Title: Spice and Wolf – Season One Collection
Alternative Title: Okami to Koshinryo (狼と香辛料)
Published by: Madman Entertainment (Australia), Funimation (US)
Based on: Spice and Wolf light novel series by Isuna Hasekura
Audio: English and Japanese dubs.
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (16:9)
Runtime: 325 minutes over two DVD’s
Cost: $AUD 59.95 from Madman Store
Trailers: Click Here
Copyright Information: ©ISUNA HASEKURA/ASCII MEDIA WORKS/Spice and Wolf PRODUCTION COMMITTEE
Special Thanks: Review copy was provided to me by Madman Entertainment for the purpose of this review.
After the busty action packed scenes that were within Sekirei, Spice and Wolf takes a different turn and focuses on the day to day life of Lawrence, a merchant who lives in a time period where horse drawn carriage was the only way to transfer goods, and how his life has been changed by a chance encounter with Holo, the harvest deity of a village who is in the form of an adolescent female. Blessed with the cunning but wise nature of Holo, his days as a merchant have both been blessed, but made a lot more complicated and supernatural.
This series is different from most anime on the market as besides the lore behind Holo which is brought up at times, it does not rely on any fantasy element and instead uses intellectual discussion surrounding business, bartering and deals between individuals in order to progress the storyline. Whilst this does not sound very interesting on paper, it is a really unique storyline that has proved popular in Japan and has spawned a sequel series. So, is this title any good from my perspective? Read on to find out!
Lawrence, a travelling merchant searching for profit, finds a naked girl with the ears and tail of a wolf asleep in his cart. Her name is Holo – a hearvest goddess with an untamed beast lurking inside who longs to return to her beloved northern home. Armed with his street smarts and her animal instincts, a simple peddler and a forgotten deity begin a journey through the wild countryside. Along their path, the riches of happiness shall be reaped, even as the bunkruptcy which dwells in the human heart is exposed.
Before I begin this review, I would like to state that despite the first sentence of the above paragraph, there is absolutely no fanservice present in this series, and that whilst Holo does appear naked it parts, none of the actual anatomy is shown of her and is instead, an outline. She does appear like this numerous times during the series as a storyline element.
As stated in the prologue of this review, the storyline focuses on the business deals of Lawrence and his journey to the North with Holo. This is a unique story that attempts to use the serious context to show several virtues of the characters, both good and bad such as affection, betrayal, compromise and sorrow which make each character of the series unique. Whilst I am unable to say if the storyline remains true to the original writings, each episode flows on from the last, leaving no major detail of the storyline omitted and with the exception of the travels between towns which are removed for obvious reasons, it makes you feel like you are watching the entirety of their journey.
The storyline is split up into two identifiable arcs with the first having a conclusion related more towards Holo whilst the second being more related towards Lawrence. Both of these conclusions utilize the key elements of the show such as the church and certain trading organizations (Both for and against Lawrence’s cause) however they do overuse the concept of betrayal in my opinion as friends readily turn foe’s within this storyline. Slightly more uniqueness between both arcs would have been appropriate.
The setting of the story is also well used, and old tricks with the scales, as well as promotional tricks in order to sell their products at a higher price are some of the old countryside trading techniques that are used effectively in the series, and the countries reliance of successful harvesting and the church as a super-power are also key features referred to multiple times.
The main characters, as stated before are Lawrence and Holo and their difference in opinions are commonly shown Lawrence remains the more level headed character and critically thinks each scenario through, whilst Holo, whilst being the wise wolf she claims, is more eager to charge head first into the actions. Holo’s trickery is often pulled on Lawrence to gain food and booze, with apples being commonly used as a gag item in numerous episodes which is often a humorous plot device. Besides these two, there are no long-standing characters and change as they visit each town, however some of these recur over several episodes such as Chloe, a merchant friend of Lawrence and Nora, a Shepard who travels with them to ward off actual wolves and plays a major role in the second half of the story.
