Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 3rd 2011
Spice & Wolf
While in the town of Poroson, a merchant's attempt to swindle Lawrence backfires due to Holo's sharp senses and keen wit, and Lawrence leaps at the opportunity to take advantage of the situation. Back on the road to Ruvenheigen, the duo's playful banter continues, though a detour forced by the threat of rapacious mercenaries leads to an encounter with the type of individual that Holo despises most: a shepherd, one that Lawrence ultimately hires on a trial basis as a protector against wolves. Worse, this shepherd, Norah, is a shy, fetching nymph of a girl who, along with her trusty dog Enik, is competent enough that even Holo respects her skill. In Ruvenheigen Lawrence gets wind that there is something about the likable Norah which makes people not trust her, but that is not as malodorous as the stench of bad business that awaits him.
In a bonus story, Norah gets a break to have a night out on the town in the wake of her business with Lawrence – albeit a sadly uneventful one.
Arguably the most difficult aspect of faithfully adapting a novel or anime series into manga form is getting the pacing right. The reverse is typically much easier, as anime can pad out action scenes with extra moves, rely on panning shots, and similar tricks to smooth out the flow of events and novels can cover much more ground much quicker. Manga adaptations much find a balance between maintaining the feel of the source material and moving the story along in a timely fashion, though, which is why so many of them fail. Original author Isuna Hasekura's collaboration with Keito Koume doesn't even try to balance things, instead opting for a presentation that follows the source material tightly regardless of the pacing. The result is a volume in which not much seems to happen but which successfully duplicates the tone and feel of both the source novel and the anime.
Of course, not much happens during this span of time in both the anime equivalent and the original novels, too. The six regular chapters approximately equate to the part of the anime version running from the midpoint of episode 8 to the midpoint of episode 10. During this time the only major developments are the establishment of the situation which ultimately gets Lawrence in desperate financial trouble and his first meeting with Norah, the former of which forms the basis for the rest of the story developments in this arc and the latter of which is partly the key to him getting out of his predicament. The story here does not advance quite that far, however, and instead spends the bulk of the time as the other version do at this point: developing further the character and eccentricities of its stars and showing them continue to exchange their playful banter. That may not sound like much to those for whom the manga is their first exposure to the franchise, but it is the bread of butter of Spice and Wolf and few series do it in a more entertaining or involving fashion.
Because they are trying to pace the other versions, these chapters eliminate a fair chunk of the interactive dialogues between Lawrence and Holo (especially once they get to Ruvenheigen), but the story still moves along smoothly enough that the omissions are unlikely to be noted unless one is doing a scene-by-scene comparison. The manga version does add in a bit about Norah being barefoot, and Lawrence giving her shoes, that does not appear in the anime (she is specifically shown as wearing sandals there) and adjusts the details of how certain scenes play out, but these are not major differences and certainly not worth getting the manga just to see how things are done differently.
As with the last volume, the artistic rendering effort here does not impress much, but Keito Koume's renditions of Jū Ayakura's character designs still show enough of the character of Lawrence and Holo to be effective at conveying the various moods and attitudes of its central characters – and in a story like this, such a thing is quite important. Layout and panel composition are also generally good, with some of the best panels showing Holo snuggling in amongst the armor suits for one of her many naps. The color cover and especially the interior color picture of Holo and Norah look much sharper; although the cover illustration is fitting for conveying the mood and nature of Norah's character, the latter would make a better advertising piece and is far less misleading than the innocently cute poses of Holo seen on the DVD covers.
Yen Press's production generally retains the original sound effects with small English translations. The volume opens with brief character bios and a brief outline and ends with the bonus chapter featuring Norah, which builds upon the previous volume's bonus chapter by fleshing out the distrust towards Norah by the Church and inhabitants of Ruvenheigen. The price is still on the high side ($12.99 MSRP), but it is a well-produced effort.
Evaluated as a stand-alone project, the manga version is a solid effort, one which presents a story with a different pace and feel than one would normally expect from fantasy fare. It is still the least of the three versions of the source material but an entertaining read nonetheless.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Adds extra details in some places, represents some the best parts of the Holo/Lawrence byplay.
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