Kraft Lawrence, a 25 year old peddler, travells from town to town selling and buying various things to make a living during a period much like Europe in the Middle Ages. One night when stopped at the town of Pasroe, he finds in his wagon a centuries old pagan wolf deity girl named Holo. She has the appearance of a 15 year old girl, except for a wolf tail and ears. She introduces herself as the town’s goddess of harvest who has kept it blessed with good harvests of wheat for many years. Despite having the responsibility to watch over the town, she wants to go back to her homeland in the north called Yoitsu, she believes the people have already forsaken her anyway and that she has fulfilled her promise to maintain the good harvests. She manages to bargain her way out of the village by making a deal with Lawrence to take her with him. As they travel, her wisdom helps increase his profits, but at the same time, her true nature draws unwanted attention from the church.
So a show about economics, that does not sound like it would be enjoyable right? Well, you would be wrong to make that assumption. Yes economic topics are discussed (like buying devalued currencies, and dealing with market forces that change out of nowhere), yet these do not feel like a High School or college economic class way you would learn about it. Even simple conversations about simple things seem enjoyable and do not feel terribly boring to watch. I will admit I am not a big fan of economics nor do I study up on it. I was not bored at all while watching the show, even though the show does move a slower pace than some people might prefer.
The two main characters are deep, complex and eventually learn how to play off each other. Lawrence does not always look at everything from the money aspect, but how the flow of trade works. Holo, while a deity who likes human pleasures and walks around in a human form, has a temper and is still at heart an animal. While Holo is also smart and sly, she is also quite lonely from being isolated for so long and she just wants to be around Lawrence and others. Over the course of the show the relationship between Holo and Lawrence develops to the point of not quite being lovers, but there is some chemistry between the two and some hints are pointed that they do want to be with each other.
There are two arcs in the first season of Spice and Wolf. Episodes 1-6 are arc 1, and episodes 8-13 is the second arc. Episode 7 is an OVA that does not add to the story but explains why Holo has new clothes starting in the next arc. The second arc sadly is similar to the first to the first arc by following a similar path to how it plays out. This is a issue, but it is a minor one to overall look as the second arc is still based on source material (the second light novel).
Art and Animation
A lot of detail when into the facial expresses of both Holo and Lawrence. Holo specifically get attention to the little things that she does over the course of the series. Anyone who has owned or seen animals react with stimuli can get an idea of how Holo reacts when something excites her or upsets. The twitch of her ears or the movements of her tail do not seem like something important but this detail shows that even though Holo is in human form, she is still an animal at heart. There are a few scenes where Holo is naked but none of these scenes are fanservice driven and do not feel like pandering to the otaku.
The background art is not as strong as it should be. While the backgrounds that are present do help bring the world into the medieval times, they do not feel like they are up to the potential of the rest of the show. That does not mean they do not look pretty when correctly done, but a good bit of the time they do not feel the level they could be. Regardless, the show still looks great even with a few background issues here and there.
Music and Audio:
One of the strongest aspects of Spice and Wolf is the music. In the show, the orchestra of mostly wind instruments and some string instruments brings the background music to life and is one of the most pleasant sounding tracks in anime in recent history. The opening “Tabi no Tochū” which is sung by Natsumi Kiyoura is piano based and is a great opening piece that conveys the struggles of both Holo and Lawrence. The ending theme “Ringo Hiyori (The Wolf Whistling Song) sung by Rocky Chack is piano based as well, but it is sung in Engrish and is not as serious as the OP is but both the OP and ED are fitting for the series. It is a shame that the soundtrack for Spice and Wolf is not available for purchase in North America. Both anime fans and non-anime fans alike would enjoy it.
Funimation did the English dub for Spice and Wolf and it is one of the better dubs that they have completed. J. Michael Tatum provides the voice for Lawrence and does a fine job with the role. Even when he has to show emotion or raise his voice, he does a great job with it. Briana Palencia gives Holo her English voice and gives about good as you can get. While a bit different from her Japanese VA (talked about below) Briana gives Holo a haughty and refined voice that fits her perfectly. The other roles for the characters who appear in the two separate arcs Leah Clark and John Burgmeier respectively, both of whom do a good job with the roles given to them. The other voices for the other character various from alright to excellent.
The Japanese dub is excellent and one of the best Japanese dubs in the last few years. Ami Koshimizu gives Holo her voice and does a great job with her role. Ami gives Holo a more archaic way of talking but it fits her character nicely. Jun Fukuyama gives Lawrence his voice and gives an excellent performance. Even the smaller roles are all great. The choice between listening to the English dub and the Japanese is hard to make. Both are excellent so it is going to come down to personal choice.
Spice and Wolf is a show that defines the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover”. The economics talk might not sound like it would be an enjoyable, but even if you are not a fan of economics the character interactions and the music along should be enough that anyone should watch it at least once in their life time.
Pros: Excellent music, high quality English and Japanese dubs, Holo and her expressions
Cons: Arcs follow a similar path, backgrounds could be better.