This series does not have an over the top design that a number of the more recent series rely on. Instead, the series portrays the beauty of the landscape through using simpler environment designs and giving most of the towns a sort of dirtier, simplistic look to them to suit the era they are trying to take us to. Outside of the towns, it is evident that the roads are not built up upon and they utilize wide open plains and the occasional forest or batch of flowers to give the impression. If an anime was set in a modern environment, this would yield it very low scores for environment design, however as this was evidently intentional, it works quite well.
For the main and secondary characters in the series, the character designs are done well however for the lesser used characters, I found they were much more generic in appearance and more then once I was left wondering if the character on screen was one from a previous episode or a new character entirely. The design of Lawrence gives the impression of a middle age man who takes moderate pride in his appearance whilst Holo, as the main character of the series, maintains a sort of cocky appearance however her facial expressions are done extremely well to suit the mood, and they often use the shifting of her tail and ears to also indicate her proper mood. Sadly however, her wolf like appearance is often hidden as a storyline concept to protect her.
Opening Theme: Tabi no Tochu by Natsumi Kiyoura
This song would not be one I would listen to repeatedly, and after a few repeats I found myself skipping over the song to get on with the episode, however I will not deny that this is a beautiful song that goes well with the animation used. Reading the subtitles of the song on the DVD, the lyrics are suitable for the journey they are taking and making it an overall appropriate “travelling” song. The animation is also of a high standard and shows the all the characters and some of the locations visited in non-reused animation of a much higher quality then the actual anime itself.
Ending Theme: Ringo Biyori by Rocky Chack
The song is sung in English, however without the actual subtitles to the song it may take you multiple listens until you understand the actual lyrics of the song. Despite this, the song is a cheery song that has a very apple theme to it, however the lyrics are also relative to the storyline. The design is very fun as well, and the entirety of it is made to look like a storybook, as well as show off some of the cuteness of Holo, which is now always shown in the series.
The music in this series is interesting as, whilst the characters are in town, it is made to sound like street festival music that they are listening to as they walk down the street. The other music is very suitable both to the theme of the story and the situation they are in. The music doesn’t heavily rely on modern instruments and instead relies on violins and other older fashioned instruments to set the mood. Whilst this is not my preference in music, I was more caught up in the dialogue to pay much attention and as I said, it does suit the theme.
The voice acting in this series is of good quality. The voice actor for Holo is Brina Palencia who does a very fine job at Holo and manages to suit her smug and “wise” personality very well and does not come off as too stubborn or too cheery, leaving an overall accent that you would not tire of or find annoying. Michael Tatum also does a good job with the voice acting of Lawrence and adds the expression in his voice which indicates the knowledge and experience of the character and gives an overall calm accent that is well suited to the time period and profession.
There are very few extras contained on the second disk which include:
- Textless Opening “Tabi no Tochu”
- Textless Ending “Ringo Biyori”
The only other thing that could be considered as an extra is that on the opposite side of the DVD cover is a really pretty design of Holo standing in the wheat fields. However, the actual DVD bonus content is disappointing, and considering the concept, something like an interview with the original light novel author or even commentary of an episode or two would have been welcome.
In my personal opinion, this is an overall enjoyable series that would not be to everyones tastes, however would not be a disappointing watch to many people. Some concepts may feel as they are being prolonged such as an explanation of the values of coins in each city or how Lawrence barters a tailor to get products for cheaper and thus making a profit. These things to me however, add to the realism and overall experience that Spice and Wolf offers. The story is a great incite into what could have been the business system of centuries back and added the plot elements of Holo’s personality and own unique wolf abilities to make it into a proper story. This set contains only the first season, with the second season having already been released in Japan, so I am hoping that Season two will be released at some point in the near future.
Storyline: B (7)
Characters: B (7)
Design: A- (8)
Opening and Ending Themes: A (9)
Music: B (7)
Voice Acting: A+ (10)
Extras: D (3)
Personal Opinion: B+ (8)
Final Score: B+