Spice and Wolf Review

15 04 2008


Studio: IMAGIN
Genre: Drama, Wolves, Medieval Economics Thing
Episodes: 12

While you may well immediately dismess this show as furry bait, and yes there is a chances that furries would probably be drawn to it, but there is nothing furry about it beyond there being a girl with ears and a tail in it. There is no ‘yiffing’ whatever the hell that is, and there is definitely no bestiality, implied or otherwise. As a prospective watcher of the show, you’ll have to put your totally understandable prejudice aside and just try it. I thought it best to get that out of the way early.

Anyway, “Spice and Wolf” AKA “Spicy Wolf” AKA “The Wolf and The Spice” is a story of medieval cart travel with the occasional wolf-god. Craft Lawrence AKA Lawrence Craft is a merchant trader in a vague medieval Europe type place, which isn’t as far as I understand, meant to be anywhere in particular. Craft’s unusual travelling companion is a 600 year old Harvest God called Horo who takes the form of either a giant wolf or a wolf-esque girl with ears and whatnot. Horo was bored looking after the harvest in her local pagan village, as the march of technology has lessened the villagers dependence on her. She escapes the village as Lawrence makes a trading visit, and he agrees to take her back to ‘The North’ where she apparently came from.


Horo and Craft Lawrence Craft Crarence Lawft

While you might expect a series in which one of the main characters is a god would be rather wacky, but it’s surprisingly down to earth. In the medieval world in which they live, there is a church organisation that runs most towns, and will declare people to be heretics if they show the slightest sign of being a bit fey or pagany. Having ears and a tail would certainly sentence Horo to the burning pole, so she has to keep a cloak on for most of the time people are around, and she can’t do anything remotely divine. Not that it would be a problem for her, she can turn into a 100 foot long wolf after all, but it would be quite a hassle.

Rather than all that, the focus of the show is Lawrence’s aspiring merchanting business. Most episodes involve Horo and Lawrence tricking a merchant, forcing a company representative to make a bad deal, talking about devaluing currencies, and other general sitting around on a cart discussing commodity prices. You would normally expect a show set in an ostensible fantastical universe to have lots of magic, swords, pantaloons, ronald weasleys, etc. in it, so this main focus on the economics side of things is definitely the more original and probably much harder route to take. Of course, it isn’t entirely ignored, as the climaxes to both of the story arcs make use of the fact that this show is about a God, to great effect I must add.


Beautifully rendered cart travel, and complex economics. So, Spice and Wolf basically.

There is also a reasonably restrained romantic plot between Horo and Craft, in which they pretend to not like each other, but really actually do. There’s potential for this to be really creepy, but they manage to avoid anything remotely like that for the duration of what has been adapted so far. Oh yeah, this was originally a series of light novels, I think the anime adapts the first two of them or something. This means that the plot isn’t really complete, and just the introduction to a much larger plot. I’ve read a few negative comments that neither the plot nor the characters get advanced particularly far in what has been adapted so far. I personally think it’s one of those ‘journey rather than the destination’ type situations, as the lack of development didn’t bother me much.

Going back to the whole economics thing. One of the earlier plots concerns how various dealings are effecting the value of the local currencies, and there might be a conspiracy to get a type of coin recalled and reissued with a lower silver purity percentage…or something. This is something that they rattle on about at length, and I have to admit that quite a lot of it went over my head. I guess I must conclude that either my limited understanding of economics failed me, or it was too poorly translated to make sense. Actually I guess it might just not make sense, you can never really rule that out. There’s also part of the story where Lawrence ends up heavily in debt somehow, and for the life of me I can’t quite work out what happened. If you figure it out, please send me an email!


Uh huh… huh.


“Hang on, i’ll fetch my slide-rule.”

One interesting thing I noticed about this show is that it really only has two characters. I don’t believe I’ve seen anything with such a limited cast before. After getting my head round the enormous casts of Tengen and Baccano, it’s odd to watch such a comparatively focussed show. This does of course mean that if you end up not liking either of the main characters then you probably won’t like the show as whole. I can’t really see that happening though. Craft, has seemingly white hair, but he’s supposed to be only twenty-five, nonetheless he comes off as a very mature character. Horo is also reasonably mature, and while they occasionally fall out, it’s usually for an actually good reason rather than idiotic misunderstanding.

