Sunday, April 4, 2010

Manga Review: Spice & Wolf Volume 1

I'd be lying if I said I didn't fall in love with Spice & Wolf the animated series when I first saw it. The show just popped in every way from the intriguing characters to the story and personality. Everything about the anime caught me off guard in a positive way and stood out as unlike anything I had seen before. Then again, it all started somewhere, right?

Spice & Wolf began as a novel by Isuna Hasekura and was published in manga form back in 2008. It took a couple of years, but Yen Press has translated the book and we finally have the first volume in hands. How does it stack up? The short answer to that question would be that I enjoyed this first installment as much as I liked the anime. Then again, that wouldn't make a very compelling review now, would it?

Spice & Wolf is about a traveling merchant named Lawrence who is always out to make a dollar (or Trenni Silver coin, if you will). He roams the land with his carriage and horse making trades and working the market to his benefit. At the beginning of the story he travels to a village where a pagan ritual is underway involving a wheat crop and a wolf god named Holo. It would seem it has become a tradition for the villagers to chase someone with a stock of wheat as the embodiment of Holo, however it's more of a game now than anything religious. There used to be a time before farming technology improved that Holo was truly looked upon as a deity.

Lawrence takes all this in and winds up leaving with some of their wheat crop after a trade. That night he's surprised by a beautiful naked girl sleeping in his wagon, however, the fact that she had a long fluffy tail and ears were more startling to him. This girl happened to be Holo herself! After convincing Lawrence that she is indeed who she says she is, Holo goes on to describe how she had essentially become a prison of the wheat. She can only go where the wheat goes and will only disappear when the wheat dies, which is basically never in this case. She wishes to travel north to her homeland and Lawrence reluctantly allows her to tag along.

Holo and Lawrence become unlikely traveling companions, yet at the same time they are nearly of a kindred spirit. Lawrence's awareness of money and Holo's intelligence, abilities to lie, and ears that can decipher the slightest irregularities in the purity of coins go hand in hand. As they travel Holo finds ways to help Lawrence to repay him for freeing her and allowing her to head back home.

Much like the show, the book is really about Lawrence and Holo and the relationship that develops between them. They play off each other very well and whether Holo is teasing Lawrence, or they're working together on a deal, it's always a joy to see the two together. Adding to the richly developed characters is a robust world surrounding them. All the talk of markets, currency, and trading is quite unique in the manga world, and in that regard Spice & Wolf is truly fascinating. Hasekura truly went the extra mile to think of every minute detail in order to craft an original and expansive world.

As was the case in the anime, the artwork here is absolutely fantastic. With character designs by Jyuu Ayakura and detailed artwork by Keito Koume, Spice & Wolf literally leaps off the pages. Every panel is packed with careful brush strokes and the characters display all kinds of emotions and facial expressions. Likewise the translation job provided by Yen Press is certainly noteworthy. Holo has a unique way of speaking that I'm pleased to see represented here in true form.

Whether you've read the book, have seen the anime, or simply never heard of it before, Spice & Wolf is a franchise worth picking up without hesitation. The first volume of this manga is highly entertaining, full of charm, and features two of the most interesting characters to grace the manga world in some time. I can't say enough good things about this book and story. I loved every detail about it and highly recommend it without hesitation.

Maki Rating:

Review material provided by Yen Press. Spice & Wolf is rated M for Mature due to Language and Nudity.

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