Wolf’s Rain

Wolf's Rain

WOLF’S RAIN

Watched via Adult Swim/DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Wolf’s Rain is an original anime series that focuses on the journey four wolves take to find Paradise. The story begins when Kiba, an injured wolf, finds his way into Freeze City. Here he runs into three other wolves, all brought to the city by the smell of the “Lunar Flower.” According to myth, when the world ends, Paradise will open itself up to the wolves. The only clue the wolves have to finding this Paradise is the Lunar Flower and the faint instinct to find and follow it. Cheza, the “Flower Maiden,” is the source of the scent and is being held captive for research purposes. That is until she is stollen away by the main antagonist, Lord Darcia, descendent of the people who made Cheza.

From here on out it’s like a game of capture the flag in order to obtain the Flower Maiden. Along the way we learn more about the lives of the wolves, their histories, and motivations for finding Paradise. We also get to see more of the world around them and why there is no hope for their existence within it.

Story wise I’m very drawn to the mythos of the series. Wolf’s Rain keeps everything rather simple, with a basic story device and strong iconographic symbols that lend themselves well to questioning existentialism. The pacing on the other hand is a whole other matter. About ¾ of the way through, we get four recap episodes, which throw off the flow of the series. To cap it all off the airing episodes cut off prior to the climax of the series. There are four additional OVA’s that go with the series, but they did little to resolve the series beyond slowly dragging the story out a bit longer. I’m not saying thematically it was wrong, just that the execution was underwhelming to watch.

I think it’s important to know that the recaps are a result of having to stop making new content but still needing to air episodes (due to the SARS outbreak, I think), so they’re completely unintentional. I skip them when I watch the show, just like Adult Swim did during its airing, and that saves the series’ momentum.

PLOT: The world’s decaying, and various groups are looking for the mythical Paradise. You’ve got nobles, scientists, and wolves in the mix, along with the military, police, and stand-alone hunters who are trying to figure out what’s going on. As the series goes on, the viewer learns about characters’ pasts and motivations, as well as the setting and idea of Paradise. Ultimately, Wolf’s Rain is about unravelling the big mystery of the wolves and whether or not they can reach Paradise.

Because of the series’ central focus on wolves, Wolf’s Rain mostly follows along with the four wolf characters: Kiba, Hige, Tsume, and Toboe. Each of them comes from vastly different circumstances, but they end up working together to find the Flower Maiden, Cheza, and work their way to Paradise. They also grapple with existential issues, like who they are and their purpose, as well as whether or not they should use their wolf abilities to appear human. I find the wolves to be fascinating, largely because the mythos behind their existence is initially unclear, and I loved the slow reveal of more information about them. The idea is also completely unique, making it even more fun to sink my teeth into.

Beyond the wolves, I appreciate that the series focus on so many groups of characters. Even though I’m immediately prejudiced to like the wolves, this multifaceted approach helps me remember how strange the events would look to normal humans, or how desperate Darcia, the main antagonist, must be. Overall, I love that so many groups are seeking Paradise, and through that Wolf’s Rain stresses how many individuals may be looking for knowledge or power, but only those who deserve it will gain it.

SETTING: Wolf’s Rain takes place mostly in arctic environments. From time to time we see glimpses of a prior world, through Darcia’s memories, which shows a lush fruitful environment full of plants and sunshine. It could be a matter of location or season weather changes, but climate definitely plays a role symbolically on the tonal shift of the series. As I mentioned before, Kiba runs into the other wolves in “Freeze City”. Throughout their journey they run into other towns along the way, all as cold and desolate as the rest. We never quite find out what is the cause of all the hardship, there is just the nagging idea that all of it is going to come to an end shortly.

Without getting too into spoiler territory, I’ll just say that the allusion to seasons and cycles seems to me to be strongly connected to the mythos of the series. I found the setting to be highly imperative to the outcome and direction of the plot, and they worked together quite harmoniously.

