When the goddess of the harvest materializes in your wagon, it can only be a mixed blessing.
What They Say
Lawrence, a traveling merchant searching for profit, finds a naked girl with the ears and tail of a wolf asleep in his cart. Her name is Holo - a harvest goddess with an untamed beast lurking inside who longs to return to her beloved northern home. Armed with his street smarts and her animal instincts, a simple peddler and a forgotten deity begin a journey through the wild countryside. Along their path, the riches of happiness shall be reaped, even as the bankruptcy which dwells in the human heart is exposed.
Contains episodes 1-13.
Spice and Wolf has a good bilingual presentation to it with the original Japanese stereo track encoded at 192kbps while the English 5.1 adaptation is done at 448kbps. With the fairly basic and dialogue heavy stereo mix, the English track doesn't add all that much to it in terms of environment but it does add a bit more volume to it and some more clarity in the dialogue itself, some of which comes from the different actors and recording. The Japanese stereo mix is pretty solid though it is by and large a full mix without much in the way of directionality or depth. There are some nice minor moments here and there but it's a decent unsurprising mix overall.
Originally airing in 2008, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series is spread over two discs with seven on the first disc and six on the second. The show has a lot of quality to it with its animation and design and the transfer captures that pretty well. Colors look very solid throughout with only a few dark night scenes where there's more visible noise, but nothing that strikes of significant or even moderate breakup with the colors. The transfer is free of cross coloration and there are only a few very minor moments of line noise during panning sequences, which barely stand out at all when taken into context of all thirteen episodes here. The detail in the show shines through here and the animation is quite strong.
Spice and Wolf eschews the standard packaging for many FUNimation shows these days by using a single clear keepcase and one with a flippy hinge inside. The front cover is very appealing with the image of Holo in her dress curled up in the back of the wagon as she looks up while being surrounded by crates and apples. The logo is the same as seen on the Japanese releases with the bilingual approach. There isn't a whole lot of color here overall, with all the brown for the wagon, crates and blankets, but the cover is really very appealing with its design and the bright and cheerful look of Holo. The back cover is much brighter overall as it has Holo set against a field of wheat where she's carrying a basket of apples with a very pleased smile across her face. The blue sky in particular looks marvelous here. There's a decent summary along the left in its own box which is well placed as well as a few shots from the show and a clean listing of what the release contains for extras and episode and disc count. While there aren't any show related inserts included, there is artwork on the reverse side here. It's a fantastic piece framed in an earthy brown where it has a picture of Lawrence and Holo with the wagon as it travels through the beautiful countryside. The let side has a breakdown of the episodes and their titles across the two discs as well.
The menus utilizes a lot of the design elements from the covers, with a nice strip along the bottom that has the basic navigation selections which has a good old style feeling to them as it uses a similar font to what the logo is but not quite. The navigation is good and the instrumental music fits perfectly for the menus, though listening to them for a few minutes may be too much. The first menu uses the artwork from the front cover, zoomed in a bit to focus on Holo more than anything else, while the second volume uses the full length reverse side cover artwork zoomed in some as well of Lawrence and Holo riding the wagon across the countryside. The layouts are really nicely done and the theme for it all fits with the show and gives it the right atmosphere just before you start it. Submenus load quickly with no animation slowing it down but as usual the discs do not read our players’ language presets and default to English language with sign/song subtitles.
The only extras on this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences found on the second volume.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novel series by Isuna Hasekura, Spice and Wolf is a thirteen episode series that deals in a very intriguing world that mostly involves trade. It's an unusual series in that regard, though it delves into other things along the way such as what it means to be human and how the world itself works. Broadcast as twelve episodes with episode seven being a DVD only release afterward, fitting in a small tale of happiness in the middle of everything, Spice and Wolf is a surprisingly engaging story that primarily revolves around two characters as they travel, make deals and talk of their dreams and their pasts. Of course, with one of them being a goddess of sorts, the kind of stories are a bit tilted in one direction.
