Spice and Wolf Episode 1: The Wisewolf



I know I was rambling on yesterday about my confidence in this adaptation and all, but I’m still thoroughly impressed with what we get to see with Spice and Wolf episode 1. It’s a love letter to its material, both in terms of the light novel but also its predecessor. There’s so much that reminds you of Takeo Takahashi’s time with the series so long ago, but there’s also a world of content that firmly places the realm of this story in the hands of series director Hijiri Sanpei. And with that comes the challenge of production.

With that at the forefront of everyone’s minds, let’s get it out of the way. The episode is well animated. Considering that this is Passione, it’s almost entirely unrecognizable as a work and that’s for good reason. Passione, and subsequently Hijiri, have opted for an… amicable decision on production. They’ve chosen to put their faith in a few for key animation, and refine the hell out of it for a great end result. Eleven key animators feeds into twenty-eight second key animators, and is in-betweened by over 30 staff members, all overseen by 14 animation directors (boasting an even split between regular and assistant). For being produced in-house, this is about the greatest work we could expect to see out of the studio. They’re allowing a few key (pun intended) animators like Osamu Sakata (Frieren, Wonder Egg Priority) and Hiroshi Tomioka (a J.C. Staff loyalist) to lead the charge, and giving staff the resources they need to be able to produce an episode of this quality. That said, I’m hopeful that we’ll see more normalized productions in future episodes as I have my reservations about how sustainable this is for the anime- though at the least we know that 4 episodes were completed prior to airing.

Now finally, the meat and potatoes (or maybe wheat and jerky?): the episode itself. I’d said above it was a love letter, and I well and truly mean it. It rectifies some of the issues faced with the original airing of the series, but it’s bold enough to still borrow some of the altered aspects of it. For example, Yarei. He exists in this anime, but he also fulfills the similar role of Chloe in the original where both sneak out of their responsibilities as Holo to spend an evening with the travelling merchant. Of course, this is also facilitated by the fact that Lawrence doesn’t find himself sleeping outside in his wagon- like he does in the light novel.

In a sense, it’s sort of a bold decision for light novel purists, but with Takeo Takahashi’s boards (a huge level up from the original), a stronger picture is painted in favor of the changes. But I’ll get there in a bit. For now, it’s suffice to say that some changes have stuck from the original anime, and have found meaningful inclusion here. The whole idea of Lawrence chatting with Yarei is great for anime viewers as it really helps break down some of the potential monotony in scenery and interaction. Alongside that, Takahashi and Hijiri are able to use this interaction to help build out the idea of the world that Lawrence finds himself in. Where a lot of that responsibility lay with Holo the wolf originally, passing it off to Yarei helps freshen things up and provide more explicit explanations of some of the content. In general, you could definitely say that Takahashi and Hijiri favor the pacing of the original series a good deal, but they’re also well aware of expectations as well as shortcomings in the original. Because of that, this episode really does follow its predecessor to a T, but it’s ultimately something I can’t complain about because Takahashi has found so many more ways to improve.

For instance, his visual storytelling has travelled light years to arrive at this point. The single biggest aspect of this is how he visually depicts Holo. The wolf-god that’s hundreds of years old, but possesses the duality worthy of the title Wisewolf while also being peculiarly childish, is expertly displayed in relation to Lawrence in this first episode. It’s really great because it’s a really subtle yet valuable way to frame the story as from his perspective, despite the fact that it’s Holo providing the preamble that leads us to this story. When you pick up on that, you immediately grasp how much the power dynamic between wisewolf and wandering merchant flows. In one moment, Holo will tower over Lawrence, providing an imposing presence that helps create that air of mystique and wonder. In the next though, Takahashi is emphasizing the smallness of Holo that symbolizes the fragile and scared young girl out in the world on her own. It’s really, really great work and is exactly the kind of creative subtlety that I was hoping Spice and Wolf episode 1 would open with. Though, Takahashi may have taken it even a little further, prodding at the sort of chemistry the pair wield after striking their deal at the end- seating them both on the bench without any effort to display the balance between them.

Though I mentioned the prologue there, so I just want to make a quick aside. For one, it’s really well done. I love how they obscure the characters and provide Holo’s perspective that creates this interesting contrast with Lawrence in the present. Secondly, it’s a really creative introduction to the story that’s able to make use of the light novel’s prologue very effectively. And lastly, it’s arguably the strongest symbol of love that Passione has displayed for the source material. Though that one’s a little more vague. Anyways, here’s this incredibly creative cut of the interpretation of a wolf running amongst a field of wheat.

Anyways, back towards content of the content of Spice and Wolf episode 1. Where I had said that Takahashi had done great work with the visual dynamic between Holo and Lawrence, I think he’s also done a great job of expressing the loneliness that Lawrence feels with his occupation. Though it remains non-verbal, Takahashi has made some solid decisions and updates to better express that. For one, Lawrence’s distance to the townspeople remains strongly expressed through the vast open space that surrounds the merchant, but also by the fact that he’s never shown dismounted from his cart when “in” town. It’s a simple piece but ultimately helps a great deal with providing a solid foundation for Lawrence, and his interactions with Holo.

Speaking of that though, I do have one minor complaint. I’m a massive fan of Hasekura’s incredible dialogue in the light novel, so I’m just a bit upset that it’s not entirely present in the anime. What they’ve brought works great, but it’s just a touch different without having everything verbalized. You can feel how Holo’s personality changes from moment to moment, but hearing that ebb and flow in discussion wasn’t quite displayed in this episode. It also didn’t quite help that Yarei ended up eating up some of that dialogue. He’s a charming character, but ultimately is a little more thick-skulled and fond of Lawrence, making for a fun character but not one that can ultimately match Holo. Though considering the content of the next episode, I’m endlessly hopeful that we’ll get a sizeable chunk of it.

And that’s probably the best time to discuss the staff behind series composition, as we finally have access to the credit- Urahata Tatsuhiko. They are, without a doubt, an incredibly questionable choice. Having no relation to Spice and Wolf is rather okay, but they’re a staff member far past their heyday of Hajime No Ippo, Monster, and Master Keaton. Because of that, my faith in the composition of this series rests entirely in the hands of Takahashi and Hijiri. Of course, Tatsuhiko has proven themselves worthy with the fixes in Spice and Wolf episode 1, but it’s not near enough to have confidence in the credit.

I could (rightfully) go on about all the good Spice and Wolf episode 1 has done for the series, both from the perspective of a light novel fan, and a viewer of the original series, but what matters most is here and now. And right here, right now, Passione and Takeo Takahashi have displayed an impressive amount of awareness and quality that is befitting of Spice and Wolf. Takahashi himself has come a long way to reclaim the work, and has done a wonderful job of setting the tone of the series. Striking fear into Lawrence’s character in regards to Holo, strongly cementing their power dynamic through visual details, and molding the story into a package that’s conveyed very well to first-time viewers. Spice and Wolf episode 1 has done all that I’d asked of it, and so all I can say at the end is that I’m very excited to see how this turns out.

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