Merchant Kraft Lawrence is travelling north with his unusual companion, Holo, a wolf goddess, who has taken human form as a beautiful young woman (with, of course, ears and a splendid tail.) Holo has been, for centuries, the goddess of the wheat harvest – but since she has met Lawrence, she has been pursuing a desire to return to her roots, to a place called Yoitz, in the far north. From glimpses of her dreams on the journey, we realize that deeper feelings are stirring, feelings that will be difficult to accept as she knows that, as an immortal, she will outlive Lawrence.
The first half of the second season of ‘Spice and Wolf’ is devoted to a tale of mercantile wheeling and dealing as the two get caught up in a tense speculative market for pyrite (fool’s gold.) Lawrence unwittingly offends Holo’s feelings, driving her into the open arms of a very young and handsome merchant Amarty. Lawrence is then obliged to confront his own feelings for Holo while, at the same time, risking everything in the volatile market situation in a trading duel with rival Amarty for Holo’s affections. The second half goes into even darker territory as the travelling companions are drawn into a risky deal with an enigmatic female merchant called Eve. Can their relationship survive the stresses imposed by the perilous situation they’ve got themselves into?
Holo has – understandably – been a fan favourite ever since the first light novels by Isuna Hasekura were published; wise with her centuries’ experience, yet playfully childlike with her passionate enthusiasms for apples, drinking, and eating, her verbal sparring with Lawrence is one of the strengths of this series. Watching the two gradually falling in love – yet going through the stages of denial, is a genuine pleasure. Lawrence, although he has a good head for business, is careful and guarded when it comes to matters of the heart. However, there’s more here than ‘will they, won’t they?’ to intrigue the viewer; the world through which Lawrence and Holo travel displays a fascinating blend of old, pagan traditions and the powerful, often sinister influences of the church and the merchant guilds. Even though we see Holo naked, as Lawrence first encounters her, she is portrayed as a force of nature, a spirit of the field and forest, born of the land; this is not really a fan-service show. (Although the seductive way she uses her tail and ears from time to time could definitely be described as moe.)
The character designs by Toshimitsu Kobayashi (based on the manga and light novels by Jū Ayakura) are attractive. The artwork (Toshihimo Kohama for Studio Biho) depicting the European medieval-style towns is well drawn and atmospherically (and accurately) dark. Another strength of the series is the distinctive music by Yuuji Takahashi; the composer uses a variety of folk and medieval instruments, as well as some pungent contemporary string-writing. The festival scenes are particularly striking in demonstrating how well the music enhances the animation, especially when a gigantic wicker-style man is paraded through the streets, accompanied by revellers in fantastical masks. The Opening Theme: “Mitsu no Yoake” is attractively and wistfully sung by Akino Arai, both animation and music hinting at what is to come; by contrast, the Ending Theme: “Perfect World” is by duo Rocky Chack again and, with words and music that are almost as cute as their “The Wolf Whistling Song” from Season I.
The English dub reunites the lead voice actors from Black Butler, J. Michael Tatum and Brina Palencia as Kraft Lawrence and Holo, respectively – and they do pretty well with the dialogue (which has been reversioned from the original in FUNimation’s own inimitable way.) They’re almost as charming as the original voice actors: Jun Fukuyama and Ami Koshimizu. Sometimes, though, they sound a little burdened with the long passages of business wheeling and dealing which, frankly, border on the tedious in places; however, in their more intimate scenes, the chemistry works much better.
A curiosity at the beginning is Episode 0 ‘Wolf and the Amber-Coloured Melody,’ which starts with a medieval-themed montage with strident authentic-sounding music; this is really an extra episode for DVD/BD only and it suffers from cheap animation and character design. Yes, it bridges the two series, but it gave me the wrong impression at the beginning of the set. It was a relief to start watching Episode 1 and realize that this false start was just a (not particularly distinguished) extra. There are two short and rather charmingly silly extras. In the first, Holo explains the food and drink they consume on their travels and in the second, we are treated to her Yoitz-style version of a keep-fit routine (stretching exercises) as well as the usual Textless Opening and Closing sequences.
If you’re an action fan, you could find this series too slow and talky… even dull. However, if you’ve already enjoyed the first season of ‘Spice and Wolf,’ you’ll know that you’re in for a treat. And does the series end here? Well, that would be telling. Some matters are satisfactorily resolved, others not. Suffice it to say that the journey continues…