Spice and Wolf is a light novel that was eventually made into an anime in 2008, with a second season animated by a different studio the following year. The original name, "Ookami to Koushinryou", literally translates to "Wolf and Spice."In a middle-age European-esque world, Lawrence, a traveling merchant, accidentally frees the local harvest god, Holo, a centuries-old giant wolf who can take the form of a young woman. She convinces him to let her travel with him and seek out her dimly-remembered homeland.The main thrust of the anime is centered more on the business of Lawrence than on Holo's supernatural nature. Instead of action or fanservice, Spice and Wolf is far more likely to focus on an in-depth discussion on the currency exchange market, with no notable attempt to make it more interesting by going over the top. Surprisingly, the show does this rather well using character interaction and business intrigue. The romance between Lawrence and Holo is also a major part of the plot.The light novels concluded in 2011 with the seventeenth volume. Yen Press is currently translating and releasing both the novels and manga in the United States. The anime has been licensed in North America by Funimation. Both seasons are streaming on their video portal and are available on DVD and Blu-ray (with season two a DVD/Blu-ray combo set) and the second season is on Netflix instant streaming.
Spice and Wolf provides examples of:
Absurdly Spacious Sewer: During the Milone-Medioh arc, Lawerence hides in one and someone else could stand on his shoulders. Justified as it was deliberately constructed as a hidden escape route.
Adaptational Sexuality: The anime changes Lawrence's friend from Holo's village from the male Yarei to the female Chloe. It's implied that Lawrence and Chloe's relationship hasn't always been platonic.
Adventurous Irish Violins: To emphasize the industrious natures of our leading travellers, this is occasionally invoked in the soundtrack.
All Myths Are True: Comes into play in the second season of the anime, where Holo's past is discussed. The latter half of the book series also plays towards it heavily.
However, the supposed bones of a wolf god, that Lawrence and co. spend four books tracking down turn out to be nothing more than over-hyped stag bones.
More than that, it's implied that due to Norah's exceptional skill, the priest has literally thrown her to the wolves by ordering her to extremely unsafe fields and forest roads, hoping for her to have a convenient death so her "pagan pact" reputation won't reflect on the Church negatively. He also pays her at the back door and won't allow her inside the Cathedral.
And the Adventure Continues: The final anime arc ends the same way as the others: the conclusion of one deal and moving on to the next.
Ass Kicking Equals Authority: The Moon-Hunting Bear is referred to as the lord of the animal spirits after it destroys Yoitz, despite it being a hostile, possibly mindless predator.
Badass: Within the realm of animal-spirits, Holo was apparently at the top of the food-chain (figuratively speaking; they seemed to form a normal society despite being animals). However, the great Moon-Hunting Bear far outstrips her or any other spirit.
Barbie Doll Anatomy: Played straight in the anime. Averted for Holo's nipples in scenes in the manga where she is actually nude, to the point that the English translation of the manga has an adult content warning on the cover, but played straight in scenes when Lawrence simply imagines her naked.
Belligerent Sexual Tension: Downplayed with Lawrence and Holo who more playfully snark at each other than true beligerence. There is one occasion where they argue in each other's face, Nora wishes them happiness, and they look away blushing.
Bifauxnen: Eve from the second season dresses as a guy so her merchant partners will take her more seriously, which is a good idea considering the time period that the series takes place.
Big Eater: Holo, which is justified by a combination of the fact she's a shapeshifter (so her true stomach is technically that of a wolf bigger than an elephant) and the fact she has lupine instincts, meaning her nature is to eat any food presented to her just in case of famine, even if she is stuffed. Unusually for this trope, Holo is shown on many occasions to end up suffering a bellyache from eating too much, though she gets over them quickly.
Bilingual Bonus: In the anime's first season, written stuff is often in German, but the second season just uses gibberish.
Chekhov's Gun: Upon entering the town of Kumersun, Lawrence gives Holo some feathers to stick in her hair and explains that it's a wordless signal nuns use to indicate that they're not going to preach their faith there. Later on, Holo uses feathers from Diana's place to subtly clue Lawrence in about her plan for the pyrite sale.
Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: When Holo was captured by the Medio Company, which threatened to turn her over to the Church, Lawrence talked the Milone Company into sending some of their own bruisers — men skilled in using violence — to rescue her. She was furious that he didn't come to get her himself...especially since she gave the first rescuer through the door a big hug (and maybe, she implies, said something intimate) before realizing he wasn't Lawrence.
Contemptible Cover, American Kirby Is Hardcore: The redone cover◊ for the first American release book got this complaint due to dropping the anime style Japanese cover for a pseudorealistic frontal shot of Holo running while naked (though mostly dark), drawing comparisons to a trashy romance novel cover. This was done in an attempt to reach out a more general audience at the insistence of distributors. For that first volume, they hastily released dust jackets of the original cover for the first volume to the distributors and in their magazine after the outcry. From volume two onward, that initial solution has been inverted; the original art is on the cover and the new art serves as the dust jacket (now depicting essentially the same scene as the Japanese version, but with Holo looking away), satisfying both distributor and fan demands as well as can be expected.
Cooking Duel: Lawrence arranging poisoned credit for Amarti leads to a battle of market manipulation and wills in the middle of a pyrite craze, with Holo as the ultimate prize. And yes, Holo herself is interfering in the duel on multiple levels.
Corrupt Church: The church hierarchy in the series is portrayed as greedy and oppressive, reminiscent of the pre-Reformation Catholic Church of the era it is emulating.
Covert Pervert: Holo. In Volume 1 of the manga, when she and Lawrence first meet Zeran for the first time, she comments that a woman is most beautiful from behind.
Creator Thumbprint: Economics is obviously a passion for Isuna Hasekura. In fact, he took the prize money he won for the first Spice and Wolf novel to the stock market and is now writing a manga about day trading.
When Holo asks Lawrence about the slave trade he shrugs and says that it's profitable and necessary. This just after he nearly ends up as a slave to pay for his bankruptcy.
Holo's comment in book five about God being cruel for letting people suffer was funny. Considering how Pasloe hated her because of the times she gave them a bad crop. She had a good reason (preventing degradation of the soil) but it still sounds odd.
More than a few times Lawrence claims that Holo is his wife, and no one comments on it, even though her human form is specifically mentioned in-story and designed to look like a fifteen year old girl and Lawrence is in his mid-to-late twenties. In today's culture this would cause shock and dismay in a lot of people at best, but in the time period portrayed, it was a given that a young girl, often as soon as she started her periods, would be married off to an older man who either has a business of his own, or is the heir of a wealthy family. Lawrence matches the former, but even so he may still be a little young, and his merchant business a little too tenuous, for when a man usually married. Many characters comment on how it's odd for Lawrence to be travelling with a wife - but not because of her age, but because of the nature of his work.
Lawrence has a very laissez-faire attitude towards people who are morally corrupt, cruel, or otherwise try to screw someone over in the name of profit (usually when he's the one on the receiving end). It's just business, after all, and if you hold a grudge, the resulting trade barriers will ensure you're the only one suffering. It's lightly hinted that this might not be the end-all-be-all philosophy for merchants as it tends to be with Lawrence, people being people after all; in particular, town merchants know that their customers will remember if they screwed their town over in the name of short-term profit.
The Dreaded: The Moon-Hunting Bear. It's a mountain-sized bear that every single animal spirit in Yoitz out-and-out turned tail and ran from. Even Holo says that she would be capable of nothing more than dying nobly in a pitched battle with it.
End of an Age: Holo decides to leave because the villagers say that they don't need a harvest god anymore. While she initially helped them by making the crops grow, she occasionally had to do the opposite to prevent the growing village from being struck by the Tragedy of the Commons, which caused resentment among the uncomprehending villagers. At the time she left, she was portrayed in the village harvest festivities as an oppressive force and a thief, instead of as the wise benefactor she was when the tradition started.
