Spice & Wolf: merchant meets the wise wolf ‒ Episode 6

Spice & Wolf: merchant meets the wise wolf ‒ Episode 6

© 2024 支倉凍砂・KADOKAWA/ローエン商業組合

Lawrence and Holo’s first adventure in the wild world of medieval economics ends on shaky ground, both narratively and visually. It’s not bad, but it’s rougher than I’d like. However, it also ends on a note promising further mercantile exploits with even more apples to much on, so it’s hard to feel too crestfallen about its faults.

Unfortunately, the seams in the production only begin to show in this episode, and that’s not a hiccup that’s likely to go away with time. Holo and Lawrence’s chase through the sewers is, for lack of a better word, a complicated scene to handle. Let’s look at it from a director’s perspective. It’s underground, so there’s not a lot of light to work with. There are many actors and moving parts involved, so you have to animate all of their activities intelligibly. And the coup de grace is Holo’s big wolf transformation, so now you need specialists who can draw animals well and consistently. That’s a tall order for a production that has already been struggling with the fundamentals.

It’s no surprise, then, that the adaptation doesn’t handle any of those problems particularly well. The bloom-forward lighting style doesn’t behoove the underground environment; people either glow unnaturally or blend into the backgrounds. I would have looked to something like the climax of the The Third Man as inspiration, using the high contrast expressionist shadows of noir cinema to shape the scenery and characters. There’s not much to be done about the choppy and inconsistent animation besides fixing the entire modern anime pipeline. Case in point, there are ten credited chief animation directors on this episode. That’s a high number, and while that number is not a sin, it’s indicative of a behind-the-scenes scramble here. The results are most noticeable with Holo’s beast form, which vacillates between wolfish and Shiba inu-ish depending on the cut. With so many animators correcting so many other animators’ work, these inconsistencies are gratuitous and inevitable.

Production issues aside, revisiting this introductory arc ~15 years later has made its flaws more apparent. These chase and action scenes don’t mesh well with the rest of the story and feel like decorative bits tacked on by a young author who was unsure he could sell a light novel on economic intrigue alone. And believe me, I sympathize with Isuna Hasekura on that front. You want to throw as many things into the pot as possible when you’re early into your creative writing career.

But I think Spice and Wolf shines the brightest when it focuses on Holo and Lawrence’s bond and leans unapologetically into the dry fiduciary side of the mercantile life. That’s the stuff that sets it apart from its peers. I love Lawrence’s profound dejection when he learns how little the Milone Company made off the royal family. That’s when we truly feel the headwind of the uphill climb he has to partake in as a lone merchant. He has to use the full extent of his wiles to fight for scraps. That’s not fair. That’s business. Now, the writing can’t help but undermine the potency of this point with the additional profit they make off the Medio Company, but hey, if I wrote this novel when I was 23, I’d probably do the same thing. I’d probably do worse.

Once Holo transforms, the friction it adds to their relationship is also great. Lawrence can’t help but recoil from her on instinct, which hurts to see but fits the scenario. To a certain unavoidable extent, she’s part of the wolfpack that once ripped a companion away from him, and he’s part of a human race that fears unknown or different things. That’s a wall that cannot be torn down easily. They can, however, chip away at it, which makes the conclusion of this arc so satisfying. As savvy audience members, we already knew that Holo wouldn’t leave six episodes into their journey. But it warms my cockles when they have their unspoken mutual understanding that they both want to keep working on whatever it is they have. While they dress their agreement up in the safety of debts and balances, the truth in their hearts is far more uncertain and intimate.

Most importantly, my moral code compels me to love any series that boasts as convoluted a title drop as this one. I had forgotten that the spice in Spice and Wolf came from that dumb little parable. I like it, though. In his own way, Lawrence is making a deal with a devil. He’s fully committed to his heresy now. And who wouldn’t be when the heresy has ears as adorable as Holo’s?


Spice & Wolf: merchant meets the wise wolf is currently streaming on

Steve is on Twitter while it lasts. He still knows “The Wolf Whistling Song” by heart. You can also catch him chatting about trash and treasure alike on This Week in Anime.

Disclosure: Kadokawa World Entertainment (KWE), a wholly owned subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation, is the majority owner of Anime News Network, LLC. One or more of the companies mentioned in this article are part of the Kadokawa Group of Companies.

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