Welcome back to First Time Classics! This time our adventures into the realms of anime past have found me rolling through the wheat fields and medieval towns of Spice and Wolf, produced in 2008-9 by Studios Imagin, and Brain’s Base. Is this series truly worth its weight in gold, or am I being swindled of my time watching this series?
First Time Classics, is an Impressions Series (not a review). Throughout my first viewing I will periodically write my impressions, with this article serving as a cumulative collection of said impressions, as well as a documentation of my ongoing and possibly changing opinions.
Well, to get a big issue out of the way up front: this is not a super blind watch. I originally Started Spice and Wolf season 1 more than a year ago, but after reaching episode 7 it got accidentally pushed to the “indefinite hold list” where it stayed until now. Due to the length of time since then, I began afresh from square 1, but with some residual knowledge including:
- I know the first 7 episodes plot and thus the importance of Chloe in that arc
- I know Lawrence and Holo will not be quite together by the end of the series
- I have seen both of the OPs
- Holo is considered one of the best female characters (and /or potential waifu’s) in anime
And with that out of the way, time to start our journey anew!
*note, episode numbers are based on Funimation’s dvd numbering system.
Ah, Spice and Wolf. If there’s one thing I can mention about it so far, is that it is simple and effective. It’s definitely not the most dynamically choreographed, nor the fastest paced, or even the most bizarre show, yet it manages to be compelling. It also manages to be incredibly dramatic and tense based solely on character interactions and medieval economics. It’s actually surprising how one can turn economic inflation into a serious drama, yet the first arc here manages that tightrope masterfully.
The real reason though that you watch the show is, obviously Lawrence and Holo’s relationship. Holo is just great, a crafty, spunky, mischievous ball of fun that I can’t help but love even when being obstinate. Kraft Lawrence too is fun, just the right blend of honest merchant and world weary snark that offsets Holo perfectly. I’m so glad that there’s more to see here, I only hope they end off their relationship in the anime well, because it’s so much fun to watch them banter.
A couple of other notes, the music is really excellent chozen, but right now I’d like to make specific mention of the chase music, whose stringed rushing about really got my heart racing during those catacomb scenes in the first arc. It’s like a slightly less bombastic version of the Sherlock holmes music from the Guy Ritchie movies.
And lastly for now I’d like to say it’s incredibly refreshing to watch a show where a girl disrobing tells us more about her character than how leery the camera is. Because after seeing a number of shows use silly fanservice for dumb comedy, seeing Holo naked yet not overly fetishised feels restrained and like it has a purpose showing her profound self assurance, and her wild, nonhuman nature. So good on you Spice and Wolf! Can’t wait to get to more…
Is the first season already over? Wow that went fast. As usual Holo and Lawrence’s back and forth is really amusing, and even heartwarming (I’ll try not keep mentioning that fact, as it basically seems like a given now.). However with the addition of Nora to the cast, it seemed that their relationship was put through its paces. Nora herself was a wonderful addition, she seemed like a lovely girl. I’d love it if she came back later just to see where she ended up, even if that was really unlikely.
Speaking of which, I am continuously impressed with the amount of personal drama Spice and Wolf pulls out of its economic premise. Not that it’s surprising that business can make good drama, business always has an element of risk & reward to it that makes it easy to exploit. However, Spice and Wolf seems to effortlessly tie it to personal stakes, as well as making characters you want to succeed, it’s hard to imagine why other shows don’t try to ape this formula more often.
The other thing the economy really highlights is the world building. The economic intricacies are so well fleshed out that it by extension draws everyone and everything else into line. Everyone has a place in this world, every person, company, town, Church and Lord has needs and desires, that makes this place feel like everyone is really alive, beyond their small time on screen.
A few notes, The OP and ED were lovely pieces, beautifully animated and lovely to listen to. However I did feel that they seemed kind of off putting when trying to marathon the second half of the series. The OP was a bit too melancholy for the tension, and the ED was super charming. They probably worked better when they were used on a show that aired weekly, just watching episodes back to back with them. Nothing against them though. They are both lovely. (the ED is especially cute with the soft art and the engrish that sounds like a child lisping as they sing.)
That’s that for now, time to start Season 2!
