The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Spice and Wolf II

Title: Spice and Wolf II aka Ōkami to Koshinryo II
Genre: Drama/Romance
Company: Brains Base/Marvie Jack
Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 9 Jul 2009 – 24 Sep 2009

Synopsis: Continuing their journey together, Lawrence and Horo are traveling to Kumerson, a town known for its unaccommodating attitude towards religion, and are planning on passing through for the Radora festival. On their way, they meet a particularly young but influential merchant named Amati, who falls in love with Horo on first sight. Amati goes out of his way to fix a place to stay for Lawrence and Horo, who, in the meantime, continue trying to figure out a way to get back to Horo’s hometown, Yoitsu.

The Highlights
Directing: Competent; sets an alert atmosphere.
Music: A tense, suspenseful soundtrack enhances the atmosphere.
Characters: Analyzed closely; their relationships become more genuine.
Plot: Sometimes too predictable, and has the occasional contrivance.
Seiyuu: Not quite as classy as they were in the first season, but still good.

Despite a change in studio there are no major departures in the stylistic approach of the new season of Spice and Wolf from its first season. Takahashi Takeo maintains the directorial reigns from the first season and, along with Brains Base, a name associated with quality, does a marvelous job at setting an absorbing atmosphere and telling a story which is strangely gritty for a fantasy piece. The first season is great, but is this season as good? There’s a palpable divide on this question in the discourse I’ve seen, but my own opinion is that it is not. It is not the directing or approach which brings it down in my eyes, but the writing, which, for all its intelligence and sharp dialogue exchanges, is too often predictable, hampered by an unwillingness to move too far from an established equilibrium.

The directing in this anime is impressive. It’s unassuming, with no attempts to draw attention to itself or push the boundaries of convention, but the execution is superb, and every shot and transition is chosen with intent and confidence. Occasionally, there’ll be fairly lengthy sequences with relatively little panning of the camera, but lots of quick, rhythmic changes in camera angle. It gives these scenes an aptly sharp and alert feeling, and alert is probably the best frame of mind with which to approach them… and the series overall. This show doesn’t dilly-dally around, particularly when it gets into its intricate economic concepts, and it doesn’t have much time for the viewer that can’t keep up.

While it’s economics that drives the plot, it’s Lawrence and Horo’s relationship that makes the story. Both of these characters are studied closely, and their relationship grows and deepens as this show goes on, giving this series worth as a sequel. Horo fumbles with the ideas of loneliness and companionship in ways that are believable and interesting given her circumstances, but Lawrence is a more flawed and fascinating character, and his attempts to balance his pact with Horo with his innate greed, necessary to do his job as a merchant, are central to his character. Equally fascinating is the analysis of Abe Boland, a female merchant introduced later in the series, as well as the church, in this world an institution as heartless and profit-motivated as any business.

While the relationship makes for the hook of this anime, it also proves to fuel the show’s major weakness. The entire premise basically exists on Lawrence and Horo traveling together, which means that the numerous threats to both the “traveling” and the “together” part of the established equilibrium usually come off as empty. It makes some elements of the story a tad predictable: something major probably has to happen before Lawrence and Horo would break up, and one always has the feeling throughout this series that they still have a long way to journey before this will happen. In fact, one character in the first arc basically exists purely to bring Lawrence and Horo closer together.

This predictability annoys me, as there was hardly a moment during the first season where I could pick where it was going next. This is the main reason why I consider the first season to be better. There are a few moments, especially during the first arc, that feel particularly contrived because of this requirement to stick to the premise, but the growth of the main relationship shows that these contrivances aren’t completely meaningless. There’s a surprising amount of suspense throughout, though, which is enhanced by a soundtrack that’s simply excellent.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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