SETTING: Wolf’s Rain feels inspired by Russia, in both the art and the cold, arctic setting. The entirety of Wolf’s Rain’s world feels cold and desolate, empty of the potential for new life, which is emphasized by the presence of snow everywhere. The setting illustrates the end of the world well, as the world really does appear to be disintegrating before the viewer’s eyes. The complete vacancy of of new life also makes any new life impressive, especially when lunar flowers are shown to appear or during flashbacks to a more plentiful time.

The setting also highlights class differences between the nobles, who have expensive, sleek technology, and the commoners, who are struggling to eke out a living. Class parallels make it into the search for Paradise, as well, and they emphasize some of the differences in motivations for finding Paradise. Though the class structure is never really explained, its results are apparently enough to make the ideas about class clear and relevant to the overarching narrative.

Hmm, that’s an interesting take on setting. I never really noticed the class structure before amongst the humans, but the wolves definitely feel like second class citizens in comparison to the humans.

CHARACTERS: I think the characters are the chief reason why Wolf’s Rain was such a fan favorite back in its heyday. Honestly, I think if it weren’t for such wonderfully realized characters, this show would have been a disaster. The mythos is interesting, but without the characters to pull it along, the plot would have fallen apart much quicker, and the ending would have been more of a let down.

The main protagonists and wolf pack members are Kiba (the alpha), Tsume (assumed beta), Hige (free spirit), and Toboe (pup of the group). Over the course of the series we see them all learn to work as a pack and develop their own identities apart and amidst the group. I found each one of these characters very easy to empathize with. Their animal/human personalities also made the series more intriguing to watch as I found myself sympathizing with their animal selves. It’s hard to explain, but I feel that I was able to connect with the characters more than I usually would, because of this duality. After all, who wouldn’t feel sorry for a couple of cute dogs?

The antagonists are kind of hit or miss. There is Quent and his dog Blue, who are on a quest to kill off all wolves. They constantly pursue the pack and try to bring them down. I loved the portrayal of their owner/pet relationship, especially as it played out towards the end. Then there is Darcia and Jaguara, two nobles who both want to use Cheza selfishly for their little love triangle problems. I never really understood or cared for what they were cooking up plot wise. I found them to be more of a hinderance than anything in driving the plot forward. I think the studio could have cut out Jaguara and just focused on Darcia and his people’s backstory as it relates to the wolves. In the end it all works out anyways, but it made the series feel a bit rushed in fitting everything in.

You’re probably right about the wolves making the series so popular. They’re incredibly attractive and angsty, as well as easy to slash.

CHARACTERS: Wolf’s Rain has a wonderful ensemble of characters who bring in an array of human experiences and reasons to be looking for Paradise. All of these characters allow for different viewers to identify with different characters, and they also beg viewers to think about the plot from various perspectives.

The four wolves each have different personality types, and their roles within the pack are immediately apparent (and at times feel a little too easy). Kiba, who has seemingly always sought Paradise, is the leader, and tough, street-smart Tsume is his second. Hige, who loves to eat, is the comic relief with secrets, while Toboe’s the youngest and softest of the pack. They balance each other out well and, like the secondary characters, bring in a lot of different perspectives on the Flower Maiden and the idea of Paradise.

Speaking of the Flower Maiden, Cheza’s an interesting character because she feels a bit like a Mary Sue, but then, couldn’t that be okay because she’s made of flowers? I have a soft spot for her, but I’m also conscious of the fact that she’s not as well-defined or developed as the other characters. Mainly, she performs her role of leading the wolves to Paradise, as well as comforting and encouraging Kiba.

I wouldn’t say I like all of the secondary characters, but I find them all interesting for various reasons and think they’re necessary to the plot. My favorite secondary characters are Cher and Hubb—a scientist and her cop ex-husband—who bring in a much-needed human perspective on the events transpiring. I’m glad they were included in the series, since they are a nice foil to the nobles’ greed and Quent’s single-minded need to hunt down wolves.

