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Spice & Wolf: merchant meets the wise wolf
Episode 9

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 9 of
Spice & Wolf: merchant meets the wise wolf ?
Community score: 4.2

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The pace picks up as Spice & Wolf finally gets to the economics lesson at the heart of this arc. There are plenty of ways to teach it. For some people, it can be found in an NFT they'll only ever be able to sell for pennies on the dollar. For Lawrence, it's in a cart full of breastplates, pulling his net worth down deep into the red. While the episode eases us in with the playful verbal sparring we know and love, Holo and Lawrence quickly run out of time to mess around.

In short, Lawrence screwed himself. He was banking on the annual campaign to the north to bolster the worth of the armor in his inventory. It was, he believed, a consistent and predictable market fluctuation he could capitalize on by taking advantage of the buying opportunity he finagled out of that scale scam two weeks ago. However, if markets behaved consistently and predictably, most economists would be out of a job. With the surprise cancellation of that campaign, there's no reason to outfit extra soldiers and the demand for armor plummets. Lawrence thought he had a sure thing going, but he relied on forces he couldn't control and let his hubris get ahead of his contingencies.

It's hard not to feel a little schadenfreude at Lawrence's current predicament. It was also easy to see it coming. As soon as he dismissed Holo's skepticism about taking on all of that debt, there was no doubt his petard was getting hoisted. Modern life more or less necessitates taking on some debt to function, but there's a pretty wide gap between someone using their credit card to pay their utilities and a dude remortgaging his house to buy GameStop shares. Granted, I'm not lumping in Lawrence alongside our contemporary class of grifters and griftees. He doesn't deserve that. However, the lesson he's learning is relevant to people who thought buying a Bored Ape was a one-way ticket to a champagne-soaked life. There's no magic bullet market. There's no "sure thing" in the realm of economics, and anybody trying to sell you that is earning their keep on that sale.

The most affecting parts of this episode come after Lawrence realizes his impending bankruptcy, because that's where we see him emotionally grapple with the overwhelming weight of that consequence. Rationally, he knows it's his fault and springs into action immediately. He cops a good attitude, too; if optimism got him into this situation, then maybe optimism can help him dig out of it. As he faces more and more rejection and humiliation, though, despair sets in. The montage of him going door to door, only to find debasement, is particularly effective. It resonates. Society still equates financial destitution with moral/spiritual failure. In the blink of an eye, Lawrence becomes less than a person, and his former peers treat him like pond scum. Don't get me wrong, this mistake should humble him, but that doesn't give a bunch of jagoffs at a tavern the right to arbitrate his punishment.

The angle I find most interesting is the gender politics of the situation. As a hip and modern audience, we don't think twice about Lawrence traveling with Holo. That's at least half of the show's whole appeal, after all. However, not all anime of this ilk earnestly explore the friction between their cute girl protagonists and the sexism of the time period. Lawrence is hesitant to bring Holo into his guild house because having a woman business partner is basically unheard of. His last resort rejects him because he thinks Lawrence is living in sin. Obviously, this is awful and unfair, but it adds depth to the setting and complexity to the show's central relationship, so I think those parts are good. Holo and Lawrence's relationship can't just be banter about food. They have to reckon with societal prejudices. Lawrence has to reckon with his ingrained misogyny. This stuff gives Spice & Wolf the oomph that many of its imitators lack.

I wish the anime's direction gave these scenes some oomph to match their content. This reboot's visuals have been consistently flat, so I've refrained from repeating myself each week, but I think it's worth bringing up when that flatness hampers the emotional heft of the story to this degree. There's no dynamic lighting, little variation to the storyboarding, and basically no visual indication that our heroes are in dire straits. Would a single Dutch angle kill them? The episode instead relies on Jun Fukuyama and Ami Koshimizu to sell the drama, and they're consummate professionals. We're treated to the sound of Lawrence's accelerating panic, and I like hearing Holo waver between assertiveness and unsureness. She wants to help, but that's hard to do when your partner shuts you out. This tension climaxes in their final exchange, in which Lawrence snaps at Holo. It's a slip-up that only lasts a second, but that's long enough for his venom to reach her as she takes a tactical retreat back to the inn. It hurts to watch, and it's a great cliffhanger.

Rating:

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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