Prior to its release here in the States, I heard much ado about a little show called Spice and Wolf. It all began as a series of light novels in Japan which then became a manga, multiple games, two animated series, and a couple of OVAs. Despite this fervor we're just starting to see the franchise here. Was the wait worth it? To simple answer to that question is a resounding "YES! Good God yes!"
When I started digging through the 13 episodes of the first season it quickly struck me just how unique the show was. From the very ground up Spice and Wolf stands out on its own. There's nothing else like it on the market and we've certainly never seen anything like it here in America. Making that claim that is well and good, but what makes this such a special series?
For starters Spice and Wolf is more or less a fairytale that takes place during a faux historical European setting. It begins by following a traveling merchant named Kraft Lawrence who makes his way to a small town during their yearly wheat harvest. When he arrives a festival is already underway and it's to celebrate a wolf deity that made a pact with the town many, many years ago. There's some background on the story, but to make a long one short we'll just say that the wolf god, named Holo, is bound to the wheat in this town. It's rumored that she can appear in human form and there's something of a ritual surrounding that. With this in mind Lawrence's life is about to forever change.
The night before he's about to leave this quaint little village, he finds a naked girl napping in his cart. She's cute, young, has adorable ears, and a big fluffy tail. You guessed it! Holo has decided to make her appearance and it's all thanks to the combination of furs and wheat Lawrence was transporting. Naturally Lawrence is bewildered by her appearance and doesn't really believe her. She displays her monstrous true form, and lays all questions to rest. Once their awkward introductions are out of the way Holo expresses her desire to travel north back to the region she lived in prior to being trapped within the village. Lawrence obliges and takes her along.
Spice and Wolf goes on to build upon Lawrence and Holo's relationship while they travel north, and that's what makes the series so special. Both of these characters do not fit into any kind of stereotype and they play off each other marvelously. Since Lawrence is a traveling merchant there's much discussion about business as he attempts to move goods from one region to the next and works his selling magic to turn a profit. There's a lot of talk about economics when Lawrence is involved and his mind is constantly set to figuring out how to make a profit.
Holo, however, is also known as Holo the Wise Wolf. She has some ideas of her own, but her vainness and brutish attitude tend to get in the way. She's cocky and abrasive, so despite the fact that they both can be formidable when they team up, she also gets in Lawrence's nerves quite a bit. Despite that fact, he seems to like it. This creates a playful relationship that lasts throughout the series and you can see some real affection develop between them. It's a charming romance that builds slowly, and their reactions to each other are perfect in every way, especially when Holo gets under Lawrence's skin.
Another thing that stands out with Spice and Wolf is the great amount of continuity that carries over from episode to episode. From the very first moment Holo and Lawrence meet right up to the end the show follows every step of the way. As they travel from town to town, meet new people like the sheppard, Nora, and work various deals to get Lawrence more money the show just has an amazing flow. This combined with the relationship development makes the series feel like one long, extended movie.
I can't stress enough just how impressed I was with Spice and Wolf. It wreaks of freshness and is just about one of the biggest charmers I've seen in a while. FUNimation's grab of this series was an awesome move and from start to finish the 13 episodes are totally engrossing. I truly hope they license the OVA and second series so we can get yet more of this fantastic franchise soon. This show is highly recommended in every way. I loved every minute of it and just couldn't get enough!
Spice and Wolf is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The transfer for the series is quite solid with a lot of fine detail, miniscule amounts of grain, and no compression of any kind. Of particular note is the art direction with is extremely attractive, stylized, and colorful. It's been a while since I've seen a show that stands out like this one and the historical setting truly comes to life. All around FUNimation did a great job, but a lot of the credit goes to Imagin for the marvelous production of the series.
English 5.1 and Japanese 2.0 are the available options for this release of Spice and Wolf. Both dubs are extremely good, and I dare say that I enjoyed the English track a little bit more. This is extremely rare, and speaks of the quality of the assembled cast in so many ways. It also helped that the 5.1 surround was a bit more robust than the somewhat flat Japanese selection. Some scenes just pack a little more punch and when there's action, which there isn't a lot of, there's some great directionality. I did appreciate how some of the bustling sections of the towns Holo and Lawrence visit sprung to life.
Clean animations and trailers for some other releases are all you're going to find on this release. It's a shame really, since this sounded like the kind of cast that a commentary would have been worth listening to.
Spice and Wolf is extremely refreshing. Everything from the characters to background, story, and atmosphere stand out in ways no other anime can claim. The relationship that forms between Holo and Lawrence is a charmer through and through, and I just couldn't get enough of watching the two of them interact. It may sound goofy to say but I had a smile on my face from the very first episode. I was glued and could not put the series down. The second series and OVA cannot come soon enough! Spice and Wolf is highly recommended and only misses the collector's series rating due to the lack of bonus features. Don't let this one slip by you!
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