I gotta agree, I really love Hubb and Cher’s involvement in the series. They help push the plot in a similar vein to how a narrator would, and help add a human element, making it easier to connect to the story.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: In addition to the wonderful cast of characters is the beautifully realized animation of Wolf’s Rain. I can’t recall a single episode that wasn’t stunningly illustrated with masterful backgrounds and figure animations. This was the saving grace of the series. I can’t imagine anything worse than if the studio had failed to capture the duality of the wolves and their transformations from wolf to man and back. It would have been much harder to take the characters seriously. Luckily the studio performed wonderfully, and the animation helped heighten the experience and mythos of the story.

I watched Wolf’s Rain for the first time this year, and for me it was a beautiful throw back to the glory days of early 2000 Bones productions. The character designs give each character a strong personality, bordering on being a bit over-the-top. However the actions and voice acting of the characters helped neutralize their appearances so that they weren’t distracting from the folklore of the series. There is also a nice timeless quality about them, which I think will make this series easier for fans nowadays to go back and to watch this series for the first time, despite their lack of nostalgia.

I wouldn’t call the character designs “timeless” in the way that Ghibli’s designs stay constant over decades. The character designs of Wolf’s Rain look nostalgic to me, harkening back to the ‘80s and ‘90s. You rarely see characters with that strong of noses nowadays.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Wolf’s Rain is a truly beautiful show that is both stylish and well-animated in a way that strongly supports its characters and themes. The art carefully highlights the decay and desire for Paradise that run throughout the show, and the character designs draw out the core elements of each main character while making everyone clearly distinct as an individual. Darcia, as a noble, and Cheza, as a creation of nobles, have the most impressive designs, and they both look exotic and impressively foreign. Importantly, though, Darcia looks cold and unapproachable, while Cheza looks friendly and soft, which makes it easy for the viewer to sympathize with her. I think the show wouldn’t have worked as well without that key component of her design.

Wolf’s Rain is also so successful because of the keen attention to detail throughout the animation, especially in regards to body language. For example, when Cheza’s happy, she moves like a dancer, but at other times she expresses the care and concern of a mother through her motions. The wolves are also impressively animated, with a humanity that could only be captured in animation. A lesser show would’ve alienated the viewer through a clumsy handling of the wolves, but Wolf’s Rain succeeds in its portrayal of the wolves and draws in the viewer as a result.

OVERALL: So while I loved the characters, mythology, and setting of Wolf’s Rain I still had some issues with the plot pacing and ending. I know that the series is supposed to be more existential, so I’m not going to fault the ending on being so open. I just wish that it had been less limp in execution.

I probably would not buy Wolf’s Rain, but I’d highly recommend renting it and watching the whole thing. It stands as a wonderful example of early 2000 Bones animation, and deviates from the typical genres in a new and exciting way. The characters are wonderful, and I highly enjoyed the time that I got to spend getting to know all of them. I can really see why this series was such a fan favorite back when it first came out. If anything else, if you dislike the ending, you can always go read fan fiction about the characters after you get done watching it.

OVERALL: Unlike Whitney, I love the ending of Wolf’s Rain and think it’s a perfect resolution to the series’ themes. Anything else would’ve done a disservice to the main development of the plot and would have been a dishonest reflection of reality. I can see how some viewers could want the ending to be less abstract and more explained, but I thought it worked out well and made sense.

As a whole, I love Wolf’s Rain. It has everything I want from a great anime series: good characters, haunting art, and a story and themes that will make me think. The characters and plot are well executed, and they work to highlight some ugly truths about our own world. Not enough anime make people think, and Wolf’s Rain does a great job of that. If you want something that’s both beautiful and thought-provoking, check this out.

FINAL SCORE: (7/10) FINAL SCORE: (9/10)
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