Also a theme during the latter half of the series. After meeting several other deities successfully blending in with humanity, basically just living their lives as best they can, Holo begins to accept the fact that her kind are dying off and humans are now the new masters of the world.
Everyone Can See It: Everyone except Lawrence and Holo is well aware that she's got him hooked.
It was so bad their run in with Amarti spawned a legend in Kamersun about two lovers whose fight got the entire town involved.
Lawrence does this quite often, usually in response to Holo's logic or teasing.
Holo gets a half-a-minute-long facepalm in the OVA in response to Lawrence's description of how sheep are used for torture, not to mention several other facepalms in the same conversation.
Failure Is the Only Option: Lawrence's goal is to open a shop. However, the ideal of this is subverted. He constantly makes a profit...he could stop and open a shop if he wanted, but CHOOSES to stay with Holo.
Fanservice: Holo is naked during her introduction and again when they reach an inn during a rainstorm and dry off. She also looks provocative when licking the remains of her latest snack off her fingers.
Surprisingly, Holo's nude scenes are very non-sexual and not played for Fanservice. Not that you could tell that from the cover art.
According to Holo, wolves touching noses is to them what kissing is to humans. Lawrence's fingers feel like a wolf's nose. So when he touches her nose...
She also stiffens, blushes, and yells at him when he touches her tail all of a sudden.
Fantastic Ghetto: The city of Kumersun has an area surrounded by high walls, where alchemists and other people — whose profession is considered “suspicious” by the Church — live. Diana is a local chronicler, collecting tales not yet censored by authorities and mediating in trade between inhabitants and outside world. She also happens to be a giant bird, who took on human shape like Holo.
Food Porn: Holo is very enthusiastic about delicious food, and Lawrence has gotten some pretty strong reactions out of her by describing it in detail. At the start of the failed arms trading arc, in particular, there's a bit where he describes preserving peaches in honey. "It was so sweet the Church was considering banning the stuff. Hey, you're drooling." She wasn't just drooling; her face was flushed and her eyes glazed.
Freak Out: Holo has a nasty one in Season II, when she learns that Yoitz was destroyed long ago by "the bear that hunts the moon". Could also count as The Last Straw, given the hullabaloo with Amarti and the various other tensions she and Lawrence are under.
Holo gets an even worse one during the final arc when she learns her old friend Myrui died long ago, leaving only a parting joke on an old claw of his.
Friendly Enemy: Eve. Despite nearly killing Lawrence for his share of their profit and absconding out of town, she leaves him enough collateral to save Holo and the next time they meet they're all smiles. Eve also tries very hard to convince him to sign up with her again in another scheme (despite admitting she may very well betray him again). On his part, Lawrence finds it hard to hate her when he sees how far she's able to go in the pursuit of profit, and ends up rooting for her when she herself is snared by an even bigger foe. Eve is very strongly implied, though it is never out right stated, to have kissed Lawrence after he helps save her life. Holo really gives it to him then.
In an even shorter turn over period, Lawrence manages to bring information to turn one of his superiors, Kieman, around from killing Eve and dismissing Lawrence to working with both of them in one last gamble at a profit in mere minutes. As stated in Deliberate Values Dissonance, this is Lawrences preferred attitude towards business partners.
Genre Savvy: As a wise wolf, Holo knows about how the most corny romance dialogue plays out, sometimes even coaching Lawrence into saying what he's "supposed" to say in a given situation. Lawrence becomes increasingly aware of this, and tends to avoid falling into her trap in favor of turning it around on her. These games generally stop when they fight, only to start again when they make up.
God Is Good: Downplayed but when He comes up it's usually in a positive sense. For instance, the church town of Poroson has an unusual pious population and everyone from the farmers the main pair pass by to the merchant they sell pepper to extols the greatness of The Lord. Holo and Lawrence themselves are more inclined to talk about how bad/arrogant/etc the church is than the deity they serve.
Godiva Hair: Holo's hair, when Lawrence first finds her and fairly frequently afterwards.
