In a departure from the main story of Lawrence and Holo’s journey to the village of Yoitsu in the far north, Isuna Hasekura offers us a collection a short stories about our favorite characters. Are these Side Colors worth a look or should we stay on the main road?
This is part 2 of a 3 part series review for Spice & Wolf. Part 2 covers the three Side Colors volumes, 7, 11 and 13 of the light novel series.
Ever wonder what Holo was like before she ever come to the village of Pasloe where Lawrence found her? Do you want to be able to take a peek inside the mind of our favorite wolf? What of Eve Bolan’s past and how it is she came to be the merchant our couple meets along their journey? Or Norah the Shepherdess? Did she succeed in becoming a seamstress as she desired or does fate have a different purpose for her?
Each of the three volumes contain two or three vignettes focused on our two leads and one novella centered on someone outside our standard pair. All stories chronologically, take place before the events of volume 5. I will include a I, II, or III after the title of each short story I reference so you know which volume it is from.
Fans of Spice & Wolf, whether they have read the other volumes or have only watched the anime, will find something to enjoy in these volumes.
Taking advantage of the freedom that comes from short story collections, the three Side Colors volumes offer a number of unique perspectives from within the world of Spice & Wolf that up until now has been entirely focused on Lawrence & Holo. Though seven of the ten stories present do follow our titular pairing through a series of pleasant and insightful anecdotes, the real meat of Side Colors are the three novellas that allow us to follow side characters both new and old that give a greater depth and understanding to the world we have spent so much time in. Each of these novellas explores the themes of uncertainty in the future, the determination to overcome life’s obstacles, and the importance of having a companion in life.
The strongest of the novellas, one that I will freely admit got me misty-eyed at a few points, is also the last; The Shepherdess and The Black Knight (III) follows Norah and her ever-faithful companion Enek in the weeks after parting ways with Lawrence and Holo. Isuna Hasekura once again makes an inspired decision in choosing from whose perspective the story is told, that of the sheepdog Enek. Unable to speak, the remarkably intelligent Enek can only act as a pillar of support for his master through his presence and loyalty, as she faces trials that her time as a shepherd never prepared her for.
Deftly woven into Norah’s search for a new livelihood is the dichotomy of faith that can exist when dealing with any religious institution. At first Enek cannot understand Norah’s reasoning (as she has been poorly treated by the Church so often in the past) for still being a believer in the church’s teachings, but she remains as humble and self-sacrificing as she has always been. Eventually even Enek comes to realize that there is a difference between the institution and those that make it up, as a life changing opportunity neither would have ever expected is offered to Norah.
As one of the most important characters in the entire series, Eve Bolan the merchant is both alluring and enigmatic but she was not always this way and The Black Wolf’s Cradle (II) depicts an Eve that is almost unrecognizable to the one we first meet. Focused on her relationship with two men, one, her mentor Olar, whose reason for supporting Eve is not readily apparent, and the second, Milton, a fellow noble-come-merchant that Eve cannot help but feel kinship with.
Bearing all the hallmarks of a tragedy from the start, we are left to witness how cruel and unscrupulous the world of trade can be and how once trusted allies can turn upon you when fate turns sour. It is through this experience that Eve’s metamorphosis from a naive fallen noble to that of a steadfast merchant occurs.
Set hundreds of years before Lawrence was born The Boy and The Girl and The White Flowers (I) follows a boy and girl, Klass and Aryes, as they encounter a certain wolf in girl’s clothing. This Holo, one that has not yet been scarred by centuries of loneliness and abandonment, acts as a kind of mischievous older sister to our fledgling pair of wanderers. Caring and nurturing may not be words often ascribed to the Holo we know, but she does not hesitate to protect and guide these hapless children, all the while retaining her razor sharp wit much to the displeasure of Klass.
Though I believe that Hasekura’s decision to keep the main story from Lawrence’s perspective only was correct, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge how excited I was to learn that two of the short stories were from Holo’s perspective. We finally get to see into the mind of the wisewolf and of these two Wolf and Amber Melancholy (I) is the most insightful. Compared to Lawrence’s calculating mind, Holo’s is an maelstrom of both thought and emotion. Holding different morals and standards, as befitting a wolf, it is actually her pride more than anything else that causes the misunderstandings between our leads. Here we have Holo’s heart open for us to read, something that will bring a smile to your face at the lengths she will go to hide it.
Enjoyable it may be, Side Colors is not perfect and in spite of Isuna’s excellent style and Paul Starr’s superb translation still suffers from several problems that often beset short story collections set in a larger world. First, though all four of the stories I mentioned above are great reads only Melancholy stand out as being essential for those working through the series. Second, the five vignettes from Lawrence’s perspective and the second one from Holo’s, charming and fun as they are, come across as high quality fluff in a series whose main volumes offer nothing but substantive fare.
Lastly, I personally stopped reading volume eleven halfway through so that I could complete what is currently available from the main arc before returning to it and volume thirteen. This is not something that I often do and acts as evidence of how Side Colors compares to the rest of the series in importance.
Side Colors’ greatest strength is that it can be enjoyed by any fan of the series, even someone that has only watched the anime adaptation and never read one of the other novels. This flexibility is also its weakness as the tales are unable to stand as equal to the greater narrative. As a fan of the Spice & Wolf, I enjoyed Side Colors with it’s charming anecdotes and heartfelt tales, but I also recognize that too much of it is fluff by comparison and wolves desires meat first and foremost...except for maybe apples.
Spice & Wolf Vol. 7, 11 and 13, Side Colors I, II and III, were published by Yen Press between December 11th, 2012 and December 16th, 2014. Authored by Isuna Hasekura and illustrated by Jyuu Ayakura the series is 17 volumes in length and was published in Japan by ASCII Media Works under their Dengeki Bunko imprint. An anime adaptation of Spice & Wolf aired two seasons in 2008 and 2009, which correspond to volumes 1, 2, 3, 5 and 7. Spice & Wolf Vol. 15: The Coin of the Sun I is scheduled for release in English on August 25, 2015.
I will link the rest of my Spice & Wolf reviews as they are posted:
Spice & Wolf Vol. 14 - Light Novel Review
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