Reviewby Theron Martin, Dec 6th 2010
Spice & Wolf
With Holo rescued from the Medio Company, Lawrence and Holo play a dangerous game of cat and mouse in the sewers with Medio's mean. Eventually they are cornered in the ruins of an ancient building, where Lawrence finds himself confronted by a familiar face and a tempting offer. Even in the direst of circumstances, though, Lawrence has a powerful ally at his side, one who respects his loyalty and is not above showing her true form to save him, even at the cost of frightening him off. Fortunately for both, Lawrence is made of sterner stuff. Later, as they journey to a new destination with a new commodity funded by Lawrence's success dealing with the Milone Company, a trade involving pepper proves more complicated than originally expected.
Meanwhile, the young shepherdess Nora, with the help of her loyal dog Enek, plies her trade. For one such as her, though, too much success can also breed mistrust and lead to a lonely – and dangerous – life.
Isuna Hasekura's novels were the foundation of the Spice and Wolf franchise, so this manga version – like the anime – is merely an adaptation, one which preceded the first anime season by only a few months and then ran concurrent with it. As a result, it is somewhat of a transitional piece between the novels and the anime; it uses details otherwise found in only one of the other two versions while also adding in a little additional content not found in either. Those extra and variant details, combined with a four-page Bonus Track, may give fans of the franchise sufficient impetus to check this version out, which is good because otherwise this is the least of the three versions of this story about a merchant and his wolf goddess traveling companion.
For those not familiar with other versions of the franchise, this volume brings the first major plot arc to completion and lays the foundation for the second one. It also reveals what the name of the series is based upon. The first part shows the more compelling and action-oriented part of the story, while the middle and latter parts deal more with the mercantile angle that has been an integral part of the story from the beginning. The story does a particularly good job of emphasizing why Holo could justifiably be looked upon as a god when she assumes her true wolf form and delves deeply into the complexities of both currency exchange and the piously underhanded behavior of the Church.
For those familiar with one of the other versions, the events described here correspond to the latter part of episode 6 and the first part of episode 8 of the anime version, which also corresponds to the last part of the first novel and the first part of the second. These events stay in line with the novels by using Yarei instead of Cloe, but otherwise the action plays out very similarly to both the novels and the anime. Discrepancies pop up in exactly where the big confrontation in the sewers takes place (in an abandoned building here), some of the exact details of both Holo's transformation and involvement in the conflict, and what happens after all of the Medio men are defeated (the Milone overseer does not see Holo in full wolf form, for instance). The conversation at the wagon afterward, the one that lends the series its name, is also a little different. A total divergence happens in the interlude chapter focused exclusively on Nora, a little of which was spliced into episodes 8 and 9 of the anime but most of which is entirely new. That chapter focuses on showing the dangerous and pitiable circumstances that Nora is trapped in upon meeting Lawrence and Holo, which does better clarify how close to home Lawrence struck in his efforts to convince Nora to go along with the later gold scheme in Ruvenheigen (which, for those new to the franchise, is beyond the purview of this volume).
Though it is refreshing to see the original details toyed with a bit, this version loses a lot compared to the other two. The scene where Holo howls to discourage the dogs relies here on the reverberations of the stones, rather than any sound effect, to suggest its intensity, an effort which might be fine for newcomers but will be found wanting for those who have seen its anime version. Holo's distinctive mannerisms and speech patterns do not come through as well here as in the other versions and this one's artistic effort on the character designs is distinctly inferior the anime's, too. Nora does get a wider emotional range in her feature chapter than elsewhere in the franchise, but the aforementioned issues and other minor details weigh more against this version.
Original novelist Hasekura provided the scripting for this effort, while Jū Ayakura provided the character designs (as he also did for the anime version, albeit in more refined form) and Keito Koume did the art. Neither of the latter two efforts impresses much, although the quality of the layouts and oft-detailed background art are above average. The highlight of the artistry is the color cover art, with the one interior color picture seeming just a little off in the way Holo's face is drawn. Casting Holo in the look of an Edo-period courtesan in the Bonus Track looks more than a little weird.
Yen Press's release of the title retains all of the original Japanese sound effects, with translations and/or clarifying notes including in tiny print nearby. The volume covers six chapters and the Bonus Track, with a very brief summary on the first page and a brief note from the writer on the last. They have given it an Explicit Content warning tag and Mature rating due to the near-nudity, slightly bloody violence, and emission of certain bodily fluids.
Are the extra scenes of Nora and slight changes in details enough to justify the $12.99 MSRP of the volume? For completists, probably so, but for anyone else this is not a must-have release.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : B
+ New details about Nora, alternate takes on some scenes.
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