Set in a medieval world that plays things very straight by and large, Spice and Wolf tells a somewhat leisurely tale over its thirteen episodes but one that is quite tense at times. The story revolves around a man named Craft Lawrence, a traveling peddler in his mid twenties who works across numerous towns transporting goods and selling his wares when and where he can. His main goal is to one day save up enough money so he can open a store in a decent sized town and build a full life. But until then, he's the kind of peddler that's very happy doing what he does, figuring out the tricks of particular trades and spending time with people that he does get to know during his travels. The show opens with him visiting one particular town at harvest time where a young woman named Chloe is someone he has a bit of a fancy for, but nothing altogether too serious at the moment. It certainly has potential though and that has kept him interested and looking at the town as a potential place to settle.
Lawrence's life takes an interesting turn while in this town as he's getting ready to go as a young woman mysteriously appears in his wagon. As it turns out, the girl is named Holo, which is the name of the goddess of the region that is responsible for the health of the crops. Her influence has been dwindling among the farmers for some time as the Earl of the area has provided new ways and means for ensuring better crops, so they haven't been needing Holo like she was. Holo reveals that she truly is the goddess in question, though the details seem to paint her more as a godling of sorts in that she's not as eternal and is part of a larger family from the far north of where she's been operating out of for so long. Lawrence doesn't need too much convincing to grasp that Holo is that same Holo, since she does have the ears and quite the bushy tail, but his mercantile ways serve him well here as he agrees to travel north with her to find where she came from while taking advantage of her ability to read others in his business. Since that facilitates her living conditions along the way, as well as food and clothes, it's a good agreement they reach.
Much of the show focuses on the relationship between the two people as they get to know each other over the travels. There are two main stories that happen throughout as Lawrence goes about his business and Holo gets involved from time to time, but all of it serves more to foster the relationship between them. Because of appearances, Lawrence tends to take a protective role of Holo, but she often corrects him because of the age difference since she's far older than him. She brings in some amusing stories from time to time of people she's known in the past and some of the things they've done which have some correlation to events in the present. Holo is entirely charming throughout the show, though she plays between being the “wise wolf” and the impish young wolf who likes to tease and torment Lawrence. Lawrence himself is also quite charming as he has a bit of wisdom about himself as well since he's run his own business for awhile, but he's still learning some of the tricks of the trade. He's not exactly young looking because of the hair color, but he has a certain youth to him that mixes in with his relaxed and analytical personality.
The animation for this series is really quite good, with a lot of attention to detail when it comes to the backgrounds and the places that the pair travel to. While there is a certain uniformity to the design of the various cities and towns, it's all consistent in giving off the feeling of a medieval landscape with a very lived in feeling. The people in the background, the shops that are laid out, the earthy nature of it all works very well. While it may be cleaner than reality, the end result is a look that easily immerses you into that world. The characters are just as impressive overall as they have a strong design to them. Neither is terribly detailed in a way, but they come across as very fleshed out and like the cities have a lived in feeling, particularly Lawrence. Holo manages a really appealing design, one that she shows off without clothes on several occasions, She's just as appealing in clothes as she tries to hide her nature more often than not. I was also really pleased by how well they did the tail and ears part as it has a good natural feeling to it, not the kind done for the sake of pure fanservice.
With the first season of this series, Spice and Wolf manages to form a really intriguing and engaging bond between two characters. Spice and Wolf is a very mellow show, almost languid at times with how the pair travel along and talk about things, but it also has a lot of very tense moments. The mercantile aspects really do play a strong role here and some of them are highly engaging, moving between verbal sparring to make a deal to the larger plot going on with who is manipulating things. A show like this has two very distinct voices that are blended together quite well. The first is the bond that starts to form between Holo and Lawrence as they meet and travel with each other. The other is the merchant aspect, which brings in so many different angles and really provides the impetus for the bonding and gives it more meaning. It helps give the characters shape and guides them to where they can grow properly. I really enjoyed Spice and Wolf as it was unlike many other shows that are coming out these days. It's got great production values, engaging characters and a story, while familiar, is told in a way that allows it to feel fresh and new. Definitely a very easy strong recommendation.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.