What They Say:
Lawrence, a traveling merchant searching for profit, finds a naked girl with the ears and tail of a wolf asleep in his cart. Her name is Holo, a harvest goddess with an untamed beast lurking inside who longs to return to her beloved northern home. Armed with his street smarts and her animal instincts, the simple peddler and forgotten deity begin a journey through the wild countryside. Along their path, the riches of happiness shall be reaped even as the bankruptcy which dwells in the human heart is exposed.
Contains episodes 1-13.
Please Note: This review is of the Blu-ray side of the DVD/BD combo. Everything is the same except for the audio/video and menu side of it.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty solid as it contains the two language tracks in lossless form using Dolby TrueHD. The original Japanese language track is in stereo which is definitely a well done mix that handles the dialogue and the ambient sounds of the city and the small areas such as the inns they stay at. The music aspects of the series really come across well in this form as well with the softer side of it having a good deal of warmth to it. The English mix gets bumped up to 5.1 and that does mean a noticeable increase in decibels but also additional clarity when it comes to the dialogue and a bit more oomph in a few scenes when needed. The series is not a big action piece by any stretch but it does have some well done areas that shine here. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2008, the transfer for this HD native TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episodes are spread over two discs with nine on the first and four on the second where the extras are also located. Unlike the second season, this release is an upscale of the 480 masters (unlike the Japanese which is done from a 720p master). While it’s not as good as the second season by a fairly significant amount in a lot of ways, such as fine detail and color depth and solidity, it is considerably better than the DVD release and that’s certainly an improvement for a lot of fans. The additional bandwidth and less compression gives it room to breathe, though it’s not one of the better upscales but it’s not one of their bottom rung ones either.
No packaging was included with our review copy release of this set.
The menu design for this release is pretty nice as it uses the full screen for animation from the show with a simple travel aspect to it that’s relaxed and pleasing. It uses the brighter daytime scene so we have lighter blues and greens to go with the earthy tones elsewhere. The navigation is rather simple but it fits in thematically as well as it has a small board along the left side of the screen which is also used as the pop-up menu during playback. The navigation is straightforward with the usual selections and with the extras on the second disc it gets the additional tab for things. Everything load quickly and without problem and the design overall makes it something that sets the mood pretty well prior to starting the show.
The extras for this release are the same as we saw on the DVD release in that we get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novel series by Isuna Hasekura, Spice and Wolf is a thirteen episode series that deals in a very intriguing world that mostly involves trade. It’s an unusual series in that regard, though it delves into other things along the way such as what it means to be human and how the world itself works. Broadcast as twelve episodes with episode seven being a DVD only release afterward, fitting in a small tale of happiness in the middle of everything, Spice and Wolf is a surprisingly engaging story that primarily revolves around two characters as they travel, make deals and talk of their dreams and their pasts. Of course, with one of them being a goddess of sorts, the kind of stories are a bit tilted in one direction.
Set in a medieval world that plays things very straight by and large, Spice and Wolf tells a somewhat leisurely tale over its thirteen episodes but one that is quite tense at times. The story revolves around a man named Craft Lawrence, a traveling peddler in his mid twenties who works across numerous towns transporting goods and selling his wares when and where he can. His main goal is to one day save up enough money so he can open a store in a decent sized town and build a full life. But until then, he’s the kind of peddler that’s very happy doing what he does, figuring out the tricks of particular trades and spending time with people that he does get to know during his travels. The show opens with him visiting one particular town at harvest time where a young woman named Chloe is someone he has a bit of a fancy for, but nothing altogether too serious at the moment. It certainly has potential though and that has kept him interested and looking at the town as a potential place to settle.
Lawrence’s life takes an interesting turn while in this town as he’s getting ready to go as a young woman mysteriously appears in his wagon. As it turns out, the girl is named Holo, which is the name of the goddess of the region that is responsible for the health of the crops. Her influence has been dwindling among the farmers for some time as the Earl of the area has provided new ways and means for ensuring better crops, so they haven’t been needing Holo like she was. Holo reveals that she truly is the goddess in question, though the details seem to paint her more as a godling of sorts in that she’s not as eternal and is part of a larger family from the far north of where she’s been operating out of for so long. Lawrence doesn’t need too much convincing to grasp that Holo is that same Holo, since she does have the ears and quite the bushy tail, but his mercantile ways serve him well here as he agrees to travel north with her to find where she came from while taking advantage of her ability to read others in his business. Since that facilitates her living conditions along the way, as well as food and clothes, it’s a good agreement they reach.
Much of the show focuses on the relationship between the two people as they get to know each other over the travels. There are two main stories that happen throughout as Lawrence goes about his business and Holo gets involved from time to time, but all of it serves more to foster the relationship between them. Because of appearances, Lawrence tends to take a protective role of Holo, but she often corrects him because of the age difference since she’s far older than him. She brings in some amusing stories from time to time of people she’s known in the past and some of the things they’ve done which have some correlation to events in the present. Holo is entirely charming throughout the show, though she plays between being the “wise wolf” and the impish young wolf who likes to tease and torment Lawrence. Lawrence himself is also quite charming as he has a bit of wisdom about himself as well since he’s run his own business for awhile, but he’s still learning some of the tricks of the trade. He’s not exactly young looking because of the hair color, but he has a certain youth to him that mixes in with his relaxed and analytical personality.
The animation for this series is really quite good, with a lot of attention to detail when it comes to the backgrounds and the places that the pair travel to. While there is a certain uniformity to the design of the various cities and towns, it’s all consistent in giving off the feeling of a medieval landscape with a very lived in feeling. The people in the background, the shops that are laid out, the earthy nature of it all works very well. While it may be cleaner than reality, the end result is a look that easily immerses you into that world. The characters are just as impressive overall as they have a strong design to them. Neither is terribly detailed in a way, but they come across as very fleshed out and like the cities have a lived in feeling, particularly Lawrence. Holo manages a really appealing design, one that she shows off without clothes on several occasions, She’s just as appealing in clothes as she tries to hide her nature more often than not. I was also really pleased by how well they did the tail and ears part as it has a good natural feeling to it, not the kind done for the sake of pure fanservice.
With the first season of this series, Spice and Wolf manages to form a really intriguing and engaging bond between two characters. Spice and Wolf is a very mellow show, almost languid at times with how the pair travel along and talk about things, but it also has a lot of very tense moments. The mercantile aspects really do play a strong role here and some of them are highly engaging, moving between verbal sparring to make a deal to the larger plot going on with who is manipulating things. A show like this has two very distinct voices that are blended together quite well. The first is the bond that starts to form between Holo and Lawrence as they meet and travel with each other. The other is the merchant aspect, which brings in so many different angles and really provides the impetus for the bonding and gives it more meaning. It helps give the characters shape and guides them to where they can grow properly. I really enjoyed Spice and Wolf as it was unlike many other shows that are coming out these days. It’s got great production values, engaging characters and a story, while familiar, is told in a way that allows it to feel fresh and new. Definitely a very easy strong recommendation.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: C+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: August 30th, 2011
Running Time: 312 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.