Sunday, May 7, 2017

[Anime] Attack on Titan

Note: I have not read the manga.  My praise or criticisms could very well be modified by future information, but for now I write on what I have experienced.  Also stole a few screenshots from S2.

Attack on Titan is a series that requires no introduction; like or hate it, it is one of the most spectacularly successful anime to ever be released.  As such it is subjected to constant criticism and pointed hatred.  The process that contemporary popular series go through in the anime community is so reliable that I facetiously suggest that there must be predetermined stages:
  • Denial: The initial hype begins and long-time anime viewers refuse to believe that it will last, citing the overall mediocrity of the series.
  • Anger: The enthusiasm continues to build among the larger fanbase, which only intensifies the disgust from the elite.  After all, why isn’t their favorite show this popular?
  • Arguing: In an attempt to curtail the mounting worship the dissenters become more vocal with their criticisms.  Both sides begin to polarize, settling into the Love It or Hate It camps.
  • Depression: Finally, it sinks in that the series isn’t going anywhere, and that people will continue to like it no matter how many times it is compared negatively to Cowboy Bebop.  Clearly anime is going downhill.
  • Acceptance: Given time, the situation cools down and it becomes acceptable to say that in spite of your clearly superior standards, you did sort of enjoy watching it…but only just a little…
I write this review several years after the first season completed, as the second season continues to air.  Attack on Titan as a dark action-drama is still the standard by which similar series are judged.  I would argue that this is for good reason, and that there are many elements which have not been equaled since.  This does not excuse its flaws, which are significant, but if you’re just in it for the ride, Attack on Titan does deliver.

The Good:
What forms the solid foundation of Attack on Titan are its mysteries.  From the beginning, there are the all-important questions: what are the Titans and where did they come from?  They have completely ruined human civilization, forcing the traumatized survivors to huddle behind their equally-inexplicable walls, and yet humanity still has no answer for their existence.  The mystery only deepens with more details: Titans are lighter than they should be for their size, they lack any method of reproduction, they only hunt humans but do not actually require them for sustenance, and are unaffected by all harm except to the nape of their neck.  These problems are presented to us organically and create an air of confused urgency: the answer may be out there, and it may be the salvation of mankind, but it may just as well yield nothing.

This brings us to the titans themselves.  Their presentation is one that straddles the mindlessness of zombies and the vitality of predators, with just a hint of the insane in their behavior.  They are deranged idiots, so closely resembling us yet so alien at the same time.  Without knowing why they do what they do, their actions are unpredictable and therefore all the more terrifying.

On top of this, the titans are horrifying for one other reason: they eat us.  This fate, the fate of succumbing to a creature larger and stronger than us, to in turn be devoured, is the most primal of fears.  Some of Attack on Titan’s greatest, and most disturbing, scenes are when people are caught and see the mouth opening in front of them.  In that moment intelligence, bravery, and virtue evaporate in the face of unbounded terror.  People scream, they beg, they flail…and then they die.  This inevitability, taken together with their cryptic nature, is what causes the titans to be such compelling monsters despite their patently ridiculous appearance and behavior.

Seemed like a nice place to live

Appreciable detail is also given to the overall world.  There is a clear geography, consistent architecture, some history, and of course the iconic 3D maneuvering gear.  We are often given small glimpses into the logistics of the army as well, such as refilling gas canisters or loading up supply carts for different groups.  These operations are usually supplemented by small vignettes in the middle of each episode, adding a further sense that the details of the world continue deeper.

Finally, there’s the hype.  There isn’t much to say here: the direction is bombastic, but when it comes to Attack on Titan it works.  The sheer scale of the action coupled with the operatic vocal music and intensity of the imagery comes together to create moments that are simply satisfying.

Our three deep and exciting heroes
The Bad:
Attack on Titan is great when it stays in the realm of action, but when it ventures into the human sphere it degenerates into pure melodrama.  The directing style that serves it so well in combat is simply ridiculous when used for human interactions.  Every character, when saying something of importance, MUST SHOUT IT AT THE TOP OF THEIR LUNGS  The camera will zoom in uncomfortably, and the audience is given the sense that somebody is screaming directly in our face.  There is not even the slightest shred of subtlety.

