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.
I hope this was a satisfactory overview.