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Wolf and Spice

Well Japan , you've really outdone yourself this time. You've really raised the bar. I know you have odd tastes. The cultural differences between my land and yours are many.  America has candy in vending machines, you have flowers and meat. We have Halo, you have Let's Muscle. We have Skinimax, you have cartoons about raping 9 year old.  

And when it comes to your entertainment forget about it. Giant robots, demon rapists, moths who protect humanity from dinosaurs that gained super powers from atomic tests, its as normal to you as a sitcom about a single father is to us. I bet you get a kick exporting cartoons and games to American. You laugh as innocent children sit down to watch Nickelodeon only to be bombarded by The Noozles and I bet you just love it whe when every elementary school kid in the country shit themselves for a yellow electric mouse. You just couldn't get enough of that could you, "Ha ha stupid Yankee, he think this cartoon have sensible storyline in our country. He blames translators for not capturing the feel of the original, ha ha, he so foolish. Bring shame to family."

Well fuck you. Because I've seen into your soul. I've journeyed into the cyclone of madness that is Japan and have emerged both wiser and broken. My mind has been scarred. My body ravished by the ghouls who try to make sense out of the insensible. I will not recover. Death will be a release. I can never trust anything I see, hear, or taste again, because like LSD I have found something that never truly leaves your system. I can at any moment be thrown back into the confusion, clasped down by chains that never slacken. Forget anything you've ever seen. Forget any kind of foreign madness that has escaped the island nation of Japan for none of it will ever compare to the colossal mind fuck that is Spice and Wolf.

Spice and Wolf is the simple story of a traveling merchant in medieval Europe who teams up with a pagan god of wheat, who is also a wolf, who looks like a human in order to profit from currency speculation.  

Make sense? Of course not. Let's take a closer look:

The Title

From what I can tell the name is either Wolf and Spice, or Spice and Wolf. It seems to change depending on the website. Why? Can it be translated either way? How would that work? I've seen a lot of mistranslations in my years of playing video games but generally they tend to get the order of proper nouns correct. I don't know what the Japanese words for wolf or spice are, but it seems like you should be able to tell which one comes first. Perhaps the words are just interchangeable. Maybe in Japan it can go both ways (like a bisexual) as well. Could it be that Wolf and Spice (or Spice and Wolf) is so insane that even the title is designed to perplex?

The person who translated the comics I'm reading opted for the Wolf and Spice word order. He also randomly added an "S" on occasion. I'm not sure why. He isn't consistent with the extra "S" as sometimes he just titles it Wolf and Spice, and it seems to be Wolf and Spice in all the file names and on the website. Just one more mystery.

The name, regardless of the word order, doesn't even make sense. The wolf part I get, one of the characters is a wolf, but spice? Nowhere does spice play a role. The merchant doesn't trade spice. I think they have a conversation about spice once, but they also talk about making prison wine. I don't see them calling it Wolf and Prison Wine. A more sensible title based off of the content would be something like Wolf and Macroeconomics or Wolf and Gratuitous Nudity.

The Setting

Medieval Europe. It is most likely a fictionalized version of medieval Europe since I haven't seen anybody mention any real countries, but its not like I know all the petty kingdoms of medieval England . Maybe it takes place in The Holy Roman Empire? I don't know shit about that place except it wasn't Rome nor was it holy, and calling it an empire is pretty generous. All I know is there aren't and Asians or dark skinned people and "the church" is a thinly disguised jab at Christianity.

The Characters

Lawrence                                                     

Lawrence is a traveling merchant. He dreams of opening shop someday, although at one point he talks about how he goes around bartering one item for another without actually getting money, so I'm not sure how that would work. He says that it is safer to simply trade goods rather then selling them because you can't get robbed, but I don't see why robbers can't steal whatever he has in the back of his wagon and use it themselves or just sell it. All I know is you can't buy a shop with a wagon filled with soap.

The whole discussion about bartering for goods rather then selling them for cash seems superfluous anyways since he clearly sells his goods for cash later on. Also I as a reader don't give a shit about medieval trading techniques.

