Isuna Hasekura's Spice and Wolf tells the story of Kraft Lawrence, a 25-year old traveling merchant, and Holo, a wolf spirit and derelict minor deity masquerading as a young girl, with a wolf's tail and ears to match. Hoping to earn enough money to open his own store, one night Lawrence finds Holo asleep in his cart. He learns that Holo was once a harvest goddess -- until her resident village grew adept enough at trade and farming to no longer need her. Calling herself Holo the Wise, the pair develop an unlikely partnership as they both strive to survive -- and profit -- in a changing world.
Since its 2006 debut, the many adaptations of Spice and Wolf into manga, video games, radio plays and anime have showcased the strengths of its story and the enthusiasm of its fanbase. Nonetheless, the mixed receptions surrounding these varied styles of adaptation highlight the continuing difficulty of adapting light novels. However, on Feb. 25, a new Spice and Wolf project was announced for its 15th anniversary. Promising to be "completely new," this upcoming series has sparked interest and speculation as to how it will either continue or reinvent the franchise.
People and Places
Spice and Wolf excels at telling stories about both people and places, giving its frequent economics lessons a much-needed feeling and texture. The pacing of light novels is notably slower than in other formats, yet while viewers of different anime have ample experience with slower arcs, light novels tend to lack the overt distinctions between plot and "fluff."
This is exemplified in Spice and Wolf, in which the slow and methodical pacing takes place within the complex minutiae of medieval economics. That being said, the success of various light-novel adaptations across streaming services allows more opportunities for slower pacing and less reliance on episodic formats.
Light novels frequently involve settings and contexts that feel esoteric yet have integral significance for the story and its characters. In Spice and Wolf, this setting is economics, which is as much a passion for its creator Isuna Hasekura as it is for the characters. Both Lawrence's obsession with economics and Holo's relative alienation from it contribute to the characters' contrasting worldviews and their eventual partnership. Similar to series such as How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom, Spice and Wolf offers an uncompromising -- and even onerous -- level of detail and sophistication to the various schemes and structures Lawrence encounters and takes part in.
While these are at times dry and difficult to follow, viewer attention is always rewarded with a stronger connection both to these characters' world and the protagonists' specific stake in these conflicts. It remains to be seen whether the new series will attempt to address these criticisms with either small tweaks or more dramatic overhauls. Although a reboot or even re-imagination of the premise might attract new viewers, a series with a following as niche as Spice and Wolf likely cannot afford to alienate its core viewership.
Reinventing the Wolf
The adaptations of Spice and Wolf share the common task of making characters realistic amidst a world of subtle magic. For the anime, the centerpiece of this difficulty is Holo herself. In the novels, Holo comes across as a contrast between her youthful appearance and her centuries of experience, such that she and Lawrence ironically view each other as children. While the light novel's prose works slowly to this effect, the adaptations must establish immediately a concrete, visual baseline. The anime errs on the side of cuteness -- a strategy that pays dividends during a pivotal and shocking moment in the original series.
In a larger sense, the success or failure of the series rests on how it can bring Isuna Hasekura's unique characters to life while melding the disparate themes of economics and nature. Still, in the wake of this latest announcement, fans are excited to see how the lessons learned and time passed may yet add to the larger Spice and Wolf story.