by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 21 of
Wolf's Rain ?
How would you rate episode 22 of
Wolf's Rain ?
There isn't much about “Battle's Red Glare” and “Pieces of a Shooting Star” that is noticeably different compared to previous episodes. The stories still mostly involve a lot of characters moving in vaguely similar directions and occasionally swapping traveling buddies, the threat of Jaugura and her army still feels awfully nebulous, and the dialogue still mostly comes across as either repetitive filler or basic exposition. Cher is as ambivalent about her own wants and needs as ever; the wolves remain primarily concerned with whatever is happening right in front of them at this very moment; Hubb remains constantly ten steps behind everyone else when it comes to knowing what the hell is even going on; Quent is… around, I guess. The apocalypse draws closer with each passing moment, we still don't know what exactly Paradise even is, and still those wolves keep on running.
So if these two chapters don't represent any kind of change or improvement in the exact kind of show that Wolf’s Rain has been for the past two-dozen episodes, why did I find myself enjoying them so much? Well, for starters, it's amazing how much more the human stories in Wolf’s Rain work when they are even slightly more integrated into the anime's larger story. Sure, Hubb and Cheza get re-kidnapped literally seconds after busting out of their chains, but while he and the flower maiden get all up in Jaugura's business, