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Matt Kamen takes you to the pastoral paradise of Spice and Wolf

Spice and WolfMeet Kraft Lawrence – 25-year old travelling merchant, roaming from town to town on his trusty cart, slowly earning enough to open his own store. It’s a lonely, quiet life for the young entrepreneur, until he trundles into the village of Pasloe to sell his wares and stock up on supplies. On top of the wheat harvest, he also picks up Holo, a stowaway who jumps aboard as he leaves. Despite looking like a teenaged girl wearing cosplay ears and a tail, she’s actually a haughty 600-year old Pagan wolf goddess, desperate to return to her home, Yoitsu.

The pair strike up something between a friendship and a partnership – Lawrence agrees to take Horo along as they head north, and she uses her abilities and bossy personality to improve his business deals. Their burgeoning relationship is put to the test though, not least because of their early personality clashes. A rival trader, Zeelen, puts them at risk with an edgy scam, while Horo is hunted wherever they go by a new Church seeking to wipe out the old gods. Suddenly, solitude seems more appealing to the young Lawrence….

Spice and Wolf first grabbed attention back in 2006, when the original books by Isuna Hasekura were first published. The series was published until last year; the story having reached its conclusion after seventeen volumes, each boasting detailed illustrations by Ju Ayakura that helped to bring the fantasy world to life. Though it was his first published work – having won the Silver Prize in the twelfth annual Dengeki Novel Prize in 2005 – Hasekura built up a complex and involving world that is rich in its own lore.

Making the jump to the TV screen came courtesy of director Takeo Takahashi and the animation studio Imagin. Having previously made the ethereal fantasy series Mushishi, Imagin was a prime choice to tackle the similarly paced Spice and Wolf. However, a few changes were made along the way – most notably, the anime introduces an original character, Chloe. A former student of Lawrence, she balances wanting to become a successful merchant in her own right with her lingering feelings for her old teacher.

Spice and Wolf is at times slow, considered, and steeped more in the pettiness and quarrelsome nature of humanity than in the godly nature of Holo. There are no epic battles to speak of, but the duo’s journey north is fraught with peril all the same. The character designs are elegant and considered, but brought to life with a fluidity and grace of motion that should be admired. In short, it is a very different experience to most anime series but one that will thoroughly enchant anyone who joins Lawrence and Holo on their journey.

Spice and Wolf is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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