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Welcome Back, Spice and Wolf

by ZeroReq011,

Back when Funimation was still its own company and not owned by Sony, long before its in-house streaming service was terminated in favor of Crunchyroll's streaming platform, it owned a TV channel. Legal streaming had yet to dominate the Western anime scene and satellite competed with cable for TV audiences. My family had a satellite subscription, and among the networks packaged in our satellite TV bundle was the FUNimation Channel. Being in that honeymoon stage of obsession after discovering a new exciting hobby (or maybe it was just me), I watched everything broadcast on that channel in my free time. One show from those halcyon days tugged my heart tighter than most, and whether from TV or some other means, I know I'm not alone in my glowing nostalgia for the traveling merchant and wise wolf girl. I loved Spice and Wolf.


But what about Spice and Wolf (2008-2009) merits that fondness? If I had to limit my focus to just a few things, it'd be its rich, real, and living fantasy world, its deep exploration of economics, politics, and religion, and its strong character chemistry and legendary romance. Does the 2024 reboot manage to capture the original anime's charm? After watching what's been aired so far by this article's publication, I'd have to say yes. Just don't make me say the reboot's new complete title more than once, Spice and Wolf: Merchant Meets the Wise Wolf. Japan has a habit of coming up with overly long and descriptive titles for stories (i.e., the Japanese name for Frozen is Ana to Yuki no Joho, which means "Ana and the Snow Queen," and let's not get into the complete names for Konosuba and Oregairu). To me, it's just Spice and Wolf.

A Rich, Real, and Living Fantasy World


The world of Spice and Wolf isn't a literally realistic one because wolf girls aren't real (sad as that might be for some of us). It does feel alive though, with perspectives on culture so nuanced that, if one didn't know better, it could be describing existing cultures – ones one might learn about in an anthropology course or an extended homestay. The cultural lessons start when merchant man Lawrence Craft becomes acquainted with the legend of the wolf goddess Holo just before he meets directly with the wise wolf herself. Before the area's conversion to a monotheistic religion that strongly resembles Christianity (which I'll henceforth refer to as the Church), Holo's village once lived off subsistence farming. Now, it's prospering from trading farming surpluses.

Whether the village survived in those subsistence times, let alone thrived, hinged greatly on the quality of the recurring harvest. With the limited agricultural knowledge and random ecological disasters that plagued villages like Holo's – based as they were around Europe's medieval era – their inhabitants turned to higher powers, praying and making offerings to them in hopes of ensuring a good harvest. Before the advent and dominance of the Church, peasants identified specific nature deities connected to agriculture to worship and present a tribute to, ones like Holo, who dwelt in the wheat and knew how crops best grew. Like in real life with pre-Christianized peoples, these locals hoped to acquire these deities' favor and protection through their offerings and worship.


Lawrence would later encounter Holo naked in his trading cart, having transferred her spirit from the wheat fields of the village he was visiting to the bushel of wheat sitting atop his pelt stock. Holo isn't a nudist, but she's not shy about her skin either, and while it might be much to say the story has no extra motivations whatsoever about making his (and the audience's) first physical encounter with her in the nude, Spice and Wolf is also pulling narrative double duty—Holo's values and very being run counter to that of the Church.

She has no problem with nudity and yearns for freedom. The Church prizes modesty and desires control. She is born of nature and finds harmony in and respect for its processes. The Church works with men to better exploit and master it. She is a target of the Church for being demon-possessed or a demon, and apparently, demonic entities like that need to be purged for the faithful's good. Her local goddess legend also clashes with the dogma of the one true god, and seemingly deific entities like her need to be purged for the Church's benefit.



Tiring of her now lonely and forgotten role as the village's agricultural goddess and learning that he's traveling north toward her original homeland, Holo negotiates with Lawrence to join him on his journey. She explains to him that a long time has passed since the death of the villager she befriended, with whom she made her pact to watch over the village in the first place. The village has since forgotten her existence, with the harvest festival seemingly commemorating her legend being no more than an excuse nowadays to celebrate with some quaint traditions. No one believes she's real anymore.

With the introduction of new farming innovations, the village has taken her harvests for granted. Holo can't so much will nature into creating good harvests as guide it into optimally producing them, inevitably leading to occasional years of bad harvests as the soil's fertility needs to be recharged. Holo's agricultural stewardship led to more consistent harvests overall compared to prior, but with these new farming innovations (to hazard a historically grounded guess, perhaps more efficient crop rotation practices and better-quality farming tools), Holo feels the village can live and prosper now without her.

