Basically the only reason to watch the show.
|For this year’s Reverse Thieves’ Secret Santa Project, I was given three choices: Spice and Wolf, Strawberry Marshmallow, and Aria the Animation. The choice was easy for me, since I had attempted to watch Aria once a long time ago and fell asleep from boredom within the first 5 minutes, and I find myself frightened by the character designs in Strawberry Marshmallow. Add to that the fact that I had recently watched and enjoyed Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, which was supposedly the macroeconomics counterpart to Spice and Wolf‘s micro, and there was no question that this would follow Planetes and Claymore as my 3rd Secret Santa show.|
Truly a rare sight, an anime character drinking beer! And boy does she drink!
Perhaps it’s obvious from its concise title that Spice and Wolf is a light novel that came out before the recent run of garrulously titled light novels. Like its simple title, Spice and Wolf is a simple story about a merchant named Lawrence traveling around a medieval world with his companion Holo, the wolf goddess of harvest.
By far the most compelling aspect of this show is its two leads, Lawrence and Holo, and the way they bounce off each other. This mostly works to the show’s advantage, since one or both of them are on screen about 99% of the time. Neither character really jumps out at you, but they both have a sense of authenticity, a humanity that is lacking in most 2D characters of anime. Lawrence is overall a nice guy like most anime leads and quite intelligent, but he is constantly pushed by his drive to make a lot of money and settle down, leading him to make some risky and illegal moves at times. Unlike most anime leads, he refuses to bend over to the magical girlfriend who fell on his lap, and he always makes sure that Holo carries her own weight during their travels. At least once they discuss going their separate ways due to having different priorities.
Holo for her part can carry her weight quite well. She’s equal parts the wise 600 year old wolf goddess and the excited 15 year old girl out traveling the world. She has the sort of cheerful cynicism that you often seen in characters who have lived so long. You can sense how insecure she is due to her losing followers to the church, the frustration she feels at being left behind by those who used to worship her. But she has a talent for not letting that bring her down, and most of the time she’s just concerned with having fun seeing how the world outside her town has changed in the centuries since she last saw it. It’s hard not to have fun along with her.
Holo’s overly express face was a delight to watch throughout.
The way their relationship develops throughout the show is what sets it apart from most anime. Romantic tension gets touched upon early on, and it doesn’t really let up, with Holo’s obvious jealousy at Lawrence paying attention to other women or her frustration at his obliviousness often being used for comedic relief. But these encounters are never facepalm inducing, never the results of overly contrived miscommunications or of frustratingly naive characters. They look like what they are, the awkward stumblings of two people who are focused on things other than romance at the moment but who find themselves uncontrollably drawn to one another. Romance never takes the forefront, but the show clearly recognizes the attraction that exists between the two leads, playing it to emphasize the deepening connection between the two without dominating it.
Unfortunately, good leads alone can’t carry a show, and the story fails to excite most of the time. Nothing about it is bad or even mediocre, but the course of events didn’t capture my interest. I was under the impression that I would be hearing a lot of economics talk as Lawrence goes wheeling and dealing his way across this medieval landscape, but there actually isn’t much of that at all. Well, mercantilism and trade is at the heart of each major conflict, but they have more to do with finding allies against violent scamsters or finding ways to pay back what could be ruinous debt very quickly than with any interesting business plans or negotiations. The show never feels like it’s building up to something big. Rather, it’s just following the everyday lives of a merchant and his wolf goddess companion as they try to survive and thrive in this world. The strength of those two characters keeps it entertaining, but it never truly becomes exciting.
I think it’s telling that though I had interest in watching the second season of Spice and Wolf, I didn’t get far. Lawrence and Holo are lovely, but the things they go through and the world they inhabit just aren’t interesting enough to make me want to keep watching. Spice and Wolf is a good show, one worth recommending to anyone who’s tired of the inanities that pass for characters and relationships in most anime, but nothing else from it left an impression on me. Already, I can barely remember the plot points or major characters from the various arcs, and that’s a shame, because with a little more effort put into the story, this show could have been something special. I would rank this slightly above Claymore, but way below Planetes among the Secret Santa shows I’ve watched.