This also applies to the characters themselves, who have no depth to speak of.  Eren is our good old powered-by-youth male protagonist, Mikasa takes on the emotionally-blank girl role that seems to be necessary since NGE, and Armin’s job is to whine.  These people exist solely to fuel the action; they never have a development that doesn’t involve advancing the plot toward more titans.  Any sort of resolution, such as Mikasa ending up with Eren, will likely be part of the denouement as a way of giving fans what they want in the end.  The side characters are also forgettable, with no real function except to feed into our main trio or become titan fodder.

Because of these weaknesses, the parts of the series between the major action moments tend to drag.  After a while it becomes obvious that nothing interesting is going to happen when only humans are talking on screen, and we must content ourselves to waiting until the next titan encounter.  This is made worse because the mysteries I praised at the beginning of the review are never given closure, so many of the conversations boil down to, “Well, we still don’t know anything.  BUT WE’RE REALLY EMOTIONAL ABOUT IT.”  Strangely, I am more forgiving with regards to Attack on Titan for its lack of closure, a point I am normally a stickler on.  I have no defensible reason for this lapse in rigor, but I felt placated knowing that the story was continuing.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

[Anime] Spice and Wolf S2 Review

Review under construction - needs images.

Note: Unlike most of my reviews, what follows is a collection forum posts gleaned from the discussion of the series during a group viewing.  I have edited a few of them for clarity, but have left them essentially in their original state.

Spice and Wolf II - 7.5/10

Post #1: Episode 0 and Discussion

This is the first episode that I have not seen in years, so this was enjoyable to not remember as many scenes. That said, I have a very mixed feeling toward this episode: it is half fantastic and half terrible fan service.

The good of the episode comes from Holo's internal monologues and dreams. They give excellent insight into how Holo thinks. As she muses on how the days, months, and years just slipped by when she was alone she cannot help but feel delight in the daily variety she now experiences. They also demonstrate how self-aware she is of her actions: she knows that at times she loses some control, and is bothered by how much more vulnerable she has become since her long solitude. But at the same time she doesn't apologize for herself, she merely reflects on it.

Easily the most powerful segment is Holo's dream where she finds herself standing on a snow field. On one side are her kin, the wolves waiting for her to come home. On the other is Lawrence with arms outstretched. In this moment she makes a clear choice: as long as he is there, she would like to be with him. But when she reaches him, the reality sinks in that he won't always be there. She will live to see him die, and that is a most terrible thing. Unable to explain this to him it eats away at her. In terms of quality character development, these are top notch.

However, it seems that they decided to also pair this with some profoundly mediocre elements. When I called it "fan service" above I don't mean the sexual variety, but simply that the interactions between Lawrence, Holo, and Nora are for the most part designed to entertain the audience. At the table Holo's forced jealousy, Lawrence's exasperated goodness, and Nora's cute innocence are all excessively highlighted. And later on the scenes involving the flirty interactions at the "sick" bed are just bones thrown to the audience, even stooping to Holo becoming so excited she hits her head (haha?).

Finishing the episode I felt a mixture of feelings. On one hand it's like they had an excellent series of ideas they needed to get across, and they did so amazingly well. I have a soft spot for the grandness of time and our own impermanence, and they nailed that firmly. On the other hand, it seems they feared the episode would be too abstract or depressing, and so were forced to throw in antics to ensure the attention of the audience.


As to Episode 0, the reason I dislike it is because the interactions have no impact. That is, normally their banter has something to do with the plot or is part of shaping their relationship. As much as Holo's teasing drives you (and me at times) nuts, the constant testing also tends to result in certain situations where she realizes she's pushed him too far, or suddenly there bursts through a moment of genuine interaction. These give insight into each of them and are what help us appreciate how their relationship works.

However, during this episode nothing of the sort happens. They play out their parts as established from previous episodes, but as it is adrift between the two seasons it has no relationship to progressing a plot or affecting their relationship. What happens in episode 0 stays in episode 0. I suspect I'm also influenced by some knowledge from S2: (minor spoiler) We never see Nora again. Because of this I can't help but feel that the design of this episode was meant to pander to people who enjoyed the little three-way relationship before it vanishes.

Posts #2-3: Episodes 1-6, irritations

Finished my late viewing of S&W2, episodes 1-3. I honestly don't have a lot to say, mostly because of how it ties in with what is coming up. I figure I'll write out everything then when the first arc is done.

One little thing I disliked about the version I was watching, though, was when Holo is upset and asking to have kids with Lawrence. In my current version she says, "you could make love to me." In the original I watched it was instead translated, "you could mate with me" which I felt was far more fitting.


If S&W is consistent for one thing, it is that it likes to imitate familiar approaches and then purposefully derail them. This arc is no different. On the surface it's yet another, "two guys compete for the affections of a girl" structure. The threat of losing the girl is real to the protagonist who must give it all he has to woo her. The series reinforces this view of the situation somewhat through Lawrence's internal imagery of Holo and Amarty together. In reality Holo was always on his side and this whole mess was to teach Lawrence to trust her and recognize his own feelings. It never was a competition, and Holo thoroughly belittles Lawrence for thinking that.

The problem I have with this arc is that it tries to close with a reconciliation of the protagonists, with the implication that this has further strengthened their bond. Now, I'm not Lawrence but if I found out that I had just spent several days in mental anguish just because my prospective girlfriend couldn't be bothered to talk things out and opted for roundabout manipulation to get the message across, I'd be rather angry. It's like...Holo has a grasp of psychology but no sympathy to accompany it; she just berates him again and again for being an idiot, when as best I can tell he's acting pretty reasonably for a human male. Better than most, really.

Which again brings us back to Holo and her personality. She knows he's a good guy, but she still cannot shake that insufferable manipulative superiority. This whole arc is a result of her not treating him as an equal and talking things out. Instead she views it as her prerogative to beat some sense into him emotionally. It isn't even the little tests the average female does, like seeing if a guy picks up on her cues as a sign of his devotion. She really just likes doing things this way.

So as the arc ends I once again don't attack the writing of Holo. She is who she is. But I do disagree that this event would lead to better relations. If anything it reaffirms the inequality between the two, which is pretty bad for a stable romantic relationship. Also the insight for Lawrence, that he really cares for her, was one that I think the whole audience already knew. What we're all waiting on is Holo to reciprocate.

p.s. Birds > wolves

Post #4: Episodes 7-12

As I watched S2 I was struck strongly how both arcs have exactly the same point: Lawrence chooses Holo over wealth. This insistence on proving the point , however, confuses me. During S1 I never had the impression that Lawrence was a hard-headed merchant who only cared for money. Sure he pesters Holo about her debt, but that is just banter with a small sliver of truth. By the end of the first season it was abundantly clear that they had formed a substantial bond with each other. If I were asked at that point whether Lawrence would part with Holo for profit I would have emphatically answered no. Yet, for some strange reason the entirety of the second season is devoted to proving what we already know.

Anyway, moving beyond that general critique there are two primary reasons I like this arc more than the last one:

1) Holo is back. Like her or hate her, her uniqueness is one of the main claims to fame for the series. When she is absent for several episodes the engagement of the series can't help but suffer. Moreover, now that Holo is back she reciprocates more of Lawrence's kindness. Yes, there are the quips and games and endless meddling but we are given many more instances where she is openly fond of him. She is seen resting her head on his lap, content to let him stroke her head. When he kisses her hand she is actually taken aback for a moment. And when she really is scared, she reaches out to him instinctively. Again, I know this doesn't impress a lot of people but it is a fairly large advance compared to her previous attitudes.

The other aspect of Holo that I disliked during my original viewing but appreciated the second was her suggestion that they separate. I recall feeling quite disgusted at her suggestion that they separate. I felt like they had already been over this and that it was just drama in the making again. However, this time around it made a lot more sense. Previous suggestions of their separation originated with Lawrence, and were often born of practical concerns. This time it was from Holo, and this made all the difference.

Holo is old. For her all things are transient. We see this clearly illustrated when Lawrence comments that people change steadily over time, and her response is, "Yes, just like rivers." Lawrence can't even fathom what she means as he lacks the perspective of time that she does. On this journey she is happier than she has been in a long time, possibly happier than she has ever been in her life. Simply to have everything feel new every day is a gift. But even all this excitement can't shield her from the realization that it will not last. Everything comes to an end. Frankly, when she says that she's accepted Lawrence will eventually die she's just lying to herself. She knows he will die and that there is nothing she can do about it. It reminded me of a scene from Babylon 5 where an immortal being reflects on the burden of his own timelessness:

"To live on as we have is to leave behind joy, and love, and companionship, because we know it to be transitory, of the moment. We know it will turn to ash. Only those whose lives are brief can imagine that love is eternal. You should embrace that remarkable illusion. It may be the greatest gift your race has ever received."