Finally, with the rise of the merchant class and the Church, respect for her name is on the wane. Her values have also become mismatched with those of the village. As the village became richer without her, they grew hungrier for more coins. While the change in faith might be more sincere for some, closer ties with the powerful and well-connected Church are more profitable than continuing to maintain old beliefs the Church dislikes. With no one left in the village truly remembering her, needing her, or wanting her to stay, Holo negotiates a place on Lawrence's cart in exchange for aiding him with his merchant endeavors.

Economics and Politics

Besides anthropology, Spice and Wolf is also interested in the social science of economics, specifically the economics of later medieval Europe. Where other anime that address economics stick to passing strokes on the subject, Spice and Wolf gets into the weeds of how certain economic innovations and processes work. Each story arc hinges on core money-making schemes, as an ambitious Lawrence is unwilling to pass by high-reward opportunities easily while sometimes finding himself needing to raise a lot of funds quickly. Plus, Holo is a bit of a glutton and needs new clothes and accessories at times. However, she demonstrates she can more than make up for those expenses with her profit-earning abilities when the opportunity arises. Spice and Wolf will formulaically introduce one or more economic concepts from that medieval Europe-inspired period before exploring an economic opportunity or conundrum its protagonists' puzzle to get ahead of.


Case in point in the story's first arc is the precious metal content of coin currency. In a reality where different ruling authorities are issuing their own coinage and a region where people can exchange more than one currency, buyers and sellers will prefer to hold and deal in a currency they can trust. Confidence in a coin is based on its buying power and value consistency, which is partially determined by its precious metal percentages. People owning coins with a reputation for more silver content would logically be happier because they generally can get more buying power from it, but they would, at the very least, like to possess coins that don't lose value because news breaks out that they have less silver. This overview of percentages of precious metals in coinage then leads to a more intimate scenario of the protagonists figuring out how to profit from the word that a previously highly trusted coin's silver content will drop or get debased.

The reason for this coin debasement then segues into the other social science that Spice and Wolf explores to an underratedly thorough degree, in my opinion: politics. For example, in the absence of outstanding supplies of silver, ruling authorities issuing their own coinage can choose to issue an edict to melt down their extant coin stockpiles, create a new supply of silver, and forge more coins with silver than before by diluting the silver content of the new coins. If done secretly, rulers can get away with using their larger supply of debased coins that everyone thinks have the same value as the previously higher percentage coins to increase their buying power to pay for things. Once news spreads, though, not only will new debased versions of the coinage lose buying power, but even versions of the coinage that people still own that aren't debased will lose value because the general overriding attitude of that coinage in the market will be that it's all depreciated.


Such a move of monetary policy by rulers typically results in short-term gain (i.e., funding new troops, acquiring immediate capital for projects or commissions, or servicing debt) at the expense of long-term trust in their currency and even their political legitimacy. Upon wider knowledge of its debasement, people owning that coinage won't be happy that their wealth has effectively shrunk because of an external decision.

Coins are typically minted with symbols of the rulers that issued them to promote their authority, so merchants being confronted with the images of the rulers that made them poorer while handling their coins isn't great for that. Nor are they turning to more trusted alternative coinages that happen to be issued by rival rulers much better. They might be inclined to do greater business with their rivals instead of them or even come to imagine these rivals could be much better at running things if they stare at those rivals' faces long enough.

Lenders to rulers won't like being repaid with depreciated coins if they're offered no alternative compensation. They won't want to lend to them in the future without higher interest, and they may be more willing to fund those rulers' rivals. Soldiers serving those rulers might not like getting compensated with less valuable money. Underpaying your soldiers never goes well, especially if there's a rival bidder for their arms. Peasants living under those rulers will grumble at prices inflating because the local coinage is worth less and may be more inclined to acts of civil or less civil disobedience.

Religion, Politics, and Economics

Admittedly, Spice and Wolf doesn't offer play-by-plays of any larger political forces at work because it keeps to its local POV of a traveling merchantman and his wolf girl companion. Nevertheless, as they negotiate through their world's economic system and processes, these political currents affect their circumstances and inform their decisions. However, kings aren't the only ruling authorities whose decisions can drastically affect business. Religion can affect it, too. We get hints of cathedrals minting their own coins and some merchants aligning with the Church with all its connections to obtain better business opportunities. Other merchants try to avoid angering the Church with all its power lest they get arrested and worse for promoting heresy. Just as economic and political forces can pressure and influence the other, religious forces can similarly influence political and economic ones, even bending the latter to the former's benefit.


