Come for the naked wolf goddess, stay for the economics drama and snarky banter! It’s time to get your wagon filled with apples and go on a road trip with Spice and Wolf.
What is it?
This is a show which started life as a series of “light novels” about a struggling young trader named Lawrence and Horo, the “wisewolf” he falls in with, taking place in a vaguely-Renaissance-Europe setting. He wants to set up a permanent shop some day, she wants to travel back to her homeland. He’s a mid-20s guy with a good head for business but a lot to learn, she’s an ancient shape-shifting wolf goddess with a good head for business.
What kind of story is it?
There are three main layers in Spice and Wolf: It’s a series of musings on the passing of old pagan gods and the rise of Christianity, for good or ill. It’s a charming little romantic show about two people who love business dealings. And it’s a show about business dealings, lots and lots of business dealings. You can make a good story about anything if you structure and sell it just right, and here is a series about a bunch of economic theories and complicated transactions which doesn’t put you to sleep.
The anime goes through a set of episodic story arcs, introducing new places and characters for Horo and Lawrence to interact with and attempt to profit from, generally with the added challenge of keeping Horo’s true nature a secret. That part isn’t made easier by the fact that her “human” form retains pointy ears and a big fluffy tail.
Why do you like it?
At its core, Spice and Wolf is a two-character road-trip adventure series, and if you can get your two leads to play well off of each other it’s a delight to watch regardless of the actual plots. What’s amazing to me is how much I got into the economic aspect, though. I wouldn’t say I learned a lot from watching the show but you can tell that the writer did a lot of homework. The principles and attitudes feel authentic, by and large.
Horo (or Holo, depending on who you ask) is by turns adorable, annoying, overbearing, savvy, dangerous, and pitiful. You’re never quite sure what she’s going to do next. In some shows that could get frustrating but Spice and Wolf handles it quite well. She’s mercurial, but not wackadoodle.
It’s also nice to find a male lead in anime who is decently competent without being too competent. (It seems like a lot of anime features either Amazing Unstoppable Man or How Does This Guy Tie His Own Shoelaces Man. Sigh.) Lawrence is surprisingly pragmatic, which doesn’t always work out in his favor. There are some interesting nuances in his character and how he interacts with his world.
And every now and then, of course, something fantastical happens.
It’s not that this is a great all-time classic of a show, but it’s kind of warm and fuzzy with moments of surprising grit and integrity.
Also? I really like the first season’s opening and closing songs, even though the closing song’s lyrics seem to be utter nonsense.
What might one not like about it?
Let’s not put too fine a point on it: If the somewhat-“furry” aspect of romance between a human guy and a wolf-y girl is off-putting to you then you might as well avoid Spice and Wolf. While the romantic thread isn’t always very prominent in the show, it’s still there as a key element. You’ve been warned.
Also, if you’re coming into this expecting a lot of action and adventure, or a lot of “power of the old gods” stuff, you’ll be disappointed. What you’re going to get is business dealings, and more business dealings, punctuated with witty banter and the occasional glimpse of fluffy tail.
Other thoughts about it?
I’m amused by the fact that when Lawrence first meets Horo, she’s stark naked (in human form) and it’s not even remotely played as titillation. It’s just not that kind of show (thank goodness). They can joke about it later, and that’s about as far as it goes.
Of the two, Lawrence is the big softie. (If you want to call that irony, go ahead.) Perhaps it’s no surprise that the wolf’s instincts are to go for the kill at the opportune moment, so his easy-going attitude and general pragmatism are set up as balance.
For the beliefs and attitudes of its characters, Spice and Wolf goes for a mix of modern sensibilities (most stories created at a time are creatures of their time, after all) and setting-appropriate attitudes. Some of this shows up in how people react to the young merchant and his “traveling companion.” It also appears when the Christian church is a part of the story, where the God of that church is revered but some of those who represent the church are… less savory. I find the blend of historically-accurate and alternate-history and mythical elements interesting.
Where can I watch it?
As of this writing, Funimation’s website has Spice and Wolf available for streaming. There’s a Blu-Ray/DVD combo boxed set of the complete series as well.