Review for Spice and Wolf: Season 2 Collection
Spice and Wolf turned out to be the unexpected surprise of the more recent anime releases, and a very pleasant one at that. It’s a sedate, thoughtful tale of a peddler and a wolf goddess, who travel together as she heads north looking for home, and he heads from town to town in search of a profit. Set in a mediaeval pseudo-Europe, it’s a slow paced and relaxing tale, with a similar atmosphere to shows like Kino’s Journey and Haibane Renmei. And it’s a show about economics, about trading, about how societies react to change, and rub up awkwardly against each other, hardly what you would expect from a medium more usually resplendent in action and fan-service eye-candy. Admittedly Holo has a habit of disrobing at the drop of a hat, but what sticks most strongly in the mind about this show is the relationship that develops between its two protagonists, Lawrence and Holo. It’s as realistic and engaging a relationship between two equals as I have ever seen in anime, working on several levels, not least of which is the intellectual. I fell in love with the first season of Spice and Wolf, and the prospect of reviewing Season Two has been a very delicious one.
A small village has traditionally invested its hopes in an ancient wolf goddess when it comes to the wheat harvest. Somewhere along the line, anything to do with the wheat would be attributed to the whims of the wolf, and the local harvest festival would even involve one of the girls being cast in the role. Of course this being the modern day, the prosperity of the village and the quality of the wheat harvest is now down to the investment from the local land owner, and modern agricultural techniques, and the wolf legend is little more than a tradition. But when peddler Kraft Lawrence passes through the village, he learns that some legends are born from truth, as he picks up an unlikely passenger. Holo is the town’s wolf deity, who feels that her bargain with the villagers is now complete. She wants to go home, back up to the Northern lands where she was born, and she makes a deal with Lawrence to accompany him. As they travel, Lawrence finds her ancient wisdom helps his profits no end, but having a wolf deity at his side also attracts some unwanted attention. In season 2, Kraft and Holo’s journey north continues, but when they hear unsettling rumours about Holo’s home, it threatens to drive a rift between them.
Thirteen episodes of Spice and Wolf Season 2 are presented across two discs.
00. Wolf and Amber Melancholy
01. Wolf and the Inadvertent Rift
02. Wolf and the Calm Before the Storm
03. Wolf and the Gap that Cannot be Filled
04. Wolf and the End of Shallow Thinking
05. Wolf, Hope and Despair
06. Wolf and Trustworthy God
07. Wolf and Playful Days
08. Wolf and an Enchanting Traveller
09. Wolf and Reckless Negotiation
10. Wolf and Lonely Smile
11. Wolf and the Decision to Part
12. Wolf and Endless Tears
Spice and Wolf Season 2 gets a rather agreeable 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer on these DVDs, native PAL of course, with the requisite 4% speed up. I watched the show on my usual CRT set, and found it to be a very pleasant viewing experience. The image is clear and sharp throughout, the animation is free of compression artefacts, and the clarity afforded to the world and character designs do the show justice. Spice and Wolf maintains a subtle, autumnal palette of colours which enhances the show’s sedate and measured pace. It’s very much an atmospheric piece, and while the content is wholly different, I was put in mind of shows like Haibane Renmei. There’s also an upgrade in the quality of the animation for the second season, and while the show is still very much a cerebral piece, where dialogue outweighs action, you can see that the animation is more dynamic, and even characters at rest have a subtlety of motion to them. Season 2 also trumps the first in my opinion when it comes to up-scaling it to an HD panel, and the image looks as sharp and well defined as you would hope.
Once again, you have the choice of the original DD 2.0 Japanese stereo, and the usual DD 5.1 English upmix from Funimation. I went with the Japanese track, and found it to be more than acceptable, with the important voice cast of the central pairing of Lawrence and Holo just spot on. It isn’t the most dynamic audio when it comes to anime; it is after all a dialogue heavy show, with rare moments of action, but the stereo works just fine. What is notable about Spice and Wolf is the music, with a couple of very agreeable theme songs, and a music score that heavily invokes the pseudo mediaeval period of the story. I watched an episode in English, and while the 5.1 isn’t really needed for the content, the dub does get the main cast right, with a couple of excellent choices for Holo and Lawrence, up there with the Japanese audio. The same can’t be said for the incidental cast however.
In an inconsistency in subtitling, in this series Kraft Lawrence becomes Craft Lawrence...
Both discs get static menus and jacket pictures when the discs aren’t spinning, depending on the capabilities of your DVD player.
Disc 2 has the collection’s sole extra features, which comprise the show’s pseudo textless credit sequences (you can’t turn the song subtitles off), and this time we also get a couple of short bonus animations.
“Studying” with Holo lasts 2 minutes and offers a little info about the food of this world, as delivered by the delectable Wolf Goddess.
