This review is free from spoilers, so if you’re looking to avoid them feel free to read. I really only mention a few events in the first few episodes. Also a warning that I use a fair amount of profanity in this post. I’ve been trying to avoid doing so but I couldn’t help myself in some places.
I’m not one to watch a lot of anime. I went through a weeabo phase in high school that died when I got fed up with how women, romance and a number of other things were typically portrayed in anime and manga. Women are so often exploited, romance is bullshit either stemming from childhood friends (I hate this theme, I’ll save my reasons for another post) or is some weird hentai shit, in all girls schools they’re all lesbians or the principal is a man. I went to an all girl school, and believe me they’d sooner torch the place than have a male principal. That shit just doesn’t fly. But I suppose that fits all to well into the “women are weak and exploitable” vibe so many animes and mangas have given me.
Then this summer Scott convinced me to watch the first season of Spice and Wolf with him. It’s available on streaming Netflix if you’re interested. I was completely surprised when I fell in love with it. We finished watching season 2 this week. This is one of the most unique animes I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s about two things, trade in what I think is supposed to be a historically inaccurate medieval Europe and the relationship between the two main characters, Holo and Kraft Lawrence (pictured above).
The story starts when Lawrence, a traveling merchant finds Holo in his cart. She tells him that she’s a wolf/harvest goddess and that this town used to be her home, but since they’ve converted to Christianity they don’t appreciate her anymore and she wants to return to her hometown in the north. She has two forms, girl with wolf ears and tail and giant ass monster wolf.
Throughout their journey the series attempts to explain various aspects of medieval trade. I will admit they often end up confusing the hell out of me. One part in season two reminded me a lot of our stock market, only with all of these random twists that complicated it. However I’m told that the novels go into better detail when explaining exactly how Lawrence is being screwed, or reaping in a huge profit. What’s also hilarious is how much drama they add to all of it. It’s almost as if people were making attempts on Lawrence’s life instead of just trying to screw him financially, and when he expects to make a huge profit they plant seeds of doubt in your mind to create as much suspense as they can. I found that aspect amusing.
Now onto what really won me over, Holo and Lawrence’s relationship. I love the two of them, so much. Holo’s been removed from society for so long that she finds certain things confusing, but she completely knows how to mess with Lawrence. Later on Lawrence gets the hang of messing with her, but he’s much kinder about it. She has a habit of making him feel awkward, and she’s always right, often referring to herself as “Holo the wise wolf,”
and she is wise, she’s able to tell if people are lying or telling the truth just by hearing them speak in addition to being wise in other ways. She also loves apples, alcohol and expensive food way too much. In short, she’s a female lead, in a Japanese production of all things, that isn’t weak and feeble, exploited or dependent on a man (ok she does need Lawrence to take her to the north, but that doesn’t count). It’s even implied that she’s had well more than a few sexual partners (either wolves or humans or both) in the past. This is absolutely unheard of in anime. I love the irony that it’s much more likely that Lawrence is the virgin in this relationship. It’d explain why she’s always able to make him feel so awkward. They basically start to help each other out, eventually come to almost rely on each other and get along in a rather amusing way.I love their relationship so much because it’s nicely balanced and they seem to be equal partners, despite Holo having the upper hand.
..well more than a few sexual partners alright.
One last thing I love about this show, despite the inaccuracies that I’ll mention later, the music is quite accurate and lovely. There’s happy medieval flute music, Holo is messing with Lawrence flute music, Lawrence just struck a deal music, etc. It reminded me a lot of the awesome music they had at the last Renaissance Faire I went to during the Shakespeare performance.
And now, since I always manage to find a problem with everything I will tell you my issues with the series.
Japan fucking up any history besides their own – Anime, manga and video games always do this, always. Just look at all of the stuff they’ve named after Norse mythology that’s completely inaccurate. That Loki anime was probably the biggest insult to my ancestors I have ever seen in my life. I don’t know if its the difference in culture that blocks a true understanding, or them just preferring to adapt European history and myths to what they’re used to. In short, the clothing is horribly, horribly inaccurate, Lawrence’s lack of an actual beard is inaccurate (The dude selling the fake relics in The Canterbury Tales had a Lawrence type beard, my teacher said it was symbolic of him not being a real man) and the spread of Christianity is inaccurate. They make it seem like these towns are just converting out of nowhere… when really the conversions took place much earlier due to Roman influence and such. The only thing that truly makes sense is there still being pagans in the north because the Vikings were the very last ones to convert.
The Japanese voice acting and fanbase – I watched the dubs, don’t even watch the subs, they’re horrific. They gave holo the “kawaii little girl” voice, which does not fit her character at all. I can only assume they gave her that voice because it fits her appearance, and it goes right along with making women seem cute and weak and all of that other bullshit. Now as far as the fanbase goes, I was looking for a Holo body pillow in an effort to help one of my friends repay a prank played on the other. The only one I could find gives her a nervous/scared facial expression. That face does not fit her character at all. She’s the type to make more of a seductive “bring it” type look. She’s not one to be scared and victimized just because she’s small. She always has the option of turning into a giant ass wolf and eating your ass as an afternoon snack. The one who should have that face is Lawrence, though I haven’t looked for a body pillow with him on it.
(By the way, sorry if I’ve offended anyone from Japan. I obviously don’t have a total understanding of Japanese culture, but these are vibes that I’ve gotten from anime and manga and they totally clash with the western culture I’ve grown up with.)
I also think some of the wolf/wolf pack mentality and confrontation that takes place in season 1 is wrong… but this doesn’t bother me so much because there isn’t really any of it in season 2.
But what I love about the problems I found with the series is that I’m able to not let them bother me. Why? because the primary focus is trade and their relationship. I’m able to joke about the historical inaccuracies rather than be super distracted by them. I’m able to avoid the shitty Japanese voice acting by watching the dubs. The only sad thing is that they haven’t started work on season 3 yet, so I’m going to start reading the books. I highly recommend this series. And please don’t torrent it, I know it’s tempting but I really want Funimation to see earnings come from it to encourage them to make season 3. You can get the first season on streaming Netflix, or you can buy it on streaming Amazon for around $20. It’s well worth it. If you must torrent something torrent the typical shit that has bullshit romances and portrays women as second class citizens.
My final recommendations:
1. Watch this anime. Read the manga. Read the books.
2. Do not torrent it you lazy cheap ass motherfuckers. Support this work of awesome by paying for it in some form, split the cost with a friend or multiple friends if you’re *that* broke. YOU HAVE NO EXCUSE!
3. Watch the dubs. Don’t watch the subs, just don’t even go there. They’re horrid.