As I watched the series this time it really sunk in just how burdened Holo was with the interminable future. Unfortunately, the scene itself was actually sloppy with some strange cuts that made me feel disoriented. In the end Holo's fear is not addressed and is actually not even meaningful for the rest of the series; it is swept under the rug as Lawrence tries to reconcile with her while not even understanding what she is upset about. I found this quite disappointing in light of how potent this insight into Holo was.

2) The side characters are superior. In the first arc Amarty wasn't bad...he just wasn't great. He did the job he needed to for the story and that was it. Lawrence's merchant friend Mark and his apprentice were similar. I would have loved to see more of Dian (bird woman) but that was not to be.

By comparison Eve is a far more dynamic character. She exhibited just enough self-contradictory aspects to make her feel real. Originally introduced as mysterious and aloof she is actually quite gregarious given the opportunity. Her later deceptions in no way negate this. If anything, they reinforce that coexisting with her cutthroat attitude is a desperate need to be liked and understood that never completely went away. Her life has taught her the hard way that she has to guard herself carefully, but it hasn't extinguished that original spark. Even when she betrays Lawrence it is fear, not avarice or hatred, that motivates her. That she leaves him with the deed to the inn further illustrates that she bears him no ill will. Ultimately she is a sad character who is on a path of self-destruction. Feeling the world close in on her she pursues her ambitions with a mad defiance, if only to prove that she has lived. It's why her last line to Lawrence, that she has hope, is such a sad lie. (That said...can't Lawrence win a single fight in this entire series? Just once?)

Rigoro the scribe and his assistant nun Merta didn't enjoy as much development as Eve, but the way they were presented it hinted at so much more. While Rigoro is clearly educated and wealthy, we do not know his background. His fortune seems to be greater than just what a town scribe would earn so it is likely inherited along with his mansion. The deep cellars with old books would attest to this as well. However, his family is conspicuously absent and in its place is Merta. She clearly can't be his wife, yet she is continually alone with him serving as companion, assistant, and secretary. During the credits we see that Merta goes to Rigoro and that he embraces and comforts her. Aside from her Rigoro avoids the company of others, despite his friendly nature. The final piece of the puzzle is the greenhouse, a dream that is simultaneously extravagant and simple. He not only takes great pride in it, but clearly finds peace within as well.

Taken together, these paint an interesting picture of somebody who has suffered great emotional privation and who now appreciates the simple and quiet beauty of his home and garden. It tantalizes us with the story of two people who have mutual respect and understanding, grown to affection, that cannot be pursued. But rather than view it as a tragic tale, it strikes me as very sweet that perhaps in this world these two people were lucky enough to find a measure of happiness in each other.

Post #5: Summary of S1 and S2

In the end, while this rewatch gave me many new insights into the series my overall assessment remained the same. I have both seasons rated as an 8/10 on MAL, but if I were given more subtlety of ranking I would give S1 a solid 8/10 while S2 strays closer to a 7.5/10. If season two had more focus on side characters like Eve and Rigoro, woven into their interactions with our main duo, it could have been quite masterful. Unfortunately, the unnecessary emphasis on Holo and Lawrence's uncertain-but-not relationship overshadowed these brilliant side personalities.

In the final analysis, what I have to give S&W the most credit for is Holo as a personality. Even as infuriating as she is at times, I know of no other character like her. I never found myself bored while she was on screen. Her relationship with Lawrence is similarly interesting. Even if I was irritated by the way some aspects of it were handled, they form a unique pair in anime with how their relationship forms and manifests itself in their exchanges. Their development is the shining centerpiece of the story.

That said, I fear that this interplay came at the cost of story. It's as icedwarrior lamented in his post for 7-9: that once again the plot was about the personality conflicts between Holo and Lawrence. After a while everything is about whether Lawrence and Holo are getting closer or further apart. They can't just let their relationship slide for a few episodes. It ultimately robs us of the ability to experience anything else in the world. So even as the names and places change, there begins to creep in a sense of sameness about everything that happens. I suspect this is yet another contributing factor to why I prefer S1 over S2: things are still fresh in the first season before the repetition sets in.

And with this, I leave one of my favorite AMVs: Spanish Wolf. I find myself often returning to it as it captures the best the series has to offer: the joy of living and traveling, the give and take in the turbulent partnership between Lawrence and Holo and the romance that unfolds and deepens over several seasons. And of course, the rampant alcoholism.

[Anime] Spice and Wolf S1 Review

Review under construction - needs images.