“Stretching” with Holo, Yoitz Style lasts 4 minutes, and we get a short exercise routine that you can try at home, although you probably won’t have as much luck with the tail and ear exercises.
I get the feeling that there were probably more of these extras on the Japanese releases, but as they would have paid out a few hundred pounds for 5 or 6 DVDs, rather than around 20 for 2, I can begrudge them keeping some of the good stuff for themselves.
I think I said it all in my review for series 1. Spice and Wolf is the unexpected surprise of the year, an anime show that delivers something that you won’t be expecting, wrapped up in the veneer of what looks to be a very familiar cliché. It’s the tale of a wolf goddess and the man that she gets involved with, and as mentioned in the previous review, she’s cute, has wolf ears and a bushy tail, a tendency to lose her clothes, and just the sort of character traits to get male anime fans hot under the collar and out buying merchandise. Yet despite all this, Spice and Wolf is a slow, measured story, which is less about the fan service than it is character development, and it’s less about action than it is carefully crafted storytelling. Above all, the relationship between the central characters is adult, nuanced, and complex. Kraft Lawrence is an older, wiser and world-weary man (not a hapless teen male), while Holo is the wise wolf, independent, strong minded and easily Kraft’s intellectual equal, if not his superior. The fan service in this relationship comes in seeing them relate to each other on an intellectual level, the wit and elegance of their conversations, the natural growth in their attachment to each other.
This was true for series 1, and it’s just as true for the second series as well, which continues their journey as the two look for Holo’s homeland in the North, travelling from town to town, as Lawrence makes his living buying and selling wares, trying to find the one deal that will make him rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Things are structured a little differently for this second series, as while the first was a collection of small adventures as the two went on their travels, here we get two larger stories told across 12 episodes, six episodes each. The series starts off with a bonus episode that bridges both seasons, and sees the aftermath of the final story in the previous collection. It begins with them celebrating the successful conclusion of the previous deal with shepherdess Nora, with Holo celebrating a little too much, requiring something of a sick day as she sleeps off the effects of the previous night. It’s a pure character piece, reflecting on what has come before, but really focusing on the relationship between Kraft and Holo, and getting us up to speed with where they are now. It’s a pure dose of what makes Spice and Wolf work so well, and you’d expect what follows to have a hard time living up to that, except that it does so quite easily.
This season really sets about testing Kraft and Holo’s relationship directly, and as such, the stories are more dramatic and personal as a result. The first is set in the town of Kumersun, where the two attend a festival, and Kraft decides to look for some information about Yoitz, the town where Holo was born. It should be a fun time, with little in the way of trading involved, as the two are still flush from their previous adventure. But the story of Holo and Kraft’s circumstances gets out, and Holo catches the eye of a local trader named Amarty. When he decides that he wants to buy Holo’s contract, free her and marry her, it seems like a bit of fun, and Kraft is even tempted to play along. Of course with Amarty lacking the money to buy the contract, it all comes down to the efficacy of their trading skills. With the festival, there comes a sudden upsurge in the popularity of Fool’s Gold, with its value as an object of superstition and trinkets increasing. It comes down to who will be the better investor as to who will win Holo’s contract. But it all becomes more serious when a rift of mistrust between Holo and Kraft appears, and it looks like their journey may come to a premature end.
That becomes an even greater likelihood in the final story on these discs, although for wholly different reasons. Following the trail to Yoitz, they come to the city of Lenos, where Kraft hopes to find more information. But they happen to come at a sensitive time, when the price of furs is to be determined. The city is surrounded by traders and merchants, waiting for that announcement, poised to profit, and the city is just as tense. But in that atmosphere, secretive and furtive, there exists a chance for Kraft to make more profit than ever before, enough to finally establish a property of his own and cease his peddling ways. Once again, it will need a whole lot of seed money, and in this instance that money comes from the buying and selling of people. Not slavery, but nobility, as some believe that associating with nobles enhances their own standing. A potential partner named Eve Bolan notes that Holo has the bearing and visage to pass for a noble, and invites Kraft in on the deal. It appears the two have come to a crossroads in their journey, and Holo persuades Kraft to take the chance, even if it means their journey will end. But this turns out to be their most perilous undertaking yet.
Who’d have thought that economics and romance would make for such a compelling combination? You’d think that it would be pretty dry material, hard to get into such topics of exchange rates, market forces, insider trading and the like. The fact is that it’s the characterisations in this show, and the central relationship of Kraft and Holo that makes this utterly unmissable. There’s something to be said for intelligent discourse between two adults, there’s something to be said for wit and playful banter, for subtext and veiled meanings, for two people taking pleasure in each other’s personalities. Anime just doesn’t do this too often, which makes Spice and Wolf pretty unique in my experience. As such, it’s a show that should be in every collection.