We can see the effects of religion on economics in Spice and Wolf's first episode, where a merchant from Holo's village declares he's abandoned all worship and respect for her for closer ties with the Church, seeing it as more profitable. We can also see Lawrence and Holo's attempt to profit from the coin debasement scheme in the first arc. Working with another trading company to get ahead of the trading firm the scheme originated from, all the coins seem to line up well until Holo gets captured. The kidnapping firm threatens to alert the Church of Lawrence and his partner company's role in harboring a bestial-looking demon lady (with beasts back then, like wolves, being associated with demons). The political consequences of that indictment would not only terminate any chance of profiting from the scheme. Still, they could also lead to all of them being declared heretics, followed by imprisonment, torture, and, finally, execution.

Character Chemistry and a Legendary Romance

I'm a social scientist, so everything in Spice and Wolf about anthropology, economics, politics, and religion fascinates me, and the story executes it well. But not every Spice and Wolf fan normally likes learning about these subjects, assuming they have any interest in these fields at all, and I would be remiss to say that social science is the only thing Spice and Wolf has going for it. This show is memorable among the fanbase (and extra memorable for me) because of its two protagonists. Lawrence and Holo are richly realized characters that, despite coming from very different backgrounds, achieve amazing chemistry together, and the show uses that to pull off some awesome conversations, character development, and a legendary romance.


One instance of what I'm talking about can be found in the second episode's conversation, which says a lot about them while imparting an important lesson about relationships. Lawrence has recently agreed to allow Holo to join him on his travels, and they both fall into a comfortable banter-filled rapport. Holo is mischievous and likes to tease Lawrence about various things, and Lawrence likes to light-heartedly play off it and turn her teasing back on her with his wit. Holo goes too far for Lawrence when she tries to playfully unnerve him with how her wolf kind has killed and eaten humans before, touching a sore spot for him as he's been hunted by wolves before and has seen at least one human companion of his torn apart by them.

Holo's genuinely sad that she's upset Lawrence with her faux pas; she overlooked how frightening wolves can look to humans. After Lawrence stews in silence for a while without changing his attitude though, Holo decides to flip the tables on him. She describes how wolves also fear being hunted by humans, suggesting that she's been hunted by them herself.


Getting a worried reaction from him while also making him feel guilty, she hammers the point home to him. They can both be culpable of being insensitive. Rather than dwell on such grievances, it's better just to apologize when stuff like that happens, promise to be better, and cheer up. The mood does lighten, and the two go back to their prior rapport, but with just that extra amount of respect for each other.

The two of them support each other's endeavors and desires and help each other grow into more well-rounded people. Holo enlightens Lawrence with her wisdom and perspective on life as a long-lived wolf girl in tune with nature. She aids him in his business dealings by broadening his perspective and showing him ways to earn extra money that he overlooked. Lawrence, in turn, provides Holo with the ability to travel and experience new sights and flavors she couldn't possibly encounter stuck in that farming village. Lawrence learns to temper his merchant greed and be a more considerate person. Holo finds a partner who cares for her after going so long without a companion. The moments they go on cleverly roasting each other only make what they feel for each other all the sweeter whenever they drop the snark and realize how lonely they'd feel without the other beside them.


So there goes my general case for the Spice and Wolf story, but how does the 2024 reboot compare to the 2008-2009 anime? It's a pretty good adaptation so far, with expectations that the reboot will cover light novel material that the old anime chronologically skipped. I feel that the reboot's specific use of saturated lighting takes away from the journey-sort of atmosphere the old anime effectively conveyed, and the undetailed and stock use of CG models sticks out at times. I'll miss the playful soundtrack of the original, but Kevin Penkin's folk music additions are a worthy substitute. The dialogue between Lawrence and Holo is as mesmerizing as ever, so much so that I had something of an Anton Ego from Ratatouille moment in Episode 2.

I was transported a decade back, watching that episode in front of the family TV on the FUNimation Channel. I was as charmed now as I was back then. I love Spice and Wolf.

Social Scientist & History Buff. Dabbles in Creative Writing & Anime Criticism. Consider checking out his blog, Therefore It Is.

Disclosure: Kadokawa World Entertainment (KWE), a wholly owned subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation, is the majority owner of Anime News Network, LLC. One or more of the companies mentioned in this article are part of the Kadokawa Group of Companies.

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