Overall, if you can get over the slow pace, few characters, and furry connotations this is an excellent show. It’s certainly got a free run of whatever genre you would describe it. It’s also highly un-Japanese, which means there is NO DAMN ONSEN EPISODE! No-one even mentions an onsen at any point! If that isn’t a glowing recommendation, then I don’t know what is.

Arbitrary Rating: 8 – Nice!





Winter Anime Season ’08 Roundup

21 01 2008

The winter season is roughly two episodes in now, and I have to make the choices of which shows to watch, and which to ignore. Here is a list of the shows that I am currently watching that started this season. Not a very good season I am afraid, and I’ve ended up watching far more Renai shows than could probably be considered healthy.

Shigofumi ~Stories of Last Letter~
Production: J.C. Staff
Genre: Drama, Supernatural

anime-winter-shigofumi.jpg

There are some things that can only be said after death.

Shigofumi is one of the most promising shows of the season. It is the tale of a girl named Fumika who is a postal worker… of the dead… and her talking staff. I’ll admit that it probably sounds dumb at this point, but trust me it works excellently. Fumika is the bearer of the titular ‘Shigofumi’, which are letters containing the last words of someone who has died, addressed to an earthly recipient. The format of the show appears to be arcs regarding a specific group of characters and the effect the Shigofumi has on them, and only Fumika and Mayama (the staff) remain as regular characters. The tone of the show is light and comedic in places, but overall is quite dark, and occasionally slips into Higurashi levels of darkness.

The animation and visual quality is very high, not like Gundam 00 level or anything but still exceedingly good. Unlike most anime, this show has a very strong opening episode and is very much worth watching if the concept interests you even a little. The first episode has a decent twist towards the end, and shows that it’s willing to go far enough for the show to be actually interesting. I am a little concerned that the show won’t be able to keep going at such a high quality after this great start. All in all, this is definitely a show to keep an eye on, and it would certainly win an award in the ‘Most Promising New Show’ category if there was some sort of award ceremony, which there isn’t.


Zoku Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei
Production: SHAFT
Genre: Comedy

zoku

Continuing from where the excellent first series left off, SHAFT continues to bring their excellent art, directional and writing styles to a show with a great base concept. The concept being, for those not in the know, a man who can only see the bad things in the world which often drives him to suicide, is the teacher of a class of people with huge personality quirks. Most episodes are based around exploring one of the characters quirks. These include, girl who can only see things in a positive light, a stalker, a hikikomori, a girl who is exactly as bad as she looks, an illegal Chinese immigrant, and a male student with such little presences that he frequently disappears.

The format seems to have changed a bit from the previous season, as at least for the first 2 episodes, the opening act has been totally off the wall weird. For example, the first episode the entire opening act is a gag based on a summary from the jacket of the manga’s first volume. In the first act of the second episode, the class is visited by Commadore Perry in a bizarre sequence where the characters only speak gibberish which is helpfully translated into Japanese by subtitles. The rest of the acts have been more normal episodes of the show. The first episode deals with the girl who is constantl being labelled as overly normal, despite her trying to convince people her quirk is being a truant.

One of the main selling points of this show is certainly the art, which if anything has improved in this season. They still cut to super-flat shots, and censor things using the Director Shinbo’s grinning face. The new OP is enormously catchy, and has been going around in my head for days. A perhaps overlooked aspect of the show if the voice-acting cast, which as of episode 2 includes Takehito Koyasu or Ilpalazzo for Excel Saga fans, who seems to only be able to do the voice of characters who wear glasses. I really can’t recommend this show enough, but you should probably start with the first season if you are going to.


Spice and Wolf
Production: IMAGIN
Genre: Sort of Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, a bit of everything really.

Spice and Wolf

Set in what seems to be medieval Europe, a travelling merchant named Lawrence Craft finds that one of his trade villages are a bunch of filthy pagans rather than the more common religion which is presumably Christianity. During a vist in the middle of the pagan harvest festival, he accidentally picks up their local god of the harvest, who takes the form of a wolf-girl named Horo. Due to the march of technology, the villagers no longer need her godly powers so much, so out of boredom decides to accompany Lawrence.

While I’ve probably made the show sound totally out-there fantastical, it’s remarkably down to earth and Horo very rarely does anything supernatural. The show appears to be going to concentrate on the trading aspect more than I would of expected given the premise. A lot of the show is the simple interaction between Lawrence and Horo as they ride around beautifully well realised medieval locations. Lawrence is quick-witted and thoroughly likable, and Horo is adorable and quite unpredictable.

