Spice and Wolf, the anime

A better translation might be “Wolf, with Spices”. Not your usual anime. This is based off a long-running series of light (i.e. YA) novels and manga. The setup is that sometime in the dim and misty past, a villager asked a wolf-goddess to manage their crops for them. She brought them mostly good harvests, except in the years that the land had to lie fallow to recover. But times change, and modern farming practices take over (you know — three field rotation, horse collars, the moldboard plow) and now the villagers no longer need or believe in the wolf.

Horo, with apples

The wolf-goddess, Horo, decides to leave the village in the company of Kraft Lawrence, a travelling peddlar, and head back north to her homeland. The rest of the story is a not-quite-picaresque series of business encounters between Horo and Lawrence on the one hand, and the rest of the mercantile world on the other.

You heard right — business encounters. Yes, there are daring escapes out second floor windows, and chases through surprisingly roomy sewers, but those are all adjuncts to the business deals they strike. Lawrence traded wheat for furs earlier, and then they trade those for cash (after Horo makes sure they are smothered in apples to improve their scent). That cash lets them get involved with other endeavors. If you’ve always wanted to be lectured on the implications of a currency devaluation scam by a cute girl with red eyes, pointy ears, and a bushy tail, you’re in for a treat.

This is what makes S&W such a change from your normal anime. There’s no fanservice (the few times you see Horo naked, she’s mostly hidden by her tail, and surprisingly sexless), there’s none of the traditional anime characters. The charming Lothario of a gold trader comes across as someone real, not as a cardboard Guiche de Gramont or Kitagawa Jun. There’s very little actual fighting. The series is dialog-heavy, with long discussions of trading practices, contract theory, and risk-shifting by trading houses. It is, surprisingly, never boring, possibly because most of the deals involve a certain amount of sharp practice. In addition to the apple-enhancement trick (the olfactory equivalent of watering stock), they also, for example, allow a clothing merchant to sell them some cheap clothes at high prices, in preparation for enticing him to sell an expensive set for much less than he might have, coming out ahead. The end of the season (and I hope we get more) has them forced into a gold smuggling deal, in which the big trading house they are working with double crosses them and leaves them for dead. Needless to say, they win through in the end, in fact, keeping their end of the bargain. This deprives them of revenge, but provides them with a new long term source of revenue. Lawrence is, above all, a businessman, and won’t let a little thing like being beaten, slashed, tied up, and left for wolves keep him from doing business with people.

The artwork is not your typical anime – it’s more ‘children’s book of medieval european history’ style. Also, atypically, none of the characters have Japanese names.

What I liked best was the repartee between Lawrence and Horo. He’s a canny businessman, and she’s a wise old wolf in a young woman’s body. They banter back and forth, with a strong current of romance running underneath, which neither will admit to. At the end, she asks him whose name he was shouting when he ran into the fight, hers or the young shepherdess they were rescuing. He says he really doesn’t remember, but he’s sure it was hers, because….he felt…about her…that….her name was shorter and easier to shout.

I’d give it five stars, and recommend it for older teens, because the youngsters probably aren’t as interested in monetary theory.

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3 Responses to “Spice and Wolf, the anime”

  1. Spice and 3-Wolf Moon « FoundOnWeb Says:

    […] made this into a t-shirt yet, but I’d buy it. From Spice and Wolf, an anime I reviewed last […]

  2. Kurt Says:

    I looked it up on YouTube and found a couple of episodes. I like the art style–it kind of reminds me of Cowboy Bebop (which my kids turned me onto years ago.) There’s a Funimation chanel on cable and a website. The talkiness makes me think that CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner series could be animated like this.

  3. Kurt Says:

    Our local library system only has the manga, though, not the animation.

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