Wolf's Rain Vol. 2
I'm rather easy to please when it comes to most things. When talking about books, movies, manga, and anime - I can stomach pretty much anything. As I'm exposed to more and more anime with every passing month, there seems to be a greater number of series that make me feel as if I'm tolerating them more than enjoying them. Thus far in my anime viewing experience, however, I can always count on a series to eventually come along and remind me why a hefty chunk of my income is quickly spent on my anime addiction.
I've enjoyed plenty of series immensely, but a few recent releases stand out as being some of my favorites. Cowboy Bebop, Last Exile, The Twelve Kingdoms, Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, FLCL, Millenium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers are a sample of these particularly enjoyable productions.
As Wolf's Rain shares production talents with at least a couple of those movies or series (BONES was formed from the crew that created Cowboy Bebop and Keiko Nobumoto is credited as the writer of the screenplay for Tokyo Godfathers), it makes sense that I find this show just as appealing as the ones in my list above.
That, and I have a particular fondness for wolves.
This is certainly a fantasy, and I don't believe the show's creators have explicitly said "This is Earth in the future", or "This is not Earth", or even "This is Earth in the past". No matter where or when this show is set, things don't look too good for anybody. Not much is revealed about the past, but a few things are quite obvious. Most noteworthy is the fact that society is recovering from a particularly devastating war. Technology played a dominant role in the battles, with machines still occasionally programmed to kill whatever they come across. It is unclear if anyone won the war, or if both sides are just too tired to fight anymore. Either way, what once was an advanced civilization is steadily crumbling to dust.
Population centers are few and far between, and food is scarce as well. Children aren't as common as they once were, but there seems to be no shortage of mind-numbing alcohol. Despite the hints that this was once a sophisticated society, the focus of most people is survival - not scientific progress. Cities are frequently separated by uninhabitable wastelands with the rusting carcasses of a dying culture as the only suggestion that life once thrived outside of austere gates and armored walls. In this setting, there are few people and fewer wolves.
Wolves, in the mythology of the show, are far more intelligent than the four-legged creatures that most of us are familiar with. In fact, while they're more reliant upon instinct than humans, in Wolf's Rain, they're easily our intellectual equals. As living space became more and more scarce, wolves were forced to flee the forests that they called home to make a living alongside the humans who hunted and feared them.
To blend in, they use a sort of natural hypnosis to suggest to the humans around them that they are humans themselves. For most of the show, we see them in their human guises, though they do not have the ability to change shape, as some viewers may mistakenly believe at first. Maintaining their illusion of humanity requires them to be conscious, but they can communicate with people easily, thus easily blending into the crowd.
In their world, the common belief is that wolves are extinct - and most people feel no sorrow over this erroneous assumption. Little is remembered about the creatures save that they were strong, fierce, and ruthless killers. To most people, their disappearance from the world simply means one less threat to humanity.
However, a small portion of the population recalls a legend. According to this legend, when the candle of life flickers on the planet, when hope for living begins to fade away, Paradise will be found. And the ones to lead the way for humans and creatures alike will be wolves.
The wolves have not forgotten their responsibility, though some have given up on it. This story features four young wolves - Kiba, Tsume, Hige, and Toboe - as they travel the lands seeking Paradise. The search has claimed the lives of many wolves in the past, but the reality of the situation for these characters is that their lives are empty anyway, as are the lives of most people and wolves. Seeking Paradise is the only thing there is for a wolf that doesn't want to simply lie down and die. It's the only way to embrace life instead of succumbing to a meaningless existence.
In this volume, the character of Cheza plays a far more significant role than before. A being created from science, she is a hybrid between a human and a lunar flower - a plant that is very important to wolves. Cheza will most likely prove to be an invaluable bridge between the humans and the wolves, as anyone in her presence is immediately soothed, though the outcome of this story is still unknown. Some of the show's most touching scenes involve her with the wolves crowded around her, lulled to sleep by her comforting aura.
While the story is unique, its themes have certainly been explored before. We've all heard or seen a tale where a group of young people set off on a journey in uncertain times in the hope of finding a better life for themselves and others. As always, it's the execution of such a story that makes it either interesting or boring; without a doubt, Wolf's Rain is an interesting story.
The imagery in Wolf's Rain tends to consist of browns and grays. There are some forest scenes on disc two, but this show is set in a future that does not guarantee much for those who are living in it. Scenes of beauty are usually limited to those that show the past or those depicting the dreams of the starring characters.
It would be absurd, however, to claim that this is not a beautiful show. Backgrounds are incredible, easily convincing me of the complex history of the show's setting. I said there were many muted colors, but when color does appear, it is made all the more striking because of the lack of it elsewhere in the show.
When characters like Cheza or Cher (an attractive female scientist seeking Cheza) appear, the color of their hair and lips make them bright points in the show, and I believe that the characters in the show see them as such also.
Animation is equally impressive in Wolf's Rain. There are plenty of well-executed action scenes, whether featuring hand to hand, gun to gun, or jaw to throat combat. Both human and animal characters in the show are believably animated, and I have to say I never thought I'd see a scene that so effectively conveyed the emotion of surprise in a wolf.
I imagine that it's hard to get a wolf to display any feeling except for the majestic aloofness they seem to exude naturally, but the artists pull it off admirably here.
Yoko Kanno's soundtrack again proves her mastery of a variety of musical styles, though the music in Wolf's Rain is more melancholy than anything else. There are happy moments, but the opening and ending themes both present the show's general mood of desperate hope for new life in a distraught world.
There are stereo mixes of the Japanese and English language tracks with an extra 5.1 channel English track thrown in for good measure, which is always a nice bonus for the dub fans out there. The characterizations for the Japanese track are great, with the tired, gruff lines from the wolf hunter Quent being delivered just as impressively as Toboe's youthful na´vetÚ.
Extras include another cast interview, a very interesting staff interview, and trailers for other Bandai releases.
All of the production-related aspects of the series are top-notch in Wolf's Rain. What makes it an excellent show, however, is the vivid, original, and compelling story it presents to its viewers. Combine that with a cast of sincerely engaging characters, and I'm hooked. After only a few projects, BONES is surely shaping up to be a creative force to be reckoned with in the anime industry.
Wolf's Rain's steady pacing and otherworldly settings may deter some people from watching it, but it's one of the most intelligent stories that I've encountered in a while, and I think it's worthy of the time of anyone who is seeking something different.