Spice and Wolf – The Wise Merchant’s Journey of Love

The cover of the first volume of the Spice and...

Spice and Wolf is a series I’ve heard of for a long time, but never got to watch until recently. After watching Maoyu, which I’ve covered last week, I’ve been told that this show is exceedingly similar to it. Having enjoyed Maoyu quite a bit I’ve decided to check it out. Part of what makes it so similar is what makes this the 2nd out of three posts about “mind-expanding anime” which star Fukuyama Jun.

One reason I didn’t really watch the show could probably be seen in a recent Reddit thread where people had tried to give a “Boring tl;dr” treatment to show’s synopsis. Spice and Wolf was represented in that thread numerous times, and they didn’t even have to work hard to simplify the show’s concept: A small-time merchant travels around, teaching us concepts in economy. That sounds quite dull, right? But as some places have said, it’s not about concepts, and most concepts have been done multiple times each, but about execution.

(This is a Things I Like post, it’s not a review, but more a discussion of the show and of ideas that have risen in my mind as I’ve watched it. There will be very few spoilers in this post.)

Lawence is a traveling merchant, he comes across Holo, the Wise Wolf, who had been worshipped as a harvest goddess for many generations in one of the small villages he frequents, until she decides she wishes to return back to her ancestral land in the far north. What follows is their journey across the land, where he attempts to teach her and us concepts in economy such as buying on credit, loans, buying in one place and selling in another, economic bubbles and other such topics. Many of the topics are presented too quickly to follow in-depth, especially if you’re not already aware of how things such as these work, but they still impart concepts that are probably missing from the vocabularies of many younger people who might watch this anime, and their understanding of the economic world can only benefit from watching this show and perhaps following up on what it does tell us.

Lawrence as I said attempts to teach Holo, because she is not familiar with the concepts, but true to her title, not only is she quick on the up-take, but she has an experience of centuries of dealing with humans and a preternatural ability to sense when someone is lying, she often outdoes him. The budding relationship between Holo and Lawrence is a joy to watch, filled with moments where they try to impress or outdo one another, while enjoying one another’s company on the long road northward. This is definitely helped along by the capable voice actors, Fukuyama Jun and Koshimizu Ami – yes, the very same actors who portrayed mains along one another in Maoyu, another similarity between the shows.

The journey is a good way to look at the relationship between Holo and Lawrence. Heck, a journey can be a fruitful metaphor for any relationship. Traveling along the road they reach forks, they have complications. There are exit-points, where Holo is to continue northward but Lawrence’s business as a traveling merchant would have him go elsewhere. Something has to give, someone has to put the other’s needs/desires above their own. A give and take.
This is also the nature of all relationships – romantic or otherwise: While we go on the same path, with the same goals, everything is easy. But once our goals, methods or feelings diverge, then we might also leave the journey we’ve been on together – we’ll leave one another and each would go on their own way. But should we continue to travel together, someone, something, will have to give.

Though Lawrence often puts things, especially early in terms of “You still owe me, don’t think I’ll let you off this easy!” and they both call one another bothersome, Holo is more than capable of handling herself in the world, as is Lawrence. That they still travel together with one another shows that they wish to do so, that they want to travel together. This makes their relationship quite mature, at least in terms of the usual anime fair.

Before I move on to the issue of the “next chapter” I want to address this show’s OST. In a word, it’s perfect. I’d say “Sublime”, but many of the melodies are very much “everyday”, so I don’t wish to use this term. I’ve watched this show and Fairy Tail in close proximity, and while I thought of Fairy Tail as mostly Irish with pop-rock trappings, I thought of Spice and Wolf’s OST as Celtic music with Irish and Gregorian influences tossed in. There are so many songs I absolutely love from this show, but I’ll leave you with the quite haunting Kagen no Tsuki (“[The] Waning Moon”):

Conclusion: Spice and Wolf is a great show. The characters need to deal with one another, and their journey is itself a metaphor for their relationship, and vice versa. The music is great, and the show actually makes use of useful concepts from real world economics, leaving you better educated after having watched the show. It suffers a bit from the second arc of each season where they engage in a prolonged (mercantile) conflict in one location, but this also serves as an opportunity to truly test and expand the limits of Holo and Lawrence’s relationship.
I give the first season 7.3, and the second season 8.1. Both seasons together receive 7.7 roads traveled together.

