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Spice & Wolf: Complete Series

FUNimation // Unrated // September 11, 2012
List Price: $64.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted October 15, 2012 | E-mail the Author
The Series:
Anime is a pretty diverse genre (and I use that term very loosely.)  There are shows centered around sports, fantasy kingdoms, modern school life, and ancient Japan.  If you're in the mood for science fiction, romantic comedy, action, spy thrillers, or a supernatural thriller you can find an anime to suit your needs.  Spice and Wolf breaks new ground however.  It's a show about medieval economics. Yes, you read that right.  Given the subject matter it's not too surprising that the show is slow and deliberately paced, but it is a little unexpected that the show is actually pretty good and not dull and dry.
In a medieval European-like world, Kraft Lawrence is a peddler, traveling from town to town with his wagon of goods, selling what he has and buying local products to sell at a profit in other towns that he visits.  His one goal in life is to save up enough money to buy a store and settle down, maybe even take a wife. 
The world is changing around him, slowly but definitely.  Christianity (though it's never identified by name in the show, it's very obvious) has started to spread across the land and with it, the old pagan ways have been abandoned.  In the town of Pasloe, for example, they still celebrate their harvest festival, but they no longer worship the wolf-god who grants them a healthy crop.
When is leaving Pasloe, just after they've harvested their wheat for the season, Kraft discovers a young, naked, teenage girl sleeping in his cart among the furs and wheat that he has for trade.  It turns out the girl is named Holo, and she's not really a girl... she's the wolf deity (the cat ears and tail should have been a dead giveaway) that has been giving Pasloe good harvests over the years.  Now that the town no longer worships her, she feels that her job is done and has decided to travel back to her home of Yoitsu in the north.  Kraft allows her to accompany him, just as long as she agrees to pay for her food along the way.
While Holo can be a great asset, she can turn into a giant wolf at will, there are some problems with her accompanying Kraft.  For one thing, she eats and drinks A LOT, and since she doesn't have any money of her own he's running a tab for her, but the main problem is the Church.  They have outlawed the old pagan gods and so if they ever discovered exactly who and what Holo is, they would immediately put her to death.  For this reason Holo covers her ears and hides her tail whenever they're in a city.
The plots, and there are four of them spanning the two seasons of the show, deal mainly with Kraft trying to make a profit or figure out how someone is trying to scam him in a business deal.  In one instance a young man claims to know which silver coins will soon be containing less silver and offers to tell Kraft which one for 10% of the profit that the peddler makes buy buying up the soon to be more valuable money.  The deal sounds too good to be true to Kraft, but how could the younger trader possibly profit if Kraft doesn't???  In another a city becomes intranced with iron pyrite, Fool's Gold, and while the price skyrockets Kraft needs to find a way to make a large sum of money quickly.  How can he do that when he knows that the bubble can't possibly last? 
Throughout these stories there are little economic lessons thrown in so that viewers won't get lost.  Kraft explains how the monetary system works with each kingdom striking its own gold and silver coins, and the concept behind shorting a commodity. 
One could make the case with some force, if they viewed it through a 21st Century American lens, that this show is propaganda promoting a laissez faire capitalist point of view.  Merchants are held in high esteem and anything that they do, up to and including murder, is fine as long as they are doing it for a profit.  Kraft is often looking for a way to game the system, and even goes so far as to smuggle goods, the implication being that tarrif on said items is immoral, so breaking the law is a moral act. 
I don't think that's really what the writer of the original light novel series was going for though. The aim is more to tell an interesting story, and this idealized society is way too far removed from reality to present a convincing argument.  In this world, everyone is so trusting it's a bit outrageous.  When a deal goes bad and Kraft's partner tries to have him killed, he delivers what he promised even after he discovers the betrayal.  He just renegotiates the terms.
Being mainly about trading and economics, Holo rarely turns into her wolf form, the program is deliberately paced.  The program takes its time setting up the groundwork so that viewers will understand the deal that is being proposed and so that they'll be surprised by any twist in the bargain that Kraft didn't see.  If you're expecting rock 'em sock 'em action with a wolf god kicking butt, you'll be disappointed.
If you're looking for a character driven show that's appealing and cute, you could do worse.  Kraft and Holo are nice characters and they change over the course of the series in a nice way.  The world is well established and logically consistent, and look of the show fits the content well.  It's an enjoyable show for those willing to give it the time.    
The Blu-ray:

This complete series combo pack contains both season on four DVDs and four Blu-ray discs.  These seem to be exactly the same as the individual seasons that FUNimation released earlier.
The show comes with the original Japanese track in Dolby TrueHD 2.0 along with an English dub in lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1.  I screened the show in the original language, which I generally prefer, and spot checked the dub.  I have to admit the dub sounded a tad better.  It was more full and crisp, though the differences were very minimal.  Since the show doesn't have a lot of action, the surround channels aren't called upon very often.  Overall it's a nice sounding show, no matter which langue you choose.
The 1080p 1.78:1 image was very good.  The lines were tight and there wasn't any aliasing one only very minor amounts of banding.  That said, the palate for the show is very drab.  The colors are a bit muted and dull.  I'm sure that's what the creators were going for in order to portray the medieval setting in a more sedate manner, but it wasn't the most exciting thing to look at.
The collection includes two videos that accompanied the DVD release in Japan (both without a dub but with optional subtitles):  Studying with Holo and Stretching with Holo, Yoitz Style.  The first of these shorts has Holo discussing some of the food that they eat in the show, while the second has some stretching exercises that she does, though humans may not be able to. 
Also included are clean openings and closings (four in total) and some FUNimation trailers.  
Final Thoughts:
A slow paced but enjoyable show, Spice and Wolf is a unique anime series where making a profit by trading from town to town takes the center stage over fights and action.  If you're willing to give it the time to unravel at its own pace, you'll find a nice show.  Recommended.
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