Secret Santa 2013 – Spice and Wolf

Spice and Wolf OP (3)

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.

Spice and Wolf 09 Holo Beer

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.

Spice and Wolf 02 Holo Jiii

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.

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A math/science geek and a self-dubbed cynical optimist. I don't care if it's deep, if it can make me feel something or laugh, it's fine in my book. @lvlln
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14 Responses to “Secret Santa 2013 – Spice and Wolf”

  1. skylion says:

    This really is a show to take episodically, week by week. I never made it past four episodes. I really should pick it up, thou.

    Can’t believe the character design for Ichigo Mahimaro frightens you….

    • Sumairii says:

      Cute girls can be terrifying at times… =P

      • skylion says:

        They weren’t especially terrifying in this one. Or were they?

    • MgMaster says:

      Couldn’t agree more. I liked the 1st season a lot, Lawrence & Holo are great but I couldn’t watch more than 3-4 episodes in a row. I regret not picking it up when it aired but I was just getting into anime back then and I started watching them the episodic way until a year after.

      The 2nd season was still good but it was definitely weaker than the 1st,at least to me. It felt like it put more importance on the economics part over the interactions between Holo & Lawrence which were IMO, the best part of the series.

  2. Sumairii says:

    For the praise that Aria and Spice and Wolf get, I am glad that I’m not the only one who finds them to be boring at worst and generally tolerable at best.

    I was over at a friend’s one time, and upon hearing that I never watched Aria, he insisted on showing me an episode. I’m sure he had the best intentions, but pretty much no one at the pad was paying attention before even half the episode had gone by. Though that may not be a fair anecdote I cite since I’m sure Aria is meant to be watched alone.

    As for Spice and Wolf, I had given the first episode a go when the show first aired, and couldn’t even get past that much. The premise of a nomadic merchant travelling with a god of harvest sounds interesting on paper, but the extremely bland nature of the show makes you wonder if it’s even trying to catch your attention at times.

  3. Highway says:

    I’ve watched about half of Aria the Animation, and am not really motivated to continue it. Even though I love shows like Non Non Biyori and Tamayura (this latter also by Junichi Satou who did Series Composition and Direction for Aria), Aria just seems to go *too* far in the ‘relaxed’ department. Some of it is interesting, but not enough to make me go back to it and watch that next episode.

    After (and even during) Maoyuu, a ton of people said “Oh yeah, you should watch Spice and Wolf, it was the better version of this show.” But it doesn’t really sound like it is. While I would have preferred more of both Maou and Yuusha in Maoyuu, I liked the way that show was overall, even if it was a little disappointing as it moved to the conclusion. The higher concentration of Ami Koshimizu and Jun Fukuyama doesn’t really seem to fix the other issues with the show.

  4. […] reviewed Spice and Wolf as recommended by […]

  5. HannoX says:

    I was able to watch 3 or 4 episodes of Aria, but was so bored by it I couldn’t watch any more. I liked the first season of Spice and Wolf, but didn’t care for the second season although I watched all of it.

  6. laila says:

    Second season was bad with that amati bastard

  7. anaaga says:

    Though I didn’t like all the economics talk in here, I really appreciate all the little details that were presented in the anime. The food the people eat, the tradition the people keep, the unspoken social rules the people preserve. Compared to the anime I’ve watched (I haven’t watched much historical anime), the details I found in Spice & Wolf are more realistic compared to them. It’s something I can nod to while saying, “Oh people during those days did eat xxx,” though maybe not all.

    But yes, the arcs were rather boring, and I was able to stand this anime because of the little details and the amusing interaction between Lawrence and Horo. In fact, Lawrence and Horo are ones who made me rate this anime so high. The unusual one-in-a-million interactions between the two are definitely relate-able compared to what I watch… These days.

  8. akagami says:

    I’ve watched all three shows, and I loved Aria (every time I watch an episode I feel like I reached zen – it’s a very relaxing show, but as Sumairii mentioned, it’s better watched alone. Definitely not for everyone, I know I’ve shown it to others and they thought it was boring. But I’ve also showed Bakemonogatari to the same people and they were bored. So yeah, it’s probably more of a nihce show.

    Ichigo Mashimaro was fun to watch – essentially cute girls doing cute things, if that’s your cup of tea (it’s mine!).

    Spice and Wolf I hesitated to try for the longest time, because anime people scare me. But after a while I caved in and checked it out… I still have mixed feelings about it. As much as I enjoy economics, watching it in anime form is as enjoyable for me as watching paint dry. Only the interactions between Lawrence and Holo were enough to make me continue watching it. It was an average series for me at best, the paint drying parts were almost enough to make me quit.

    • akagami says:

      Anime people = animal people. Yeah. I think one thing and my fingers think something else.

  9. Rathje says:

    The economics were one of my two favorite things about the show. The other being the fun subtle sparring matches between Lawrence and Holo.

    And the review waaay underestimates Lawrence. He isn’t clueless at all. In fact, he’s just about as insightful into what Holo feels as it is humanly possible for a man to be. He’s rather cunning and insightful. Not at all the typical oblivious shounen lead.

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