Spice and Wolf Episode 3: Sweet Temptation



I almost feel a little guilty for “stealing” this one from Blue (thanks to their love of this staff member), regardless though, Spice and Wolf episode 3 has landed and with it Shinji Itadaki appears to storyboard for the episode. Personally speaking, if we get to see more of Itadaki or similar storyboarders I’ll be thrilled, as he’s shown off some incredible understanding and passion (maybe even Passione?) with their work here. This episode we enter the bustling city of Pazzio so that Lawrence can sell his pelts and make good on his business with a certain merchant in regards to some gold coins. Though, I’d forgive viewers for thinking that we got quite a bit off track in this episode, as Holo and Lawrence show off their penchant for meandering conversation that sees Lawrence try to one-up the girl with the title of Wisewolf.

All the same, Itadaki’s boards really work wonders in this episode. Pazzio is a city full of life and scale that’s meant to dwarf the experiences of Holo and Lawrence so far in the story, and Itadaki’s boards for Spice and Wolf episode 3 are able to express that incredibly well. One of the easiest ways it does so is by expressing the difference in scale between travelling merchant and Wisewolf, and the city buildings that flank them wherever they go. Itadaki forces our pair into the bottom third of the screen while the environment art reaches upwards, almost to the heavens. Combined with all the low angle shots that show off the craftsmanship of the city, and the distance views we spot of Holo and Lawrence in the town, you end up getting a really great grasp of the scale of the populous that the pair find themselves mingling among.

In opposition to that though is Itadaki’s use of first person perspective here. Its primary use is of course to sell the more dull and “simple” conversations apparent between the bickering bunch, but it does a great job of expressing a contrary proximity against those wider shots, aiming to suck the viewer in to the visages of characters Holo. To that end, Itadaki actually expands on it and uses that perspective as a sort of expectation subversion earlier on in the episode. When Lawrence is selling his furs, Holo steps in and shows off just why she’s called the Wisewolf, and here Itadaki uses that high angle shot that Takahashi and Hijri have fostered. However, it’s not used to express her more childish side- no, it’s to take advantage of how people view Holo, and she weaponizes that to catch the merchant off guard and apply her cunning nature to add a healthy bonus to the sale of Lawrence’s fur.

And then there’s so much more. Itadaki’s awareness of Pazzio in Spice and Wolf episode 3 is really incredible, and honestly is the part that I want to talk about more than anything here. For example, Itadaki doesn’t just employ wide shots in outdoor areas, he actually uses them in indoor areas as well to express the passage of time. It’s incredibly subtle, but the best example is in the pub that our pair of travelling merchants frequent during their stay in Pazzio. Itadaki uses the space to express the “business” of the establishment, and by extension the time of day (alongside the ambience that candlelight provides in the evening). It’s really great work that ties the interiors of Pazzio to its busy exterior. If you’re looking for something expressed indoors only however, Itadaki uses a pair of overhead shots in the episode that I wish they were able to use more liberally.

They’re hardly all that important though when you think about how active Itadaki keeps Pazzio in Spice and Wolf episode 3. Every outdoor cut shows the pair moving through the city, or shows the city moving around them. It may be something you can take for granted, but it adds a great deal of personality and urgency to the town and its people, and gives Itadaki room for cuts like that one of Holo struggling to stay in frame and look at the apples as Lawrence and the cart exit left.

I suppose I should move on from my Itadaki excitement though, as there’s more to the episode than just that. Why don’t I talk about the CGI? In recent years, as expected, 3D work has seen a great deal of improvement- when employed with intention and effort. Spice and Wolf episode 3 falls under both of those descriptions, in my opinion. It may not be the most technically stunning CGI ever, but its integration was rock solid and really helped provide that air of life and pace to Pazzio quite well. In fact, I thought it did so well that I think they could have added more of it to the episode to substitute in for some of those static shots. It just does such a great job of providing the feeling of Pazzio, that it almost feels like you’ve come to a grinding halt when you’re introduced to a still image instead. Of course, they still look pretty, but it just feels like it doesn’t quite add to the nature of Pazzio. In addition to that solid CGI, the environment work of the episode was impressively solid. There’s quite a few sequences where we get isometric and angled views of Pazzio, and even more where the movement of the city is expressed to the viewer. It’s a rather straightforward piece, admittedly, but it does well to prime viewers on the dimensionality afforded by CG characters.

Spice and Wolf episode 3 is very much a foundational piece for the series, but all the same it wastes no breath or effort. Everything is utilized in some capacity to prime viewers for what’s to come. Holo involved in trade talks, the silver coin trade, the scale of Pazzio- everything is delivered to viewers in a way that might even make the light novel jealous, as it comes off so naturally.

Though, not all that glitters is gold, as Spice and Wolf episode 3 has the most “concerning” credits of the series so far. I used quotations there purely because the idea of concern with an episode that’s already completed and doesn’t feature anything overly “important” is sort of vague. Either way, there’s a lot of third party studios participating in key animation, and the number of staff credited with animation direction ballooned a great deal. If this were an episode that wasn’t shown early I would be concerned, and similarly if it were an important episode I’d say the same- this is neither however. That makes it all the more interesting though as despite the shoddy construction of staff, the episode plays out wonderfully well in the hands of Shinji Itadaki- just barely scraping against the limits of what Passione was able to provide for this episode.

So at the end of it, it’s nothing to actually be worried about. As the first episode outside the control of Hijiri or Takahashi, it almost surprisingly exceeds expectations in terms of delivery. There might be some bumps caused by the staff on the episode, but its overall execution and quality, especially for what it is, is really good. It has me very hopeful for what’s to come in this arc, and it has me praying that we might see Itadaki again. Though, if they’re on an episode so early on, I can’t help but be excited to see what other big names appear to work on Spice and Wolf.

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