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Spice & Wolf: merchant meets the wise wolf
Episode 4

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 4 of
Spice & Wolf: merchant meets the wise wolf ?
Community score: 4.3


Despite their age and divinity gap, Holo and Lawrence have a lot in common, including their insecurities. Their chance meeting has interrupted their previously solitary lives, and they've each glommed onto the other in record time. That in itself is revealing, but so is the prospect of their eventual parting. While they each plan to settle down, their plans differ. Every journey ends, but are either of them ready to end theirs so soon? This open question is the crux of Spice & Wolf this week.

If we were to zoom out on all 24 light novels in this series, we can see that this arc lays the foundation for their long journey to come. So, from the author's standpoint, I can understand the rush to get these feelings out into the open. Nevertheless, this moment feels clumsier than my memory of it. I'm not blaming this on the adaptation either (it's adapted quite well, with evocative body language) because the dialogue itself is loud and on the nose. It's not terrible, and I like Holo's turn from a fun drunk into a melancholic drunk. That's a believable character beat that humanizes her—there are centuries of grief swirling behind her silver tongue. But when Lawrence consoles her, she's a sobbing mess; it feels a little early for them to be so emotionally frank with each other. I prefer the banter that buries their mutual and individual vulnerabilities behind their playful jabs. That feels more authentic for two people who barely know each other at this point in the story. It's about subtlety. Let that dynamic breathe more, then build up to a big, messy reckoning.

While making minor complaints, the chase scene is pretty darn lackluster. You usually don't need a lot of flashy and dynamic animation in a dialogue-driven show. Decent storyboarding will get the job done, and so far, Spice & Wolf's storyboarding has been up to the task. However, the seams in this production show when the story takes an action-driven turn. It looks stiff and, therefore, fails to communicate the degree of danger our protagonists are in.

When Spice & Wolf plays to its strengths, however, the series still exudes the character-driven magic that drew me to it in the first place. I love the scene in which Holo reminisces about an old friend who originally enticed her to stay in Pasloe as their harvest goddess. This is like the "good version" of the crying scene I broke down a couple of paragraphs ago. Holo's grog-induced tipsiness pulls her back into the past, but she deflects her sadness with laughter. Meanwhile, Lawrence keeps a straight face, but you can see some pangs of discomfort—perhaps jealousy?—as Holo waxes on about a prior companion. They both project strength to avoid reckoning with the implied ephemerality of their current relationship, and the conversation drifts away before either of them can confront it. That's smart, subtext-heavy dialogue that the anime adapts well by emphasizing their physical distance. And then it ends with Lawrence pulling the blanket over the sound asleep Holo—a beautiful capstone to a beautiful scene.

The economics are good this week, too. I cannot stress enough how much of a dummy I am when it comes to any economic theory, so I mean it when I praise Spice & Wolf for making these plots understandable without coming across as patronizing. In this case, the stuff about silver coin purity ends up being secondary to the wider plot about one mercantile company's attempts to manipulate the market and make bank from the suckers they hook into their scheme. That's a scam, and I can understand scams. I also really like how the head of the Milone Company cannot afford to care about Lawrence and Holo's problems. That's a nice splash of cold water. Those two may be our protagonists, but they're small potatoes compared to the profits waiting in the wings. Lawrence understands, too. It's business. The conversation between him and the Milone manager is far more tense than the chase scene. This is what Spice & Wolf does best.

The episode ends with Holo captured and Lawrence figuring out that it's because of her divinity, not in spite of it. The Medio Company knows something. It's a decent cliffhanger, and I especially like the wolfish mannerisms the animators give Holo. She puffs out her tail, bares her fangs, and acts like you'd expect a cornered wolf to act. And we shouldn't forget that her separation from Lawrence is particularly potent due to the loneliness they had just both confessed to. If they can both find a way to unite again, that will be proof of their mutual commitment to continue onwards. There are, after all, plenty more facets of economic theory that could use a wise wolf's touch.


Spice & Wolf: merchant meets the wise wolf is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Steve is on Twitter while it lasts. He still knows "The Wolf Whistling Song" by heart. You can also catch him chatting about trash and treasure alike on This Week in Anime.

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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