times, the show becomes unnecessarily complicated, resulting in convoluted storylines revolving around arbitrary trading escapades, which might bore viewers who aren't fascinated by the subject of economics (and I am yet to find those who are). However, this is but a tiny imperfection in a masterwork.
I hereby award the story with an 8 out of a possible 10. However, a more realistic portrayal medieval world is something I greatly value, as seen on George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, and that gives it a one point bonus to result in a final rating of a 9 out of 10.
The characters are some of the best I've ever encountered. Holo is probably one of the greatest characters of all time, and undoubtedly my favourite female lead in all fiction. Lawrence is also a brilliant character, with quirks and eccentricities and a keen intellect, but not without flaws. It only makes it better that his English voice is the same as that of Okabe Rintarou from Steins;Gate, my favourite male lead, who also happens to share a slew of character traits with Lawrence. I hate to say this, but some characters come across as lazy and one is a little too Moe-influenced for my liking. If not for the sheer brilliance of the lead characters' performance, I would deduct an entire point for the few bad characters there are. However, I cannot find it in myself to do so.
I award the characters of this show with a 9.5 out of 10.
The visuals of Spice and Wolf aren't overly extravagant, but are beautiful, and manage to capture the setting of a medieval world (without an emphasis on huge gilded swords and dragons) perfectly. The visuals in the second season, due to the change in the animation studio, are a tad more outlandish, but still carry much of the same flair.
The visuals of Spice and Wolf earn a 9.5 out of 10.
Now, moving on to the aural aspect.
Spice and Wolf's music is beautiful, it's opening is one of my favorites to date, and the lengths the studio went to in order to incorporate medieval instrumentation into the soundtrack really paid off. Tracks like the initial score to the festival in Pasloe or the more fast paced Zawazawa Suru, or even the tracks that add to the suspense of the show when it's required really hit home.
I award the aural aspect Spice and Wolf an 9 out of 10.
I would be remiss if I did not, at this point, mention the show's opening sequences, both of which are rather spectacular and definitely are a credit to the show's sound and animation departments. On that note-
Speaking of bonuses, there is one thing that Spice and Wolf has that earns it an enormous sack of brownie points; the dub. Aye, Spice and Wolf boasts what is, in my opinion, one of the greatest dubs of all time, and is comparable to the likes of Cowboy Bebop and Steins;Gate. The Japanese voice simply cannot do justice to the character of Holo herself, much less Brina Palencia's impeccable portrayal of her. J. Michael Tatum as Lawrence is, as I might have mentioned, a perfect match. The dub and openings are so utterly spectacular that I award not one bonus point, but two, resulting in a final rating of the aural aspect; 11 out of 10.
Lastly, the show's entertainment value;
Spice and Wolf is my favourite show for a reason; the characters. No matter how convoluted and frustratingly intertwined the stories get, you can always divert your attention to the main characters and their interactions, which is what the show really is about. Although it goes without saying that the story will have its impact on everything, and at times is good enough to turn your head in its direction, and then weaving itself in with the MASTERFUL character development to create something truly amazing. I hereby award the entertainment aspect of Spice and Wolf with a 9 out of a possible 10. However, it gets a one-point deduction; letting it drop at the end of the second season with a half-baked finale (whereas the ending of the first season was conclusive enough to serve as a true finale) seals its fate in stone as naught but promotional material for the light novels, however good as it may be. Hence, the aspect of entertainment gets an 8 out of 10.
I haven't fine-tuned these ratings as much as I normally would, but I didn't want to analyse the show at such a critical level as to end up sullying the experience for a prospective audience.
Spice and Wolf earns an overall rating of 9.4/10, and a personal recommendation that comes with my three favourite anime series' of all times; right alongside Steins;Gate and Cowboy Bebop.
Also, I would like to say that if by any chance a third season were to be announced, the rating would instantly increase to a perfect 10. However, if it does what the second season did, I the overall rating of the franchise might drop down a notch to a 9.
A show about a merchant and an incarnation of a harvest-wolf-god, set in a beautiful medieval world.
