0 Items | £0.00

VIEW BASKET

The Spice and Wolf books

Monday 6th August 2012

Andrew Osmond reads the Spice & Wolf books

Spice and Wolf

Underneath the cloak, Holo smiled mischievously. The right corner of her mouth curled up in a smirk, showing a sharp fang. “Want to injure me and see for yourself?”

Lawrence was not entirely disinclined to respond to her provocation, but he decided that if he actually reacted and drew his dagger, things could really get out of hand.

“I’m a man. I could never injure such a beautiful face.”

Hearing him say so, Holo smiled as if receiving a long anticipated gift and drew playfully near to him. A sweet scent swirled vaguely round him, rousing Lawrence’s body. Completely indifferent to his reaction, she sniffed him, then drew slightly back.

Spice and WolfDown, Wolfy! At the risk of disappointing readers, that’s about as, er, spicy as these first two Spice and Wolf books get. And to think, an X-rated fantasy about a girl who turns into a wolf goddess could have given whole new meanings to Fifty Shades of Grey…

For the benefit of readers unfamiliar with Spice and Wolf, it’s set in a medieval-style world where Lawrence is a nomadic peddler and Holo a lonely nature goddess, appearing as a beautiful girl with furry ears and a tail. There’s much competitive sparring between the pair – indeed, one of the story’s purposes is to explore the foibles and mindsets of both sexes through their merry wars of words. There’s plenty of “How far will they go?” tension, and we won’t give away the answer here, but don’t expect reams of steamy prose.

Despite the lack of sauciness, the U.S. publishers Yen Press risked fans’ wrath by creating its own dust-jacket art for the first book in the series. It shows a nude girl in shadow flashing a dangerous grin. Frankly, the cover’s not nearly as bad as everyone says, though it sits oddly with the cute-and-cartoony pics in the book itself, taken from the Japanese edition. Like many manga magazines, there are eight colour pages of illustrations at the front of each of the two books, plus half-a-dozen black and white pictures scattered through the text.

Spice and WolfThe picture designs for Lawrence, Holo and the other players are in line with the anime, but slanted towards the cute. They include “chibi” portraits of Holo on the contents pages, resembling those on the anime’s end titles. It must be said that Holo appears in the altogether in one of the first frontispiece Japanese pictures, so it wasn’t just Yen Press exploiting Holo’s charms! The U.S. editions of the subsequent books keep to the Japanese covers, showing the cute Holo in less confrontational poses.

Written by the male author Isuna Hasekura, the first two books have been adapted very closely by the first anime season of Spice and Wolf, so don’t expect big new takes on the material. Volume 1 is the story-arc adapted in parts 1 to 6 of the anime; volume 2 covers parts 8 to 13. Part 7 of the anime was a little extra character piece that doesn’t appear in the books, released as an OVA after the rest of the series. There was a similar “bridging” episode made for Birdy the Mighty Decode.

Actually, the first book loses a big part of the plot compared to the anime. In the animated version, Lawrence has a female friend called Chloe, an ambitious entrepreneur herself, who’s set up in the first episode and plays an important part later. In the book version, the equivalent character is a man called Yaeri, though calling him a character is questionable, when he barely registers on the page.

Spice and WolfThere are other clear-cut improvements where the anime finds a better way to tell the story. For example, on their first meeting, Holo shows Lawrence she’s a wolf by suddenly “growing” a huge forepaw from her shoulder, which feels somewhat silly. The anime leaves the transformation to our imaginations, playing on our expectations with scary pagan wolf masks and giant wooden figures. There’s another striking revision at the very end of the season, where a lame romcom gag is made vastly funnier, even cinematic, by substituting a tolling church bell for a nonsensical “at-choo.”

More deeply, there are crucial moments when the books over-comment on Holo’s and Lawrence’s charged relationship, while the anime leaves the viewers to fill out their own scorecards on how they’re doing. Conversely, the books pass up the opportunity to see deeper into Holo’s godly heart, daring to imagine the thoughts of a divinity and contrasting his-and-hers perceptions. As in the anime, nearly everything is shown though Lawrence’s eyes. The characters’ voices, of course, are in line with the anime, though fans who know that version may find the verbal jousting less fun without the actors behind it.

For fans of fantasy world-building, we get no more of an overview of Spice and World’s milieu than we did in the anime. Even the threatening, demon-burning Church looming over Lawrence and Holo is sketched cloudily. At least in the translation, there are mentions of a Pope and the Virgin Mary, and church wine is “holy blood,” but there are also twelve angels who created the world. The history is just as murky, and despite threats of inquisitions and slave ships, there are few gritty historic hardships impinging on the main action.

However, there are some nice incidental observations; for example, Lawrence’s presumption that any female who can afford to look beautiful must have lordly connections, or else be an unaffordable prostitute! The second book is also harder-edged about Lawrence’s moral compass, when he and Holo risk the life of an innocent girl to get Lawrence out of a pickle. As the survivalist Holo puts it, “The death cry of a lamb is indescribable, yet my empty stomach complains constantly. If I must listen to one of them, I’ll lend my ear to the louder of the two.”