Note: Unlike most of my reviews, what follows is a collection forum posts gleaned from the discussion of the series during a group viewing.  I have edited a few of them for clarity, but have left them essentially in their original state.

Spice and Wolf - 8/10

Post #1: Episodes 1-3, Holo’s Personality

S&W is one of the few series were most of the nudity doesn’t bother me. I’m normally part of the Prude Police, but S&W knows how to frame situations properly. A good demonstration of the writers’ conscious understanding of how to frame females is in the comparison between Chloe and Holo in the first episode. While Lawrence has no romantic inclinations toward Chloe, when she lies down on the hay and comments that she has grown up his eyes can’t help but notice this fact. The way they frame those shots and then cut to Lawrence’s face clearly indicate that we’re being treated to Lawrence’s point of view, not just being given shots of a pretty girl for fan service reasons.

Later on when Holo is getting out of the cart she is stark naked but the way the situation is handled manages to keep it from feeling like it’s just there for sex appeal. Her being naked is natural; she doesn’t give a second thought to it and neither should we. The only compromising shot is yet another that is clearly from Lawrence’s point of view: when she bends over to pick up the jerky and looking at her (nicely rounded) buttocks he notices that she has a tail. So the scene which could be a train wreck of bloody noses and shallow fan service manages to wordlessly demonstrate to us how Holo views her body and how we as the audience should as well.

One thing that is interesting to note is that later in the second episode when they are drying off in the inn Lawrence does become embarrassed at Holo being naked. At first I thought maybe this was inconsistent, since he didn’t display any of this in episode one, but on further reflection I think it could be argued that he is becoming familiar with her as a person now. Even if she doesn’t care, his maleness does.

Continuing on to Holo herself as a character, I’ve always had a very interesting time trying to pin her down. I know she is a fan favorite, but I don’t think most people appreciate a simple fact that is stated in the first episode: Holo is Holo. She is her own personality that is not any particular trope and doesn’t play to what people want. She is very old and experienced, despite appearances. However, she knows the effect her appearance has and smoothly abuses it to get what she wants. The only reason she isn’t a villain is because what she wants is usually fairly basic (apples!) or more or less good-willed (helping Lawrence). In short, she is highly, but benignly, manipulative.

This is the reason that again, despite her popularity, I really don’t think people appreciate how dangerous she is. Not in a “wolf eat you” way (although that is also true), but in the fact that in scene after scene she is content to play with Lawrence. To tease him, to excite his emotions, and then to stomp them. It’s her pastime. This is somebody who is very adept at wearing a mask and only rarely lets what she thinks and feels through, instead pretending to be many different things and watching other people react. So in short, even though I admire Holo as a character I have never thought that she would be an amazing person to be with in real life.

To finish up, I have a question for people: where do you imagine S&W taking place? I’ve always imagined either southern Germany or northern Italy given the names, but never could quite decide on which.

Post #2: Episodes 4-7, Lawrence

I like this first arc, but I will be honest I still don’t 100% understand how the deal worked. More specifically, they never answer the original question which is: why were Lawrence and Holo targeted by Medio Trading? They bring this up as a bizarre choice by Medio Trading since Milone Trading wouldn’t care that much. Is the implication that Chloe recognized Holo‘s name and authorized the hit out of a hunch? I just never got it.

Which brings me on to the second point, and that is Chloe’s involvement in Medio Trading. It strikes me as terribly anachronistic that Chloe would be a major player in a powerful trading company. The author even seems to realize this: she’s surrounded by grizzled old men who would naturally be the leaders, so a young pretty farm girl sticks out like a sore thumb. The interaction she has with Holo is important, but the fact that she’s there at all has never settled well with me.  (Note: I was later told that Chloe is anime-original, and therefore clearly grafted in.)

Finishing for this week I want to take a look at Lawrence’s role in the series. Lawrence is not an extraordinary person. He demonstrates a heightened degree of intelligence and cunning, which has made him into a successful merchant, but beyond this he is relatively unremarkable. I don’t state this as a bad thing, simply that it’s important to appreciate the incredible task Lawrence is up against: keeping up with Holo.

