November 24, 2008
It’s an anime about economics. And cheating out of economics with a giant wolf.
STORY – Seriously. It’s a show about medieval economics and how the church influenced businesses at the time. The series thus involves a lot of talking heads, and there isn’t a whole lot of action, making it a potential turn-off for people who dislike long-winded explanations. Despite this, there is an actual story beyond the educational rambling which, surprisingly, isn’t really exposition at all. Spice and Wolf can almost be considered a semi-historical slice-of-life in that it follows the day-to-day activities of a traveling merchant… and his wolf girl companion. It follows their monetary triumphs and losses and explores the difficulties associated with traveling with a pagan deity when the church is as strong as it is.
I definitely found this to be a very original concept, but even though it’s a short series, it took me a while to get into it. The first four or five episodes moved incredibly slow for me and consequently, it took me several months to move past them. Economics is a topic I think schools should cover sooner and in more depth, especially in today’s economy, but if you already know your economics, then a lot of the explanations can be irritating and hard to sit through. After the first few lessons though, the story really picks up with drama and tension and serious business and it’s easy to finish the second half of the series in one sitting.
Interestingly enough, the relationship between the church and business is really stressed throughout this series, and at times, Spice and Wolf felt very anti-Christianity — or at least, anti-church. It exposes the power and almost dictatorial authority the church had over the people, their lives, and their businesses. For any religious folk planning on watching the series, I think it’s important to keep in mind that this is a historic time period and the corruptions inside the church system were very real — the series isn’t bashing Christianity so much as its giving an accurate critique of history.
CHARACTER – The depth of the characters is always an important aspect of any series, but I think they become even more important in a character-centered and otherwise relatively simple story like this. Lawrence and Horo are really the only characters of consequence here, and honestly, Lawrence is a pretty typical protagonist — he’s a nice, down-to-earth guy, but a shrewd businessman (it’s his trade, after all). Horo, however, balances out his normalcy by being generally unpredictable, cheeky, and stubborn. Her antics and mood seem to change suddenly and abruptly at first, but after a while, you get used to it, and you understand why she is the way she is.
Horo’s past is not particularly intriguing or original, but the character she is because of it is incredibly interesting in its realism. Horo is definitely a character I can imagine as an actual person; her emotions, reactions to events, and most of all, her relationship with Lawrence reminds me a lot of the dynamics between real people. They way they bickered and they way they looked out for one another was stupidly simple sometimes, but that showed that their creators weren’t trying too hard to be something amazing, and that simpleness really worked. …It’s hard to explain, and I’ll be the first to say that I wasn’t all that impressed with Horo at first, but as the story progressed into that dramatic second half, the depth of her character and her relationship with Lawrence just pulled everything together.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION – I don’t really like the art in Spice and Wolf. It’s exceedingly plain for the most part, and I was bothered by Horo’s larger-than-need-be eyes in some scenes. Well, duh, it’s anime, you say, but… I don’t know. I’ve seen plenty of other big-eyed styles, but this particular one bothered me? Something was off with the proportion of her face (and other female faces) and I didn’t like it. It also always, always annoys the hell out of me when an animal is supposed to be a wolf, but they give it a fox tail. Wolves don’t have long bushy, white-tipped tails, sorry. I also wasn’t impressed by Horo’s wolf form, but I’ve yet to be impressed (artwise) by any anime wolf. That’s probably just me, my affinity towards wolves, and my resulting grumpiness though.
The animation was also about average.
MUSIC – Excellent. Both theme songs are both deliciously fitting for the series, and the end theme in particular is absolutely adorable. The music during the series is also wonderfully appropriate, and it’s one of those soundtracks that I’d definitely recommend picking up.
VOICE ACTING – Also excellent. Jun Fukuyama has a really versatile voice, and despite the fact that I was watching Code Geass R2 concurrently with some of Spice and Wolf, I never really got the impression that Lawrence sounded anything like Lelouch. Like I said though, Lawrence is a pretty typical protagonist and thus had a pretty typical-sounding voice. In those rare moments when his emotions were at an extreme though, Fukuyama really shines through. Ami Koshimizu was a little more recognizable, but it’s also not hard to shed previous perceptions of her voice. I really love that these voice actors actually act instead of just providing one typecasted voice that’s recycled for similar characters over and over again. I really loved Koshimizu’s performance as Horo — it definitely had a big hand in enhancing the wolf’s overall character.
OVERALL – Spice and Wolf is a unique little series, and if you’re patient and up for something a bit different, I’d definitely recommend it. If you’re up for some lessons in basic economics, great! The beginning feels a little generic and unimpressive, but it definitely gets better. This is also probably the only series I’ve seen in recent memory where an add-on, unplanned second season doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. The conclusion of the series here is plenty open-ended, but works well enough as an ending if it needs to. Then again, Spice and Wolf was adapted from light novels, and I’m not sure whether this original season touched on the entire story — regardless though, I’m looking forward to that second season. :3