Normally, when something has been licensed but fansubs are available, I’ll just wait for the proper release—I make a point of buying the video of anything I watched in fansub if and when it becomes available anyway, so what’s the hurry.
Spice and Wolf season 2 made me break that rule—the moment I’d finished season 1 I ran out to find a download. Which I don’t really feel bad about, because I’m sure as heck buying it as soon as Funimation lets me, preferably on blu-ray.
As of the first four episodes, very engaging. More merchanting, more fun, realistic customs, more smart, flirty romance, more lovable Lawrence and Holo. In episode four it also shakes things up—it finally gets to the first time in the series something emotionally pops loose.
This is a touchy point, though; for a series that’s run on realistic, guarded, low-key interactions, pulling out some more honest and strong emotion runs the risk of screwing the whole thing up. In particular, the blowup is dangerously close to out of character, though I think it had established just barely enough to make it believable (part of the blame for the close call may be on lack of trying—it hadn’t spent quite as much effort setting up the tinder as it could have, and the novels maybe did). I’m reserving judgement until the end of the story arc, either way. And either way, it’s certainly successful at being potent—you’ve gotten into the characters enough that when something big happens, you feel it.
Which brings me to the second rule Spice and Wolf may make me break. I have a weekly anime-viewing get-together where I get my fix, and in part due to some masochistic friends we only watch and episode or two of each series each week (Spice and Wolf is solidly in the two-per-week category, proof that it’s not just me that loves it). We occasionally end up on self-induced cliffhangers, but I have to date never broken and watched the next episode before the next get-together.
This one, I’m having trouble holding back on, and it’s only been a day. I seriously doubt I’m going to make it the other six without at least finding out what comes of the big shakedown.
I forgot to mention in talking about season 1 that another great thing about the series is the playful music; the backgrounds consist of light, chamber-music style European fare that perfectly fits the setting and playful mood. In particular is a little penny whistle tune that accompanies some of Holo’s more endearing emotional victories. The opening of season 1 is a lovely, melancholy balad, and the closing a wonderful little nonsense song in English that fits perfectly (though I do wonder, given how good the lyrics are, why they didn’t get a singer who could manage a better accent—the quality of her voice fits fine, but the Japanese accent was a needless distraction from the quality wordplay).
Season 2 has new openings and endings, both of which remain good. The ending isn’t quite as smile-inducing, but is still quite good, and the opening is almost as lyrical and beautiful as the first season’s.
On an entirely unrelated note, the voice cast is another area that caught me off guard with this series. Lawrence and Holo are both voiced (in Japanese) by Code Geass cast members—Lelouch and Karen, specifically. Which is sort of mind-breaking, given how much different the characters (particularly Lawrence) are. I didn’t even realize Lawrence was Lelouch until halfway through the first season, when I finally caught a familiar tone, and I doubt I ever would have pegged Holo if I hadn’t looked it up. Both also very good, too, in this different set of roles.
Holo in particular has an odd speech pattern—informal but very old-fashoined—that comes off remarkably well, without seeming gimmicky. Partly good writing, I think, though I’m not the best judge of Japanese-language writing quality, and partly good acting, to make it seem natural and comfortable. I’m a little disappointed the subtitles (neither Funimation’s translation nor fansubs) don’t try to capture this—it would have been perfectly accurate, if a little hard to read, if she’d been using Elizabethan English, with lots of “thou”s and such (in fact, she specifically uses “nushi,” the almost-never-heard non-honorriffic of “onushi,” an old word for “you” that translates quite well into “thou”).
Not having finished a story arc yet, the one other thing that remains to be seen is whether they’ll correct my only complaint about the first season—that they twice set up food-related things Lawrence had promised Holo if things went well, then ended the arc without showing one way or the other. Presumably he did treat her, but it was up in the air enough (not to mention just fun to see) that it was disappointing, and odd, not to be more specific. Not like there’s a lack of time—the series is quite leisurely.
Here’s hoping against hope that my all-too-often-true rule of good anime — “they’ll probably screw it up at the end” — won’t apply to season 2. I’m also inclined to hope that my rule of “Given enough rope” also won’t apply and they both make a 3rd season and it doesn’t suck, but that’s just getting greedy.