In a dying world, there exists an ancient legend: when the world ends, the gateway to paradise will be opened. This utopia is the sole salvation for the remnants of life in this barren land, but the legend also dictates that only wolves can find their way to this mythical realm. Though long thought to be extinct, wolves still exist and live amongst humans, disguising themselves through elaborate illusions.
A lone wolf named Kiba finds himself drawn by an intoxicating scent to Freeze City, an impoverished town under the rule of the callous Lord Orkham. Here, Kiba discovers that wolves Hige, Tsume, and Toboe have been drawn in by the same aroma. By following the fragrance of "Lunar Flowers," said to be the key to opening the door to their ideal world, the wolves set off on a journey across desolate landscapes and crumbling cities to find their legendary promised land. However, they are not the only ones seeking paradise, and those with more sinister intentions will do anything in their power to reach it first.
On the technical side of things, Wolf’s Rain’s animation is gorgeous. You can almost always count on Studio Bones to put out good work, but Wolf’s Rain has a particularly proficient pedigree. Fantastical backgrounds are detailed, varied and engrossing, character designs are distinct and very attractive, and the fights and chases are breathtaking.
The music was composed by Yoko Kanno, which means I might not have to say anymore, but I will. All her work is magnificent, but this may be some of her best. Insert songs and orchestration are beautiful as standalone but absolutely MAKE the emotional moments too. It’s a wonderful soundtrack to
listen to without the anime, but it never overwhelms the story either, matching the action onscreen beat for beat.
In terms of voice acting, the Japanese is a solid listen, but also, Wolf’s Rain has one of the best dubs ever made. There’s not one askew line in the whole package, and what’s more, while I usually use this time to mention the standout players of the cast, I can’t even do that for Wolf’s Rain. Every single voice actor goes beyond the call of duty in their roles, all of them. Even some of the extras leave a strong impression in their five-minutes in the spotlight. This dub is perfect.
So the production values are top dog, but the real important things are story and characters, right? Well, that’s where your mileage may vary. Some people will shout, “This is brilliant!” only to be echoed by others saying “Uh…what is?”
Wolf’s Rain takes place in a complex fantasy world with a rich history, but doesn’t feel like sharing any of that history with the class directly. This is good because that leads to greater focus on the characters, and almost NO exposition spouting. Speaking of the characters, they all start out as flat archetypes and slowly flesh out into very complex personalities, which is kinda different. Still, this approach of showing very little and telling far less really forces you to think and catch fine details in order to understand why wolves are considered divine, what makes the nobles different from normal human beings, and most importantly, just what happened 200 years ago to make the world what it is in the story. It is possible to figure it all out, but it’s NOT easy.
This is because, and this is a little known fact about the show, Wolf’s Rain is an allegory, whereby most everything is actually symbolic of something else. Pilgrim’s Progress was a religious allegory, The Little Prince was a sociological allegory, and Wolf’s Rain is both, but not as obvious as either of them. The show cross-references several religions and mythologies to portray a unified theme. The wolves face trials of doubt, despair, mistrust, confusion and even a false paradise that offers bliss in exchange for identity, and this is in addition to the villains that hound them. The humans in the story struggle with issues of self-worth, denial, choosing comfort over facing the truth, etc., all leading up to a whizbang climax featuring one noble’s idea of the “perfect city for humans.” Think Brave New World or 1984.
The thing I like about this approach is that it’s subliminal. It’s not like Evangelion or Lain where you know there’s this big philosophy being waggled at you, you may not recognize any of the references in Wolf’s Rain, but its powerful message gets through just fine without mentioning a hedgehog’s dilemma or a god in the Wired. Simply put, Wolf’s Rain is powerful and it will make you think, but you’ll get even more out of it if you’ve say, read Revelation or know anything about Shinto animal symbolism, but the writers don’t expect you to. I learned a lot more about the show after I did some research, but I only researched because it was already fascinating.
If there’s a problem with Wolf’s Rain, it’s the infamous recaps. There are four completely useless recap episodes right in the middle of the show together, and I still don’t know why they are there. Still, this isn’t much of a detriment as all four of them can be skipped without missing any new info. And if you’re buying the DVDs, they’re all on one disc by themselves! Unless you’re a masochist, don’t buy the disc.
