Production Studio: Imagin
Was this provided by the publisher? No
More Info: Anime Planet
The first time I came across Spice and Wolf, its copywriting must’ve rearranged itself to read: “Pretentious drivel to be droned at you by a platinum blonde and some dog chick. Slow episodes sure to delight only furries,” because I put that crap back on the shelf and headed straight for Hellsing Ultimate. A year later while suffering the unique hell that is migraine, I listlessly looked for something quiet and so slow that it’d only delight a highly specific fanbase…you know, so I could follow it without hurting my head more. Ahem. What I found in Spice and Wolf was so delightful that ever since, I’m actually eager to embarrass myself by telling everyone how wrong I was.
Spice and Wolf has a really tasteful portrayal of the benefits and pitfalls of capitalism, trade-based economies, the role of religion, and how the motivations of individuals can rise or fall within those things. But it’s rare in that we have to talk about the script and plot separately. The plot is, quite frankly, boring. And slow. It’s so desperately slow that if you don’t have a natural love of wit and dialogue, you will probably hate this show. If you do love those things, the script will banish your sense of time completely.
So Lawrence, a clever traveling merchant, capitalized on an opportunity in a distant farm town. This town had a pagan tradition of worshipping a wolf goddess who was in charge of their wheat harvest. Eventually agriculture advanced and they no longer need the wolf goddess, so they forgot her. She wanted to return to the north where she was born, and Lawrence showed up at just the right time. She bartered with him to take her on his wagon, because she is Holo the Wise Wolf. She knows that walking around with giant teeth would probably cause people to run her down with pitchforks. And trebuchets. Lawrence was intrigued, and agreed. They bought stuff, sold stuff, and sometimes pissed some people off while making their way north. And that’s it. That’s the story.
The awesome is in the script. The dialogue, reactions, and organic characters make the story more than the sum of its plot. Rather than using a pretentious, high-handed form of lecture driven by emotional scenes, it uses predicaments, banter, and wit. The creators had the confidence to let a scene speak for itself and at times withheld dialogue that would’ve become overbearing.
The efforts of Isuna Hasekura, who wrote the original source material, didn’t go to waste on that front. I couldn’t find a single major trope that I was expecting, and it’s another testament to the production’s confidence that I didn’t. They could have exaggerated certain traits to create one of those tropes, allowing for less need for subtlety. For example, it could have easily began with the exhausting trope of “Dude with street smarts gets lucky! Powerful girl depends on him for survival in society!” It didn’t happen though. Holo and Lawrence have a mutually educational relationship when it comes to society despite the fact that Holo’s been out of touch for a few hundred years. Another trope they could have fallen into is “proud man gets willingly emasculated because boobies!” Both Lawrence and Holo are very proud individuals, but instead of one person deciding their pride is most important, they value each other’s pride equally. That allows them to learn about each other and compromise with both prides intact. I don’t see that very often in real life or anime, so I was pleasantly shocked.
If the devil is in the details, so too is the delight. Spice and Wolf is a splendid example of that. Superb dialogue and wit set to a background of pleasant artwork more than made up for its plodding pace and boring plot. They kept me so riveted that I didn’t remember how boring that plot really is until I sat down to write this review. Indeed, the only thing I hated about this anime was that it got dropped after two seasons. The light novels are great, but nothing can replace for me the sound and expressions that accompany lilting banter. If you are a type who appreciates the journey more than the destination, I highly recommend Spice and Wolf.