Imagine if you were reading an American comic, Batman for example. What if instead of fighting crime an issue consisted solely of Bruce Wayne brokering a business deal with an investment company. Well that's pretty much all of Wolf and Spice. It's not until issue nine that there's any kind of action and that mostly consists of the main characters running from people with sticks. There are eight issues of a comic book focusing on medieval economic in a series that only has twelve issues total. 75% of the story is about a scheme to profit from a change in the silver content of the kingdom's currency! It's not even a daring illegal scheme to take advantage of the evil kingdom. It's all perfectly legal and legitimist. Notaries are involved. The comic has more then one issue where they need to have papers notorized!

Fuck!

Sorry, I just sort of lost it there for awhile. Let's get back to the Lawrence. He owns a talking horse, maybe. The only time the horse talks is in the beginning of the first issue. I thought at first he was hallucinating because he was tired, or imagining his horse could talk, but later on somebody else makes a reference to him owning a talking horse. So, can the horse really talk? Is it common knowledge that his horse can talk? Why don't people make a bigger deal out of this? It seems like if you had a talking horse you could make more money from that then you could from trading. Shit, I'd pay like two silver coins to see a talking horse and I don't even live in an era where silver is used in normal day to day financial exchanges.

Horo  

Horo is a wolf that became a pagan god of wheat in a small farming community. She denies being a god, describing herself as a smart wolf, despite living for centuries, demanding sacrifice, and being able to grow wheat. They don't even explain how a wolf, even a magic wolf, should be able to make wheat grow. They just expect you to go with it. I think I'm pretty good at suspending disbelief, but this is way past the limits. Wolves have nothing to do with wheat, why should they be able to use magic to help it grow?

"The church" in its attempts to stamp out paganism have convinced the farmers Horo is worshiped by to turn to science instead of ritual in order to grow better crops. You would think the power of a deity would be stronger then science, but apparently not. Horo decides that if the farmers are going to be douches and stop worshiping her then she is going to travel back to her homeland in the north. You know what they don't have in snow covered tundra like northlands? Wheat. Why the hell can she grow it? In order to avoid suspicion Horo takes the form of a 15 year old girl for the purpose of her travels. She still has wolf ears and a tail, so yeah, not really all that inconspicuous.

 

Also she is naked a lot.

In fact, the first time Horo meets Lawrence she is naked in the back of his wagon asking if he has any wine. That sounds like the beginning of a letter in Middle Ages Penthouse. I hope the two of them hook up because that would be a greet story to tell people about how you met your girlfriend.

"Yeah, I was just out doing the traveling merchant thing when Horo transported herself through some wheat I war carrying, wrapped herself in my ermine furs, and asked if I had any wine. I knew right then it was destiny, you know. When the one you're meant to be with appears nude in the form of a teenage girl asking for alcohol you just know."

The Evil Guy

There is some guy who shows up that knows that Horo is really a pagan god of wheat and is all about using that knowledge to his advantage. He was in the village in the first issue and  between then and the tenth issue he somehow started working for an evil trading company that wants to use the change in the silver content of the currency to their own advantage. He hears about Horo and instantly knows it's the pagan god of wheat of his village use to worship cause its not like somebody else could have that name. How many people do you know named Zeus? If you heard about some dude named Zeus hanging out at the Five and Dime you would know who it really was.

I think this dude might actually be a traveling merchant who sells wheat, not a resident of the farming community. That would explain his position with the evil trading company and his knowledge of local wheat worshiping practices. It wouldn't explain how he knows Horo is a damn wheat god, but his amazing powers of perception are one of the least out there things in the comic.

The Plot

Lawrence is a lonely traveling merchant. One day he goes through a town and hears the story about how their wheat is protected by a god named Horo, and he watches a harvest ritual. That night Horo appears in the back of his wagon.  Lawrence takes it incredibly well considering

1. She is nude

2. She has wolf ears and a tail

3. She is god.

Personally I would have pooped my pants in fear, although that would mostly be fear from seeing a naked girl.

So Horo explains that she isn't really god, just a wolf who decided to help people grow wheat. The farmers no longer believe in her having turned to "The Church" who has taught them the ways of science. Yes "The Church" is big on science rather then believing in divine intervention. Don' think about it too much. Horo wants to return to her home in the artic since she has no reason to stick around anymore.  Lawrence agrees to help her out because she is nude and men will do pretty much anything a nude woman asks them to do. Horo starts wearing Lawrence's "best clothes" including what he claims is a coat but is clearly a dress. The reader starts to wonder exactly how lonely Lawrence was on his journeys

Shortly after they begin traveling together Lawrence and Horo are caught in a storm. They stay the night in a monastery. Horo and Lawrence dry their clothes in a scene that lasts several pages and has a lot of nudity. Oddly enough Horo has no nipples.

