The Quest for Paradise
Is it the end of mankind, or a new beginning?
In a way, every person's life is a search for paradise. We may not all have the same concept of what the ideal existence is, nor can many boast the knowledge of how to reach it, but instinctually every human being strives to attain a perfect life.
In Wolf's Rain, however, humans aren't the only beings seeking "Rakuen," or Paradise. In fact, in this story, there's a legend which states humans cannot find Paradise alone. Only wolves have the ability to lead the way to Rakuen, though when the series begins, it appears both wolves and humans have long given up the search.
Every sentient being may strive for Rakuen, but the way - if it was ever known - has been lost over the ages. Having a goal and knowing how to reach it are two different things, and years of war followed by famine, decay, and corruption, clouds hope from the surviving members of the Earth's population. Lasting one more day in a desolate world is a more pressing need than tracking down the legendary Rakuen, and most creatures are driven more by hunger than by a lofty philosophical desire to better themselves.
Wolves share a kinship with human beings that does not seem to cross over to other animals in Wolf's Rain. The wolves in this series differ somewhat from the graceful creatures most of us are used to.
BONES and Keiko Nobumoto imagined a world where wolves are just as intelligent as human beings - and in some cases surpass the intellect of their hairless bipedal cousins.
The wolves developed an ability to trick humans into seeing them as other humans, allowing them to blend into the society of people who distrust and fear the large carnivores. As resources dwindle in this speculative future, the wolves must lower themselves to live by human rules. In this world, the pride of a wolf will kill it before doing it any good, and so most of the wolves still living have had their spirits crushed.
Humanity has forgotten about Rakuen, and wolves no longer have the motivation to seek it.
It is in this scenario which we encounter the first main lupine character of the tale - Tsume. While he fought off the desolation of his fellow wolves by refusing to meekly submit to the society of humans, Tsume's life is not really much better for it. For years he's lead a group of humans - all unaware of his true nature as a wolf - in raids against the reigning government, a faceless behemoth with seemingly endless resources.
Tsume is beginning to realize that throwing his people at the power of the ruling class is about as effective as chewing on a metal bar. First of all, you'll only hurt yourself, and secondly, the bar really doesn't care what you do. Such is the apparent opinion of the government, which uses mostly mechanical warriors to defend itself and can afford to toss its own human fodder at any assailant.
After all, less people on both sides of the effort means fewer mouths to feed.
Tsume's bitter self-destructive path is altered when Kiba enters the picture. While Kiba isn't as talented a warrior as Tsume may be, he is just as determined as the elder wolf when it comes to getting what he wants. Rather than desiring to assert his independence from the human government, however, Kiba wants something slightly more outstanding.
Kiba, you see, wants to find Rakuen.
After admitting his quest to Tsume, he is dismissed with a laugh and left to look for his fantasy on his own. Fate, as we discover, is not yet done with the relationship between the two wolves.
Displaying some of the pride that I mentioned wasn't exactly prudent to possess in this world, Kiba preferred to enter Tsume's city without masking himself as a human. He quickly attracted the attention of a wolf hunter who will also likely play a large role in the series, and for Kiba's pride he earned a bullet-wound and a trip to a cage.
While incarcerated, Kiba meets yet another wolf. Hige is a curious animal with an incredible sense of smell, though his stomach can drive his thoughts more powerfully than his brain at times. Hige convinces Kiba to swallow his pride and take on the appearance of a human being, and the two stroll out of the facility where Kiba was being kept without the slightest bit of trouble.
Kiba's appearance, however, quickly becomes the subject of controversy in the town. Wolves, having long decided to hide themselves from the human race, were widely believed to be extinct, and the reappearance of the powerful, dangerous creatures attracts the attention of many who may pose a threat as well as some who may aid the four-legged beings in their search for Rakuen.
In a roundabout way, Tsume once again comes into contact with Kiba and Hige, who have decided to quest for Rakuen together. The gruff older wolf rescues a young creature named Toboe - barely more than a wolf pup - and reluctantly allows the kid to tag along with him. When Toboe hears of Kiba's intent to find Rakuen, he is somehow able to convince Tsume to join the other three wolves, leave the city, and discover their destiny.
Even with the power of moonlight to aid the wolves, what lies ahead for them promises to be filled with grief and pain. Even if Rakuen exists, which it might not, the way to the promised paradise might have been lost forever. The true nature of the place, if it is even a physical location at all, remains unknown, and nothing can guarantee that Rakuen has been unharmed by the devastation of the warfare which has so scarred the land.
Death comes for everyone - wolf and man alike - and Kiba, Tsume, Hige, and Toboe are all aware that by leaving the relative security of a large city they might just be hastening their own demise.
Yet the alternative to seeking Rakuen is far more painful for the four wolves to admit. By looking for Paradise, they're each admitting that at least a small part of them believes that it still exists, and as long as it does, there remains hope.
As this story comes from the production crew of Cowboy Bebop and RahXephon, with music by Yoko Kanno, I was convinced to watch this series before I even knew what it was about. Furthermore, I'm a big fan of wolves and while the outcome of this series remains a mystery to me, I'm excited to see how this story unfolds. After all, I'm still seeking my own Rakuen.