So, a merchant named Lawrence encounters the incarnation of the harvesting god - a wolf god at that. Her incarnation looks like a human except wolf ears and the tail to match. Then, he's supposed to accompany her to her home country in the north. On top of that, it's all set in a medieval setting. That's pretty interesting, if you ask me. It lays the base for a good adventure anime; which I definitely like.
This show doesn't have a vast array of main characters - it's mainly Lawrence and Horo (the wolf-god) so far. Well, they're both good characters, and I especially like how Horo is a contrast in herself: She is pretty smart, and wise - as she says herself several times - at times. Still, she can be pretty child-like, and has a personality that doesn't really indicate wisdom or smartness.
Lawrence is, well, a pretty average main character, I think. I don't really have much to say about him. There's one thing I don't like, however: They both try to act though towards each other, hiding their feelings. Or something like that. Anyway, I am pretty tired of seeing that, even though it's turning into a standard part in a recipe for this kind of anime.
Ah, and I really like the setting of the show, as I mentioned earlier: A medieval world. I find it really awesome to watch this show with its medieval feel - I've always been a sucker for that.
All in all, this can turn into a pretty good show. I'm going to recommend this to all of you adventure anime fans out there. However, it can be pretty confusing in the first episodes - I'm just starting to understand it after thinking a bit about it. But that may just be me, so watch it yourselves!
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A sensory description accompanied by fields of gold swaying as the west wind moves. A reference to a European legend so obscure most people living where the legend was current will have never heard of it, and well-used to boot. A depiction of change, of progress and of its accompanying alteration of people's perception. All in a preamble spoken in a soft voice.
How could this not turn out to be brilliant?
When discussing Spice and Wolf, the very title of the series is of interest. More particularly, the sequence of the words of that title. Whereas the Japanese original should have produced the sequence 'Wolf and Spice', the reverse is used in the English title; both sequences are used when people talk about the series. The very preference of one sequence of the title's elements over the other might very well show which such element is more important to the viewer. Equally, it will probably betray appreciation of the show as a whole, as one of the two elements is clearly inferior to the other.
-= Wolf =-
One way of looking at this series is to see it as a traveller's tale, perhaps even one of a budding romance: a story of two companions trekking from place to place to reach their goal and becoming more firm friends with each bump in the road - bumps that are present, partly as that's how roads are, but mostly as a method of giving the travellers something to struggle with and to overcome.
Such a view can easily enough be taken, since both protagonists, travelling merchant Kraft Lorenz and his companion Holo, have a penchant of running into trouble at each way stop, either of their own making or by coincidence and plot-convenience, and especially since theirs is an age-old adventure tale, a tale of crossing a continent while finding one's way home. The particular angle from which Spice and Wolf looks at this story is noteworthy, though.
Kraft Lorenz is one of the more unusual characters concepted within the entirety of anime and manga. A travelling trader owning little but his own horse and carriage and dreaming of making enough money to open a shop, he is hardly an archetypal hero. Nor is he concepted to become one. The focus of his character and his actions lie squarely on his business. A generally upright and decent, if competitive, man, his is a less than overly adventurous life of trying to strike a good deal and staving off bankruptcy, trading in commodities and making the best of opportunities encountered by favourable exchange rates or the novelty of trading on credit. At first glance it may not be the most exciting of lives to watch, but it is made up for by the detail poured in each individual transaction and the worries they bring to someone whose very survival hinges on the successful deal.
There is also the little fact that he has made a promise to a spirit of an age past, letting this spirit travel with him and helping her search for her far-off home for as long as their routes overlap. His motivation is partly one of expedience, partly one of awe, and partly one of wishing for a companion on the road.
While Lorenz is simply a character who is able to assess and laugh about himself and who never strays too far from the path of weighing all his options and usually acting from his thoughts instead of his emotions (somewhat rare in itself), only being overcome at times by the greed his profession might by necessity entail, Holo is what, to many, makes the show memorable.
