Spice and Wolf was originally a series of light novels written by Hasekura Isuna. The original novel won him the silver prize, or third place, for the Dengeki novel prize. The novels ran for seventeen volumes and the series quickly got manga, anime and video game adaptations. The first anime was done by Imagin, the studio responsible for Strawberry Panic among others. Spice and Wolf is really popular, but popularity doesn’t equal good. Is it both? Let’s take a look at the anime and find out.
The main story begins with an ordinary merchant named Craft Lawrence. He’s going through a small village that’s holding a festival when he finds a naked woman with lupine ears and a tail napping in his cart. She identifies herself as Horo the wise wolf, about a half a dozen times, and claims to be the deity that the villagers used to worship. She’s grown weary of dealing with the people of the village and wants to return to the north. Lawrence agrees to take her. The series follows their journey as they go through several villages trying to make a profit. Let’s dive right into the issues. The biggest issue is that there are a lot of moments that just drag on and get boring. Particularly the moments where Lawrence exposits about the economy of their fantasy world. They could have easily lost two or three episodes worth of content by cutting these speeches and lost nothing of value to the narrative. Really, it reminds me of the overly long descriptions, lists and chapters about the Parisian sewer system, (Why would you even do that, Victor Hugo?) that Victorian era literature included. The main difference is that this is worse since it’s only thirteen episodes and the time could have easily been put to better use. The chemistry between Horo and Lawrence is really hit and miss. Some moments work others just come off as forced. That being said, there are some interesting ideas and I did really like what they did with the church in this. While there are some boring moments, there are also some really good, tense moments. Unfortunately, those moments tend to get resolved far too quickly and have no apparent impact beyond the immediate. That might be fixed in the second season, but it is an issue with this one.
Let’s move on to the characters. Most of the characters are pretty one-dimensional and under-developed. A lot of them even share the same vague motivation, making profit. Lawrence himself is a pretty stock character with very little personality or development. There is one great character. I loved the character of Horo. Horo gets some great dialogue, she’s very interesting and she shows a lot of great development as a character. Spice and Wolf might be worth watching just for Horo. That’s how awesome she is.
The art is really well done. I can certainly see the visual similarities to Strawberry Panic. The various villages are lively and the backgrounds are very well done. The only real issue I had with the art is that the action scenes are kind of boring. They tend to end very quickly with Horo just kind of barreling through everyone. I know that action scenes with wolves can work, I saw Wolf’s Rain, they just don’t in this. You probably expected me to complain about Horo being shown naked so frequently, but there actually are valid story and character reasons for it, and they refrain from using them for mindless fan-service, mostly. Which is surprisingly classy on their part, so I didn’t really have much of a problem with it.
The voice acting is a little bland, but that’s probably due largely to the character issues. Most of the characters just don’t have any good dialogue so it’s not surprising that the voice actors couldn’t give their best performances. The only exception is Koshimuzu Ami who gives a very strong performance as Horo. The music is weak, especially the Engrish closing theme. And it’s not Engrish in a hilarious way like Red Fraction.
The yuri factor is a 1/10. There are all of three important female characters and they don’t interact that much with each other.
My final rating for Spice and Wolf is a 6/10. It’s a decent anime that could have been much better. While there are some good ideas, the writing is weakened by a lot of padding and stilted dialogue. Horo is the only character worth mentioning. Although she is a spectacular character, she can’t carry the entire anime by herself.