I’ll come and out and say it. My knowledge of anime pre-2010 is pretty awful. Despite my age, I only started watching anime in 2014 so while I’m pretty good on seasonal stuff since then along with big hits, my general knowledge is pretty poor. My lack of knowledge isn’t helped by the fact that I tend to dismiss a lot of shows as ‘probably not my thing’ because let’s face it, there’s a lot out there to see.
Spice and Wolf is one such pre-2010 anime (Winter 2008) that, despite countless great reviews, I had decided to push to the bottom of my plan to watch list because of the curious focus upon economics. What’s more I’d been led to believe that once I’d finished watching Spice and Wolf, I’d be perpetually disappointed as I came to terms with never being able to find out how the story ends.
While I can’t yet comment on this second point as I haven’t seen the second season, I will soon join the hordes of people in debunking the ‘economics is boring’ excuse for not watching the show.
Lawerence is a travelling peddler, moving from town to town, selling and buying wares in the hope of one day earning enough money to settle down and open up his own shop. We meet him in a village that, for generations, has prayed to the wolf goddess Holo for good harvests. As the church grows in popularity and influence though, this type of paganism is becoming less and less relied upon, and numerous poor harvests haven’t helped the matter. The story is set then when Lawrence encounters a mysterious girl with wolf ears and a tail who claims to be the aforementioned Holo. And thus the story of Lawrence the peddler and Holo the wolf begins.
If I may, I’m going to go straight in on that point about economics I mentioned earlier. Without doubt, Spice and Wolf is about economics. Damn, the majority of the show is Lawrence conduction different transactions, discussing money or being told/shown how to be a better merchant by Holo. This is in no way dull.
The 13-episode season takes place in several different settlements and can be loosely broken down into two arcs. While the end of the second arc does have a higher level of threat and is quite separate to the first arc, it would be a mistake to look at the two in isolation. Where Spice and Wolf is strongest is in it’s world building and character development and while individual plot points can be interesting, you can’t help but feel that everything that happens, including the final confrontation in episode thirteen, is all part of an attempt to portray a wider development.
Despite what Holo would have you think, there are characters in Spice and Wolf beyond Lawrence and Holo, though the peddler and his companion are without doubt the greatest selling point of the show. Lawrence is a pragmatic man who appears to be a reasonable, if not outstanding merchant. Despite the company he keeps, he has no interest in the greater powers of the world and doesn’t occupy himself with the ever growing and powerful church, and trope which seems to occupy pretty much every character you wouldn’t consider important. This makes Lawrence feel very real, focusing very much on his small life, trying to stay out of the way of the powers that be and to one day achieve his achievable dreams.
Inevitably though, despite anyones best intentions to stay out of the spotlight, there are times when we all get dragged into something a little bit bigger and unfortunately (or fortunately?) for Lawrence, this happens to him in quite a big way. Holo is far from a normal girl who just wants a ride to another part of the country, though it isn’t just her tail and ears that make her unique. While being found by the church would clearly be a catastrophe for the wolf in human skin, it is her charm and cheek that is generally the cause of problems for Lawrence. Some might call Lawrence naive or weak, though I came to think of him as good hearted and trusting. Unfortunately for him this means helping Holo out in anyway he can, leaving to quite the hole in his pocket.
The two characters are a delight to watch together, and it is testament to the writing of the show that discussions on monetary conversion or the price of furs can do so much to further the relationship of two characters over the course of five hours. It doesn’t take long for Holo to work Lawrence out and while she rarely takes advantage, she is usually in control of the conversation and the relationship more generally. It may come as a surprise then when I say that Holo is, as well financially, emotionally dependant on Lawrence and it is fair to say that without him, you can’t help but feel that she would be quite lost.
Spice and Wolf is not my perfect anime. I prefer a little bit more action, not to mention a little more happening full stop. However, there is no doubt that this could be many a persons’ perfect anime. The characters are interesting, their dynamic is fantastic and the pacing is spot on. An interest in economics is certainly not required and the quality writing overcomes what may be, in other scenarios, a dull subject.
It is my opinion that there are very few people that wouldn’t get something out of Spice and Wolf. Good writing and characters transcends genre boundaries and I will have no hesitation in recommending this show to anyone going forward.
Thanks for reading! What did you think of Spice and Wolf? Who is your favourite character – is it the obvious Holo, or perhaps one of the characters I didn’t mention like Nora? If you want to see me review the second season, go over to my previous post where you can vote on which sequel you want me to watch next!