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Where do we all come from?
I do not mean in the immediate sense of parenthood or biological relations, but rather in a much broader philosophical sense, as in, where does the origin of humans come from. The most commonly accepted answer, and the probably correct one, is based on the theory of evolution. However, what if that was not the case? Bones’ 2003 original series Wolf’s Rain attempts that very premise, engaging with questions not only of origin but even some of the end.
The world of Wolf’s Rain is one informed by legend, a legend that says humans were originally descended from wolves, some naturally through a process like evolution, others who actively revoked their humanity. Most, though not all, have cast aside this legend as nothing but heresy. Kiba is a wolf who one day decides to stroll through Freeze City, drawn in by a particular smell, and in search of Paradise, the supposed promised land for wolves that none have yet to reach. En route to this strange aroma, he meets others, Tsume, Hige, and Toboe, each of whom decides to join him on his journey to paradise. Still, this journey is not without its various interruptions and detours.
This is a series like nothing I could have expected, with twists and turns at every stage of its narrative. With that being said, let’s talk about it.
Wolves are the World
By far the most defining characteristic of Wolf’s Rain is its focus on religious myth. The existence of Wolves as it is written into the world functions a lot more like a creation story than anything else. The difference, in this case, is that in this world, those myths are real, the evidence being our four, later five, main characters and the various others we meet in the background. The text which informs this myth is the Book of the Moon, a book that was banned nearly 200 years ago from the beginning of the story. It describes the process of wolves becoming humans as well as the origin of the wolves themselves.
This wolf religion, so to speak, and how it is expressed in the lore of the series, is endlessly fascinating. It draws on a variety of influences, from its more western conception of Paradise, a word often used as a synonym for Heaven in Christianity, to its eastern focus on reincarnation and rebirth, and even its more “pagan” focus on nature the life that exists within it. I will stop right here to say that I am not at all a student of religion or religious history, and this analysis is based purely on my general pre-conceptions of these belief systems, so if you are someone who is better versed in these subjects and has also watched this series, feel free to better inform me in the comments.
Even outside of big foundational ideas, however, the series has a lot of unique bits of lore. An important in terms of the plot is the Wolves’ ability to disguise themselves in human form. The first arc of the show even has Kiba dealing with his own prideful nature, refusing to turn into a human, and only doing so at the behest of Hige. Because most living creatures, not just people, are descended from wolves, others are able to awaken to their true identity and take on a human form as well, most notably the character of Blue.
The World is Theirs, or So It was Thought
The YouTube channel Mother’s Basement recently made a joke in their Kaguya-sama essay (which you should all go watch if you like long video essays since it is very good) about video essayists relating everything back to socialism. It is a good joke, like all good jokes are because there is a bit of truth in it. Now, allow me to continue that stereotype but for anime bloggers.
Kidding, except only kind of. A large part of the story in Wolf’s Rain is the battle against the Nobles on the journey towards Paradise. There are two important bits of context in understanding why this series could be construed as a socialist, or at the very least anti-capitalist narrative.
The first is the nature of the nobles themselves. It is said that nearly all humans are descendants of wolves. The exception to this is the bloodlines of the nobles. It is for this reason that one noble in particular sought out Paradise for himself.
The second is the organization of society. The world in which everyone currently inhabits is one of catastrophe and decay. One might even call it the end times. People are confined to cities, with little outside of them except for a vast wasteland, which are divided up into jurisdictions. These jurisdictions belong not to any formal government, but to the nobles. It is stated by multiple parties throughout the series that the wars engaged in by the nobles are not ones of necessity, but rather ones of dominance
It is also these nobles that have simultaneously maintained the ban on the Book of the Moon while trying to create Paradise for themselves. The way that people have been alienated from their origins and led to believe otherwise for hundreds of years seems like a decent, albeit maybe slightly confusing, allegory for the ways that capitalism has separated people from their work and created feelings of nothingness.
The music of this series is very much bathed in the era that birthed it. At least in the States, the late 90s and early 2000s were very much a high point for alternative rock like the famous Nirvana. I am also not versed enough in music history to say whether a similar trend existed in Japan or not, but regardless, the soundtrack is very much of its time.
This is true both of the soundtrack and the series’ famously over-the-top opening Stray, which was written by Tim Jensen and performed by Steve Conte.
The compositional mastermind behind all of it, though, is Yoko Kanno. Kanno is by far one of the most brilliant artists to touch anime soundtracks, and she holds punches when it comes to Wolf’s Rain. The series can go from heavy guitar-based ballads to heavenly orchestral arrangements at the drop of a hat. I honestly do not think I could find a bad track even if I went through it multiple times, as every one of them has a place.
Video and Audio Formatting
Technology has come a long way, even in just the past 20 years. Better hardware and software have meant significantly better quality for both live-action and animated media. Some media, like video games, have gotten the treatment of HD remakes, meant to improve the quality from when it was released on less powerful machinery.
Anime is not often on the receiving end of such treatment, as is the case with Wolf’s Rain. I mentioned in my initial reaction to the series that part of what made it hard to get into it was the 4:3 aspect ratio and the oddly quiet latent audio found on the physical release. Now, I am still of the opinion that this should not be knocked against the show itself and is simply a reality of the time. However, it is slightly annoying that any time I wanted to watch it I either had to put on headphones or put the tv on max volume.
There is the outside possibility that this is a problem with my PS4, which is the only DVD/Blu-ray player I have access to at the time of writing. I do kind of doubt this since I have watched more recent disc-based media on it without the same problem.
As sad as it is to say, the series creator Keiko Nobumoto passed away just last year after a battle with cancer at just 57 years old. Not only did she create this amazing series, but wrote others such as Cowboy Bebop and Tokyo Godfathers. Her work has undoubtedly touched the hearts of many, it would be a shame to see a series as amazing as Wolf’s Rain be left out of that conversation.
How do you feel about Wolf’s Rain? Let me know in the comments below.
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9 thoughts on “The Observation Deck: Wolf’s Rain”
Yes, I loved Wolf’s Rain back when it was fairly new in the early 2000’s. You’re right, the sound track was really good with that anime. Wow, I had no idea it was the same person that helped create Cowboy Bebop, Tokyo Godfathers, and Wolf’s Rain! I loved all of those! Nobumoto had some serious talent! It’s a shame about her passing.
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Yeah, I honestly didn’t know either until I researched her properly. RIP to a legend.
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i recently, like maybe less than 5 years ago, rewatched this and it holds up so well. it also reminded me of how much i loved it when i was growing up and why it has some hardcore fans. i didn’t know the creator died recently or that she also did those other two giants, wow
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yeah, it really speaks to the series’ quality that I would still rate it favorably over a lot of what’s come out this year, including a lot of AOTY contenders.