It's summertime, which means that the broadcast networks seasons have been over for a number of weeks. As the days grow longer and hotter and you seek solace indoors, it seems all you can find is reruns. This month I'm running with that idea, at least as closely as you can in manga. While many an anime series is based on a manga, there are also quite a few manga which are adapted from a television series, and those are what I'll be looking at this month. Just remember that everything you see this month is:
SPICE AND WOLF (Okami to Koshinryo), based on the light novel series by Isuna Hasekura, with character designs by Jyuu Ayakura and art by Keito Koume. First published in 2007, and first published in North America in 2010.
Kraft Lawrence is a travelling merchant who wanders the world in hopes of making his fortune. During a visit to a farming village, he discovers a naked girl in his cart bearing wolf ears and a tail. She claims to be Holo the Wise Wolf, a harvest goddess looking to return to her far northern homeland. She offers to provide her companionship and wisdom to Lawrence in return for a trip home. Now Lawrence has both a new partner as well as a new opportunity to make some serious profit.
So, does the Spice and Wolf manga add anything that either the light novels or animated series didn't already possess? Nope! Mind you, that's not the worst thing possible, because Spice and Wolf is thankfully anchored around a great couple, and this adaptation does nothing to harm that.
Holo is easily the more dynamic of the two. She is playful and teasing, but she can also be wise, insightful, and even wistful, and as a character she's incredibly engaging. Mind you, Lawrence is no slacker in the personality department himself. He's flustered by Holo initially, but he soon learns to give and take with Holo's teasing, and he also learns that Holo's keen ears and innate ability to read body language makes her just as valuable as a partner as she is for casual conversation. That's good, because they sure do engage in a lot of it - Lawrence can easily go on for pages at a time on some given economic or trade practice. It's something of a signature for this series, but it's also something of a love/hate sort of thing. You have to either accept it as is or skim over those parts.
The setting is rather vague on the details. It seems to be some sort of medieval world, complete with what is TOTALLY not the Catholic Church suppressing the old pagan ways. Still, we never get a date or a country name. It's a world where hot peppers ( a New World plant) is an expensive luxury, and the most advanced science appears to be economics. I guess the focus here is less on world building and more about building the relationship between Holo and Lawrence. Clearly we're building this towards a romance, but the story wisely keeps the tension to a low, low simmer - just enough to tease, but never enough to derail the story momentum.
It's a shame that the artwork couldn't make as elegant of a transition as the story. While Koume is clearly trying to stay close to Ayakura's original designs, he's clearly put these characters through the moeblob filter. Faces are bigger, rounder, simpler, with lots of blushing, and more attention is lavished on Holo's nipples than anything else. Yeah, that mature rating on the cover is there for a reason - Holo spends the first third of the volume naked. They even print her big entrance in full color, which wouldn't be remarkable except for the fact that it comes many pages into the book and it's rare to see color pages in North American manga outside of the very beginning. It's certainly indicative of where the artist's priorities are, and sadly they really aren't on the economics.
In a savvy bit of cross-promotion, there's an excerpt from the light novel version of Spice and Wolf.
This manga doesn't really add anything to the story and the art is something of a downgrade, but it's still a solid romance with a touch of fantasy and a lot of economics.
This series is published by Yen Press. This series is ongoing in Japan, with 10 volumes available. 8 volumes have been published so far, and all are currently in print.
You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!