This is what makes Spice & Wolf different from most romantic series. Usually the role of males is more dominant: the guy is the one taking care of the problems. He protects the girl and through his effort woos her over. And at first Lawrence tries to do just this. He attempts to show off his business savvy, pose questions he thinks she can’t answer, and protect her when they are cornered by Medio Trading. But the truth is, she’s just as smart as he is and has centuries of experience that make her far more capable in nearly every regard. She gets better deals, figures out his riddles, and saves them both by turning into a giant wolf. Everything he can do she can do better.

The result of all this is two-fold. For Lawrence it means that as his feelings for Holo grow he has to figure out and overcome his own bruised ego. It isn’t a grand transformation, and in fact the series remarks little on it, but it is still a journey that adds a layer to his character. For the audience, it serves as a warning to not expect these roles or even find them desirable, for as we are reminded, “All men are jealous idiots, and all women are stupid to be happy about it. Idiots are everywhere you look.”

Post #3: Episodes 8-10, Concerns and confusion

After the last series of episodes we’ve seen Holo and Lawrence get through their first major ordeal together. This shows from Lawrence’s perspective – he is steadily more willing to trust and confide in her. However, for me Holo becomes more abrasive as she eschews any typical signs of increased intimacy for more teasing and abuse. This isn’t a criticism of the writing necessarily, as it would entirely appropriate for her character to try and distance herself from mortals by ensuring that they know their place, if even in jest. That said, from a human perspective it really starts to hurt because she just won’t give him a break.

This irritation with her distancing act is actually exacerbated by her over-fondness for foods shown in this arc. I am unsure if this behavior is meant to make her more relatable or demonstrate a flaw in her personality, but it comes across as clownish to me. In this instance I have a harder time giving the series credit for good writing because it feels so at odds with her normal behaviors. For instance, her drooling at the thought of honey-soaked peaches is truly inelegant. Holo, if nothing else, prizes that vision of herself and reacts negatively when it is questioned (“You snore.” “I do not snore!” “Just a little bit…” “NO! I DO NOT snore!”) That she would then make unreasonable demands to wake up the merchant and sell their wares and immediately leave the city doesn’t appear to be teasing but a truly thoughtless course of action brought on by her fixation. Having a soft spot for sweets is one thing, but it seems to be played just a bit too heavily to be in accordance with her overall character.

All this taken together is why I am happy when they meet Nora. I feel just like Lawrence: grateful that there’s a normal human female around. One that I don’t feel constantly on edge with, not knowing if I’m going to bit bitten. Also doesn’t hurt that that I apparently have the same taste as Lawrence…

The last thing I want to both comment on and ask about is: what went wrong in his deal? And why is it labeled as greed?

So I understand that he caught the guy trying to cheat under the name of God, and that both as a merchant and good churchgoer his reputation would be ruined if it got out. He then squeezes the guy for double but asks for it in armor as goods. (1) This somehow incurs a debt to the merchant? I honestly don’t understand, because I thought he was trading for pepper not buying on credit. Either way, his debt becomes far worse when he finds out that the armor market is greatly devalued and that his goods are nearly worthless. But then this debt is transferred from the merchant to Lapatron Trading, which means he’s in debt to them and cannot pay it because his armor is worthless. (2) Why was his debt transferred?

These points, (1) and (2) are what I just don’t follow. I don’t understand why he had a debt when he appeared to be trading goods, and then why and how his debt was transferred. If anybody could help explain, I’d appreciate it as economics is…not my forte.

@icedwarrior I also noticed the huge quality drop in a few scenes as well. I’m not sure if they were there before and I just noticed them now, or if these episodes suddenly have that issue. Also to answer one of your complaints: The reason Holo accompanying Lawrence is a problem is because of the appearances. They are in a church-run town and a man has fallen on extremely bad times. In other words, in his friends’ view Lawrence has likely done something to anger God and this is his punishment. Not only this, it’s pretty obvious what he’s done: he’s dragging around town with a girl that can only be his mistress. But in their view, he isn’t even trying to help himself. He isn’t trying to change his life of iniquity, and a mistress is sure to be a money sink as well. Yet he parades her around in front of them while having the gall to ask for money. This is why he is consistently turned down, whether with nice-sounding excuses (“We need to save money for the crop season…”) or with water being thrown in his face. It isn’t until the last man that he realizes what has happened.

Post #4: Episodes 11-13, Finale and Holo in depth

These last three episodes are some of my favorites in the first season.

