Monday, August 1, 2011

Anime Review: Spice and Wolf

So it took me forever to finish Spice and Wolf but it wasn’t because it was mind numbingly dull like El Cazador de la Bruja or anything like that.  It took me so long mainly because of lack of stability in my living situation and the fact that I’ve been hanging out with "The Lady" for a while now.  So in any event I’m trying to play catch up with the blog in general, but even more so with my anime watching schedule.  By the way I’m still having trouble getting through Suzuka.  Should I ever finish it might not be the most positive review.

Anyway Spice and Wolf is based on a popular light novel series that only just reached its conclusion this past month (And the first few volumes have amazingly been translated into English).  How many of these shows have I watched that turned out to be based on a light novel?  Forty-seven?  The anime was produced by Imagin, the studio also responsible for Eureka Seven, and aired in 2008.   It was licensed by FUNimation in late 2009.   In truth I have long since been aware of this show as FUNimtion trailers have been trying to trick me into watching it for a year but I finally decided to check it out since it was only thirteen episodes and I figured I could bang it out in a week (So much for that plan).  So the question is whether this show was worth all the time it took to get through it.

Full review after the jump.
 
I'm Holo the Wise Wolf, motherf@#er!!!
Kraft Lawrence is a traveling merchant who dreams of gaining enough money to open his own shop.   One night while doing business in Pasloe, a village that goes through a pagan ritual where they give thanks to the wolf god that watches over their harvest, he meets a mysterious young girl.  With strange animal-like ears and a tail the girl claims to be Holo the Wise Wolf, the deity that has been watching over the town for centuries.  Holo makes request of the merchant; to take her home to the North and allow her to see the world for the first time since she came to Pasloe.  Lawrence agrees and the two begin their partnership and adventure.

First things first I love both the opening theme, “Tabi no Tochū” by Natsumi Kiyoura, and the ending theme, "Ringo Hiyori: The Wolf Whistling Song” by Rocky Chack.  The opening is a straight up beautiful, yet sad sounding, song that I can’t get enough.  The ending is just a fun song.  I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this full in the past but I consider opening sequences to be a big part of my enjoyment factor in watching an anime.  A good song can make me forgive a lot of issues with a show.  The animation here is pretty decent as well and shows no real problems throughout undoubtedly due to the fact that it was a shorter series.

Yeah, this is pretty much the entire show
This is not a very action packed cartoon.  Yeah, there are some scenes here and there where a fight breaks out but the fact is that this show is about 90% talking and deal making so if you’re the type of person who likes explosions and gun fights over plot and character development (And I know some of you do) then you will probably dislike this show for its slow pace and scene after scene of Lawrence and Holo discussing something or another and drinking booze.  It’s true that I’m a fan of such violent things in anime as well but I really, really liked how they worked this out in this show….well, for the first half.  That first six or so episodes were really entertaining to me, but I have to admit that I started getting a bit bored afterwards.  I think it’s partly that the formula seemed to stay the same which eventually became a bit dull.  The fact is that the show ends up relies heavily on its two main characters and for the first six episodes they worked so well together that I was convinced that this would be a 5 Panda Show.

The show is, more or less, broken into two stories; the first one involves Lawrence meeting Holo and teaming up while trying to keep a step ahead of the church, who would likely try to kill Holo as a demon should they learn of her true nature. The second one focuses mainly on a deal Lawrence tries to make that goes horribly, horribly wrong.  Now the two protagonists have a really cool chemistry despite Lawrence’s general lack of interesting personality.  Holo starts off as being a really good foil to him though as she’s very much a living (So to speak) trickster character not unlike Anansi the Spider or even Loki from Norse mythology…though she doesn’t seem to ever get pregnant and give birth to nearly as many eight legged horses.  Anyway I like their conversations but eventually Holo becomes kind of annoying and I think it’s because the writers fully start trying to pull the trigger of a romance between the two starting halfway through the series.  She still has a smart mouth and is very quick witted but she becomes more and more clingy and jealous and their relationship starts devolving into “Will They or Won’t They” which seems so unnecessary.  Their connection pretty much turns into that standard “Jerk Guy/Tsundere” trope which is a cliché I’m pretty goddamn sick of at this point.  This doesn’t kill the show for me or anything but it does hurt the series.  Still Holo is easily the most capable character in the show, being more clever and ultimately more powerful than just about everyone we see.  She’s a strong female that we do like, despite her many faults (Maybe we like her because of them).

The supporting cast is a bit hard to judge in the same way as I do with other shows because the nature of the show cause sour two leads to move around a lot and any other characters they meet only seem to be temporary cast members at best.  They tend to work well enough for this series, I suppose, but I don’t really have anything critical to say about them. The ending of this show technically falls into the same problem that nearly all the other light novel based anime I reviewed in that it feels like there are more stories to tell despite the show being over but in this case it does feel more like a finale than they usually do.  Plus I know for a fact that a second season has been produced so this felt more like a first season than an entire series run so the ending wasn’t nearly as painful.  Spice and Wolf II hasn’t come out in America yet as of this writing but it has been licensed by FUNimation so I’ll likely review that at some point.

Pictured: Unimportant supporting cast member#4
This is unquestionably a really good show, though it’s first half is much more enjoyable than it’s second.   I think the reason behind that is that this is an extremely character based anime and I wasn’t really 100% happy where Holo’s character development ended up.  But hey, at least she had character developed at all and it was still very well done.  It isn’t my favorite show but it’s still one of the best I’ve reviewed on this blog and I’m really happy that I got to watch.  It’s not particularly action packed and if you’re the type of person who really needs their Japanese cartoons to be filled with sword fights, robots, and over the top battles you will think this show is boring as shit, and honestly it certainly has its moments of dullness; it is mostly talking after all.  But if you have an open mind I highly recommend this show since it’s a very different type of cartoon than I’ve usually reviewed.  Great show, check it out.  Looking forward to season 2.

Spice and Wolf gets 4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.

Pros

-Really good writing and dialogue

-Strong Female Lead

-Good animation

Cons

-Second half not as good as the first

-Romantic subplot not particular original


If you have any suggestions or requests for an anime review let me know in the comment section or shoot me an e-mail at betaisdead@gmail.com.  The next anime review, assuming nothing goes wrong, will feature the first suggested anime.

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