First of all, there's her concept. She's a 'Roggenwolf', a wolf-spirit from folk legend who was a protector of the rye fields and the harvest; the legend depicted in the anime, including the idea that the wolf hides in the last sheaf of rye, comes directly from the actual legend (although the anime most likely speaks about barley, not rye - it's hard to tell, with 'mugi' meaning barley as well as rye and wheat). But Spice and Wolf adds to this simple notion, mentioning how she agreed to be present in the fields in days when the success of the harvest depended on the whims of nature and the supernatural, only to be forgotten when progress and developing technology made her antiquated, until she roused herself from her placidity, longing to return to her old home, a semi-mythical place where everything was bathed in a brilliant silver.
A being who is not human, Holo is shown to enjoy the marvels of the human world with all the lack of solicitude of a child. Seeing herself as better than humans, she is a trickster, toying with whatever interests her, shown to like mind-games, wittiness and swiftness in conversation, all the while seemingly thoroughly enjoying being pampered, being treated to large amounts of alcoholic beverages and socialising.
While this might make her likable, perhaps even charming, it doesn't make her stand out as a character. What does manage to do so is the fact that, every now and again, without too much attention being piled on it, she, and the audience with her, is reminded of the fact that she is, in truth and not only in word, different, a spirit. At such times realisation creeps through that she is, in fact, hundreds of years old and wise in the ways of the world - but in the ways of the world that was and now is gone. She is a stranger in a strange land, having awoken from slumber only to find that what she once knew is lost. It infuses her with a sense of loneliness that might not always be the most convincing, but at least appears to be sincere.
Viewed as a traveller's tale, their story is one of visiting new places and getting involved with the goings-on there, either by becoming embroiled in the affairs of that locale or by interacting with the local markets and traders in a professional capacity. The different tales, more or less one per locale, depicting the ideological problem of Holo being a wolf-spirit and the fiasco of investing in something the market is flooded with, among others, focusing on the interaction of the two travelling companions in their persons and professions with the wider world, generally lead to a calm pacing that give the two ample space to converse with each other and their surroundings and developing the bond between such unlikely bedfellows.
As it should be, that bond is slow to develop. Their travelling together at first being nothing but a marriage of convenience, slowly the practical agreement gains an emotional aspect as trust starts to build up. Equally slowly, their conversations change from the purely economical (in all meanings of that word) to the moral and the emotional, yet both keep their distance, befitting two persons who have only known each other for a short time: though banter is exchanged, sometimes infused with quite a bit of wit and mocking of self, once it starts getting personal both have a tendency to back off unless it is truly important for their travels together. If there is no progress in their relationship, this is because there should not be any: Lorenz and Holo are companions, perhaps friends. By knowing each other, they can work together; by caring, they can travel together. But more would be out of place: they are fundamentally different persons in outlook and goals and their focus on the practical side of things only makes them all the more realistic and mature.
-= Spice =-
Looking at Spice and Wolf as the story of its two protagonists, travelling companions and unlikely friends slowly growing into a stronger relationship is, however, missing the trees for the forest. The super-story isn't but a method to link the little tales together. What makes this series one that stands out from the crowd is the staggering amount of detail poured into the fictional world, a world brought to life in many of its facets by the highly unconventional method of making one of the protagonists a merchant.
As a trader, Lorenz is bound to explore the cities he travels through and while he does so the audience is treated to a setting that is as evocative as it is true to actual history. Though Spice and Wolf is ostensibly set in a fictional world, it becomes clear very soon that this world is the Central Europe of the late 14th, early 15th centuries in all but name. In particular, the cities appear as the market towns of the late Middle Ages, and the trading guilds mentioned are a clear reference to the rising Italian companies and the Hanseatic League.
The actual content of the show has little to do with the relationship between Holo and Lorenz, but is squarely focused on immersing the audience in the particulars of the small-scale trade of a time when pepper was worth more than gold. It is this what makes Spice and Wolf different from almost anything else out there, and the series makes the most of it, being sure to place enough emphasis on minute details to bring both the practice of the trade and its mentality to life.
