If you’re reading a review for an anime with a “2” in its title, I’m going to assume you’ve watched and presumably liked the first. Now, having loved the first season of this novel-adaptation, like many others I feared that Spice and Wolf would suffer from the horrible disease known as “Sequelitis”. Once again, though, this anime managed to surprise me with a sequel that is not only on par with the original, but surpasses it, even if only slightly, by correcting the two main defects of the first.
There’s not really much of a synopsis to give: Lawrence and Horo’s journey goes on from when it left off at the end of the first season. The two find themselves in yet more trouble, and this time Lawrence will risk losing something more important than just his carriage of goods.
And really, this series is nothing but “more of the same”, more of what characterised the first season. The interesting Medieval-Europe mercantile setting is still the same; the interaction between the two main characters doesn’t get one bit stale or boring, as plot developments keep creating new contrasts and situations that keep their relationship progressing through far harder times; the storytelling and complex economic reasoning scenes are as immersive and interesting.
So, what is it that it does better? Well, I mentioned that the series had two big defects: the lack of a single coherent plot, causing the single arcs to be pretty linear and basic, and the lack of a satisfying finale. The two arcs here adapted from more of the novels, on the other hand, are more complex and emotionally involving. The plots create a surprising suspense, and even pull off a couple of well-done and unexpected plot twists at the end of both. And last but not least, the finale, while still inconclusive as any season finale is, does present something of a turning point, a small but important development, that not only makes it feel like the end of a leg of the still ongoing journey, but also emotionally satisfies the viewer. If the franchise were to end here, which I hope isn’t the case, it would still feel like we managed to get somewhere, which is more than not only what the first season did, but more than what the majority of anime and TV series alike manage to do. Sure, it’s still a story without much of particular complexity or thematic depth going on, but damn is it well told.
If the relationship and interaction between the two main characters was the point where “Spice and Wolf” really shone, this second series keeps the ball rolling: their relationship has evolved to a different level, thus creating new dialogues, exchanges and situations that manage to keep the anime dialogue-heavy without it ever getting stale, also, again, due to the sheer charm of Lawrence and Horo. The development of both keeps progressing, and the adorable wolf-goddess, in particular, shows still more sides of her character. Just like the first series did, Spice and Wolf II could hold up thanks to its characters alone.
Apart from the two unforgettable protagonists, however, this series also has a better bunch of supporting characters. Two of them, in particular, who act as co-protagonists or villains of sorts to the two arcs, manage to have a surprisingly strong impact on the viewer, thanks to a nicely crafted personality; the second one, in particular, with her interesting backstory, psychological exploration, her active role, her aura of mystery, is particularly remarkable. Thanks to the longer arcs, some minors also manage to be given enough space to have an impact. Of course, they’re still pretty simple, but they support well the protagonists.
It doesn’t get much better than the first series: the impressive landscapes and lightning, the realism of the clothes and houses are all still there, together with the unexplainably Studio Ghibli-ish atmosphere. Some long shots in the second half have a slight drop in quality (unless we accept that a bed can change its size at will...), but nothing unforgivable. On the other hand, with the village festival in the first arc and a couple of happenings in the second, there are some landscapes and beautiful shots that manage to impress even when compared to the first series.
Yoshino Yūji's soundtrack is settled on the same style of the first: an amazing collection of enchanting folk melodies that immediately call to mind a crowd of happy German peasants dancing and singing and drinking around a fire, accompanied by some more tense or aggressive melodies for the right scenes. I also notice a less monotonous atmosphere in the music. The ending credits song is “Perfect world”, by the same Rocky Chack who brought us the catchy “Ringo Hiyori” in the first series, a slightly more poppish song with a sweet but somehow a tad melancholic feeling, that somehow fits with the more serious tone of this second season. The opening track is a beautifully violin-driven slow song with a nice dreamy melancholic-with-a-smile feeling.
The main voice actors from the first series, Fukuyama Jun as Lawrence (still doing a good job, but from the guy I kind of expect more) and Koshimizu Ami as the sharp-tongued Horo (pulling off the same incredible performance, I was particularly impressed by a “minor breakdown” of sorts the character has early on in the series, and by a very emotional moment near the end), make of course their comeback. Alongside them, the supporting character have a larger role and thus their seiyū have more room to shine: one of my personal favourites Romi Park (Temari from Naruto, Ken Ichijōji from Digimon Adventure 02, among many others) as Abe shows that in term of playing boyish characters she’s ready to be the new Ogata Megumi; and if three Code Geass voice actors weren’t enough for you, here we get four: besides Fukuyama and Koshimizu, there’s Chiba Saeko (Nina Einstein) as Amati and Watanabe Akeno (Villetta Nu) as the mysterious Diana; I also liked the solid performance of Koyama Rikiya (Yamato in “Naruto: Shippūden”), nicely conveying a friendly supportive character like Mark.
In the end, “Spice and Wolf II” is a great sequel, in that it corrects a couple of its predecessor’s defects and provides more than just new situations for the two characters we’re familiar with, but keeps the development of their tender relationship rolling, presents a couple of surprisingly gripping and by no means banal plots, and ends in an open but still satisfying way. Once again, even if the story itself never reaches particular thematic depths, its setting and most importantly its characters, with their brilliant dialogue, make for a very impacting anime. Not for those who hate dialogue-heavy stories, but those who loved the first series can dive in without hesitation.