Spice and Wolf is back! Well, kind of... The actual series proper doesn't begin until July, but until then we get to enjoy this single episode OVA, otherwise known as episode zero of Spice and Wolf II.
The first Spice and Wolf series was a real surprise hit when compared against my own personal tastes - I'm normally no big fan of period drama, and the entire premise of this series sounds as dull as dishwater on the surface - A merchant and a wolf goddess meeting and then just travelling around with no particular purpose in mind? Err, sounds great. Yet despite all that, Spice and Wolf is a fantastic study in characterisation over the important of big, overarching story lines, charming me with its simple tale of companionship mixed in with just enough sexual frisson to keep the relationship between Lawrence and Horo interesting.
If this OVA is anything to go by, then Spice and Wolf II knows what has made the series successful and thus sets out t offer up more of the same. This episode kicks in pretty much directly after the end of the first series, with Lawrence and Holo celebrating alongside the female shepherd who helped them, Nora, after the success of their gold smuggling operation. In true Horo fashion, she doesn't take too well to Nora becoming the centre of Lawrence's attention, and before we know it a noxious mixture of alcohol and fatigue sees her pass out at the dinner table.
The rest of the episode sees Horo recuperating while enjoying the attention's of a worried Lawrence, while her period of enforced rest also finally gives her an opportunity to put some thought into her own confused feelings surrounding her travelling companion.
Horo proved herself to be a fantastic character in the original series on two counts, and they both come to light here. On the one hand, much praise must be made of the animation team for this show (even though it's changed from those who handled the first series) - Never mind Horo's character design (which is gorgeous in its own right), her facial expressions and body language are embued with so much emotion that this could almost be a silent movie and still coreograph every word she speaks - From her eyes to her ears to her tail, every detail gives away her true feelings to us the viewer, while simultaneously hiding from the slightly dense Lawrence. Aside from body language, Horo's dialogue herself is frequently sparkling as she teases and toys with Lawrence one moment, scalds and belittles him the next, and then stumbles and falters when her own emotions get the better of her. It's a fantastic thing to watch even a year on from the original series, and Lawrence's own part in such conversations is simply captivating to watch.
So, this OVA really is typical Spice and Wolf at its best - Absolutely nothing happens (it barely moves from a single room in geographical terms), yet you can't tear yourself away from it for a single second on account of the expertly penned, acted, animated and timed dialogue. I'd very nearly forgotten about this series after a few quiet months, but now I'm officially going to be waiting impatiently for Spice and Wolf II proper.