In the 21st century a growing number of anime have been adapted from not manga, but what are known as Light Novels. As the name suggests, these are short novella-style books that are aimed at the young adult demographic. A number of the major hits of recent years have been sourced from these tomes, including Haruhi, Baccano and of course, the reason we are here today – Spice and Wolf.
Set in a fictional world that bears distinct similarities to medieval Europe, Spice and Wolf follows a fellow with the distinctly un-anime-hero-sounding name of Lawrence. Lawrence is a travelling merchant who arrives in a village in the country that produces wheat. The villagers have for generations prayed to a Wolf God to protect their crop, but now the people are starting to lose faith in the old ways and the Church is gaining power. Much to his surprise, Lawrence discovers the wolf spirit is very real when he encounters her in human form, as a cute wolf-eared girl named Holo. Lawrence agrees to take the self-styled Wise Wolf with him on his travels to help her reach her homeland, while she uses her wolfy wiles to increase his business in return.
There’s no doubt about it, Spice and Wolf is an unusual show. Not many series would have a merchant as a main character, and even then you would expect that character to get involved in more death-defying scrapes than business deals. It’s not the case that the characters are never in any danger, or any sticky situations, but they are rare, and those that are there never really rise above the level of what the BBFC used to call ‘mild peril’. In fact Lawrence and Holo spend the majority of the time travelling from town to town trying to peddle their wares. So, an anime dealing with medieval economics and business; could that sound any less exciting?
Surprisingly enough, this strange little concoction works. The first thing it gets very right is in its world building. The sense of a time and place (albeit a fictional one) that they are able to create is impressive. The animation and design look beautiful with some very effective looking visuals. It’s a little like taking a trip into the fictional world of the series, so immersive is the atmosphere. The attention to detail is wonderful, and shows real care went into this world’s creation. In actual fact, the time spent concentrating on negotiating business matters adds to this, making it feel believable. Aside from the presence of Wolf spirits, the fantasy elements are very much downplayed. It’s more Game of Thrones than Lord Of The Rings.
The reason for the series’ popularity though is probably the characters. The central pair are very likeable. Lawrence (full name Kraft Lawrence) is a decent and down-to-earth character, who is very relatable. Holo is much more of an idealised figure, but still easy to warm to. There’s a nice contrast in the English dub between her cute appearance and her noble-sounding voice that nicely sums up her character. Watching the bond between the pair growing is one of the show’s chief pleasures, as the unlikely duo get closer.
The show also boasts a fine opening and closing sequence, textless versions of which appear as extras. The closing sequence is particularly memorable; with cute visuals and one of the most adorable ‘Engrish’ theme songs in some time.
Despite Holo’s first appearance being in her birthday suit, there is very little in the way of fan service. Of course, it’s a matter of opinion whether this is a good or bad thing, but personally I was glad it wasn’t shoehorned in gratuitously. There is also very little in the way of action – and what is there is weakly executed – but not every show needs it.
I can understand that some may find the show dull, but to me it was not at all. It looks great and I found it completely absorbing and a refreshing change. If you’re tired of the same-old same-old then Spice and Wolf is a nice reminder of the versatility of anime and comes thoroughly recommended.