Anime Review: Spice & Wolf Season 1

Holo and Lawrence talk on bridge

I hope that everyone is doing well, and getting ready for the coming weekend.

Things have been going well, except for the reminder of how dire my financial situation was earlier in the year, thanks to somebody trying to unknowingly put me in the red at that time, and I can still do something that I enjoy.

Recently, I went out to a store and got a great deal on a series, and I thought that I would take the time to watch a bit of it.

Today, I will be reviewing the first season of that series, which is called Spice & Wolf.

As I have given a series synopsis in an earlier post and covered most of the novels, I will forgo any summary for this season.

Nora smiles while looking out at scenery

While it should be quite well known that I was not particularly a fan of this series prior to reading the light novels, quite a bit of time has passed since I took time to watch the series and thought I would revisit the first season.

After having taken the time to do so, I can say that I kind of liked it, though not as much as the novels.

From the very first moment that I started watching the first few minutes of the first episode, I did not really want to stop watching for reason.

Now, some of you guys might be saying that this sudden change of hating this anime to liking it and being engrossed might be because the light novels did a good job of drawing me in, but that is not really the reason that I was able to get into this series so quickly.

If I had to say why it was able to pull me in quite well was that Imagin, in spite of everything they did wrong when working on both this season and the season after, by making me wonder what is going to happen to Lawrence, now that he has a traveling companion.

People may not expect to be drawn into a series right from the first episode, consider how rare it is that a pilot episode as interesting as Boku Dake ga Inai Machi's to even air, but if the audience cannot be captured within the first few episodes, the studios that make the series end up shooting themselves in the foot.

Fortunately, Imagin was able to provide some fairly decent introductory episodes that slowly drew me and made the world feel quite lively and a little interesting, though not to the extent that Isuna Hasekura was back in the first book, even if hardly anything happened.

If things stayed as good as this, I probably would not have had such a bad impression of the series, as I do not really remember hating the series until I was much further into it, and I might have been able to enjoy myself.

However, studios are made up of people, just like writers are actual people, and keeping things consistently good throughout a whole series, regardless of medium, is next to impossible, so I have to remind myself that the staff at Imagin who worked on this adaptation might not technically be as good as Isuna.

Still, the staff at Imagin do deserve some praise for making things seem to be a little bit interesting in the beginning, since it does help the audience overlook any possible flaws that might exist.

I also liked how quickly things seemed to progress.

Spice & Wolf may not actually be the fastest series out there, as I have noted numerous time in my review of the eighteen books currently available to me, but I am not always in the mood for something slow paced and the way Imagin put together this season of the anime adaptation feels like a decent compromise.

Adaptations can differ greatly or only slightly from the original source, but anime fans, like avid readers, hate it when they feel like things are being dragged out and putting everything in from the novels page for page would probably have made things seem to be unbearably slow to the viewer.

Fortunately, Imagin did not make things feel like they were dragged out over the course of the twelve episodes in the season, while keeping many of the major events intact, and makes me feels like giving them quite a bit of applause.

I am not too sure about you guys, but I am ready to take back some of the criticism that I threw at Imagin when I reviewed the individual volumes, since they did not completely and utterly fail to provide a somewhat interesting series.

Then again, I probably would not have had such an unfavorable view of the anime if only the twelve that I watched were the only ones ever made for this season.

Another nice thing that I liked about this series was how it showed how manipulative religious figures could be.

While this aspect of the series was never really hidden in either version of Spice & Wolf that I have dealt with, it seemed to be much more obvious in this particular season than in the novel.

In the second book, which is the original source for the events of the latter half of this season, after Lawrence and Holo propose their plan to smuggle gold, they go to seek the help of Norah and assume that she is not entirely happy with her employment of the church in town, but Isuna does not show any hints of manipulation, other than what we are told might be a guess, and it does not make too much sense why she would willingly help smuggle gold.

However, at around nine minutes and twenty seconds into the tenth episode, which is viewable on FUNimation's website as episode 11, Imagin adds in a scene showing a priest trying to convince Norah to go into dangerous territory, in spite of her concerns, saying that God is on her side.

In our society, many of people tend to view religion as this great thing, because it is supposed to help us get closer to God and become more selfless, thus leading to a happier life, but many, but not all, groups that are recognized as religions tend to manipulate people by saying that God is with them or it was God who said that they had to do something, thus breaking the commandment that tells people not to take the Lord's name in vain.

Of course, this kind of manipulation is not relegated to religions and cults, since anyone can use any element of the BITE model destructively or to do things that a person should not do, such as my own situation a while back, which would have hurt my funds more if I did give in, but this scene clearly demonstrates how religious figures can manipulated and why such leaders should be doubted, unlike what the vast majority of people in my church believe, and also gives us, the viewers, a good reason on why Norah would join in on the plan.

As great as the novels were, the inclusion of moments like this made helped to flesh things out a bit and make a bit more sense than what was originally there.

If the staff Imagin had working on this adaptation did not include this scene, the series would have felt even more dull than appears to be when one watches all thirteen episodes that FUNimation packaged.

Thankfully, they did not decide to go that route and were able to outdo Isuna Hasekura a bit.

Hopefully, if Wolf & Parchment, the sequel that Yen Press will be brining over this year, gets an anime adaptation, the studio will responsible will be able to deliver in this kind of regard, otherwise it might really end up looking worse than Isuna Hasekura's worst work.

Then again, anime seems to be on the same downward spiral that every other medium of entertainment is experiencing, so I should not be too surprised if that leaves a bad impression of the Spice & Wolf sequel.

The thing that I liked the most about this season though was it felt very relaxing.

