Thursday, 15 October 2009 19:17

Spice & Wolf II (TV, 2009)

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Overview


Travelling companions. Last year I had the chance to bring you the review on one of the more original storylines I've seen in the last decade or so, Spice & Wolf. At the time, I mentioned that the TV series was based on a series of light novels by author Isuna Hasekura, and had been under the impression that the novel's run was finished. As it turns out, though, the series is ongoing – and is up to twelve volumes as of this review. As I said, Okami to Koshinryo has proven to be wildly popular in Japan and also here in the states, spawning both a manga and of course the first TV season. The good news is, Lawrence and Horo are back this season for another round, this time with a new animation studio, Brain's Base.

Fields USA Info Japanese Info Image
Title Spice & Wolf II Lawrences har... no, I just can't make that joke.
Alternative Okami to Koshinryo II, 狼と香辛料Ⅱ
Dates 2009.07.08
Company Brains Base, Marvie Jack, Flying Dog, IMAGIN, MediaWorks, PonyCanyon
Creator Isuna Hasekura
Director Takeo Takahashi
Genre Fantasy, Romance, Travel, Economics
Related Spice & Wolf (Light Novels), Spice & Wolf (TV), Spice & Wolf (Manga), Spice & Wolf: Horo's and My One Year (NDS), Spice & Wolf: The Wind that Spans the Sea (NDS)

Review


Apples in the moonlight... Is there anything better? The second season of Spice & Wolf picks up right where the first season left off, with Lawrence in way over his head in the face of the wise and mischievous Horo. They're arriving in the town of Kumerson, just in time for a pagan festival set to take place over the next few days. On their way into town they meet a young merchant named Fermi Amati based out of Kumerson, who helps them get a surprisingly good room in his trading company. Horo, being Horo, has far, far too much to drink, and winds up with a hangover the next morning, so Lawrence sets out alone to sell the nails he's carrying.

Wolf in the wind. Like the first season of Spice & Wolf, a lot of the storyline revolves around the economics of the towns and villages that Lawrence and Horo visit. Of course, what it really provides is a handy framework to build their ongoing relationship, as well as provide external sources of conflict and challenges to face. I said this in the first season, and I'll say it again – for a series with so many transitory characters, the story telling does a damn good job of adding surprising depth and fleshing out of the many, many people that Lawrence and Horo meet. While the two main characters hold the spotlight – and rightfully so, because they're so unique – the series would have run out of steam very quickly if it had just been the Lawrence and Horo show. The side characters, sub-plots, and the intrigue created by Lawrence's attempts at gaming the system, as well as others trying to game him, keep the plot refreshed and moving at a sometimes hectic pace.

Tree hugger! How about our main duo, anyway? As I said, as with the first season of the series, it revolves around Lawrence and Horo as they travel from town to town on their way back to Horo's home, the lost city of Yoitsu. Lawrence is a young travelling merchant who spends far too much time alone on the road with his horse. He's intelligent, has a talent for spotting opportunity before it has the chance to knock, and a knack for stumbling into big deals. He's… Greedy isn't the right word, because he really isn't. Lawrence, as a rule, tends to be very profit driven, and he's shown a repeated tendency to go after opportunities for great profit even while recognizing the massive risks associated with it. And he doesn't always see the risks, mind you. We saw hints and signs of this in the first season – indeed, it's gotten him in trouble before - but in the second season it's a character trait that's dealt with more directly over the course of the twelve episodes, becoming one of the two unifying plot points.

Don't you know you should let sleeping dogs lie?  Or is that cats... Horo, on the other hand… is still Horo. Straightforward, blunt, frighteningly intelligent, she's forgotten more than you'll ever know, and she's not afraid to prove it. She defines the term spitfire, quick to anger, but she's also got one hell of a mischievous streak, and as was becoming apparent in the first season, Lawrence tends to be her favorite chew toy. We've all seen this character before though, and Horo's saving grace is that, as suggested by the first season, a lot of her bravado is in truth a brave front, a shell of persona that she's used to protect her real self. Horo spent eight hundred years tending the fields of Pasroe in the name of a promise she made to a little boy long dead, and the people of that village eventually abandoned her because of her 'whims', the crop not being as good as they'd become used to because she had to let the land rest, etc. At times, Horo is shown to be the sad, homesick and lonely character she is, which becomes the second of the two major plot points throughout the second season, as it explores this side of her more in depth.

That's an... interesting swim suit. For the animation, I thought that Brain Base did a good job, but honestly, I didn't see any real difference in their work from what Imagin did the first season. This is a good thing, mind you – the animation was solid all around, with good wide vistas scattered throughout the series that give you a wider sense of the world that Lawrence and Horo are travelling through. Their character designs did change a bit, moving closer to the somewhat stylized original illustrations of their characters from the light novels. Some people didn't really like that, as there is a certain rough, sketchy quality to the light novel illustrations, but for myself I don't see anything to complain about. All in all, good animation, and good character design here, I certainly don't have anything to complain about.

Ah, but what sort of gifts will they get?Sound wise, we have the same cast of actors and voice actresses back from the first season, and they continued the good quality voicing that they provided in the first season. Again, I really don't have anything to complain about here, they did a good job. Everybody was in character, and there weren't any quirky moments that felt forced or off. As far as the soundtrack goes, while there was nothing wrong with it, I have to admit to not having been a big fan of it. Most, if not all, of the Spice & Wolf background themes were a sort of quirky, pastoral, time period style music, with fiddles and flutes leading the way. It's not that there was anything bad about this – it's just not my cup of tea when it comes to music. Much better for my tastes were the Op and Ed themes, featuring the return of ROCKY CHAK for another humorous, unusual ending theme. For the Opening theme, they tapped singer Arai Akino for Mitsu no Yoake, a nice, somewhat more up-tempo but otherwise similar song to the first season's theme, Tabi no Tochuu.

Overall


I'd be happy to see her too. The thing I always fear when I see a second season of a series that I enjoyed is that it's going to turn out to be Tenchi Muyo all over again – characters that are distilled versions of their first season's selves, simplified storylines meant not to offend the fans of the first season, and in general a lessoning of the quality that made that first season so good. Fortunately, this isn't the case with Spice & Wolf II, as all the important pieces that were founded and built up on in the first season are back in the second season. Novel concept, too… they're actually built off of and extended! A piece of me can't help but wonder if the unique nature of Spice & Wolf's storyline – that of travelling companions, and town-to-town trade – don't just lend themselves naturally to such a progression and ongoing development. In some ways, it taps into the same source of constant refreshment as series such as Stargate SG-1/Atlantis, and even Star Trek did with their constantly changing environments and situationally based drama.

See, that's just not right... when they look at you like that, how are you supposed to make them get out of the bed? Yes, yes, consider the second season of Spice & Wolf highly recommended. It's a good story, and they even managed to address one of my major issues with the first season, the spending of too much time on economics tutoring. It's still present this season, but not to such a great degree. It's good characters, great storytelling, and really builds on what's already been established in the first season.


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