In a nutshell (tl;dr):
Humanity enjoys deceiving and showing its superiority over nature. In Spice and Wolf, farmers no longer pray to the caring Goddess Horo, because they know how to control harvest without her help. Horo became really sad, but could not abandon the village that she had promised to protect long time ago. One day, however, she is freed by a wandering merchant named Kraft Lawrence. The merchant knew that there was only one person with the name Horo and after a little test, the man agreed to travel with the witty Goddess. Spice and Wolf will take you in a wonderful journey of many smiles, as well as good feelings.
Do you like strategy games as much as I do? It must have taken you a few all nighters to beat Heroes of Might & Magic 3, or Stronghold Crusader, have not it? Did you enjoy playing Sid Meier's Civilization? Do you think that the Middle Ages is the most beautiful, as well as interesting period in the history of humanity? If one of these if true for you, then you should definitely give Spice and Wolf a try, because this anime is one of these series you might fall in love right after the first episode. Spice and Wolf has 2 seasons, but I will only touch upon the first season in my review.
Ookami to Koushinryou (Spice and Wolf) short description:
Spice and Wolf is a Japanese light novel series written by Isuna Hasekura, with illustrations by Juu Ayakura. ASCII Media Works has published 20 novels since February 2006 under their Dengeki Bunko imprint. ASCII Media Works reported that as of October 2008, over 2.2 million copies of the first nine novels have been sold in Japan. The series has been called a "unique fantasy" by Mainichi Shimbun due to the plot focusing on economics, trade, and peddling rather than the typical staples of fantasy such as swords and magic. Yen Press licensed the light novels and is releasing them in English in North America. ASCII Media Works has published three volumes of a spin-off light novel series titled Wolf and Parchment since September 2016.
A manga adaptation illustrated by Keito Koume began serialization in the November 2007 issue of ASCII Media Works' seinen manga magazine Dengeki Maoh. The manga was licensed by Yen Press, which has begun releasing the volumes in English. A 12-episode anime adaptation aired between January and March 2008, plus a single original video animation (OVA) episode released in May 2008. A second OVA was released in April 2009 as a prequel to the second anime season Spice and Wolf II, which aired 12 episodes between July and September 2009. Both anime seasons were released in English by Kadokawa Pictures USA and Funimation. Two visual novels based on the series for the Nintendo DS were released by ASCII Media Works in June 2008 and September 2009.
Horo and Lawrence
«Spice and Wolf» focuses on the story of a wandering merchant named Kraft Lawrence. The story takes place in the medieval period, at the time when danger was awaiting you at every corner and turn: outlaws, different deadly illnesses, and church, which was the number 1 issue for many-- a misstep and you become a heretic. Kraft Lawrence has been wandering for 7 years already, trying to earn enough money to open his own shop and to become a better merchant. When he leaves another small village to sell goods, he finds the Goddess of harvest in his wagon. Horo explains the merchant that people no longer need her help and are starting to forget about her: they neither pray to her, nor do they even remember about her lending a helping hand to them when they needed it. And after a little test, the merchant agrees to take the Goddess on his journey. Because who would refuse to have a Goddess on your side? (Kraft, you lucky bastard)!
There are only two protagonists in the series--the wolf girl Goddess Horo and the merchant Kraft Lawrence. It becomes obvious right from their first meeting that they complement each other well, and this first impression will prove correct later on. Kraft Lawrence is calm, when Horo is quick-tempered, but they both care for each other. What I am trying to say is that both of them are very different, but they are also very similar to each other. And the reason for that is their loneliness, they both are aware of. As the series progresses, the protagonists will have to face many challenges that will test them. With that being said, I believe that with every new episode of Spice and Wolf, you might fall in love with this series more and more.
Horo — is a local deity of harvest; her original form is a tremendous wolf. Several centuries ago, she came to the south from her homeland in the north. She agreed to protect the village’s harvest. However, humans are ungrateful creatures that are unable to understand that even a deity is unable to control nature. With time, soil becomes exhausted and is no longer able to support crops or other plant life. But the villagers think that this is just the Deity’s whim and blame her for everything, little by little forgetting about her existence. Having understood that people no longer need her help, Horo decides to return to her homeland.
Aside from that, Horo has two forms: the first being a giant wolf and her second is a 15-year old girl. Horo is fond of delicious food and alcohol, but especially loves apples. She takes pride in her tail and takes special care of it, constantly combing and maintaining it.