In the end, though, even if you want to turn your brain off and be a little confused while you watch, the outward beauty and emotional resonance of the series cannot be denied, even in its fairly controversial conclusion. I’ve watched it through several times now and every single time I discover something new and profound. It’s pure magic, it will make you cry, but I hope in the end you’ll be howling-happy.
All in all, I almost pulled this series down a level because of its slightly alienating religious themes and focus on animals instead of humans, but then I thought, how can I punish a show for being both incredibly deep and refreshingly different? It may not be perfect, and I can’t promise you’ll like it, but it is a quality work of art amongst anime and a whole new breed of fantasy.
*THIS IS A PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT OF MY VIDEO REVIEW WHICH CAN BE FOUND HERE:
The new millennium has brought us many new anime titles. Most of which seem to involve a sad story, a sad main character, and an overall sad feel. Wolf's Rain may indeed fall into that category, but there are unique differences that make this series more complex than that.
Take first, the main character Kiba. He has a goal and he'll do anything to reach it. But he has two distinct sides to his character. One is his proud, rash, and arrogant self that attacks anything that stands in his way. And the other is a quiet, mysterious, and observing type that is expressed when meeting
new friends (For instance, when he was reluctant to say his name to Hige) and whenever he is around Cheza. Though not technically the sorrowful character one would expect him to be in an orphaned and lonely state, he still makes sad connections to his past.
As this was an anime before it became a manga series, BONES (the same company that made Fullmetal Alchemist) had unlimited freedom on where to go with the series. Except for a few "flashback" or "clip" episodes in the middle of the series, there is almost no filler and the pacing of each episode is excellent. The animation is amazing (as expected of BONES) and the music just as well. Beautiful orchestral music is played throughout the series, and, unique to most anime, the opening and ending themes are in perfect English (as are other soundtracks songs during the actual show).
The main story follows an unusual cast of characters, most of which are not even human. Kiba and his crew are all wolves with the power to create the illusion that they are human (though it is not perfect as their shadows and pawprints are still shown through). There are also the typical human characters, like the greedy Dracia that wants Paradise to himself and a pair of lovers that rekindle their relationship through hardship. Plus there's also the ghost of a cryptic owl that gives advice in proverbs. (Whether or not this is a Legend of Zelda reference is still beyond me)
But there is never a time when an anime can be perfect. There are still plot-holes within Wolf's Rain. Mainly the ending: It's open-ended and leaves more to be desired. But as a more thought-provoking series, the ending does its job... Kind of. But besides a few odd turns, Wolf's Rain is good at creating plot twists. And BONES was so confident about the series that most episodes don't even end in a cliffhanger. They just find a natural stopping point.
Overall, Wolf's Rain is an enjoyable series if you love wolves, action, the supernatural, and beautiful music. Though don't expect it to be happy or provide fan-service.
Earth's decay has long provided anime with many disquieted plots over the past 30 years, but few have been more genuine than Keiko Nobumoto's "Wolf's Rain". Facing the long and dreary tundra before him, the mysterious canine protagonist, Kiba (meaning "Fang" in Japanese) reluctantly moves forward, being called to something he can only describe as paradise. The world has fallen in on itself, as humans have tarnished the earth and almost wiped out the wolf race. Kiba, along with a handful of his remaining kind have learned to blend to their environment, one day hoping to find salvation in the form of a
wolf paradise. And now, finally grouped with his own pack, and a guide in the form of a beautiful young flower maiden named Cheza, Kiba must face the dangerous plight to find rebirth. This compelling journey in conjunction with the amazing characters involved makes Wolf's rain easily likeable, as well as admirable because it addresses the end of life as a new beginning to an ironically never ending journey. The paradise it describes is brought forth from the journey's experiences, rather than the journey's conclusion.
Directed by Tensei Okamura, who has delighted with his past collaborations on Full Metal Panic and Cowboy Bebop, this genuinely compelling series is only set with a few anime conventions: the hard pressed rival to the leader (Tsume), the insane but devoted antagonist (Darcia) and the mysterious hunter who wants to settle a score (Quent). Besides these, Wolf's Rain is a plot on its own. The whole pack is in search for paradise for their own reasons and gradually learn more about themselves on the way. They stop by various towns to face obstacles that instigate these learning experiences. While this is happening, the larger picture of the story deals with the remaining three nobles of the world. They all vie for supremacy for their individual purposes, but all come into contact with the wolf pack in one way or another. Like a kick in the pants, it was insane to see the wolf pack take on the noble's soldiers and display their canine powers. Likewise, it was great to see them fail in their attempts because it showed how real they actually were. If you enjoy being attached to characters even with their shortcomings then I strongly recommend this series.
