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Spice & Wolf: merchant meets the wise wolf
Episodes 1-3

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Spice & Wolf: merchant meets the wise wolf ?
Community score: 4.3

How would you rate episode 2 of
Spice & Wolf: merchant meets the wise wolf ?
Community score: 4.4

How would you rate episode 3 of
Spice & Wolf: merchant meets the wise wolf ?
Community score: 4.4


I remember the long wait for a third season of Spice & Wolf. I was there in the trenches. I was buying the light novels. I was learning more about economic theory than any college course taught me. I had the Holo desktop wallpapers. I had the little commemorative coins that came with the Funimation box sets. I was there. Ultimately, these efforts were all for naught, but the loom of fate doesn't weave straight lines. Nearly 15 years after the conclusion of the second season, Spice & Wolf has returned in anime form with a reboot subtitled Merchant Meets the Wise Wolf. While I'm immediately perturbed they chickened out of spelling it like "merchant meats," I'm giving the show a chance.

As with any reboot of an already beloved series, the new Spice & Wolf has to justify its own existence, and that's on top of everything else you'd assess a normal anime by. This particular reboot, however, has some distinguishing facets. The big one is the return of core staff from the original. Takeo Takahashi is the chief director overseeing his frequent collaborator Hijiri Sanpei, and Ami Koshimizu and Jun Fukuyama reprise their iconic roles as Holo and Lawrence. These are tacit acknowledgments of the strength and endurance of those first two seasons, and this could be construed as either respectful or cowardly, depending on how charitable you're feeling. And after three episodes, I'm inclined to be charitable. While I'm not fully convinced this project was necessary, Holo and Lawrence's chemistry and banter still draw me inexorably into the world of Spice & Wolf.

I cannot emphasize enough the adhesive quality of Koshimizu's and Fukuyama's performances. They're the core of this adaptation. They are Holo and Lawrence. I also think this 15-year gap has allowed them to grow and settle into these roles more adroitly. Koshimizu's voice now has a more mature and sonorous timbre that adds richer colors to her version of Holo. The playfulness and sharpness remain, but her centuries as the Wise Wolf of Yoitsu are closer to the foreground. Similarly, Fukuyama sounds older in a way that better suits Lawrence's carefully honed business-first personality. I know he's only supposed to be about 25 when the story begins, but in anime protagonist terms, that's basically middle age. Lawrence is at his best when he sounds tired and exasperated. He's just like me. And while I didn't watch too much of the original dub, I think it's pretty cool that Brina Palencia and J. Michael Tatum will also be reprising their roles.

My feelings on the visuals are more mixed. To be clear, neither the 2008 series nor this 2024 one are knocking it out of the park aesthetically, so this comes down to personal preference. Personally, I have a few problems with the original. It looks dated by today's standards, but I think it managed to evoke the dingy mood of its candlelit inns and taverns quite well. The new version eschews high-contrast shadows in favor of a more uniform and modern sheen, and I don't find it quite as effective. That said, I like the look of the 2024 version more than I thought I would from the PVs. It really helps that the storyboarding has been consistently strong—Takeo Takahashi knocks it out of the park in episode one, and Hijiri Sanpei (the director) and Shinji Itadaki (the savior of The Witch and the Beast) do great on episodes two and three, respectively. They're not phoning it in.

I also have to talk about the music. The original Spice & Wolf has one of my favorite soundtracks in any TV series, anime or otherwise. Composer Yuuji Yoshino enlisted an unusual variety of period, foreign, and otherwise atypical instrumentation to create a recognizably unique accompaniment for Holo and Lawrence's adventures. To give an example, one of his tracks features a bouzouki, crumhorn, darbuka, qanun, shawm, bağlama, and oud. That distinct sound has kept those OSTs in my music library ever since. In other words, the new series has huge shoes to fill, and Kevin Penkin certainly seems up to the task. His work on Made in Abyss, in my estimation, is up there with Yoshino's in terms of staying power. His compositions featured in Spice & Wolf so far have been good, but they haven't quite lived up to Yoshino's. I particularly like the more folk-influenced pieces, though. Those are the best match for the story's tone and setting.

And before my readers grow exhausted, I don't intend to center every one of these reviews on pitting the old wolf against the new wolf. That's not a framework I'm particularly interested in basing all my criticism on. However, I feel it's relevant to an inaugural write-up because the reboot is beat for beat, covering the exact same story with the exact same pacing. There are minor changes to align more closely with the novels (most notably the deletion of Chloe), but otherwise, you could transpose the plot summary from one episode to its parallel with no changes. I know the old series made more significant changes/omissions down the line, but this is where I really wrinkle my nose at the existence of this reboot. By opening its premiere on a flashforward, Spice & Wolf signals its intention to cover the series to completion, and I genuinely hope it gets there. However, there are a number of options that the new series could have gone with besides meticulously reanimating these early arcs for the sake of visual and narrative cohesion. I'm a big fan of just rolling with it.

Ultimately, though, the plain truth of the matter is that I like Spice & Wolf. Holo and Lawrence are great characters and legendary practitioners of the art of flirting. The economics angle puts a fun spin on a setting and setup that could otherwise feel played out. It's a relic from a different era of light novels that still holds up, both due to and despite its age. All of this combines together to make a charming package with yet another solid adaptation, and that's difficult to complain about without sounding too nitpicky. Even if we're retreading the same trade routes, I can't turn my nose up at another chance to travel alongside my favorite merchant and spicy wolf combo.

Episode 1 Rating:

Episode 2 Rating:

Episode 3 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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