Appendix: I wish to discuss the issue of the missing third season (the show is based on light novels, and the second season had come out in 2009), but I wish to tie it to the broader topic, so I will just mention my intent here.

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7 comments on “Spice and Wolf – The Wise Merchant’s Journey of Love

  1. Hogart says:

    Spice and Wolf is an anime for people who like characters. All the people who I’ve heard call it boring aren’t really into characterization so much as a compelling plot or simply wacky hijinks and action (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

    That said, S&W excels when its exploring the loneliness of its main cast, and it does that for most of the show. Explosions and overwrought plots come and go, but a fairy-tale like story about two lonely people has lasting appeal.

    I mean, who hasn’t been lonely and wanted companionship at some point? That’s when S&W is a fun watch. The only real problem is that there’s so much left that the anime hasn’t covered, even if some of it could stand to be trimmed down a bit in places.

    • Guy says:

      I’ll probably have to start reading the light novels. I don’t have much hope for a third season, but I blame them :p

      Oh, I definitely don’t think the show is boring, but its synopsis is dull, there’s no way around it. When you describe it to people, you basically should tell them “And no, it’s not boring. Just give it a try.”

      But yeah, it’s definitely more of a character-driven show than a plot driven one. It’s a journey, and it’s about the journey itself, the experience of the walking, not the twists. To be honest, more than a few “journey” stories ARE boring, when all they focus about is the journey itself, without twists or without interesting characterization. That’s also how I feel about large sections of The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings >.>

  2. Asian Ed says:

    There’s a reason that the Maoyu anime feels like Spice and Wolf. If you look at the staff and cast, they’re nearly identical. Ami Koshimizu voices both Holo and Mao. Jun Fukuyama voices both Lawrence and Yusha. Naruhisa Arakawa, who adapted Spice and Wolf from novel to anime also wrote the scripts for Maoyu. Takeo Takahashi is the director for both series.

    On top of the similar themes found in both, the fact that both were adapted by the same team leads us to two very similar feeling shows.

    I had take a look at the original Maoyu books as well. They’re unusual reads in that they were originally written as a play or script format. It is pure dialog with almost no descriptions of what was happening in the scene aside from what the characters were saying. This probably made it extremely easy to adapt dialog for the anime, but gave a lot of creative license to develop the scenes themselves.

    • Guy says:

      I did touch upon the same main cast and themes, but I wasn’t aware of the other people involved in both projects. I’m actually intending to write at some point about this, because we all notice the same actors, but so little attention is given to same director/author. When it comes to movies, especially western movies – we all know the actors, we usually know the directors. But how often do we know who actually wrote the script we so enjoyed? Very rarely.

      This also happened to me recently, I noticed Valvrave really reminds me of Code Geass, then after episode 10 came out and someone asked me who wrote it, I saw that the script-writer and director of Valvrave are the same two people who also directed and wrote the script of Code Geass. I should really pay more attention to the production cast of shows.

      I glanced at just the names of the Maoyu books, it gave me the impression the main story isn’t going to continue much more, and it’s more stories told by/about the supporting cast?
      While a play dialogue form is definitely interesting, historically I’ve just been quite unhappy with reading in this format. I just don’t enjoy reading stories that way, and prefer them to be worked into a slightly more “story” format. I’m unsure why. I might still give it a try.

      • Asian Ed says:

        Much like Spice and Wolf, all the novels loosely tie in together to some sort of main plot, but they’re all character studies. There’s also a difference between the web version and the published version, which further complicates things.

        I actually tried reading through one of the novels but couldn’t actually get through it. Perhaps if I didn’t watch the anime, it would have been easier?

      • Guy says:

        Historically I’ve said it’s best to experience the work in its native form – if it’s released as a manga, then read the manga, if it started as an anime, watch the anime. But not enjoying reading manga online and on the whole manga fan-translations not being nearly as good as anime fan-translations, pushed me towards anime. Also, the soundtracks help the emotional content come across, which is important to me.

        But, as time passes by, and especially as I watch more and more LN based anime (and as time goes by, they seem to make up more and more of the anime crop), I think that I should be reading the LNs :3 Well, I just need to find some time. I do read really quickly, at least.

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