Spice and Wolf: MERCHANT MEETS THE WISE WOLF – Episode 1

By: Alex Henderson April 2, 20240 Comments
Holo, a young woman with long brown hair, wolf ears and a tail, curled up asleep in a bed of animal pelts

What’s it about? Legends tell of the harvest god Holo, a fickle and fierce wolf who runs through the wheat fields and guarantees a bountiful crop if the local humans please her. However, as agricultural techniques improve and the Church becomes more prominent, Holo and the traditions around her have been demoted to peasant folklore and pagan superstition. Traveling merchant Kraft Lawrence isn’t sure what he believes… until he finds the wolf goddess herself asleep in the back of his cart.

I have a fondness in my heart for Spice and Wolf; I remember enjoying the original 2008 anime back in the day, despite the intricacies of medieval fantasy economics going over my teenaged head. My household even has copies of the original Yen Press light novels with the alternate covers that made them look “less anime” and more like other English-language fantasy novels being published at the time. How the industry has changed since the early 2010s! But that’s a tangent for another day. As Spice and Wolf: MERCHANT MEETS THE WISE WOLF seems to be a newbie-friendly reboot of the series, I’ve avoided revisiting the original, and am approaching the 2024 tale with fresh eyes. So, what’s it like?

This is a slow and contemplative premiere that draws the audience organically into its setting through the eyes of protagonist Lawrence. He’s a quiet observer moving through the world; smiling politely but tersely as knights of the Church check his cart, and watching from afar as a village plays out its harvest festival traditions. Already, this is setting up a story about navigating power structures. A new, dominant religion stamps out local faiths by branding them as “pagan” and “heathen.” A healthy respect for nature is abandoned in favor of making more money. While the Church and the Count haven’t been placed as explicitly villainous just yet, there’s an air of careful distrust around them both that plants the seed (pun intended) for some social critique further down the track.

Holo glaring at Lawrence with her hands on her hips, her wolf tail puffed up and huge behind her

What place does a harvest god have in this shifting world? Well, Holo’s had enough and is taking matters into her own paws, stowing away in Lawrence’s cart and evading the ritual that usually sees her locked in a granary for the harvest festival. Even if her escape relies on his help, she’s clearly moving with her own agency, propelled by her own complicated feelings and emotions.

Although, we do need to talk about the elephant (er, wolf?) in the room, which is that Holo is naked for most of this episode. Holo is also fulfilling the trope of “ancient being takes on the form of a conventionally attractive young woman.” This combination could get skeevy pretty fast, along the lines of “oh, it’s alright, she looks like a teenager but she’s really immortal, so sexualizing her is fine!” Thankfully, apart from one brief, slightly voluptuous shot of her chest as she stands up out of the cart, Holo’s nudity is treated very matter-of-factly by the storyboarding and the camera never leers. Instead, we’re treated to the dignified, slightly frightening presence you’d expect and hope for from an ancient spirit.

Rather than fanservice, Holo being nude feels more like a practicality, and a symbol of how truly wild she is—an animal, a goddess, and a woman who’s not taking any nonsense from the human who happens to have carted her away. That said, I have to say I’m glad that she steals some of Lawrence’s clothes by the end of the episode—now her hair won’t have to work quite so hard to hide her bare nips (and the animators won’t have to keep coming up with creative angles to hide her bare… everything else).

Closeup of Holo grinning and showing her sharp teeth. Subtitle text reads: I am the Wise Wolf, and honorable wolf!

Holo is immediately fascinating to me, a mix of fierce and vulnerable, godlike and human. I really hope this series allows her to maintain the sense of quiet dignity and grace she holds in this episode. She’s a little goofy in the closing scene, shoving Lawrence over on his seat and making him blush, but I think the show can do the work to give her a light-hearted and endearing side without sanding off her sharp and scary edges completely.

It’s slow-going and softly-spoken, which means Spice and Wolf won’t be for everyone. But honestly, for me it’s a refreshing change of pace. This premiere doesn’t feel the need to hook you in with a big bombastic action scene, or depict Lawrence as the coolest guy ever, or relentlessly present Holo as sexy. Spice and Wolf is content to try and catch your eye in other, subtler ways, setting the scene for a quiet, thoughtful series about the interaction between old gods and an evolving world. And, of course, the interactions between a wise wolf and a traveling merchant.

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