Godzilla Threshold: Both Lawrence and Holo like to keep the latter's Canis Major form as a last resort because it would attract a lot of attention and might end with her tied to a stake.
In the Bankrupcy arc, this is a Discussed Trope. Holo tells Lawrence that, if he fails to pay back his debt, she could transform and carry him off so he wouldn't have to face slavery. He replies that if he did that he could never show his face again anywhere in the area, much less stay a merchant.
Gratuitous English: The first season's ending song. However, the lyricist is British, so the weirdness is probably deliberate.
Greed: Lawrence goes overboard on this in episode 8 by buying too much armor on credit, and it comes back to bite him in the behind in episode 10 when he finds out that the price of armor has crashed in the city he intended to sell it at.
Groin Attack: Lawrence knocked out an attacker with one during the first arc of the first season.
Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Holo loves to drink alcohol just as much as she loves to eat. This gets her drunk very often... but also means she's suffered from hangovers more than once.
Hear Me The Money: Holo is able to judge the purity of coins just by clinking them together, leading to the plot point that a city is minting coins that have a lower silver content and are thus worth less. Lampshaded in-universe that this skill is only a legend and something that only the most experienced merchants and moneychangers are supposed to develop, and justified in that Holo's a supernatural wolf-spirit in (relatively) human form.
Henpecked Husband: Adele isn't domineering, but she does have a habit of nagging Mark, even jokingly suggesting she might run away with Amarti.
Holding Hands: Holo gets annoyed that it doesn't occur to Lawrence to do this, but he catches on eventually. They do this a lot after that. Since Holo is Lawrence's "business partner", the distinction between shaking hands and holding hands sometimes becomes blurred.
I'm a Humanitarian: In the second episode, Holo jokingly brings up the topic of wolves attacking humans and eating the body, which she "explains" is because the wolves want to eat human brains in hopes of gaining their wisdom. This doesn't sit well with Lawrence, who has been attacked on several occasions and at least once saw a travelling partner eaten; when she realises how she's upset him, Holo apologises and explains seriously that wolves attack because they are frightened of humans, who hunt and kill them as well. When Lawrence asks Holo if she's ever attacked humans, Holo sadly but insistently refuses to answer.
It's generally implied in the series that, for whatever reason (not wanting to upset Lawrence is almost certainly part of it), Holo prefers not to eat people, but will if she sees it as somehow necessary, as was the case during the Medioh vs. Milone arc.
In a related version, the Golden Sheep of Winfiel, Huskins points out that, to live his new life, he even took to eating meat, ie. Sheep. Holo, when struck with the idea, is reduced to vomiting.
Innocent Fanservice Girl: Averted; Holo isn't the least bit shy letting Lawrence see her naked body when they first meet, before she could get her hands on any clothes, but she clearly knows EXACTLY what effect her looks have.
Once he becomes comfortable around Holo, Lawrence gets in a few moments like this in response to Holo's teasing. Very self-aware, of course.
Leaning on the Fourth Wall: As part of his pep talk to Lawrence, Mark says (paraphrased) "You are the main character of this story!" Of course, he means that figuratively.
Loan Shark: One of the bigger concerns for Lawrence in the series; in this setting, no single man has the resources to get the hell out of Dodge fast enough to escape heavy reprisal. Blacklisting is serious when it's a three day trip between towns and restocking points, and even if you do escape you give up everything and start over again in a foreign land. Holo's ability to take Lawrence far out of danger within hours is nixed because of that latter part; Lawrence has too much invested in his life in whatever-country-they're-in.
Magnetic Girlfriend: In Season Two, Holo deliberately rubs her scent on Lawrence to "mark" him as her companion and chase a bar girl away. As said girl explains, it backfires and now that he has Holo's scent on him and has admitted that she's his "companion", he is instantly more desirable than usual.
Mayfly-December Romance: Lawrence is a normal human with a normal lifespan, while Holo has lived for several hundred years and is implied to have several hundred more years ahead of her. As we see in the OVA, Holo is painfully aware of this.
