Spice and Wolf – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ookami to Koushinryou

 

Related: Spice and Wolf 2 (included in review)

Similar: Gosick

Log Horizon

Crest of the Stars

Katanagatari

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Fantasy Adventure Romance

Length: 13 episodes (season 1), 1 OVA, 12 episodes (season 2)

 

Positives:

  • Unique premise of economics serves the goods.
  • Smart trade conflicts.
  • Nice colour palette.

Negatives:

  • Immaturity impedes the relationship.
  • Needs more economic conflicts.

An anime about a wolf-girl and her travelling companion? Sounds standard for fantasy. It’s about economics? What? That’s not what I expected.

Spice and Wolf was a risky show to make. On the surface, it looks and sounds like a typical fantasy anime, but within a few episodes, the focus on business becomes clear, which risks alienating viewers attracted by the aesthetic that looks drawn from a corner of Fullmetal Alchemist. It uses familiar visuals and characters to entice viewers to give it a chance. Unfortunately, this resulted in an anime divided between what was intended and what was needed for financial viability. Spice and Wolf has a shounen aesthetic for a seinen story.

The story follows travelling merchant Kraft Lawrence and deity-wolf-girl Holo, who has a nose for business and people’s honesty of character (not to mention a love for being more naked than the truth). She helps him make the best deals in exchange for an escort north. Their journey takes them through several towns, where they meet characters of varying trustworthiness as they navigate the complexities of medieval trade.

Let’s begin with these protagonists. I like the idea of these two: Lawrence is an older protagonist for anime with grounded adult responsibilities, while Holo is a capricious deity with much free time and little responsibility. Other than a love of trade, they are opposites. However, this dynamic barely grows. The relationship as a whole grows, but not the dynamic itself between these two. Holo is immature to the end. Their conflict usually amounts to her pouting or throwing a tantrum. To begin with, it’s fine, but after a dozen instances, it is tiring – a childish relationship of weak conflict. Worse yet, I like her character outside the relationship – her business smarts and negotiations – which scampers off when inside the relationship.

Spice and Wolf has much more to offer in its economics. Lawrence’s ideas to make money and the ramifications they could and do have are Spice and Wolf’s best qualities. I particularly liked the depiction of the medieval stock market. But again, like the relationship, the trade conflicts don’t hit full potential, don’t hit maximum tension. The answer is not action, but more wits. There is much room for smarter opponents and craftier stratagems in this story. I won’t say any single plot line is bad; rather, the team didn’t escalate matters as high as they could have and should have, whether in the relationship or the trades.

I don’t want to discourage studios from making more anime of the Spice and Wolf variety. Its uniqueness likely makes it more appealing than better shows that you have seen a dozen times before. The gamble simply didn’t quite hit the jackpot.

Art – Medium

Spice and Wolf looks nice, but this gamble of a premise wasn’t given much in the way of staff and money. Characters could do with more detail and animation. I like the autumn colour palette.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine. However, some of the English dialogue is stiff in its attempt to sound like ye olde English. Stick to the Japanese if it bothers you. The European folk music suits the setting, though the Engrish ED fit for a kids’ show is an odd choice for this not-for-kids anime.

Story – Medium

A merchant travels with a wolf goddess in the hope her perceptivity results in greater profits. This unique anime of trade and economics brings something new to medium, even if the romance leaves something to be desired.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. I urge you to give Spice and Wolf the three-episode rule. If after three episodes Spice and Wolf doesn’t grip you, it never will. For those it does grip, they will love it.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

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