Wolf's Rain
Episodes 1-2

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Wolf's Rain ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Wolf's Rain ?

Around halfway through the first episode of Wolf’s Rain, “City of Howls”, a scientist named Cher sums up everything you need to know to understand what this story is all about rather succinctly: “The Flower Maiden and the Wolves are being drawn to one another, like an ancient scholar's fairy tale.” This, I've discovered, is absolutely the best way to approach this venerated little series, which I have somehow managed to avoid seeing since it first arrived on the scene in the West in 2004. There's a lot going on in these first two episodes of Wolf’s Rain, and all of this dizzying world-building ambition sometimes seems like a little more than the show can handle. Even when the script comes up short, however, it is impossible to ignore how the show so precisely wields its mythic sense of apocalyptic melancholy.

Like a howl piercing through the bitter cold of a pitch-dark night, Wolf’s Rain strikes at a more primal and sensual part of its viewers brains. There is definitely a story unfolding here, and a whole cast of humans and wolfs-disguising-themselves-as-humans embroiled in a seemingly centuries' old conflict, but what drew me into Wolf’s Rain was the world itself. The lush orange and grey hues that fill out the cracks and decrepit spaces of the futuristic city our wolves have found themselves in; the uncanny glow of the laboratory that hides the mysterious girl known as Cheza; the gothic shadows of the lair of Lord Darcia, a villain who seems ripped straight from a dark fantasy tome (or a Labyrinth themed masquerade, perhaps). Anyone with even a modicum of experience in early-2000s anime will immediately recognize that Wolf’s Rain is a Studio BONES joint, coming particularly from many of the artists that worked on Cowboy Bebop. Director Tensai Okumura played a big part in shaping Bebop's aesthetic with his storyboarding. Keiko Nobumoto, who wrote Bebop's script, is back again as the creator of the entire concept of Wolf’s Rain. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention Yoko Kanno's musical contributions; Cowboy Bebop may have one of the greatest soundtracks of, well, anything ever, but Wolf’s Rain soundtrack is nothing to scoff at, by any means.

Despite the presence of so many familiar faces behind the scenes, I've seen very few anime with as striking a tone and setting as Wolf’s Rain. Over the course of its first two episodes, I was content simply to inhabit its weird and wonderfully tangible world, to soak in its lovely sights and sounds as delightful artistic morsels in and of themselves. There's a filmic texture to the animation that fills me with such a rush of nostalgia and appreciation that I was probably always going to get hooked by these episodes, regardless of what actually happened in them. That isn't to say that the story of the show itself isn't interesting or engaging, though I must admit that those were the facets that left me cold more than anything. Granted, we're only two episodes into a twenty-six episode story (if you don't count the recap episodes), so there will be plenty of time for the Wolf’s Rain to cultivate its characters and their individual stories. The thing with tales told in broad strokes is that you often have to get a better view of the big picture before you can really determine whether or not they have risen above the familiarity of their archetypes.

Take two of our titular wolves for example, Kiba and Hige. Like all of the wolves we've met so far, they walk among humans in a city rife with crime and poverty. Hige's motivations are still quite nebulous — the motivation he claims for literally everything he's done so far is “Because I felt like it, I guess” — and Kiba is a proud and stubborn white wolf who is searching for the mythical Paradise that is so often spoken about in hushed and reverent tones. You'd think that this driving mystery, which is tied somehow to whatever is going on between Cheza and Darcia on the Homo Sapiens end of things, would be enough to fill two episodes worth of story alone. Yet, all Kiba and Hige have really done so far is amble around the city and vaguely discuss their perspectives on being wolves in stylish anime-boy clothing. Hige is cool with living incognito, Kiba is indignant, and so on. They're fairly standard character types that you get a feeling for within minutes of meeting them, but Wolf’s Rain hasn't given us much indication of what their role in the story is even going to be.

Then you have Tsume and Toboe, who are paired together in a way that makes total thematic sense, even if the plot really has to stretch to get them there. Tsume leads a rebellion against the Nobles for vague reasons that presumably have to do with the decaying dystopia the world has become, though that part of the story almost feels like an afterthought, despite taking up a whole lot of screen time. In a completely different story, Toboe is a frighteningly adorable wolf pup who barely seems capable of taking care of himself, and indeed his all of his significant interaction with other people go disastrously wrong, and Tsume just kind of shows up unexpectedly to bail him out and become a mentor figure to him. I like the idea of the grizzled veteran taking in a naive kid, just like I usually dig the lackadaisical slacker/serious hero guy setup that Kiba and Hige have going on, but my appreciation for our heroes is mostly academic at this point.

In short, while I haven't gotten fully invested in the plight of the wolves or the mystery of Paradise just yet, I can see the pieces of the puzzle coming together well enough, so I'm willing to sit back and enjoy the ride in the meantime. I'm much less confident about the human element of the story, which adds even more layers to a narrative that already feels plenty busy without them. Quent the drunken wolf hunter seems to exist purely to spark exposition dumps and to provide an excuse for some admittedly wonderful action beats; Cher and her ludicrously named ex-husband Detective Hubb speak about their relationship drama as if they're aliens who only vaguely understand the concept of realistic human emotions; and I don't even know what to make of Darcia. The dude lives in an Evil Castle, is obsessed with two separate magical comatose women, and he straight up looks and acts like a Super Sentai villain. I don't even think I'd mind most of this stuff if it was all introduced at a slightly more even keel, to be honest, but I found myself getting annoyed whenever we cut to any of the human characters, because I wanted to spend more time with our fluffy protagonists.

That being said, did my quibbles with the non-wolfish parts of Wolf’s Rain ruin my enjoyment of these first two episodes? Hell no. It's a gothic-fantasy dystopian epic about a bunch of snappily dressed wolf bros who are all varying degrees of Good Boys, even when they're getting into bloody battles and doing crazy Matrix wolf parkour, and their adventures are gorgeously animated and accompanied by some exquisite work from Yoko Kanno. There is literally no universe in which I am not a thousand percent on board with Wolf’s Rain, foibles and all.

Rating:

Odds and Ends

Who's a Good Boy!?: You'd all better believe that I'm going to make a weekly feature out of giving metaphorical head pats to the best wolfy of the week. I'm honestly torn right out of the gate, because Hige is just delightfully charming, but Toboe strikes the perfect combination of being too stupid to live but too adorable to die. Let me know who your pick is in the comments!

• So yeah, I'm approaching this ridiculously well-loved decades old anime almost completely fresh, so be kind with marking your spoilers and whatnot in the series discussion. There's only one thing I already know to expect: SPOILERS!! The ending is obscenely sad. SPOILERS!! I don't know any of the specifics, though, and I'd like to keep it that way!

• Curiously, though Funimation lists Wolf’s Rain as having both a Japanese and English audio track, it seems English is actually the only option available for streaming. I won't be commenting much on the dub, since it's almost twenty years old at this point. It's pretty darn good so far, though, so don't be deterred if you usually only watch anime in Japanese.

• Don't think I don't see you trying to sneak in some not-at-all-subtle wolf imagery, Wolf’s Rain!

Wolf’s Rain is currently streaming on Funimation.

James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.


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