a review by Nalini Haynes
Spice and Wolf relays the tale of Kraft Lawrence, a merchant, and the wolf god Holo – in the form of a human woman with fox-like ears and tail – continue their travels together, seeking Holo’s home. Primarily a romantic adventure, the story focuses on their relationship and growing love for one another, hindered by pride. In their travels they encounter a variety of new scenarios including other possible love interests, merchant interests, come under threat from the church, all the while seeking a profit.
Spice and Wolf is part comedy of manners along the lines of The Importance of Being Earnest, part cultural exchange, part education, part gentle adventure. While the relationship is almost as convoluted, aspiring to the delicacy of Pride and Prejudice, there is significant dialogue to explain the plot rather than showing what is happening. This significantly lessens any tension and, at times, becomes a bit tedious. There were times I was tempted to throw a slipper at the telly, especially when they were explaining futures trading AGAIN in the same episode, just in case I hadn’t understood it the first two times. In another episode I was wondering what the significance was of eating hot or cold, wet or dry foods in a form of natural remedy because it was explained in such length; then it appeared it served as the ‘lesson du jour’ rather than contributing to a larger narrative.
This season begins with Holo’s seemingly prescient nightmares that may be a form of déjà vu focusing on previous lost loves. Holo never shares these nightmares or her fears with Lawrence; they don’t seem to bother Holo much after about the season’s half-way mark. Although the nightmares disappeared almost without reference late in the season, season two built up to a satisfying climax that was – more or less – resolved at the end of the season. Although there isn’t a cliff-hanger, Spice and Wolf is clearly set up for at least one more season however, according to Wikipedia, only these two seasons have been made into anime. The series was originally a series of 17 ‘light novels’ subsequently adapted for Manga and anime.
Themes include relationships, gender roles in relationships, ethics, culture and philosophy. While the series doesn’t really challenge normative gender roles in relationships, it does underline an apparent cultural ideal of submissive, jealous women being appealing. To a point this ideal is subverted with role reversal and yet in public at least, Holo and Lawrence comply with social norms. While Lawrence usually tries to behave ethically in order to build relationships, he occasionally stoops to underhanded tactics like a conman. I can’t decide whether this shows a well-developed character – everyone can be susceptible to hypocrisy given the right circumstances – or whether the writers aren’t being faithful to Lawrence’s alleged character.
Overall, Spice and Wolf is a very unusual fantasy, with its focus on the need to earn their way and daily life during Holo and Lawrence’s travels. It’s educational, with its explanations of futures trading (called poisoned credit in the dubbing), the consequences of both ethical and unethical behaviour and its exploration of culture. This series is recommended to students of economics and business, to lovers of romance, to those who love anime and to those who think anime is ‘too way out there’.