Moment of Weakness: In the second volume, after the last trading house he asks for a loan turns him down and insinuates that Holo's presence is part of the reason it and others were so unhelpful, he verbally lashes out at Holo when she speaks. Subverted some, as Holo later confesses he should have been angrier.
Mundane Made Awesome: The Milone and Medioh Trading companies in Season 1 make economics seem awesome; it's the Assassin's Creed of supply and demand.
Holo may not say it, but she means it. After centuries being alone she's come to hate it.
Lawrence feels similar anxiety at being separated from her. When he thought she was going to leave him during the first anime arc he flipped out and shouted that he would follow her all the way to the north if she left him.
Poor Communication Kills: If Holo and Lawrence had been on speaking terms when Lawrence went to the mat with Amarti on the pyrite market, Holo could have told him that she was actually plotting to destroy Amarti, not him.
P.O.V. Boy, Poster Girl: We see everything from the perspective of Lawrence, but Holo is the one on all the posters.
Primal Fear: Lawrence cowers in fear at first when he sees Holo's wolf form, even though he had been holding a conversation with her moments before.
Recurring Riff: The second season soundtrack has several recurring themes that are replayed with different instruments and slightly different tempos.
Red Eyes, Take Warning: On Holo at times, though in the most prominent example, it's used more as a warning sign of emotional fragility.
Road Trip Romance: The merchant and the deity snuggling in their cart as they follow profit.
Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: Well, they're both savvy, but Lawrence is the more pragmatic and stoic one, while Holo acts vivacious and indulgent.
Commodities trading. Of course, we all know that economics is serious business, but what really drives this point home is that when given the choice to show pictures of the cute wolf girl, or two men talking about money, the story will ALWAYS show the money.
Human cuisine is serious business to Holo, who can't wait to try out any and all delicacies Lawrence mentions.
Combining the two, a short anime special features Holo explaining in detail the foods and drinks she consumes during her travel, and the price/nutrition/quality ratio among them.
Shapeshifting Lover: Diana mentions there are many tales about pagan gods and humans in love. She herself tried to invoke it, but her love interest caught on to her true nature and rebuked her, leaving her to live a lonely life as a human without him. At the end Holo and Lawrence become this.
Shipper on Deck: In the third anime arc, Mark, Lant and Diana all pull for Lawrence to hook up with his princess, i.e. Holo.
Once Col joins the picture, he also joins the shipping, at one point looking quite pitifully at Holo when he mistakes Eve and Lawrence's friendly banter for something more.
Ship Tease: Holo being The Tease, and both her and Lawrence having obviously strong feelings for each another.
Lawrence takes off his shirt (both in the anime and the manga) quite frequently.
Koume Keito doesn't miss an opportunity to show off Holo's body in the manga.
Shout-Out: Look at the images that play when Eve discusses her marriage and her husband: They are all details from The Arnolfini Portrait by Dutch Renaissance artist Jan van Eyck, 1434.
Shown Their Work: Not only is the economic aspect of the anime, manga and novels very well done, but Isuna Hasekura bothered to research the types of food they ate in the Middle Ages, as Lawrence and Holo eat food appropriate to their class; for example, they mainly drink ale, and at the time potatoes were a rare delicacy, hence why Lawrence complains about a bowl of potatoes and goat cheese costing so much.
Also, the harvest festival is a perfectly accurate representation of the actual "wheat wolf" tradition found in most of Germany and parts of France, which indeed survived long into the Middle Ages.
Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Holo sometimes makes unfavorable remarks about Lawrence's soft-heartedness, but his kindness is the main thing he has going for him. She cultivates him to be more assertive and outgoing to an extent. She dislikes it when he holds back from risky business endeavors for her sake.
Slap-Slap-Kiss: The pair regularly snark before something affectionate slips out. By the final arc this has become an artform.
Snark-to-Snark Combat: Half of the series is economics, and the other half is the leads verbally sparing with each other. Holo usually wins because "a 25 year old is no match for a wisewolf."
