Anime Review: Spice and Wolf Season 2
By Christopher Kinsey
My introduction to Spice and Wolf left me a little unfulfilled. When it started getting popular everything related to the series just had the imagery of a naked wolf girl and apples. Now as we all know marketing is marketing and there must be something more to a series than naked wolf girl cell phone charms, so I picked up the first volume of the manga in a bookstore. Flipping through it my eyes glazed over when after our first awkward discovery of the wolf goddess, Holo, and then page after page of economics for manga addicts. I felt the entire series was based on the premise of selling a subpar adventure anime with aspects of being a merchant by exploiting our heroine. So I let the series pass me by in all of its incarnations. Upon doing this review I have found this has been a mistake.
Season two picks up after the first adventures of Lawrence and Holo as they wrap up the loose ends. The first episode does not simply throw us into the deep end when it comes to the major plot; instead it takes the time not to recap the first season but to reacquaint us with the dynamic of relationships between our main characters. This is refreshing, where most series tend to break a storyline in order to get the audience up to speed this series tells you what is really important. Knowing our players and their relationships is very important, that’s why playbills in theaters tend to have a handy guide to help you out from act to act. The first episode of season two leaves an impact on why, exactly, you need to care about Lawrence and Holo and how they interact with one another.
So no matter what else happens in this series one should establish from the get go the real story here is the relationship between Lawrence and Holo. It is from this plank the house of tales is built and all of these stories involve the trade of being a merchant trader. While reading about these matters doesn’t hold my interest, seeing them unfold like a properly executed heist is far more interesting, with chance and new conditions of every deal creating levels of tension one would not expect. And then among each deal the stakes reach bigger heights with general political and personal events; threatening not only deals struck but the core relationship as well. And where I would chide many anime with relationships and love as the main themes for having this sort of on again off again cycle of a story, it actually fits here because this is the tale of a human and goddess testing each other out and having to learn little by little how to interact with one another. In the standard boy meets girl story in Japan this painful courtship is embarrassing because it’s between two humans and the only enemy isn’t an alien makeup of one another, it’s simply society wide embarrassment.
I am a little divided on the execution of the anime itself. The animation does the job but it seems a little too plain. I know I can’t expect the spectacle of a high fantasy world here but a touch more color would draw interest a little more. Then again this is a tale grounded in the spirit of a common man so perhaps making the world not stand out is the goal. Perhaps more detail could have been added, something to really make things have more style to me than “Generic Fantasy World #4077”. The Japanese vocal cast has just the right amount of style for every character. Holo sounds very sly and still vulnerable when needed, while Lawrence has the voice of a man on the road that is weary but focused. The American cast does the job well, but there is something about Holo’s voice actress this time. I can’t put my finger on it, but she delivers from a platform of higher born and I’ve never equated that with a kind of ancient pantheon’s power. Pagan gods and goddesses seemed to be more down to earth rather than proud and foppish.
Throughout my watching and research for this review I wondered what made me change my tune on this series. It kind of confused me until I had a small epiphany. Spice and Wolf is the kind of story NPCs get up to when the main characters are not around in video and table top games. I like ideas like that, humanize your background characters and make the world seem that much richer for it. I know it convinced me to check out the first season, no matter how many body pillow covers they throw at me.
- A subtle but engaging tale that can be tense without action, perfect to unwind to.
- A Japanese dub that gives weight to every character, no matter their role.
- A unique story where the real power isn’t strength, but wit, wisdom and savvy use of connections.
- Flat animation and style at times keeps it from standing out.
- One or two of the American dub voices seem out of place.
- A whimsical but rather boring opening that seems to betray this stories intent.