To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Spice and Wolf, Yen Press invited Spice and Wolf author and creator, Isuna Hasekura, to New York Comic-Con 2016 to speak with his fans. In addition to inviting Hasekura, Yen Press released a special limited anniversary edition omnibus of the first 17 novels in the Spice and Wolf series. The first printing has already been sold out, but a second printing is scheduled for release at the end of November. The omnibus was supposed to encompass the entire Spice and Wolf series in one dictionary-sized book, but Yen Press did not anticipate Hasekura releasing more novels in the Spice and Wolf series beginning with vol. 18 and 19 of the light novel series next year. In addition to the new novels, which continue the original series with a new story arc, Hasekura has started 2 new spin-off series from Spice and Wolf which were released in Japan in September. Both are currently being translated into English and hopefully will debut soon from Yen Press. One series follows the events immediately after vol. 17 of the light novel series (with Holo and Kraft Lawrence opening up an inn together), making it a direct sequel to the original series. The other series follows (*SPOILER for those who haven’t read vol. 17 yet! – skip to the next paragraph to avoid it*) Holo and Lawrence’s daughter, Beauty, and her traveling adventures with Marc Cole from the original series.
Hasekura said he originally came up with the idea for Spice and Wolf when he was looking up books on the Crusaders and found a book called Golden Spice, which dealt with commerce in medieval Europe. Hasekura read the book and became fascinated with the economics of medieval Europe, so he did more research and found another book called Golden Bow which also was a big influence on the series’ creation. Finally, the manga Sakuran played a huge part in creating Spice and Wolf.
When asked which came first, the story or the characters, Hasekura replied saying the characters came first starting with Holo. One particular scene from Sakuran left a very strong impression on Hasekura, and he said he created Holo from it and had to write his version of that scene centered around Holo. As for Lawrence, Hasekura said he tried to think of a character that would be a good opposite to Holo and interact with her well.
Hasekura said he set the story in medieval Europe instead of Japan because historical Japan didn’t seem interesting enough. Hasekura thought of dragons, knights, magic, and sorcery when thinking about medieval Europe, while historic Japan just had yokai and katana, which weren’t showy enough for him.
Concerning Lawrence’s characteristics, as a writer, Hasekura said one must always have a general idea or outline of the overall story starting from point A, the beginning, to point B, the ending, and how the characters travel from point A to point B. Hasekura added that a writer must also know his or her characters inside and out. Hasekura said he always knew that Lawrence was a smart guy who could manipulate people easily, so for each scene, Hasekura said he used trial and error to see what would work best and seem most natural for Lawrence to handle the situation.
About the sub-theme of old traditional ways vs. new technology, as personified by Holo’s feelings of uselessness as a harvest goddess in the face of new farming methods and equipment, Hasekura said he didn’t think about it too deeply. Hasekura noticed that each new generation leaves behind something that becomes obsolete and that there’s a unique nostalgic sadness attached to that that’s very attractive. That nostalgic sadness is personified in Holo herself.
Despite creating an economics based manga, Hasekura said he never studied economics in school, but he likes reading in general and is self-taught in the economics of medieval Europe. Hasekura also admitted that he has experienced first-hand the terrors of soft deals with some soft trading around the time of the Lehman crisis. In fact, Hasekura has written a series of novels about the horrors of economics called World End Economica which features a girl like Holo who is also sad and occasionally naked. A game adaptation of World End Economica was also made, which has a patch that lets players add animal ears to characters, making it even more similar to Spice and Wolf‘s Holo.
Hasekura said he wrote the initial 17 volumes of Spice and Wolf over a period of 5 years. There were times he felt like giving up on writing it, not because he ran out of ideas for the story but because he ran out of mental energy. Hasekura said he kept up his mental energy by praying to any god who would listen. At around vol. 14, Hasekura said he wasn’t sure how much longer he could continue the story, plus he wanted to end the series on a high note, so he decided vol. 17 would mark the end of the series (even though later there would be additions to that ending). The ending was actually plotted out after Hasekura wrote vol. 2 or 3. After deciding the series would end around vol. 14, Hasekura finally fleshed out the details on how to get to that ending after the events of vol. 14.
When it comes to the writing itself, Hasekura said he works in all types of surroundings. He writes at home, restaurants, and even a rental office because if he stays in one area too long, he feels that things get stale and boring. Hasekura said he decided he wanted to be a writer when he was 14, during the second year of middle school when he had the middle school blues. He never took any specific writing courses, but just always wrote. Also, writing 17 books in 5 years is considered average speed in Japan. The fastest writers in Japan will put out 1 volume/month for 25 months in a row. Hasekura said that he used the light novel format because they can be any kind of story from serious, dramatic, horror, to just a bunch of make-out scenes. Hasekura said he initially wrote for readers from elementary school to university level but now that readership has extended to people in their early 30s. Supposedly, Hasekura said he should change his writing style to adjust to the new audience, but he hasn’t.
