12 Jun 2012
Did you know that wolves don't have proper cheeks within which to store food for chewing, and so they have a tendency to bite and swallow? I didn't until I saw a wise wolf, in her young girl form, try to swallow a goat's cheese covered hot potato whole. Stupid Potato!
For those who are not familiar with it, the Spice and Wolf anime is very closely based on the now finished series of rather excellent light novels written by Isuna Hasekura and brought to the UK by Yen Press, which I wholeheartedly recommend you check out once you have finished this first series - we've reviewed all of the novels available thus far in our manga section. Just be aware that there are seventeen of them... and of which this initial animated season only spans the first three light novels. These books follow the companionship of Lawrence, a travelling merchant, and Holo, a pagan wolf deity who is many centuries old but assumes the human form of a fourteen year-old girl, as they travel through their medieval world on their way to Holo's historic homelands in the far north of Europe. Spice and Wolf is essentially an education in medieval currency trading, economics and politics. By the time you have finished this series, you will know the value of your silver coins, how to properly trade fur and how not to be deceived by wily young girls!
While merchantilism is extremely interesting (at least to people like me), the main focus of the story is the relationship between Lawrence and his fanged, tail-borne beauty Holo. This fragile relationship, born from the necessity for Holo to find her way home, grows extremely slowly as the series progresses as they both probe each other's insecurities. Actually, it's more like Holo probing through Lawrence's insecurities - being able to hear when people are lying is a heck of an advantage to a feisty young maiden. Alas, for those hoping for a proper kissing and groping session, I will spoil this first season now by informing you not to get your hopes up. They don't. What they do instead however, is much more fantastic.
The strength of Spice and Wolf, aside from its stunning character design, gorgeous setting and beautiful music, is the extremely strong characters and writing - I guarantee that you will fall in love with the couple that is Lawrence and Holo simply from the way that these two talk to each other; their fights, their re-conciliations. From their tender fireside moments together and their truly epic drinking sessions, there is nothing not to love, especially when that wise wolf tongue starts sprouting the kind of poetry which can make any naive twenty-five year old's heart melt. Lawrence's only saving grace against that kind of well wielded ammunition is that he is thankfully a lot more intelligent than he looks (he resembles a well dressed Shaggy from Scooby Doo...) and is fully capable of giving as good as he gets from Holo, to the point where he sometimes makes the wolf girl cry...
Spice and Wolf has both an English and a Japanese dub to enjoy, both of which are excellent. For the Japanese dub, Holo is played by Ami Koshimizu, who other than Maaya Sakamoto has perhaps the sexiest voice in anime. Her voice has some fantastically sultry tones to it that gives me the shivers... Thankfully for the English dub, this vocal talent has been quite closely matched and Brina Palencia, a voice I am not unfamiliar with thanks to The Sacred Blacksmith, does a very passable Holo. The only issue I have with the English dub is with Lawrence, who sounds like a used car salesman.
As for the series itself, I can confirm that from the simultaneous viewing of my US Blu-Ray discs and Manga Entertainment's UK review DVDs that it seems like the DVDs are transferred from the Blu-Ray master, with no noticeable difference in quality between the two if you're upscaling those DVDs anyhow. While this won't make up for the understandable lack of a UK Blu-Ray release, it does mean that the UK isn't missing out on any of the features or the additional episodes for this offering.
I for one am incredibly thankful that Manga Entertainment have listened to those screaming fans on Twitter (I think there was a good couple of us at least!) and brought this Spicy Wolf to the shores of our green isle, and while I put my massively biased head to bed to think about red-haired maidens, I implore you to rush to your nearest Internet retailer and dive into the world that is Spice and Wolf.