|A Clever Wolf||1 out of 1 user found this review helpful.|
It's rare to find something with so intricate a narrative in film, much less anime. What makes this series so transfixing is the complexity it weaves through the economic system. It oft prefers taking the system and seeing how deep it can manipulate it and how it can be reversed. Because of that so much of the tension and enjoyment comes from watching the plot unfold and seeing how different characters use it. It's hard to find a good example to compare it to because of the small amount of shows and movies that take this approach. It's so often that people working in the medium believe visuals should be utilized for large amounts of movement or action so as not to bore the crowds. But in pursuing what visual mediums can show we forget what they do show and that's detail. From a slightly tilted object to a shudder in someone's eyebrow detail is captured in every frame, and Spice and Wolf revels in this to create it's narrative focus.
Unfortunately this focus of the writers on creating and explaining the narrative often loses the characters. It's easy to compare them to other anime and see it as a cultural choice, but the emotional moments that do exist are so resonating in the characters it's hard not to feel that more time spent in general on subtly finding ways to refine them in the presentation would allow them to exist better. The biggest problem is actually their intellect itself. The show often presents on of the main characters(Holo) as extremely crafty by showing her ability to fake seemingly normal emotions to flaunt her ability to wring certain reactions out of others. At the same time it often confuses and masks a lot of the weaknesses and flaws she has which get presented often. Due to the usage of her tricks, you're never quite sure when she's truly emotional and when she's showing actual depth. Which is odd as her depth often fills into either her Pride or her need to be romanced with the latter being greatly shallow, uncharacteristic, and a little bit stereotypical. It's sad as the other characters have even less depth and with such a well contrived show it's strange how little character the characters have. For example Lawrence despite his intellect is often portrayed as so friendly he's naive and especially so at romance, despite his forethought into near everything he does and his ability to quickly and logically figure out problems. Now it wouldn't be a problem if those were just some traits, but those are all his traits. Though I wouldn't harp on it in another anime it's the level to which the narrative and detail in this reaches that the flaws become so apparent.
One of these levels is the art. Often in anime a large amount of time is spent animating the action and the rest is spent doing minimal character animation often ending in loops or light position changes from time to time allowing for a quickly produced series that still has a detailed and distinctive look while giving the action scenes a large focus. Spice and Wolf is filled with animation. The cuts are often and the animation is continuous. The character expressions might be copied to save work, but there's so little action within a season that a lot more animation goes into detailing subtle details which greatly help support the narrative backbone of the series. Even more enjoyable is the quality at which that art is. It has the simplistic and yet elegant look of modern anime and uses it's color palette to great levels.
Which is fun to play against the Narrative. The show's complex trappings often fall on medieval economics, though it's not afraid to jump to things like religion or politics. It uses this to great lengths, from playing with the purity of minerals in coins to straight out trading post affairs. The actual stories are very few, but watching them unravel is highly entertaining. The subplots of romance are also somewhat entertaining and lead to a lot of the emotional highs and lows of the series though they're so filled with jesting humor and mature understanding that people just looking for some anime breast jokes should stay away. Though I did harp on the characters earlier, despite their shallow nature the few beliefs they have play well of each other and despite some of the religious liberties it takes it's quite believable otherwise. And they all are quite intelligent, seeing their world views and some of their interpretations or how they play off each other is interesting.
The only distinct problems I would note are in the audio. Anime with bad Dubs has always been pretty much a given excepting rare cases but that doesn't make it any less egregious. The soundtrack is pretty well done though. The opening cutscene plays off the music in a few ways I didn't expect and the tone of the music always fits, the opening and ending songs are pretty atypical of anime with strong metaphors that are often so vague they could work in many contexts but they work and nicely. The biggest problem other than the voice acting I'd have to say would be the music. It plays from about 4 songs that start and stop depending on the situation and has extras for certain episodes. They fit, and I wouldn't complain but the repetition is so bad that I haven't noticed anything like this since Digimon. It may be the lack of action in most scenes puts a focus on other elements and makes the music clearer but it doesn't excuse it.
As before though all it's problems are only truly noticeable because of how quality it is. It's great to see smart and well designed shows and I hope we see some that are as inspired and of such quality as this one. Anime is a lush medium and the best shows are quite high on the bar. I'm happy to have watched one that seems good enough to fit there.