(For a bit of background, due to some poor planning on my own part I am returning to Spice and Wolf Season 2 after a few months delay. I watched season 1 back in January, and only now in late April have returned, hopefully this shouldn’t hamper proceedings too badly.)
Anyways we return back with season 2 with an Ova episode, and it’s another small detour episode. I really like how Spice and wolf can have these “side story” episodes placed alongside the story arc heavier ones without you really noticing. Part of it is of course that the pacing is slow enough that a single episode of “plot” sometimes is only relevant in hindsight,the other part is of course that the day-to-day story is really about Holo and Lawrence’s relationship, so small excursions can be just as meaningful as large scale plots.
Also Yeah! We got a little more Nora! I am happy.
As for the main arc for the first half of season 2, the Amati arc, I actually found rather suspenseful. Like some other times I’m not sure if I fully grasped all the intricacies of Lawrence’s eventual plan. Though the series does an admirable job at mentioning all the relevant information to keep the drama suspenseful and everyone up-to-date on the current goal of the episode. The other part I like about this Arc is that it takes what could be seen as a very well worn love rival plot and makes sure not to fall into the trap of tropes by making the rest of the story more engaging involved, and less rote. (I don’t know of any other series where playing the mineral market to win back a lover was ever a viable strategy. But I am now glad that Spice and Wolf has done it.) Actually the whole market shenanigans felt more like an elaborate chess game than a romantic subplot, and I think it really worked well.
As for some new changes in Season 2, we have a new studio at the helm as well as new openings and endings. Brain’s Base is doing a fine job, though i believe that there’s a little more roundness to the characters (especially when Holo is acting “adorable”). I really like the ED, even if I can’t sing it like the first one. The OP is okay, though the first one is better.
Well time to go and finish this thing… (I’ve taken way too long on this one).
Ah man Is it over already? Well I guess so, at least on the anime side it is.
This series ended beautifully I think, about as good of an ending I could have hoped for from a series that only adapts about ⅕ of the full source material. (Lawrence Finally Said “I Love You” YES! The hopeless romantic in me leaps in joy!) Actually I think Spice and Wolf has an almost perfect structure for making self-contained arcs. Though if they ever made more I would probably be disappointed if they didn’t commit to finishing the series properly.
One funny thing that happened during this last arc is that i made the mistake of pouring over the episode titles before hand, and man these episodes have incredibly heartbreaking titles if you don’t know the story. “Wolf and the Reckless Negotiation, Wolf and Lonely Smile, Wolf and the Decision to Part, Wolf and Endless Tears.” These very evocative titles led me into this final arc with a bit of foreboding for tragedy which thankfully didn’t come to pass.
In actuality I found this final series to be a very nice compliment to the first half of season 2. Where the first half has a lot of nail biting tension, a lot of this final arc is much more just Lawrence and Holo being nice to one another, allowing us to just enjoy their camaraderie. I mean there is still plenty of intrigue to this plot, but unlike the last arc where the “twist” came early on, this final one was much more of a slow build, so I liked it that they kind of complimented each other as back to back halves of this season.
There were a few plot points though that threw e for a loop. I may have just missed it, but when did they discuss giving Lawrence the Inn? And why was it Eve’s to give anyways? (… I’ll probably need to rewatch it again) Also was I the only one who wanted to see a dinner with Lawrence, Holo and that flirty barmaid? I thought that would have been great.
Also this line, “Men are like onions, full of layers and everyone of them makes you cry.” just made me crack up so bad, actually had to pause the show so I could hear what happened afterward.
This was a lovely show, an actually great example how good writing can make modes shows engaging, even when they tackle more conceptually taxing subject matter like medieval economics. Though on that front it really shows that the great stories are great irregardless of the setting. Spice and Wolf would be a lovely romance in any setting though the particular unique aspects of its setting gives it a rustic quality that makes it all the more refreshing and unique. I’m really glad with the amount of Spice and Wolf we got in animated form, though really do want more, there’s so much that can still be done in this story and I want it now… speaking of which I started collecting the light novels. :P
Do you love Spice and Wolf? Feel free to post in the comments.
Thanks to Unimplied for some wonderful editing on the header gif!