One of the great things about Wolf's Rain is that the only really beautiful characters are the wolves themselves. Everything else the art depicts is very alive, but in a darker, more decayed way. All of the landscapes are hauntingly dismal, even when the story shifts to the more modern settings. The art is very realistic in this way, and beauty is only used as a reflection for the characters who are the purest.
Bad music could have really hindered a series with this much melancholy and drama. Luckily, Yoko Kanno, the jazz queen composer from Cowboy Bebop also blessed Wolf's Rain with her talents. Its so amazing the way she sets the tones for scenes in the series. She never over does anything, which makes the really big "holy shit" scenes far more impactful. There are actually many long scenes in which nothing but music is used to describe the mood of the situation, and it was refreshing to see a series that didn't jabber on to describe what was happening. All you really have to do is listen during Wolf's Rain to appreciate what is going on below the surface. Thank you for that Ms. Kanno.
The characters are what make this series a classic. Every one of them, even the minor ones only have to speak or make a certain facial expression to show you how they LIVE. By this I mean, we only have to look at the way they act to get a feel of who they are right off the bat. I was sort of expecting this, because Nobumoto's writing is always so real. She was never afraid to pull punches in this series, and none of the characters are set in stone. They all grow at their own paces and aren't always the same person. The pack becomes more of an extended family as it progresses and does so through many conflicts. What I loved most is that when things really got bad, none of them really went into the predictable dramatic speech about life and death. Everything was always quiet when something bad in the series happen, and only loud when it really needed to be. This subtle realism is what made the wolves seems all the more relatable and ironically human. If you want real drama in your characters, than you'll love these wolves.
Now, I'm a guy who has been brought up in fast paced, shounen style anime, and Wolf's Rain was really the first serious piece of art for me. I mean I've seen some mildly toned anime sure, but this series really gets you in the gut from the beginning. Its very dark, I mean the world is ending throughout the plot, who wouldn't be depressed? It had some lighter, happier moments, but they were often offset with depressing, real ones. I wouldn't recommend this series if you want to escape reality, but if your someone who wants to see a more genuine, less optimistic piece of art than you'll like it. I only scored the enjoyment at a 7 because even for me, a natural pessimist, the story did drag out the harshness of reality sometimes. It makes you sort of hate Nietszhe. Well, maybe not that much, but you know what I'm saying.
"They say there's no such place... as Paradise. Even if you search to the ends of the Earth, there's nothing there. No matter how far you walk, it's always the same road. It just goes on and on. But, in spite of that... Why am I so driven to find it? A voice calls to me... It says, Search for Paradise." - Kiba
Wolf's Rain was, to say the least, and interesting, but not overly involving anime. Although I liked the concept, setting, sound and art direction, I could not find myself getting attatched to the characters or involved in the plot.
When I look back at it, I honestly believe that the characters just followed common stereotypes, and really didn't evolve throughout the plot. The supporting characters were able to garner a little interest from me, but the lead was dull and drab, and the only dialogue I can remember from him is "we have to get to paradise". A lead character is supposed to get a viewer
emotionally attatched, not bore the viewer to tears.
Then there is the plot. Basically it follows a rather dull and drawn out journey to find the wolves "Paradise", with a few twists and turns along the way. As the characters personalities barely evolve through the course of their journey, the plot becomes tedious, and I found myself not caring at all about the characters and their journey after a few episodes.
Then, there is the final act. To me, the last few episodes feel rushed and poorly thought out, and the story reaches a conclusion where there is no reward for patiently watching the show in its entirety. The show ended on a very vague and sour note, and had kept me in an irritated state for a fair while.
Despite not enjoying the overall plot and the characters, the sound and animation quality of this anime is great. I still find myself listening to pieces of the score to this day to fuel my imagination, which I am very grateful for. I watched the dubbed version, and the voice acting throughout was done well enough. I still despise that opening song, Strays, or whatever it was called, just not my cup of tea.
In conclusion, if more thought was put into the character development and plot, Wolf's Rain could have potentially been a great anime in my eyes. The shows concept really interested me, and I wanted to like the show, but it sadly didn't work out the way I wanted it to.