As someone who loves the anime Spice and Wolf - so much that it was on my top ten list of anime from the past decade - I had high expectations for the source material. I was also very curious to see if there were any major changes from the transition from the written word to animation cel. What I found was a book that was complimented greatly by its anime version but also rose above it with its surprising moments of depth and detail.
The story centers around Lawrence Kraft the merchant and his companion Horor the Wise Wolf of the North. Their first book of travels has them locking horns with a merchant company looking to con the naive Lawrence out of a profit with promises of a moneymaking scheme surrounding a drop in silver purity in Trenni coins. When Lawrence realizes the thing is a scam, he reaches out to another company for help, but in the process Horo is kidnapped and held as ransom because of her being the goddess of the harvest and therefore an abomination against the Holy Church. Storywise, where can you go wrong? You've got elements of supernatural and dramatic action, not to mention a very interesting lesson on macro and microeconomics.
Lawrence is the audience's guide to the world within the series, a clearly old time European-based society in which the Church's word is law and merchants can make or break the market. His lectures to Horo on things like silver purity in coins and bartering with a company that is situated in multiple towns is not only educational for her but for the audience. It is understanding these lectures that will make the story more enjoyable for the audience; you can't understand what is going on unless you understand how the coin system works. Lawrence is also the straight man to Horo's magnificently magical self; his reactions to her hijinks and wolf tendencies reflect the audience's reactions to seeing Horo do what she does. Lawrence is the Everyman who never expected to be paired up with a harvest god, someone who would never expect to be swindled until it almost happens. He's not naive so much as he is rather easy to trust, experienced but wanting to believe that all people are inherently good despite the efforts of those like Zheren to teach him otherwise.
And then there is the character of Horo, parts haughty and demanding, lonely and afraid, feral and angry. As the self-proclaimed Wise Wolf of the series, she often spouts off little wise sayings at Lawrence, using her clever ways learned from living hundreds of years around merchants and farmers to help Lawrence in his trade - there is no better example than the scene in which Horo's crafty methods help to sell some furs at a higher price than Lawrence thought he'd sell for. But she is also vulnerable despite the front she puts up at times: she is enraged that Lawrence does not personally lead the charge to save her and feels embarrassed. Horo is not ashamed of her wolf nature, but when she transforms, she often asks Lawrence to look away: she wants Lawrence to see her as a human not an animal; she does not want Lawrence to be afraid of her and run away like so many other humans did before.
That is what's so interesting about the relationship between Lawrence and Horo: they both depend on each other, even if they'd be loathe to admit it aloud. Lawrence depends on Horo for her quick thinking and to keep him company during his travel - not to mention the contract between them that he take Horo to her homelands in the north. Horo depends on Lawrence for keeping her grounded and amusing her, as well as being her transport, buying her food and clothes (there's a running tab, though) and keeping her around with the pouch of grain. There is also an undeniable attraction between the two of them; they dance around it with their actions and words, but for better or for worse Holo and Lawrence are connected by this attraction, wherever it may take them. Remember, Horo is a demon and a sinful thing in the eyes of the Church, whose influence could very well see to it that Lawrence loses his job due to his connections with the wolf girl. The fact that he puts his own life on the line for someone he barely knows and takes up space in his wagon says that he cares for her, despite their occasional back and forth sniping on the most trivial things like apples and wine.
Comparing the light novel to the anime, some changes and irregularities do pop up. Yarei, for example, is a character in the novel who is from Pasloe Village and is a good friend of Lawrence through his comings and goings through the small town. He is replaced in the anime by Chloe, a young woman who sees Lawrence as her mentor and has a crush on him. The anime added an unnecessary romantic subplot for some reason; I would not be surprised if the herder later on in the anime does not exist in the novel or her attraction to Lawrence not as prominent in the original text. There is also the fact that actually taking the time to sit down and read the material makes Lawrence's lessons on microeconomics make more sense; in fact, a lot of things that happen in the anime are explained a lot better in the novel, especially the end of the silver purity arc. That's not to say the light novel is anyway superior to the anime; they both have ways in which they are better than the other, but one version does not completely overshadow the other. People interested in the story should check both of them out as they greatly compliment each other - in fact, I would say that seeing the anime beforehand greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the original novel.
All in all, this is a great introduction to the world of Horo and Lawrence and an entertaining mix of humor and excitement not to mention some great pages of art that highlight the more important scenes in the story. Spice and Wolf is the kind of light novel if you are just getting interested in the world of anime and manga and need a sort of stepping stone between reading prose and reading manga. I'd also recommend it to any fan of fantasy books that are both fun and educational.(less)
Oh, Kraft. You would think that after squeaking out a victory in Ruvinheigen with the armor racket that Lawrence would think twice about getting into...moreOh, Kraft. You would think that after squeaking out a victory in Ruvinheigen with the armor racket that Lawrence would think twice about getting into a risky financial maneuver – but this is Lawrence we're talking about, and the stakes aren't just for financial gain but for the hand of his own traveling companion.
Yes, for the first time, Lawrence is in serious jeopardy of losing Horo’s companionship forever. But what is Horo to him, actually? It’s this question that dominates this volume of Spice & Wolf and makes it a memorable one.
**spoiler alert** Originally posted here at Anime Radius.
Since Tokyopop began publishing OEL (original English language) manga under its imprint, usua...more**spoiler alert** Originally posted here at Anime Radius.
Since Tokyopop began publishing OEL (original English language) manga under its imprint, usually reserved for works from Japan and Korea and China, many of the titles released have been slammed by reviewers as pale shades of their superior Asian counterparts. For the most part, said criticisms were rightly deserved (why hello there, Princess Ai) and a lot of the OEL material Tokyopop releases truly follow the Sturgeon’s Law to the letter. M. Alice LeGrow’s Bizenghast series is . . . not one of them, not by a long shot. Since first premiering as a sneak peek sample in Tokyopop’s free magazine (the now defunct Takuhai – RIP), this spooky supernatural series has had the charm and quirkiness of an original work that deserves to be put above the rest. Now, as it reaches its seventh volume, this series has begun to reach the peak of its storytelling, combining the mystery of the town together with the action usually reserved for adventures in the mausoleum. And it is wonderful. If you haven’t picked this series up, you have no idea what you are missing.
As usual, M. Alice LeGrow’s artwork is fantastic, an enthralling Gothic style that truly makes the world of Bizenghast come to life, from the old school to the mausoleum and its statues. In this volume, the art climbs to even greater heights, especially with the introduction of Lady Hetka, a dazzling vision of beauty in a flowing white gown and surrounded by a floating hula hoop-esque halo of flowers . . . and she has arms for legs. Yes, Lady Hetka moves around with three arms when she’s not flying through the air with visible ease, and the visual effect of it is amazing. Also amazing are the multiple outfits Dinah wears in the course of the book; she always has the coolest clothes of the series, and book seven is no exception. Even in old school armor reminiscent of Joan of Arc, Dinah looks awesome and ready to rock it out. The action scenes are some of the coolest in the volume, especially the one-on-one fights like Edrear versus Eniri; LeGrow’s skills at more dynamic scenes truly shine through when it’s two people battling it out on the page and with nothing else in the scene to distract the readers from the main attraction.
Everything is in top form in the seventh volume of Bizenghast: Dinah and her crew are properly front and center of the story; there’s lots of action scenes and crazy fights going on; all the drama is well matched by the humor that flows naturally from the characters’ interactions; the mystery of the town and the mausoleum deepens even as vital questions start getting answered. The story is clearly gearing up for an epic plot arc finale, and when it does, it’s gonna be a must read – like the whole series.(less)