Reviewby Carlo Santos, Mar 6th 2006
DVD 1-7: Complete Collection Limited Edition DVD Set
In a desolate future world, wolves have not been seen for 200 years and are supposedly extinct. However, they've simply taken on illusionary forms that make them appear human. When a white wolf named Kiba shows up in a run-down city, his proud attitude attracts the attention of other wolves—naïve, undersized Toboe; street-smart, carefree Hige; and gruff loner Tsume. Together they set out in search of a legendary Paradise, led only by Kiba's instincts and the scent of a mysterious "Lunar Flower." But does Paradise even exist? Many humans will stand in their way: soldiers, scientists, Nobles, and a hunter who has sworn vengeance against all wolves. If they are to ever find Paradise, they will have to risk their lives to get there.
Let's say you're a Wolf's Rain fan who never got around to collecting all the DVDs. Or maybe you caught some of it on Cartoon Network and want to know the rest. Or maybe you just never saw the show, and wonder why everyone thinks it's so great. Well, now's the chance—Bandai has packaged all seven DVDs in one stylish box, and thrown in the soundtrack CD for good measure. It's a fitting treatment for a series that takes the traditional hero's journey and builds a new legend out of it. Set in a vivid modern-fantasy world, with remarkable characters and powerful emotions, Wolf's Rain is a series that deserves the praise it gets.
The story of journeying towards a promised land has been around for thousands of years, but it's amazing what a little creative thinking can do. At first glance, the world of Wolf's Rain is just a patchwork of familiar elements in science fiction and fantasy: domed post-apocalyptic cities, ancient castles and keeps, snowcapped wastelands, even deserts inspired by the Wild West. It's the sheer variety of these settings, however, that keeps things interesting. Also, the entire world is kept together by a consistent back-story: once you know what happened 200 years ago, it's easy to understand why things the way they are.
Like a typical adventure, this story involves the interwoven quests of various characters—the wolves, the wolf hunter, the scientists, the Nobles—who all meet at the end. Combined, it forms one very epic, 30-episode chase. Although carefully planned, there are still some narrative hiccups: Episodes 15-18 are nothing but recaps, effectively killing the momentum, and there's also the occasional plot hole where people (or wolves) instantly arrive somewhere without prior explanation.
But none of this would be complete without the characters. Even though the four wolves can all be described in one word—the leader, the loner, the goofball, the kid—their personalities and back-stories are developed enough to set up some very touching moments at the end. Individually, they seem like stereotypes, but as they travel together, they change each other and end up a very different pack. It's this long-term character development that makes the final four episodes so emotionally powerful, even reaching out to affect the human characters too.
The visuals in this series showcase Studio BONES at their most imaginative, with beautiful backgrounds that depict settings from high-tech mysticism to urban decay to open wilderness. The character designs are equally striking: in their human form, the wolves wear contemporary outfits, making them the most accessible of all characters. This also helps scenes that demand a human range of expression; it would be a less engaging series if they were just a bunch of oversized dogs running around (plus, drawing animals all the time would be a nightmare for the animators). The production quality is also top-notch, with sharp lines and colors, and animation that's convincingly smooth—just look at some of the fight scenes.
Yoko Kanno's music score adds greatly to the show's emotional impact; her melodies always carry a melancholy gracefulness whether they be orchestral pieces or pop songwriting. On the classical end, Kanno relies on lush strings to express the perils and pleasures of the journey, while insert songs in certain episodes convey emotion in a more direct way. However, it's the Maaya Sakamoto ending song, "gravity," that really shows how much feeling Kanno can pack into a piece. Touches of folk and world music round out the score, and on the soundtrack CD you'll hear all of these varied styles.
The English dub for this series is one of the best ever done; each voice actor brings their character to life with a distinct personality. There is no single standout performance, but rather, everyone is consistently good—even those tricky emotional scenes are as heartfelt as the original. Interviews with the Japanese voice actors come as extras on the first two discs, but the English cast deserves just as much attention for their stellar work. The dub script, too, strikes that perfect balance between accuracy and smoothness, sticking closely with the original translation and re-wording only for clarity and impact.
Bandai's black, angular box is a striking design that sets it apart from typical boxsets; the embossed Wolf's Rain logo is a classy touch along with the usual character artwork on the exterior. Although it doesn't open in the conventional way (slide the top half upwards), the design comfortably houses all the DVDs plus the CD and has a shape that will sit just fine on DVD shelves.
Wolf's Rain is proof that old story ideas can still yield new experiences, as long as creators are willing to put their hearts and minds into it. This heroic journey would be, well, just another road trip were it not for deeply sympathetic characters and an epic setting that sparks the imagination. With eye-catching visuals bringing that world to life, and a music score that adds emotional depth to the tale, it's no wonder that everyone thinks Wolf's Rain is so great. This is one box that any fan will be proud to have on their shelf.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A-
Music : A
+ An epic, emotionally moving journey with artwork and music to match.
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