HomeAnimeANIME REVIEW | "Spice and Wolf" Finds New Life in Beautiful Reboot

ANIME REVIEW | "Spice and Wolf" Finds New Life in Beautiful Reboot

ANIME REVIEW | "Spice and Wolf" Finds New Life in Beautiful Reboot

In 2008, two travelers entered my life. One was a humble merchant, making his living selling goods and making deals. The other was a wolf deity, one who wished to return to the place of her homeland. Within two seasons, their adventures cemented Spice and Wolf as the best of the 2000s, thanks to its beautiful storytelling, deep drama, and wonderful characters. (It also had one of the best English dubs of the time.)

Now over fifteen years later, viewers have been reacquainted with the likes of Kraft Lawrence (Jun Fukuyama/J. Michael Tatum) and Holo the Wise Wolf (Ami Koshimizu/Brina Palencia) in a brand-new anime adaptation. Spice and Wolf: Merchant Meets the Wise Wolf thus far has adapted the first two volumes of Isuna Hasekura’s original light novel series. Although it’s fairly the same as Imagin’s from 2008, Studio Passione (Interspecies Reviewers, Mieruko-chan) finds a way to breathe in new life to the story. What it results in is an anime reboot that feels like a warm hug from a long-lost friend.

The gist of Spice and Wolf: Merchant Meets the Wise Wolf is the same. Traveling merchant Kraft Lawrence makes his cash by selling goods, in hopes that one day he’ll be able to open his own store. When stopping in the town of Pasloe, he finds himself an unexpected stowaway: a young girl with wolf ears and tail. She proclaims herself to be Holo the Wise Wolf, who has been freed from the wheat grains was entrapped in. Now that she’s free from being the Pasloe deity, she aims to return to her homeland of Yoitsu.

At first, Lawrence is a little skeptical of Holo’s claims, until she proves herself to being a true wolf deity. That’s when the two make a deal: Holo helps with selling and making profits, and Kraft will bring her back home. Of course, having a wolf deity as a partner has as many hinderances as there are pluses, especially when it comes to the Church. Together, Lawrence and Holo travel from town to town, making new friends, belittling enemies, and finding both success and failure at making money.

There isn’t much of a difference between this Spice and Wolf adaptation and the 2008 one, although a character from the light novel in the first arc is rightfully placed back into the anime adaptation. However, there is a certain tone to Merchant Meets the Wise Wolf that was lacking in the original. It’s a tone of familiarity, and while it has nothing to do with it being a reboot, at the same time, it kind of does. And it’s all in the way Kraft and Holo are portrayed in this version.

It seems odd, but even when they meet for the first time, it looks like Lawrence and Holo already know each other. The way they talk and banter with one another is more like old chums than new friends, giving way to a chemistry that feels much stronger than in the previous. Yes, the original Spice and Wolf built up that chemistry as the story went on, but here, it’s like the two instantly click. Because of that, it gives off a vibe that makes it feel like even the two characters know that their story is being retold, and that they’re relishing on this new take on their fable.

Although it’s a joyous feeling, it never takes away from the more darker parts of the story. Even with my knowledge of the original series, my heart still sank when either the Church kidnaps Holo or Lawrence found himself bankrupt over a poor deal. I know what happens, and how they get out of that situation. And yet, Passione frames it in a way that makes you think that the worst is about to happen to these characters.

Thankfully, the good times always find a way to return. Whether it’s having a drink and a meal in their rented room or the appearance of shepherd Nora (Mai Nakahara/Leah Clark), there’s a lovely feeling that fills the air of this anime at around every corner. Even when a bit of bad luck hits our travelers, there’s still this essence that things will be okay once a plan is put into action. And man, do both Lawrence and Holo come up with great plans when they’re up against a wall!

Holo and Lawrence work well together not just mentally, but vocally as well. The way they talk nonchalantly, how they make deals with other merchants, and even when they bring a level of threatening aura to the room is filled with such life! Whether you watch it in the original Japanese or in the English dub, this feeling is brought out strongly and beautifully. (Props to the producers on both sides of the ocean for bringing the original casts for each, as Fukuyama, Tatum, Koshimizu, and Palencia all fit back into their roles like the comfiest of gloves.)

Animation-wise, Passione brings their A-game to adapting Spice and Wolf: Merchant Meets the Wise Wolf. Although it lacks the brightness of both Imagin and Brain’s Base’s adaptations, it makes up for it in the detail. How clothes look, their patterns, and the well-worn roads, streets, and places our heroes travel fit perfectly to the old pre-Renaissance era this world is inspired by. Where the animation shines is when Holo transforms from human to wolf, with her big teeth and wild fur becoming more intimidating and terrifying here than in the past.

The bad news is that the new anime didn’t bring back Yuji Yoshino to do the soundtrack again. However, Kevin Penkin (Made in Abyss, Tower of God) hits a full-blown grand slam with his own gorgeous compositions. Every song is like pure magic in their respective scenes, with the archaic sounds meshing perfectly with the time period. From simple mandolin melodies to fully orchestrated pieces, the music comes to life in ways that’ll give anyone goosebumps listening to it.

However, I sadly cannot say the same about the opening and ending themes. Hana Hope’s “Tabi no Yukue” is a beautiful opening song, but it lacks the soul and spirit of Natsumi Kiyoura’s “Tabi no Tochu”. ClariS’s “Andante” is nice and bubbly, but it doesn’t feel right with the tone of the overall series. Of course, when you have to compete with Rocky Chack’s catchy-as-hell “Ringo Biyori: The Wolf Whistling Song”, then you know it’s a battle that’s already been lost.

Opening and closing songs aside, Spice and Wolf: Merchant Meets the Wise Wolf is a pitch-perfect remake of an already perfect anime. And yet, even if it thus far doesn’t feel like a necessary creation, seeing the likes of Holo and Lawrence back on the screen fills my heart with plenty of warmth and joy. In fact, it’s wicked hard for me to say whether or not you should still watch the original, as that version is still very iconic to the anime world. As such, it comes down to one simple suggestion when it comes to watching either the 2008 or 2024 versions of Spice and Wolf: why not both? After all, two carts filled with delicious apples are better than one!

Voice Acting: (Japanese and English dubs)
Final Grade (not an average):

Spice and Wolf: Merchant Meets the Wise Wolf can be viewed on Crunchyroll, and has been licensed by Crunchyroll. Episodes 1-11 were observed for review. Promotional consideration provided by Crunchyroll. Click here to watch the original on Crunchyroll!

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The J-POP king of America, Evan has been bringing the hottest sounds of the Land of the Rising Sun to the English-speaking public since his college radio days. He's also an expert in the gaming, anime, & manga realms, never afraid to get critical when the times call for it. Born & bred in Boston, he achieved his biggest dream yet by making the big move to Tokyo, Japan in Summer 2023! For personal inquiries, contact Evan at evan@b3crew.com. For press/band inquiries, write to us at thebastards@bostonbastardbrigade.com. (Drawing by AFLM of Wicked Anime)