At the end of the world where the last embers of humanity are dimming in a hail of snow, it’s only the wolves that are still moving with any purpose. They are searching for Paradise, which to them is a very literal place that all wolves were born to search for. These are not normal wolves, mind. More the wolves of lore, capable of shape-shifting and mixing in with people.
Life and death to a wolf is not the same as life and death to us. To a wolf, life is a fleeting and fickle mistress, where bloodshed and death is a worthy risk to protect the pack and to chase the scent of a dream. To them, it’s better to die fighting than to live without a purpose.
The wolves are Kiba (Fang), Tsume (Claw), Toboe (Howling) and Hige (Whiskers). They are held together by Kiba’s almost religious belief in Paradise, a place that even most wolves don’t believe is a real place, but his instinct is infectious, his eyes seeing something that the others can’t.
Wolf’s Rain is full of existential questions, the types of questions that we all face as we move through life searching for some meaning or purpose, latching onto ideas and people that seem to have the answers. It’s also a story filled with people that are resigned to their fates, embittered and angry at the ruts that they find themselves trapped in, lashing out in every direction.
Kiba is searching, constantly on the move, following his instinct. What is life if not a journey? Throughout Wolf’s Rain, there are quiet interludes where the wolves are beaten and almost give in, or are tempted to settle in a friendly community and forget about Paradise, but each time, they recover their strength and head back out. They never take the easy option. All of us have to answer these same questions every now and then too: Is a life worth living without following a dream? When is it time to move on? Are you settling?
The wolves’ road is not easy and there’s really no end to the setbacks that they face, and yet they stick together through thick and thin and take blows for each other without a second thought. In a world where pretty much every human character is in some way lost and broken, their friendships and the literal weight that they carry for each other is a lovely thing. Perhaps a dream is worth following if you have friends by your side?
Tsume is my favourite. A gruff, no-nonsense wolf marked with the scars of past fights, he’s grown up in a world where strength is king, where there’s no time for weakness or vulnerability. Into his gritty life comes Kiba, an unabashed dreamer, obsessed with a mythical place and representing the antithesis of Tsume’s harsh world view. It isn’t easy for Tsume to take such a leap of faith and openly pursue a dream that to others is a joke, but little by little, he puts his faith in Kiba and the others, coming to consider them his friends.
Being an animal lover helps with Wolf’s Rain too. Created in 2003, this is one of (anime studio) Bones’ earliest series and evidently no effort was spared in drawing the animals (and especially the wolves), they are realistic and magical all at once: there’s a soul to these drawings that imbues them with a timeless quality.
Yoko Kanno’s soundtrack is as majestic and as big as Wolf’s Rain far-reaching scope, switching between big orchestral pieces and intimate bluesy tones, a fitting soundscape for the end of the world.
Notes on release
Wolf’s Rain has an infamous production history because Episodes 15 to 18 are recaps, which was maddening for TV audiences watching this for the first time in 2003, not least of all because Episode 26 (which was the last episode of the original TV run) makes no attempt to conclude the story. The reasons? Some say budget cuts, others that Bones was hit by an unprecedented shortage of staff at the height of the SARS disease outbreak in Asia. Either way, the series is properly concluded with Episodes 27 to 30, which were released a long six months after the final TV episode aired. All of this is history now. The recap episodes are on Disc 2 of this release and you may skip straight from Episodes 14 to 19 without missing a beat.
The choice of languages is between an English 5.1 mix or a Japanese stereo mix with English subtitles. I opted for the latter and found the subtitles easy to read. If you enjoy a good binge like me, the chapters allow you to skip the opening and ending songs for each episode. It’s definitely worth listening to both songs a few times though; they are crackers.
This release comes in two flavours from Anime Limited; Ultimate (£150 RRP) and Standard (£40 RRP). For all the details, there’s an extensive rundown at their blog.
Moving and philosophical, violent and magical, ugly yet beautiful; that is Wolf’s Rain, a story about life, friends, the end of the world and pursuing a dream when everyone else has given up.