The Art of Adaptation
Mentioned briefly in my review of the novel by Isuna Hasekura, “Spice and Wolf” was also adapted into a Manga (Japanese word for comics) series soon after its breakout publishing success. With 4 books currently published in Japan, the series was licensed by Yen Press and released in English for the first time this April.
This wouldn’t be the first time that a bestselling novel series in Japan was adapted into a Manga. It’s long become a tradition for Japanese franchises to spread out into as many mediums as possible. However, when these cross-overs are attempted, there are almost always concerns over the faithfulness of the adaptation.
For those unfamiliar with the storyline of Spice and Wolf, it’s the not-so-average tale of a medieval merchant who discovers a naked wolf-girl in the back of his wagon one night. Claiming to be the ancient wolf, who by tradition of the nearby town is bound to keep crops healthy, she wishes to leave her daily life behind and return to her homeland in the far North. However, she needs his help. With wolf ears and a tail, she’s an open target for persecution by the ruling authority of the Roman Catholic Church. She wants to travel alongside the Merchant and proposes such a plan to him. Agreeing under the condition that she repay all debts, the young Merchant possibly makes the best or worst decision of his short career. With only this oral agreement between them, the two set out on their journey unaware of the life threatening dangers on the horizon.
I am happy to report that the worries over whether the adaptation of Spice and Wolf would stray dramatically from the original source material are needless. Keito Koume does an excellent job of staying extremely close to the original. In fact, much of the dialogue appears to have been taken directly from the pages of the novel, word for word. There are almost no noticeable changes from the novel for the most part, with the exception that scenes have been cut down for time and page count.
The first Manga covers the first quarter of the debut novel by Hasekura, beginning with Lawrence’s arrival in Pasloe and ending with his heated conversation with the young merchant at the bar. Fans hoping for new material or better perspectives on events shown in the novel may feel disappointed. This is a strict adaptation that doesn’t add any new material to the storyline.
Now for the next big question, how is the artwork? With the original novel already having illustrations by the talented Ju Ayakura, could the Manga stay true to the character designs while standing out as its own work? Apparently, yes. Koume’s art style retains the basic designs while providing an original style that crosses between moe and pencil sketches. It’s unique enough to stand out on its own and faithful enough for a fan to instantly recognize the characters. However, as one reads through the first volume, it becomes obvious that Koume is constantly debating within himself on how he should draw the main female character. In one scene, Holo may take on a more “cute” look while in a number of pages her design may morph into something more mature in style.
On the subject of the artwork, there is one more important point that will need to be taken into consideration before purchasing this title. Most Manga adaptations in Japan that deal with nudity in bestselling stories are usually famous for ambiguity, usually drawing any nudity without specific details to keep the age rating low and potential audience large. However, Koume apparently decided that he was not only going to remain faithful to the events but to the details mentioned in the original novel. What this translated into is that during the introductory scenes of Holo, her exposed breasts can be seen with all their detail as well as during the scene in the room at the church when she takes off her wet clothes. As such, this Manga contains a warning on its front cover regarding the content. Very few of the pages actually contain any of this material and it should be clarified that there is very little of anything “sexual” in this volume. Any nudity is handled tastefully and realistically for the sake of the original story.
To conclude, the Manga adaptation of Spice and Wolf is a close and faithful rendition of the original novel, but lacks the length and depth of the original. Fans will definitely want to add it to their collection, but newcomers may want to read the debut novel first.
Matthew Reeves is an aspiring novelist living in California. You can usually find him lost in thought on a walk or writing on Twitter as @MattReeves17.