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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ookami to Koushinryou - Spice and Wolf - Review

Yes, I know this actually says Wolf and Spice II. That's coming later in July. It doesn't change the fact that they're using the same main characters.
I use both names because they're both introduced in the anime as such. Technically it's Wolf and Spice and in following the naming scheme the episode titles are also "Wolf and....."


The anime is about a traveling merchant by the name of Kraft (Craft) Lawrence who happens to find Holo, the human incarnation of a 250 year old wolf deity, sleeping in his wagon as he stays in the farming village of Pasroe. The deity has been blessing the wheat crop for years since she made a deal with a villager long ago. However, believing that the villagers have forsaken her, she makes a deal with Lawrence to escort her back to her home in the north.

Spice and Wolf is a "smart" anime. I don't mean smart as in it's autonomous and makes good, responsible decisions but that it requires a bit of active thinking to fully enjoy it.

This anime took me by surprise by the second episode. The first episode introduces everyone and sets the premise of the world which is very much like medieval Europe. From the second episode on, you'd be immersed right into the story.

Kraft Lawrence is a merchant, a good one in fact. He's been in the trading business for a while and knows a good deal about economics and and business.

Holo, with her archaic mannerisms, displays her sage-like knowledge acquired over the years. In exchange, due to not keeping up with history, she lacks the knowledge about current governments and money in circulation.

The anime focuses a lot of the relationship between these two as two quick-witted, intelligent people who work together for (technically) a common goal. In exchange for escorting her to her homeland in the north, Holo must find a way to earn a living to support herself. She does so by being Lawrence's partner in trade. What happens then on is a complex story involving governments, guilds, the church, and the entire economy including black markets.

Without knowing a thing about it and simply going off screenshots or a cover, it's easy to believe that this is some one-sided story with a wolf-girl simply acting as an attraction. Since that isn't the case, this anime automatically gets favorable points from me. There's an immense amount of dialogue in each episode and a really big focus on the world around the main characters. With strong protagonists, there needs to be strong antagonists and a world that can support them. The anime very much delivers with great art and direction.

There are "learning sessions" interlaced throughout the anime where Lawrence explains to Holo about the current world and while that does occasionally feel as if it's the creator's way of inserting information and expanding the world for the viewers it also does indicate how much thought has been put in.

The art is great. In addition to really clean characters and animation, the environment looks very detailed. There's an occasional moment when you're wondering where they are because certain sections of towns look similar. While that is true of medieval Europe and using similar architecture, there was a lack of characteristics that stand out for each village.

The music could be better but it's quite well done in certain parts.

There's the occasional dab of fantasy that gets infused into the story to make the anime probably one of the best I've seen in a while. The time it takes place in seems to be an era that's a bit ahead of all those other medieval settings (in general) and actually involves the influence of power in terms of money and religion. Lawrence is old. He's not grandfather old but he's showing signs that he's a bit past marriageable age (in respect to that time period). His wisdom and wit is justified which makes him a more realistic, better character. Holo also has very clear weaknesses which improve the story overall as prodigies, omnipotent gods, and simply over powered characters actually detract from the story telling and complexity.

This is definitely a must see from me.

Funimation recently announced that they've acquired the rights for the US distribution so be sure to buy it.

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