When Spice and Wolf was adapted to the manga format, Hasekura said he had almost no contact with the artists that worked on the light novel illustrations nor the manga-ka. The look of the characters were all developed by the artists by themselves. Hasekura did add that he was concerned that the manga-ka liked to draw big breasts, and Holo was supposed to have small ones, so he prayed that her breasts wouldn’t be too big in the manga. In fact, Hasekura said that he still thinks Holo’s breasts are a bit bigger than they’re supposed to be.
Hasekura admits that explaining what Spice and Wolf is about is a bit difficult, even to fans of the genre, since it’s a fantasy with no sword fighting or sorcery. It’s a fantasy with a girl with animal ears, which Hasekura thinks has universal appeal. There’s no physical fighting, but there are mental battles.
Spice and Wolf was Hasekura’s first published work, but he did write doujinshi beforehand (none of which were erotic he noted). Currently, Hasekura is working on the new Spice and Wolf series, but he said he would like to write a new historical fiction series based in the Mediterranean. Hasekura is also in the process of producing a VR animated series.
That concluded the formal portion of the panel. Next came Q&A from the audience.
- Would there be more Spice and Wolf anime? So far, nothing concrete yet.
- What was Lawrence’s horse’s name? Hasekura admitted that he forgot to name the horse.
- Which artist illustrated Holo and Lawrence most accurately: the light novel artist or the manga-ka? Hasekura said it’s just a matter of taste, and he liked the light novel illustrator better only because he drew Holo’s breasts smaller. Hasekura also noticed that the light novel illustrator drew Holo more poignant and sadder while the manga-ka drew Holo as much more energetic and cheery, so personality wise, he preferred the manga-ka’s depiction of Holo. Overall, Hasekura thinks they both did a great job though.
- Did the anime influence how he wrote his characters? Hasekura answered that it didn’t for Holo or Lawrence, but it did for Nora Arendt. His depiction of her changed from watching the anime.
- Favorite economist or economic theory? Hasekura quickly answered Ben Bernanke. He also wished Americans would treat Bernanke nicer.
- Does Hasekura like imitators of his work in economic manga? Hasekura said he feels proud that he started the trend as well as humbled by it.
- Advice for aspiring writers? Go online or publishing? Hasekura thinks that to be truly established as a writer, you should get your work traditionally print published, but there’s nothing wrong with going the self-publishing route too. He said it all depends on what your end goal is as well as the audience you want to reach. Also, to truly be a writer, you just have to write.
- Did Hasekura expect Spice and Wolf to be so popular? Hasekura said he had no idea whatsoever that Spice and Wolf would be so popular. It took Hasekura 10 years just to get Spice and Wolf published, and at that point, he was just happy to see his name in print.
- Would the new Mediterranean story focus on the Arab banking and monetary system or something else? Hasekura answered that for the new story, he would like to talk about the Knights Templar and trade. Would that involve the practice of killing debtors who don’t pay their debt? Hasekura replied saying that it won’t be too tragic since it’s supposed to be a fantasy, and he doesn’t know if animal ears would be involved or not.
- Why add a fantasy character like Holo in an economics story instead of using a more traditional character? Hasekura said first, he liked economics, which is why he wrote an economics story. Second, Hasekura said he couldn’t write slice-of-life day-to-day type stories, so in order for the economics story to work out, he added a fantasy character to it to make it a not typical story.
- Does Hasekura see the world differently because he’s a writer? Hasekura admitted that he doesn’t think he see things differently than others and is probably the complete opposite of what the questioner is thinking. Hasekura said he really doesn’t want to do legitimate serious work. He doesn’t think he could survive in an office job. Most writers, Hasekura said, have either tried office jobs and hated it or can’t do office work.
- Does Hasekura own any Spice and Wolf memorabilia? Hasekura said it’s a basic rule in Japan that the author gets samples of everything that is produced for review, so he has tons of Holos in his house. He also has most, but not all, of the Spice and Wolf doujinshi produced. His favorite Spice and Wolf doujinshi is called Harvest. His favorite merchandise is a Holo figure.
- How does Hasekura see himself in each character? Hasekura said he feels that he is most close to Nora as she was depicted in vol. 2 because she can’t assimilate in society easily. He also confessed that he wishes he could be Nora’s dog just so he could have all of Nora’s attention.
- What is Hasekura’s view on religion? Hasekura said he based the church found in Spice and Wolf on the current Christian church, and he only got interested in Christianity because of Evangelion.