The last time the female star of an anime series was hyped this much — and this poorly — prior to her show even hitting the airwaves (which would be Yoko from Gurren Lagann) I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome, even though the overly-promoted mammary model really didn't do much for me herself... Horo, the lead chick from Spice and Wolf (who'd also been whored out for months before her show even aired), proved to be ALL that and a barrel of pickled peaches, but the show as a whole.... Well, the show as a whole was not even CLOSE to anything that I had imagined it would be. But Horo was indeed awesome.
Let me take you back in time a little. I remember seeing pictures online of animated babe-d'jour Horo over 9 months ago. "Ugh, goddammit!" I thought, "Another anime based around the idea of 'the catgirl'?! How fucking original." Then I learned that Horo was in fact a "wolf girl," but that did nothing to assuage my disgust of the moment. "If this turns into a furry show, not only will I never watch it, but I will hunt down those responsible and kill them if necessary."
I had visions of Spice and Wolf being a lighthearted, goofy comedy based around a medieval setting where chicks with animal ears and tails gallivanted around town with normals as if it were actually typical and ordinary. I shut my eyes in pain and shook my head just imagining how gay this would be, and how really fucking strange the Japanese were, are, and forever shall be themselves. Then, months later, I forced myself to watch the newly completed project (12 TV episodes and one OVA ep), and I was absolutely blown the fuck away by what I saw!
No, Spice and Wolf is not a grand slam of a show — that's not what impressed me. Instead I was completely caught off guard and inspired by it's tone and style. Spice and Wolf is not a comedy by anybody's definition, and I know people who find children's burn wards hilarious. S&W is a drama about medieval economics and trade. Honestly, who the fuck thought up this plot outline? Was a Mad Libs involved? "Let's see.... Hmmm, 'an animal:' Wolf... What else?... 'A product:' Harvest grain.... 'Adjective:' Medieval... 'Job (plural):' Merchants... 'Something that hasn't had a place in civilization for several hundred years:' Silver coins... 'A bad thing that can happen to a religious minority:' Religious persecution... 'Ancient job class:' Shepherds... Hmmmmm, and let's see... and 'An adjective' now... Dramatic!"
Beyond the strange theme is the strange approach of the show — it's broken up into two 6-part storylines (with the final straight-to-video episode taking place in between the two main plots). The first is all about how Lawrence (the male lead) lives his normal merchants' life, and what happens when he unintentionally helps a local harvest goddess break free from the land she had been a part of for many centuries. This goddess is of course Horo — who chooses to take the form of the minxy female with wolf ears and a tail that she's already famous for — a being who can (with a certain sacrifice offered to her) change back into her fucking huge and ferocious ÜBER-WOLF form if the going gets tough. Horo puts the Mononoke Hime wolf clan to absolute pussified shame.
"Wait, what?!" you question like a child seeing his parents having sex for the first time on the video that they made when they were trying to do every move in the Kama Sutra in one go. "Horo's a goddess?!?" Yes, dingleberry. Horo is the goddess of the land that Lawrence first travels to at the beginning of the story. She took care of the harvest for a long, long time, but soon the people forgot she really existed, and treated her legend like a farce and a retarded little harvest-time play. Thanks to Lawrence's being in the right place at the right time, with the right wagon full of the right merchandise, Horo is able to leave the sanctified land, and she decides to journey with Mr. Stubble until she makes it back to her original home in the far off North. The reason she can leave the land is all thanks to the bushel of wheat Lawrence has in the back of his wagon (which he sheaves and puts the grain into a leather pouch that Horo carries around her neck from then on). See, even though she can vacate the rolling fields of gold that she promised to take care of so many years ago, she's still somewhat tied to it — hence the grain pouch.
Anyway, the main plot of the first storyline has to do with somebody taking advantage of the politics and economics of the day by flooding the market with substandard silver currency (in the hopes of making a complicated profit), and merchant-man Lawrence doing all he can to get a piece of the action without getting drawn and quartered for his involvement. LOTS of really convoluted and complex financial jargon and speeches are thrown about like wolf whistles around a construction site starting its build right next to St. Angelina's School for Slutty Girls. It's a "get to know the main characters" storyline, though it's stretched a bit longer than it needs to be.