As I remarked before, what I dislike about the last set of episodes is that Holo‘s temperament doesn’t improve. They just got through a tight spot together and they are obviously meant to become closer, but suddenly Holo reverts back to her initial level of teasing without any balance of visible affection. While this may be accurate writing (more on this below) it still irks me and I find myself feeling quite annoyed with how she is portrayed. In the final episodes the series this is amended and, at least for me, feels more natural.

The primary scene that illustrates this is in the inn at the beginning of episode 11. I like it because Holo is earnest, while not completely losing what makes her unique. She acknowledges from the beginning that having her hand brushed away before was minor, and knows that the damage she may have done to Lawrence’s life is irreparable. Yet he has the gall to apologize for his minor transgression, and that shames her terribly. It’s really the first moment where I think she realizes maybe she isn’t superior to Lawrence in all ways. Holo has great personal pride, and while she acknowledges to herself that she is fond of him** she also has a fundamental attitude that he’s the lucky one to be with her. In this scene I think she first realizes that maybe, just maybe, she’s also lucky to be with him.

Being Holo she is far too proud to say this out loud, but what she does next is telling: she basically demands he confess to her. She suddenly wants to hear, to really know, that she does have his affection. Her domineering manner in which she has him retry it until he ‘gets it right’ is pretty typical of her powerful personality, but despite that she still earnestly wags her tail at the end – a sure sign of her true feelings. Between this and other scenes (such as when she kneeled and begged for Lawrence’s sake with the wolves)I feel like this series finishes itself well in the portrayal of their relationship, striking a good balance between teasing and underlying emotional bonds.

And speaking of the give and take, the final couple of scenes are also some of my favorite. Finally, Lawrence gets Holoback. The look on her face when he tells her that he probably called her name because it was shorter is priceless. And when she tries her heavy-handed approach like she did back in the inn, trying to put herself back in control of the situation, he completely turns it around by calling during the bells. And all this only works because we now know how much Holowants Lawrence to like her, again emphasizing how I feel this arc better sculpts their relationship

Other than this, I like Nora. She isn’t an award-winning character by any stretch. She is too young and we don’t know her for long enough to get more than the basic story behind her motivations. But despite being a slight, innocent, frail-looking girl she shows that she can look after herself. Her scenes involving the wolves are really serious. Just imagine what it would be like: middle of the night, in a dark and unfamiliar wood, you wake to the sound of wolves surrounding your camp. That is a primal human nightmare, but Nora has the ability to stand there ready. Even when they are fleeing she doesn’t panic, but instead acts intelligently to disrupt the wolves’ behavior. It’s really as Holo says: don’t confuse this girl for a sheep just because she looks tame. I don’t really see it as a “girl power!” kind of thing as much as yet another case where the series seeks to purposefully disrupt the usual stereotypes.

Finally, I have to admit that the last few episodes do highlight how poorly non-humans are drawn in this series. The scene where Holo attacks the thugs from Lemerio Trading is particularly atrocious. The action doesn’t flow and many of her movements look profoundly unnatural. I think it’s just as well that the scenes with Holo‘s wolf form are few and far between. Enek also looks really strange in many of the scenes he features.

**Addendum on Holo‘s Personality
I think sometimes people confuse Holo as a tsundere because she keeps herself distant at many times and has occasional violent outbursts. However, I really do not think that is accurate.

Tsunderes are motivated by the repression of strong feelings. Unable to handle their own emotions they are overwhelmed and try to cover them up, often even to themselves. This creates a very unstable personality because they want something so badly yet go about getting it in all the wrong ways. In particular they frequently turn to violence in their confusion, seeking to give the impression that they are not besotted as well as perpetuating a self-image of being in control (which they are clearly not). Over time they warm up if the male is patient enough to put up with their antics, soothing their fears of rejection.

Holo does not have these kinds of internal conflicts. She has a great deal of self-confidence and knows what she wants and how to get it. She readily acknowledges to herself that she has feelings for Lawrence as well. Her distance from him is not due to confusion. It is because of two things: pride and fear. Her pride as Holo the Wise Wolf means that she simply has a hard time weakening herself in front of others, especially inferior humans. Expressing affection always makes people vulnerable, and so she cannot bring herself to openly show her affection on a regular basis.

The fear is something I already touched on above. In the inevitability of time, she knows that she will outlive Lawrence. As she already has said herself: she is tired of being alone. She knows deep within herself that these times can’t last and that she can have no illusions that their love is ‘eternal.’ In this regard she finds herself drawn in with the moment, but also struck suddenly by a deep melancholy that has no answer.