As the quote suggests, the translated prose reads well enough, though with some irritations and oddities. Many of the paragraphs are only one or two lines long, which adds momentum while highlighting its stodginess of much of the prose. Only the dialogue is vivacious, and much of that was transferred to the anime anyway. The dialogue is lent a cartoony quality by the numerous comic moments when Holo gorges on meat or drink, with many a “munch” and a “burp!” The speech is better at conveying Holo than awkward interjections such as “She was being almost unbearably dear,” or stock references to her sneers and cheeky grins.

Of course, the books have the same basic virtues picked up in the anime. There’s the novelty of a medieval-style fantasy based round trade conflicts rather than knights in armour, all imbued with the charm of Lawrence and Holo. For fans of the anime who want to revisit the story, the books offer a congenial alternative to just rewatching the show, though it’s well worth comparing how the anime handles particular scenes. And if you just love hanging out with Lawrence and Holo, then the books will let you stay with them for the long haul, long after the anime is over. After all, there are four more books by Hasekura already translated into English after these first two, and ten more waiting in Japan...

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

Buy it now

The Spice and Wolf books

MANGA UK GOSSIP

Spice And Wolf Complete Season 2

£26.99
sale_tag
was £29.99
Continuing where the first series left off, it follows Kraft Lawrence a experienced traveling merchant and his sharp tongued wolf god companion Holo on their journey to return to Holo's home to the north called Yoitsu. A tender relationship has blossomed between the characters, as they make deals, travel between cities, encounter religious fanatics or vice versa and mostly just do what a traveling merchant has to do to get by.

FEATURED RELEASE

Ben-To

Andrew Osmond discovers that every little helps...
Scott Pilgrim vs the World, in a supermarket. Well, that’s one way of summing up Ben-To, a wild anime comedy in which ‘ordinary’ citizens engage in Matrix-sized brawls over the holy grail of living on a budget; the bargain half-price meal.

RECENT FEATURED POSTS

The King and the Mockingbird

Andrew Osmond on Miyazaki’s love for a French classic
The King and the Mockingbird was one of the films which taught Miyazaki and Takahata that you could make an animated feature without following studio formulae – something they strove for themselves as early as Takahata’s 1968 Marxist epic The Little Norse Prince.

The History of Evangelion

Andrew Osmond on the prelude to the First Impact
Evangelion started as Neon Genesis Evangelion, a 26-part TV serial in 1995. It used a familiar Japanese plot template: the teenage boy who drives a giant robot (or in Eva’s case, cyborg), using the huge and frightening body to fight monsters and save Earth. The lyrics of the TV song express the myth. “Like an angel without a sense of mercy / Rise young boy to the heavens as a legend!”

Japan Rising... in Brighton!

Tom Smith on three of Japan’s rising talents
moumoon, PASSEPIED and Yosi Horikawa will perform at The Great Escape in Brighton on Saturday 16 May as part of the JAPAN RISING Showcase, taking place between 12-4pm at Queens Hotel.

Naruto Music: tacica

Tom Smith on Naruto’s newest song.
Japanese duo Tacica won’t be winning the Manga UK Blog award for most original song title anytime soon, mostly because no such award exists. But if it did, they still wouldn’t win. Especially not with the title of their hit single and Naruto Shippuden opener, Newsong.

On the Origin of Sushi

Tom Smith investigates the evolution of Japan’s best-loved fast food.
Sushi is serious business. Thought to be healthy, fresh and hip, the combination of vinegared rice with various toppings (notably fish) has become the food associated with Japan, and its history there stretches back almost as far as the country’s writing system. But if you thought the iconic delicacy was Japanese in origin – or even fresh for that matter – hold on to your chopsticks.

Tatsumi

Andrew Osmond on the real “adult” manga
Eric Khoo's film focuses on one of the founders of gekiga, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who died on 7th March. The framing story is Tatsumi’s account of his life and development, growing up with a difficult family. He had none of the technology and luxuries that we take for granted, no reason to think he could ever make a living from the fledgling manga industry. And yet he was utterly driven to draw comics, like his hero Osamu Tezuka.

K the Anime Music: angela

Paul Browne on the pop duo with multiple anime connections
K’s stirring theme song ‘KINGS’ comes courtesy of J-Pop duo angela. Consisting of vocalist Yamashita Atsuko and multi-instrumentalist Hirasato Katsunori (aka KATSU), angela are a familiar name when it comes to anime theme tunes.

Hayao Miyazaki versus Alan Moore

Seconds out for the battle of the beards
They’re world-famous practitioners of pictorial media. They started out labouring in despised sub-cultures, then rose to become full-blown artists with establishment respect. Oh, and they both have really impressive facial hair. Miyazaki prefers to keep his beard neatly trimmed, but Moore’s magnificent bristle evokes a shaggy primeval forest, housing a Paleolithic shaman from Northampton or a bouncing bellowing Totoro. Or possibly both.
Contact Us   |   Refund Policy   |   Delivery Times   |   Privacy statement   |   Terms & Conditions
Please note your card statement will show billing by MVM. The Spice and Wolf books from the UK's best Anime Blog.