Reviewby Justin Porter,
DVD 1: Leader of the Pack
In the distant future, wolves - long thought extinct - live amongst the disillusioned and desperate dregs of humanity. For the most part, they hide their wolfen nature, content to stay as humans. But when a stray white wolf named Kiba wanders into town, full of prideful ideals and belief in his search for paradise, he reawakens a wanderlust within the wolves around him and leads them to join him on his quest for the mythical "Rakuen". Not probing scientists, obsessed hunters, nor the mysterious nobles will keep them from their ultimate goal.
Bandai certainly had a lot to crow about when they announced their rights to Studio Bones's latest hype machine. Set aside your skepticism for just one moment, and you'll see what an honestly good series Wolf's Rain is.
Bones is of course a studio made up mostly of Cowboy Bebop alumni (the Cowboy Bebop movie was their first project). That pedigree (bad pun) really shows its face in Wolf's Rain, as the show's art and animation are top quality. Toshihiro Kawamoto's character designs are destined to have fangirls swooning for at least another decade, and it's truly impressive how well canine movement has been capture by Bones's animators. But what's most impressive is that not everything and everyone has been made beautiful. The wolfen characters and the mysterious Cheza character stand out as being the only actually pretty characters, which does a great deal to set them apart from their more plain and dreary surroundings. Somebody at Bones realized a very important fact; a dystopian future is not an attractive one.
Now, all the polish and dazzle in the world won't help a series if it isn't supported by engaging characters and an engrossing story. Well, five episodes in it's easy to say that there's a solid "maybe" as to whether or not Wolf's Rain has that. The wolf characters are very much cardboard cutouts of your typical anime personalities. Tsume is a tough and violent loner. Toboe is young and naive. Hige is wise-cracking and street smart, and Kiba is the idealistic introspective leader filled with determination and spirituality. If it weren't for some superb voice acting these characters would fall completely flat.
Also fortunate is that superb voice acting can be found in the English dub as well as the original Japanese. Fans will have another reason to love Johnny Bosch as he slips into lead character Kiba's role exceptionally well. Bosch seems more at home as Kiba than he does in his seminal role, Trigun's Vash the Stampede. Also present, in the role of Tsume, is the anime industry's go-to guy for deep growly voices; Crispin Freeman. Freeman comes across as playing his Fuma/Alucard voice without much change, but it suits the character fairly well.
As far as accuracy of the dub is concerned, it's certainly at or above the industry standard - which means pretty good. The biggest offender as far as changed lines tends to be Hige's vernacular. His speech is much more casual in the English dub, but that's neither here nor there as it suits the character well.
The supporting non-wolf cast is definitely interesting as well. Whether it's the detective Hubb and his scientist ex-wife Cher's witty repartee or the ramblings of wolf hunter Quent, the humans around the wolves hold the attention. Only Cheza, the mysterious "flower maiden" whom so much is made of seems to be a disappointment as nothing (beyond an inexplicable abduction by a strangely costumed individual) is done with her character. Perhaps this is a "wait and see" sort of situation, but certainly a minute or so of exposition as to why she's so vital would have been nice.
While you're waiting on those plot points though, make sure you spend some time listening to the music in this series. Another Cowboy Bebop alumni, Yoko Kanno, lent her considerable talent to crafting one more breathtaking anime soundtrack. From the airy and pensive English language opening theme "Stray" to the soft and wistful piano closing "Gravity", Kanno's indelible and incomparable touch makes Wolf's Rain as beautiful a series to listen to as it is to watch.
Bandai puts out a very good disc, too, for the first volume of what is surely a marquee title this year. Not only do they defy industry convention and give us five episodes instead of four, but they packed the extras section of the disc to the brim. There's a very intriguing interview with the Japanese wolf cast, along with the Japanese pilot, the obligatory clean opening and closing, and plenty of promos as well as trailers for Dragon Drive, Yukikaze, and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Couple that with Dolby Digital 5.1 for both the Japanese and the English versions and you have a top notch release.
Going into Wolf's Rain, most all of us were aware of it from some level of hype. The coupling of an interesting premise and that much creative talent always leads to big expectations and high hopes for a new series. Wolf's Rain, for all that hype, does turn out to be a very rewarding and catching series to watch. It'd be a disservice to a very good series to dismiss it because of all the excitement brewing around it. Even with its storytelling faux pas in its early episodes, Wolf's Rain looks to be one of the series you should be watching in 2004.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B
Art : A+
Music : A+
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