Even though I do like to get some tension every now and then over the duration of a fictional work, I mainly pay attention to fiction because it can entertain me and allow me to forget my troubles, as well as give me a better understanding of other humans than just projecting my current state of consciousness onto another individual.

This the reason why it is so easy for works of fiction to help create the temporary escape from reality is that they either do not need to think or they have something else to think about and this series has been able to do quite well on this front.

If I had to say why, it is because, while the world of Spice & Wolf is close to being as realistic as our own, it is different enough that it helps us forget about our own struggles and everything that I talked about that made this season great comes together and helps to form an atmosphere that is almost as relaxing as how many of the novels in the series started.

This relaxing atmosphere helped to make this portion of the series to be much more enjoyable, and not make it seem like a waste of time that it initially ended up feeling like when I first saw this on Netflix, and it makes me feel like giving Imagin a good amount of applause for doing a decent adaptation of this series.

Outside of those things, I cannot think of anything else that I particularly liked, at least that could stand out, when compared to Isuna Hasekura's original work.

Because my attention was captured and held for much of the season, things did not feel like the dragged on, and events seemed to make a bit more sense, as well as the fact it felt rather relaxing, this seemed to be a pretty good anime.

Jacob commenting on discussion

Although I did like the first season of this series, there are some issues.

However, aside from things that are too minor to talk about, only two things bothered me.

First, there was hardly anything that was all that funny.

When I became acquainted with the original novels, I found myself laughing and enjoying the moments of banter between Lawrence and Holo, many of which were present in the episodes featured in this season too.

However, those moments did not really come off as all that funny.

I wanted to be able to watch the most hilarious moments and feel like I am right there experiencing things, but the humor from the novels did not really carry over well.

If I had to say why, it is probably because of the weakness of the visual mediums, in that things cannot be explored too deeply.

Out of all the different visual mediums and types, such as live action, animated works might seem to be the most flexible, as thoughts of characters would not feel unnatural and there is no need for adding in special effects, but it still cannot really convey everything going on or help to make it seem like I really get to know the characters.

Yes, this kind of stuff is not always necessary for a good show and whoever is writing and directing the show can add or take away things, but, regardless of medium, the audience wants to connect with the characters and laugh at things that are supposed to be funny.

Unfortunately, the staff that Imagin had working on this series cut out things like Lawrence's thoughts and had the scenes that I expected to be funny feel more like the mundane moments that they actually are.

Really Imagin? This series might not rely on fan service to deliver its humor, or even feel like it was just put in to grab eyeballs, but this is not the Spice & Wolf that I know and enjoy, because these mundane moments were supposed to be moments in which Lawrence and Holo were fleshed out, not to mention add to the fun factor, which means they need to feel interesting.

With them feeling mundane, instead of fun, like they did in the novels, I do not get the feeling that Lawrence and Holo are people that I can enjoy being with and it gives me no incentive to continue this series, even though I have already read all the novels up to the 18th installment.

Anime might be made to promote various series, but the humor in both the anime adaptation and the original need to be about the same, so that it can give the viewer an accurate picture of what the series actual is, and the staff at Imagin failed miserably in this regard.

Honestly, with things being like this, it is no wonder that I was not a fan of this series when I was originally introduced to it, and it makes me less likely to want to let people know about the series.

If they worked on things a bit more, the things that were funny in the novels would have really been able to come to life, but because the staff at Imagin did not do that, it just makes them seem like they were awfully lazy.

The thing that I hated the most though was how things did seem like they dragged on a bit towards the middle.

While I say that things seemed to have progressed rather quickly, I also noted that this was only from the twelve that aired in Japan almost a decade ago.

In FUNimation's release, and the Blu Ray/DVD releases in other areas, there are thirteen episodes and the extra episode really broke up the flow of the entire show.

Up until this point in the series, it seemed like there was a good compromise between the slow pacing of the novels and the need for a bit faster pacing in a visual medium, by cutting out quite a few things.

However, the moment that this bonus episode started up, I started to feel bored because nothing really happened, aside from Holo getting new clothes, and Lawrence and Holo were not really fleshed out to the point where they were interesting.

Yes, it takes a while for Lawrence and Holo to become actual people in the novels, but the fact that an entire episode was made from such a small moment in the series just seemed to be rather pointless, especially since only one adventure was complete.

The first season is supposed to make me interested in characters enough to make me want to continue following them, but when things are interrupted by moments like this, the mood is ruined, which is something that fans of visual mediums do not want to see.

If this episode were not placed right in between the episodes, more of towards the end, as a bonus, I would have considered this a great start to the series.

However, with its inclusion where it is at, I cannot really say that, as my enjoyment in the series goes downhill quickly, when I take my knowledge of the light novels out of the equation.

Still, it did not do too much damage to the series, and I can kind of overlook it enough that I do not have to hold this over the head of those involved in making this series.

Thankfully, those were the only things that really bothered me, and I can let the people over at Imagin off easier than those that actually irritated me.

While there were only two problems with this season, they were bad enough to knock the series down a few pegs from being considered great.

Considering that there were a few things to like, one of which was actually an improvement from the novels, the negatives balanced things out enough to the point where this was only good enough to kill time.

I recommend this mainly to those that want a quick recap of what happens in the first two books in the series, as that is all that it was good for.

As for everyone else, this might be worth giving a try, but it would be difficult to see how this series is all that great, and the fans of the light novels might not get as much enjoyment from the things that are usually funny.

If you liked this review and would like to see more, please consider supporting me on Patreon or, if you want to get a better impression of the series, buy the books from Amazon, so that I can find more worthwhile anime for you guys to watch or books to read, and do whatever you do when you find something that impresses you.

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Copyright © 2015 Bryce Campbell. All Rights Reserved.