Without a single doubt, Horo is one of the reasons for success of this series. She might be one of the most interesting and beautiful female characters you will ever see. It is somewhat challenging to give a proper description of her character, because she is always different. She is very smart, her jokes are better than what you see in 90% of comedy series, she looks strong, but she also makes an impression of a fragile creature that you want to protect really baldly. She is always ready to help; a perfect companion a merchant will ever find.
Krawft is a merchant that hopes one day to open his own shop. At 12, he became a student of an experienced merchant; at 18 he started his journey to earn enough money to open his own shop. Since that time, he has been earning money for 7 years already, buying and selling goods in different towns. As a true merchant, he is trying to find profit in everting and refuses to accept unprofitable deals. When he meets Horo, he agrees to help her. Yet, in return, she will have to compensate for losses. Kraft Lawrence is very smart and crafty, but also very kind individual, which Horo dislikes about him.
Although, there is nothing special about him, as a character, he makes a very positive impression. Mainly because of the fact that with story-line development, his character also changes. (Which is rare for some series). On top of that, you cannot say that Lawrence is weak: he is ready to stand up for those who are dear to him. Though, when the situation is dire, Horo will help him. That said, he is a very interesting character with his own principle and beliefs; his development is very interesting to follow. His cold, but also kind character complements Horo very well.
The plot consists of three main components: trade, action, and dialogues. Despite the fact that trade is often associated with something boring, in case of Spice and Wolf, the economics is presented in an easy-to-understand manner, and is explained in detail. This, as I think, makes the story-line even more interesting, but never boring. As a person who loves strategy games and especially everything connected with trade, I found elements of economics very interesting to follow. Although, many may disagree with me. Personally, I found it interesting to find out about many tricks that are connected with coining of money and how one can make a fortune using these tricks. Action scenes are the only drawback to find in Spice and Wolf; there are like two scenes in the whole 2 seasons. That said, if you are looking for some actions scenes, that is not the anime you should be looking for. But even without action scenes Spice and Wolf is able to prove that it is a masterpiece, a diamond, which is very difficult to find sometimes, because even without action, it is able to kindle your interest, which is a huge problem of many SoL series.
Holo and Lawrence
The most important role in the story-line, based on the economics would surely play dialogues. It is not surprising, because Spice and Wolf is based on the light novel, which was written by Isuna Hasekura. And as you know, this means that there will be many dialogues, and the success of the series will only depend on the quality of these dialogues. I must say that, for some reason, they work well. I cannot describe the reason why they work that well: the reason for that might have been an excellent work of the Japanese voice actors that voiced Horo and Lawrence (by the way, I would highly recommend you to watch it in Japanese with English subtitles, or insert your first language subtitles. The amount of the work the Japanese voice actors paid to their characters is simply amazing, Spice and Wolf is one of these series you should only watch in Japanese. But, of course, it depends on your likes and dislikes, so feel free to watch it in whatever language you want), maybe because of the superb dialogues, written by Hasekura Isuna. Another thing worth mentioning is that these dialogues are never annoying, because they give you all the needed information. However, sometimes you will still have to think based on the information you have about some things that have not been mentioned in the series.
Without a doubt, the series is somewhat old. (The second season has a much better art than the first series, simply an eye candy, by the way). However, one thing is obvious-- the amount of work paid to make every single frame look amazingly beautiful. Not only do characters look unique, but also their outfits, backgrounds; the whole series look quite enjoyable, because it is somewhat a challenge to capture that medieval feel in your work. Spice and Wolf animators, however, did manage to do it.
Composed by Yuji Yoshino, a Japanese composer who has done a variety of works in video game music, such as in .hack//Legend of the Twilight. He has also arranged a number of music collections for the Suikoden series, including Genso Suikoden IV Music Collection: Another World, some tracks of Genso Suikoden Celtic Collection 2, and all of Genso Suikoden Celtic Collection III, Spice and Wolf’s OST is truly charming.
The opening performed by Natsumi Kiyoura perfectly illustrates how lonely both Horo and Kraft are. However, together they are not lonely anynore, they can overcome all the possible hardships they might face, and no matter how long their journey is going to be, they will still succeed. The ending theme displays the comedy part of the series and it is possible to say that it illustrates Kraft’s and Horo’s relationship.
Overall (dub) : c
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A
Music : A+
All in all, Spice and Wolf is a series worth watching, but it requires some patience in order to fully appreciate the pacing and complexities in the plot and in order to engage with the characters. Fans of SoL will highly appreciate every single detail in Spice of Wolf; there is nothing I can dislike, or criticize in this series. My only regret is that it did not get a third season. But it should not worry you, since you can always find light novel’s spoilers on the internet.