Spell My Name with an S: Almost every character. Diana/Dianna/Deanna, Marc/Mark, Lunt/Lant/Landt, Eve/Abe — even the spellings of town names is uncertain. This fits the setting. Spelling in the Middle Ages generally was not fixed, and even literate individuals back then were not always consistent in how they spelled their own names.
There was heavy debate centered on whether her name is Horo, as per alleged Word of God and fansubs, or Holo, which is used by Yen Press for the official romanization and by other official sources as well. Also confusing was Craft vs. Kraft and what his western name order was. To make things more confusing, the English version of Zettai Hero Kaizou Keikaku (where she appears as a cameo) went with Horo◊.
During the first arc of Season 2 of the anime she signs her name as "Holo".
Talking Heads: The anime is very dialogue-heavy; most of the "action scenes" are the trade conversions as well as the verbal games that Holo and Lawrence play with one another.
There Is Only One Bed: In season 2 of the anime, Holo teases Lawrence about this; he is understandably flustered.
Threesome Subtext: Once Cole joins Lawrence and Holo, all bets are off. Cole's crush on Holo is only matched by his devotion towards Lawrence and his absolute faith that Lawrence and Holo need to get together. Holo, for her part is a lot more affectionate (and manipulative) towards him, and Lawrence constantly kicks himself because he's trying to apprentice Cole so hard but at the same time respects Cole and his distinct goals too much to steal him away.
The first book ends with "... the travels of the wolf and the spice," and in Japanese, the words in the title are in reverse order.
In the sixth episode of the anime, Marlheit, who knows Holo's secret and associates Lawrence with pepper, says "Spice and wolf sounds fitting to me."
In the final book, they open an inn called Spice and Wolf.
Trademark Favorite Food: Holo's love of apples. She gets tired of them after trying to finish a cartload of fresh apples all by herself, but Lawrence's tales about (delicious) apple dishes makes her start craving for them once again.
Verbal Tic: Not a tic, necessarily, but Holo speaks rather uniquely - she uses a speech pattern based off of oiran speech. So "I'm Holo the Wise Wolf" in normal Japanese would be watashi wa Kenrou Holo da, but she says it wacchi ya Kenrou Holo ja. In the English version, this comes out as a slightly more archaic speech pattern – certainly nothing like Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe, but noticeable nonetheless. In a possible reference to this, volume three of the manga has an Alternate Universe bonus story in which she is an oiran.
Voices Are Mental: Holo sounds the same as a giant wolf as in human form, though with a slight echoing effect. Her head seems to be purposefully kept out of frame as she speaks to avoid the issue of how she can produce human speech with a wolf's head.
Who Wants to Live Forever?: Holo is over 400 years old, and hates being alone after the humans she knows die: "Loneliness is a sickness that leads to death." She's traveling back to her homeland where more of her kind exist, but we don't know whether it's survived the years.
Eve: Sounds like the kind of meeting a cheap poet would write about.
Will They or Won't They?: It is quite obvious that Holo and Lawrence have something going on between them, and as time goes on they flat out flirt openly but won't admit their feelings for one another. Lawrence is shy and gentlemanly while Holo is just plain stubborn. It eventually becomes clear that they think such a relationship would never work out, and plan on parting ways at Yoitsu before things get too serious. They start a shop and family together. See Babies Ever After above.
Work Off the Debt: Subverted: Holo admits that she owes Lawrence and has to pay him back, but that's mostly an excuse they give others (and initially themselves) for their companionship. In other words, that's not what's really keeping them together.
Yokai: The "pagan gods" in the series seem to be inspired by Obake, in that they are various giant animals with human-like sentience and, it's implied, other magical powers; Holo herself has the power to bestow abundant harvests of wheat, while in the series she encounters another Wolf God and a Bird Goddess who has taken up near-permanent human form. Not to mention the never-seen yet evidently real "Moon Hunting Bear" and the tribe/pack of Wolf Gods that Holo herself belongs to.