Through Lorenz and his dealings, the audience is shown the workings of the guilds and bourses of that age, including the modus operandi of the early international trading companies and the limited use (and understanding) of trading on credit, as well as the developing sense of difference between nominal and real value of coinage. While watching Lorenz and Holo exchanging banter, the audience is also shown the more mundane aspects of city life, being taken to watch folk festivals, inns and hostels and a variety of stalls and shops.
The faithful rendition of historical detail of the setting - utensils, architecture, accoutrements all, and even, for once, the ships - surpasses anything I've seen to date in anime, putting your average (and better-than-average) Renaissance fair to shame. From the exact construction of buildings to the fact that trenchers were usually made of bread, it seems as if every single detail of the daily life of people has been carefully checked and incorporated. It does so well that I was honestly miffed when noticing that one letter shown was written in modern, not mediaeval, German.
Equally striking is the general optimism of the general worldview, a sense that people can understand the world and leave their footprint on it. This, too, is an important part of the portrayed setting and true to historical fact. The time was, and is explained to be in the setting, one of technological progress, one wherein more and more tools were developed to aid agriculture and industry and less and less was dependent on chance. Belief systems focus on the human and their mastery of the world, with nothing standing between man and his God but his own mind, resulting in a general outlook of opportunity, contrasting sharply to most fantasy and historical shows and befitting the more grounded story marvellously.
-= And everything nice =-
And then, there is myth. Vague, half-forgotten, impossible but in the dark places of the world. Hidden in plain view, in tales from the countryside and quaint mannerisms of people who should know better, shadows of a system of belief of a world past still remain. Only very seldom made explicit, Spice and Wolf employs one of the more subtle and low-key depictions of magic, neatly integrating it into the overall setting. Spirits being real, they only survive where the remaining tales say they ought to be. Reminding the audience every now and then that there is more to the fictional world than market towns, Holo is made less of a unique phenomenon and her desire to return to a home the continued existence of which she can't even be certain of, is thereby enhanced. The supporting cast, as well, complements the setting very well, living wholly in the world of man's endeavours or still faintly recalling what's outside the walls, considering alchemy to be a science yet still a bit fearful of getting involved in it because of its storied connection to the supernatural.
Being a series with a slow-moving plot and a lot of dialogue, it was a good choice to try and have each conversation be infused with at least an attempt at wit, and it's nice to see how the failing attempts are often recognised as such by the characters themselves. Always remaining on the safe side of the rational-emotional spectrum, the conversations have a lightness and lack of unnecessary outbursts that keeps the overall tone of the series intact.
Mention should further be made of the music. Granted, it's about as standard folk fair as it comes, but it fits the setting, accompanying especially the more festive moments perfectly and has the good graces to sometimes simply not be very good. As far as I can tell, there has been made something of an effort to only use traditional folk instruments and what's left of the musical scores of the time (little of which is certain to be actually old, by the way), and some of these instruments just aren't capable of producing the purer sounds their modern varieties can produce. The opening tune's lyrics also do a very good job of introducing and accompanying the type of story told.
-= Icing and Cake =-
Looking at Spice and Wolf as the tale of Holo and Lorenz is mistaking the icing for the cake. What comes first in this show is the spice, that is, the setting. In many ways, the travels of the protagonists are but a means to show the audience a small piece of a living and breathing world.
Original, if not unique, in focus and angle, superbly detailed in setting and at least decent in adding a glue to fit the separate stories together, Spice and Wolf was, to me, 2008's biggest surprise and an instant favourite. I'll admit that my particular interest in the era alluded to makes me biased, but even without it the originality of the concept, the integration of actual and made-up legend in a detailed world and the soothing charm of the low-key telling of the tales would have me recommend it as one of the very few shows that shirk away from the incessant need to bombard audiences with action and suspense, romance and relationship or like topics.
Charming, enjoyable by all age groups, calm and beautiful in its manifold details, Spice and Wolf is a delight to sit down by after a long day and simply enjoy.