Spice and Wolf Episode 2: No Laughing Matter



As expected, series director Sanpei Hijiri makes their appearance with Spice and Wolf episode 2 as this week’s storyboarder. Given the surprisingly transitional content, Hijiri does a commendable job of ensuring the episode remains intriguing… but I think does a better job of showing their sensibilities as a series director rather than storyboarder- allow me to explain. The episode largely takes place in the confined spaces of a church, before briefly opening up to the expanse of nature as Lawrence and Holo continue forward. With confined space it can be challenging to remain creative, and while I do think Hijiri struggles in the purest sense in regards to creativity, I think ultimately it exposes their train of thought with the work.

Hijiri understands just how valuable the words of Hasekura Isuna are, choosing to stick as closely as possible to them. However, Hijiri also plainly grasps the limitations of anime and where changes must be made and where to approach them from. Because of this, Hijiri’s boards aren’t a replacement for Isuna’s work, but rather a complement. I think the easiest examples you’ll see that with are when Holo begins to talk about nature. Her words remain strong and well expressed, but find a backdrop that amplifies them very well. The separation of Holo’s voice from her body helps to forge that connection between humanity and nature quite well, and works as a really great segue to the work with Lawrence’s small flashback.

Though, I should also add that we absolutely cannot discount Kevin Penkin’s dominant soundtrack for the episode. In terms of providing tone, it adds the most out of anything. Holo and Lawrence’s relationship, and by extension business, is one where showing your truer colors and feelings is akin to rolling over and accepting defeat. Because of that, it’s difficult to really “get” what sort of reactions and feelings a set of characters is expressing, and doubly so without the advent of monologues from Lawrence. In spite of that, Hijiri does a rather good job of continuing that trend of angles with Holo to express her playful versus serious nature, and Kevin Penkin works magic in the background for those moments.

To be more critical of Hijiri’s debut on the series, I could possibly say that the standout work in other areas helps hide their deficiencies. I do like quite a bit of what Hijiri puts down (especially in the nature conversation), but I won’t lie and say that they did the best they could with the work. Their conversation pieces with Lawrence and Holo in their room are really great- aware of space, cognizant of character acting and so on- but when exposed to a wider space with less opportunity for creativity, they end up defaulting to pans and translations. I think at times they can work well, but I also think that Hijiri leaned on them a great deal through those conversations. I would have found it interesting if Hijiri used camera angles to create the imposing air of a noble during that conversation with Lawrence, for example, but sadly that didn’t happen. Hijiri certainly seems to still be doing well in their position of series director (though it’s only been 2 episodes), but it’s hard to not think that they sold Spice and Wolf episode 2 short on a handful of occasions.

All is forgiven though with the really wonderful environment art of this episode. I know that quite a few people expressed concern as to the quality of Passione’s typical work, but I never really doubted their ability post-Ishura. Of course, they’re different art directors, but it’s still hard to think that the art director for series like Fate/Apocrypha would ever fail. Speaking in more concrete terms on the art though, since we got a nice range of it today, I like its softness. It’s a weird thing to say, but it does feel very at home within the world of Spice and Wolf. Everything is surprisingly blotty, and it neither feels too saturated or too pale. Also, the cut of Holo chatting over which was included in the above video was really good. I’m sure many would be tempted to leave it static, but if you pay attention the river is actually flowing.

That really feels like a great way to explain Spice and Wolf episode 2- the details. It’s impressively detail-oriented, and with Hijiri’s scrutinizing gaze, the boards end up reflecting quite a great deal of what they’ve pulled from the material. While it’s a massive positive for quite a few sequences, it similarly can be a drag in ones like that chat with the noble. Where there’s nothing to learn or expand upon, Hijiri finds it hard to present a compelling scene. When given the necessary tools and information though, they provide a great match for Takahashi’s work on the premiere.

I suppose it would do well to address the elephant in the room, wouldn’t it? Personally, I find no problems with the animation in the episode. There’s not quite any one scene that can match up to the splendor of the best sequences in episode one, but Spice and Wolf episode 2 maintains more than a respectable degree of quality. In particular, Holo’s character acting remains quite nice- even in the more subtle scenes. It works really well as even though it’s probably not intended, the more stationary characters only help to make Holo shine brighter. On the production side of things though, I’m much happier than the first episode. I was worried by the sheer volume of 2nd key animators and in-betweeners, but this episode sees a far more balanced production- aside from animation directors. It’s still a mountain of them, but considering the timeline of the production I’m more comfortable with accepting it as the approach of the studio rather than a last-ditch effort.

So at the end of it, Spice and Wolf episode 2 really doesn’t do anything to go out of its way for attention or appeal, but by the same token it does anything but stray towards disappointing results. Sanpei Hijiri might not have delivered boards that could match Takahashi’s 100% of the time, but I think many fans will find them rather agreeable alongside the great environment art and Penkin’s stellar soundtrack. The real test will be the next episode however, so I’m greatly looking forward to seeing what Passione is able to bring out of Isuna’s monster of a novel series.

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