Later Lawrence makes a deal with another trader having to do with currency speculation. It seems this trader has found out that newly issued coins will have a higher content of silver then the old coins. The plan is to gather the new coins since they will have a stronger value against foreign currency. It's a plot so simple bar graphs are required to explain it.

Lawrence agrees to the proposition. He thinks there is more to it then what he has been told but thinks that by playing along he can still make a profit.

Lawrence eventually finds out that it is all a trick. The new coins are actually going to have a lower silver content the old coins. That trader works for a company that is gathering the old coins to sell back to the government in exchange for services and favors.  Lawrence sells the information to a rival company in exchange for a portion of the profits. Meanwhile there is a huge amount of sexual tension between Horo and Lawrence. She also uses her wolf god ways to help him figure out the silver content of coins and sell furs. That's pretty mundane uses for magical powers. Its like if Gandalf spent most of the trilogy doing yard work.

Horo also gets really hung over and throws up. Horo not being able to hold her liqueur turns out to be an important plot point.

So the evil company comes after Lawrence and Horo. Horo lets herself be captured so Lawrence can escape. Why she doesn't use her wolf magic to help them both escape isn't explained. Lawrence gets the help from the company he made the deal with to save Horo, its revealed that the evil guy I mentioned earlier is behind Horo's capture, although there aren't any bar graphs to remind me who he is. Horo is saved, although the method of her saving pisses her off slightly for some reason. I don't know why. I chalk this up to not understanding women though, rather then this comic being crazy.  Lawrence and Horo escape into the sewer while their company quickly tries to negotiate a deal to sell the silver coins to the government before the evil company can make their own deal. Does the deal go through? Do they safely escape? Fuck you, you don't get to find out that's the last issue.

So why is it the most insane thing ever?

The story moves very slowly. It takes an issue and a half to move past Horo being naked in the back of Lawrence's wagon. The currency thing, which is the main plot of the series, doesn't come up until the fourth issue. There aren't even any bad guys until issue nine. Most of the comic consists of either Lawrence and Horo talking or people discussing trade agreements.

This slow paced character driven nature is completely unexpected. Where talking about a comic from Japan here, the land of no subtly, where all problems are solved with kung fu and energy beams. I would expect a story about a wolf in human form to consist mostly of the wolf tearing people apart with fangs. Then the church sends in some paladins or something and suddenly some dude shows up with angel wings, because that happens in every cartoon or video game that comes from Japan . At some point the antagonist, protagonist, or both will have angel wings. Not here though, the one time in the entire series there is any fighting the main characters aren't even participating, he's sitting in a sewer. The entire nature and tone of the comic throws you for a loop.

The lack of action actually makes the entire thing more bizarre. Usually a strange cartoon is considered wacky because there is so much shit flying at you it is impossible to catch all of it. Usually you can only catch a tenth of it. Here you have plenty of time to consider everything that has happened, which raises so many more questions. Here it's not an issue of being confused because one moment everybody was at the beach and now they are in space with no explanation and you don't know what's happening. Here you know everything that is happening; you just don't understand why it is happening. Of all the plots for a medieval fantasy have you ever imagined one focusing on currency speculation? Maybe if by currency speculation I meant killing a dragon and taking its gold, then yeah, but nope, careful investment and contract negotiations. Plus the twist of Horo being a magical wolf barely comes up. Sure it's an issue when she is captured but until then her true nature is pretty much reduced to issues about her having to wear a hat.

What truly makes the story crazy beyond all others is how legitimate it is. What I mean by this is that nobody in the process is trying to make it strange. Take Aqua Teen Hunger Force as an example of a crazy show which is in no way legitimate. Everything wacky that happens happens because somebody said, "You know what would be wacky" before contributing the idea. They were trying to throw you for a loop. They were trying to make you tilt your head. All in all nothing they are doing is organic. It is carefully planned insanity. Not so here. Here we have a Japanese man who woke up one morning with the burning story of Horo, the magic wolf who moonlights as a medieval peddler and he ran with it. No intention of confusing readers, its just that the story happened to develop in a way that is mind meltingly bizarre.

And that is why Wolf and Spice is the craziest thing ever.