Tentacle-Free Anime: "Spice & Wolf" (2008) Review
- by Kazekun, 15 April 2013
In the last couple of years, the Anime industry has turned more western in its style of presenting series. I’m talking about the gaining trend of anime going the seasonal route, instead of one long run. The idea of doing an anime in seasons is nothing new, and certainly by now it is even more of a formality, but the trend is something that has become ill-suited to my tastes. Unlike in America or the U.K. or Canada where a show is usually announced to have a next season before the first one even gets halfway through (depending on ratings), this isn’t always the case with anime. Sometimes it takes up to 3 years for an anime to be announced to have a next season, which can cause frustration among fans that are dying to see the story continue. Thankfully that wasn’t the trouble with this series, but having watched it all the way through, it might as well have been. And I would’ve been happier for it.
There is a fine line between telling an engaging story and a realistic one. Nobody wants to watch or read about man going to buy milk at the grocery store; it’s too mundane and hits too close to reality. Instead of reading about it or watching it, the audience could just go experience that. Now, throw in something that would not happen in an ordinary trip to get milk and automatically it becomes engaging (just remember to execute the tale in way that remains exciting throughout).
As someone who is just entering the business world and still learning a lot, the amount of explanation that went into how business works in this world more or less flew over my head, taking me out of the story many times. Someone who does understand business and has a greater interest in it, will perhaps get much more out of this side of the story. Instead I found myself caught up in the mystical side of things, the journey of Holo and her yearning to return home after so many years away from it.
Admittedly, while the reveals of the mysteries involving the political affairs Lawrence and Holo found themselves in did intrigue me, they often came in a style which I could only call the ultimate epiphany. The formula throughout the series went as this: Lawrence makes a deal, drags Holo into it, finds out he made a mistake and has to worm his way out of it using business savvy and luck, and then at the end when all hope seems to have been lost, he begins to explain the mystery behind everything and why it all made sense in the end like he had just had one giant epiphany that spelt out every detail to him in the story.
Perhaps I am being so harsh because I felt the story was a slow burn. But that’s because it was a slow burn. Earlier I mentioned that I would have been happier if the series had waited a few years to announce a season 2, instead of having one a whole year directly after the first season. My reasoning is that it would have given the creators enough time to sort out the finale to their story, instead of ending up with what we got. The first season and the first half of the second season would all around be considered solid by my tastes, but the final half of the series falls flat under its own weight of how much they try to cram into it, leaving the story with an open-ended ending that leaves you wanting more... but not in a good way.
The anime is based off a series of light novels, which too have finished, as of this review. I have not read them, but it is my hope that the novels at least were able to tell a completely engaging story all the way through.
I know I have canned on this series a lot so far, so let us discuss what I really did like about it. As I said, I found Holo’s side of the story to be the most engaging. As it went I found myself really wanting to see her return to her home (I will not spoil if she did or did not, dear reader) and I felt bad for her, for the schemes she found herself dragged into. She also reminded me a lot of my own girlfriend as the series went on, which made me chuckle every time I noticed the similarities. Every time Holo’s journey became front and center I would perk up and pay the closest attention to see what the story would reveal about the mysteries involving her past and the town of Yoitz, her home. As the rug begun to pull itself from under my feet, I became entranced with her side of the world even more and felt my heart break during the final reveal, which I will leave a secret for you readers to find out.
Another thing I liked was the action (when there was some). It really amped up the animation which was admittedly beautiful throughout the entire series. The series has a very brown hue to it throughout, which is tonally accurate given the time of age this story takes place. Everything is very brown from the clothes to the houses and shops. My favorite parts of the series though have been both the wonderful performances by the cast and the beautiful music strung throughout the show. Since I watched the American dubbed version, the well-chosen actress Brina Palencia gives off an immaculate performance as Holo. She goes tooth for tooth with J. Michael Tatum who voiced Lawrence, giving Holo a sophisticated but still kid-like demeanor and offering a balanced chemistry between the two leads, making them feel like they were born to play these roles.
The music is beautiful and by far the center piece of the series. It plays over many scenes giving the boring conversations a more epic feel. Honestly, I would love to own the soundtrack to this series. While the opening and ending songs have their merits, it’s what plays throughout the episodes that get two thumbs up from me. It’s very instrumental and European. The closest I could say it reminds me of is medieval folk music, which now that I think about it a pretty accurate summation of it. With strums of lutes and flutes that make your feet jig and your ears ring with delight.
Overall I found Spice and Wolf compelling at first, like a man having to go buy milk with an oddity thrown into the mix. But as the story continued, the journey to get milk began to feel mundane again, causing what I felt would be a grand breather from the norm to be just another case of the Monday blues. Perhaps if Spice and Wolf someday gains a third season the feelings I now have will possibly heal. But until then I feel uncomforted, and find myself wondering if it is in the novels that I must seek the answers I am looking for. Sort of like Holo the Wise Wolf of Yoitz.
Final Score: 3 Trenni Silver Coins out of 5
Have you seen "Spice and Wolf"? Enjoyed the review? Let us know in the comments!
Tagged: Tentacle-Free Anime.