Reviewby Lissa Pattillo, May 14th 2010
Spice and Wolf GN 1
Going on his seventh year as a merchant, Kraft Lawrence lives on the road looking for profitable trades and working towards his dream of someday owning a shop of his own. Days are pretty uneventful until a young girl with wolf ears and a tail is found nesting in the back of his carriage. Her name is Holo – a harvest God taking human form. Longing to return to her home up North, she joins Lawrence on his travels around the country seeking each new opportunity for good trade.
It's been the big question about this series since it first came about its popularity – what is the appeal of a series about economics? Even after this first volume, that particular question can't be entirely answered but it seems safe to say that the bright-eyed, fox-tailed naked girl may have something to do with it. While that isn't to say she's all Spice and Wolf has going for it, the series seems apt to push this fact more so than anything else.
At the book's beginning, Spice and Wolf takes a bit of time introducing Lawrence and his profession to readers before it introduces Holo. It's nice that the story takes a moment to set him up as a character before bringing in the individual who inevitably steals the show. Lawrence is a pretty laid back guy so he takes the whole finding-a-God thing in stride, allowing Holo to tag along on his travels and more than happy to enlighten her with information about the human world and his role in it as a merchant.
Lessons to be learned under Lawrence's conversational tutelage include seasonal wheat growing cycles, coin circulation and economic gambles. Unfortunately, this is where the story hits its main issue - the subject matter is pretty dull. It doesn't do much to make it any less boring than most would assume it would be from just hearing the synopsis. Other elements of the story do prove more intriguing, such as Lawrence's life as a merchant (more so than his work as one) and Holo's existence as a harvest God, along with references to the land she came from. Sadly these elements are poked at more than ever explored, or at least that's the case in this first volume.
At any rate, the story's economic focus is more interesting when we actually get to see said-marketing in action. In one of said-scenes, Holo intervenes on a bargaining deal when Lawrence is selling the fur he's procured. Lessons learned here, lying is nothing to be upset about in the realm of marketing because a true merchant will respect you for duping him out of a hundred silvers and be fully prepared to do business with you again. Or we'll never see this merchant again, either way it's one of the book's few memorable scenes and it's a fairly entertaining one.
While the subject matter falls on the dull side most of the time, the manner in which Holo and Lawrence talk about it is at least fluent and easy to follow. Their manner of speech reads naturally as a conversation between two individuals and they both have slightly differing patterns of speech thanks to a nice adaptation by Yen Press. The font work does cause an occasional trip-up though with bodies of text too large for their respective bubble, thus requiring a tiny font size that won't be easy on some readers' eyes. It also often looks oddly squished to the side in some instances.
Holo on her own is a likeable character. It's enjoyable how she can be in the dark regarding things in the human world without ever seeming ignorant or naïve about it. She's curious, intelligent and confident which makes her both endearing and respectable. That said however, Holo on a visual level has the potential to rub some readers the wrong way.
Her appearance is fairly childlike, as are many of her mannerisms. It often makes the intentionally sexual parts of the book feel inappropriate. It's worth noting then, both to set context and as a warning to readers, that Holo is very comfortable with her nudity, so readers will be seeing quite a bit of her. Of course, nudity doesn't automatically equate to sexuality but her posture, gestures, and the intentional views in which the panels are drawn from, all conspire to make her a much more sexual being then some will be comfortable with, both because of her youthful appearance and because of the pandering sexual-nature of these scenes in general. This isn't helped by moments of her deliberately playing on her charms with Lawrence such as asking if she's cute while licking a bun soaked in honey or bending over to show off her backside while enlightening him on how attractive others find her. It perhaps wouldn't be as bad if she looked an age where it didn't feel borderline sleazy – sorry breasts, you're just not enough of an age indicator to cover up everything else – or if the story didn't feel like it was trying to hold itself on a level higher than its fan service denotes.
The art as a whole in Spice and Wolf is fairly attractive though, most specifically in the detail work on the clothing and backgrounds which do a good job setting the environment. Screen tones are used heavily and generally compliment the mood of the settings, whether it's a fire-lit cabin room or moonlit field. Full colour inserts are especially pretty and a great bonus.
Spice and Wolf as a series has a unique concept and in some ways it's worth applauding for that. However, its manga execution relies on something far less ingenious. Take away Holo and her sex-kitten posing and you're not left with much else. Economic-buff manga fans may be tickled by the overlap of their interests, and those who really enjoyed the anime or light novels will likely enjoy the alternate medium as well, but, to the general reader, this first volume lacks a plot substantial or engaging enough to serve as entertainment past fleeting eye-candy.
Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : B+
+ Unique plot-premise; likable lead-character personalities
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