The second storyline is about how shitty the Church is in this world, and how Lawrence got royally screwed on a huge merchandising deal that leads to his head being placed on the chopping block. This story in this bit is spread too thin too... Like too little butter scraped over a piece of bread. Hmmm, now that I think about it, both stories were pretty much the same: Lawrence (being the self-proclaimed awesome-hero-merchant that he says he is) gets conned into a deal that anybody who wasn't born yesterday would know to avoid, he gets into a huge pile of medieval manure, he frets about his (should have been easily avoidable) fate for an episode or two, then he strikes a deal with some powerful people with more to lose and gain than he ever could, and with Horo's bitchin' god-wolfy side he barely manages to escape his own stupidity by the scruff of his neck in the last episode of the arc.
I'm still confused as to my final thoughts on this series. I loved how it was something I had never seen before, but I was very disappointed by the pace of the stories. I was impressed with Horo's capricious awesomeness (she's very much like Ayukawa Madoka with wolf-mimi and a tail), but didn't like how we learned about the world and the merchant business through Lawrence's bumbling, mongoloid attempts to score an extra coin in his daily practice (which usually backfired on him in the end). Honestly, he gets swindled like a 3 year-old who I convinced to sell me his ice-cream cone for an imaginary fifty dollar bill... That retard really should have asked to have his mommy act as the official on THAT deal... Anyway, I was overjoyed to see Horo return to her wolf-god nature on a few special occasions — she really cuts loose, which was something I truly wasn't expecting (thought they'd play it too safe and make her a veritable pussycat). I liked seeing the details of how people lived and worked in this time period, but I really, really did not like how the most important information was only presented as helpful notes (at the end of each episode) provided by the nice fansubbers who actually read the original light novels (on which this show is based). I had LOTS of questions regarding the importance of certain trades and stories told in each episode that weren't answered within the designated 22-minutes of plot per chapter (did the director simply think everyone would have read the light novels ahead of seeing this?), but the notes cleared up most everything. Did you read that, future US distributors of this thing? LINER NOTES!
Speaking of the fansubbers, perhaps my favorite part of the whole Spice and Wolf experience was watching the episode files on my Mac VLC player... Which showed every hidden fansubber comment meant only for fellow fansubber eyes (as they were presumably passes back and forth across the net for editing). There may have been no fucking laughs at all during the show proper, but I guffawed my ass off with these subber remarks. Some of the best were:
Seven apple on a witch's tree-ee-ee
With seven seed to prant inside of me-ee-ee.
In Springtime I grew a magic song
Then skipping arong, I sang the song to everyone!
Fantastic! Simply marvelous! No, no, no, I'm not referring to all the complicated shop talk from all the Dark Ages merchants or their quest to earn enough silver shemples to.... I don't know, open a male brothel? No, I'm talking about the idea of the "wolfgirl!" Honestly, in all my years I would never have even thought of coming up with the genetic concept for a half-breed of a part spicy woman, part feral beast, in one minxy package like this.
Oh, wait wait wait wait... Waitaminute... I forgot about that attempted werewolf-woman experiment from '95. I tried to get a woman to mate with a wolf (so that I could harness the Lycanthropian power of their offspring to sic on those damn vampires across the street who never turn their damn stereo down after 10 at night), but I couldn't get my hands on a live one (neither a woman nor a wolf). But then the Rossman introduced me to Tammi With an "i", and she told me that for fifty dollars she'd do it with a pack of wolves, a stuffed buffalo, and a ferret if necessary. Instead I had to settle for that wild goat that wanders the neighborhood; but despite all of Tammi With an "i"'s efforts, nothing ever came out of that experiment... Well, nothing except about 60 hours worth of beastiality footage that when sold on eBay funded my laboratory for the next 5 years.
What? I didn't watch this gay-looking show, stop asking. I think the Rossman just thought it'd be funny to have a guy named "Wolfman" review a show called "Spice and Wolf." Hardy-har-har-har. Hiiiiiiiiilarious.
You know what, I think I will review it. Just to piss everybody off.