The animation and direction is fine, as are all other product aspects that I could mention. The opening is really nice, and the ending has some hilarious Engrish which is always fun. This show interests me because I really have no idea where it’s going, and how the fact that one of the characters is a nature-god is going to affect anything. Based on the first two episodes this show is already on my ‘watch immediately’ list, hopefully it can keep it up.


True Tears
Production: P.A. Works
Genre: Drama, Romance

True Tears

Here we have yet another Renai show and this time not based on a Key game. The main character is a student who has a talent for art named Shinichirō who lives with an orphan girl that he fancies. There’s also this weird girl Isurugi Noe who is a weirdo, who does weirdo things. The theme of the show seems to be about tears but it’s unclear in what sense, I can tell it’s probably going to be mostly abstract though.

I really haven’t got that much to say about the show at this point to be honest. It’s sort of vaguely entertaining, and Noe is amusing to watch. The production values are fine, with the odd exception of the crowd scenes. They have for some reason decided to use 3d characters for crowds which stick out like a sore face and don’t work in the slightest with the rest of the show. I don’t know where it’s going, and almost don’t care. I’ll give it one more episode to impress me.


H20 ~footprints in the sand~
Production: ZEXCS
Genre: Drama, Romance

H20

Another damn Renai based show. This one is about a blind guy Hirose who’s moved into a remote Japanese mountain village, and his interactions with the other students at the local school. One of students a girl called Kohinata seems to be hated by everyone in the village, and I mean they really really hate her. In the first two episode she gets repeatedly punched, kicked and generally beaten. Of course Hirose wants to know why everyone hates her, but no-one will tell him, presumably just to really drag things out. The whole show feels like a bit of a Higurashi wannabe with a worse setting and less likeable characters. I’m gonna spoil things in the next paragraph, so please don’t read it if you care about spoilers.

From what I just said you might imagine the show is slow paced, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They seem to have crammed a whole season of plot development into two episodes. Hirose stopped being blind when a mysterious girl who only Hirose can see or hear called Otoha gives him his sight back. This is done without any fanfare whatsoever, and just comes across in about the same as if he were making a cup of tea. Hirose also manages to befriend the beaten Kohinata far more quickly as you’d expect. I’m half expecting them to reveal the whole mystery in Episode 3, and just end it there. If this show doesn’t do something right in the next episode, I’m probably going to drop it.


Rosario + Vampire
Production: Gonzo
Genre: Fanservice, Romance

Rosario

If there’s one thing Gonzo can do its produce a good looking show, but unfortunately for the most part their shows are largely mediocre. They seem to have one A team, and about five B or worse teams. Ever since Gankutsuou finished, I have been waiting for something from them to at least give me a glimmer of the genius went into that show. Last season they gave us the godawful Dragonaut: The Resonance a show I gave up after 5 episodes, and this season they give us a fanservice packed show that seems to just be an excuse for lots of tits and butts. Not that there’s anything wrong with tits and butts of course.

The show is about Tsukune Aono who is so bad at school he can’t get into a high school, but his parents manage to get him a place at ‘Yokai Academy’ which turns out to be a school for supernatural monsters like Vampires, Orcs, and other less defined monsters with tentacles and things. He’s currently stuck there for a month because the bus only goes by once a month for some reason (He could probably walk though if he thought about it). Fortunately, he befriends a vampire girl named Moka who likes pressing her breasts into him. Things could definitely be worse for Tsukune, as a Succubus named Kurumu is also after him. Oh yeah, Moka also turns into an eviler and fightier version of herself whenever she takes off her Rosary (Rosario?), which she does towards the end of each episode.

So, this show isn’t really very good, but it’s not exactly trying to be highbrow in the least. It is just a fanservice show, so if you want some ‘service there is there is more here than you could possibly stomach. Being a Gonzo show it looks amazing, pay special attention to the trees. Wow, damn good trees.


Minami-Ke Okawari
Production: Asread
Genre: Slice of life, Comedy

minami-ke okawari

This show is unfortunately not currently being subbed, as the sub group from the previous show are being retarded in a way that only subbers can be (They are subbing Rosario + Vampire, and Spice and Wolf which are both being done by one or more other groups as well). Should anyone start subbing it, I will do another post about it I guess.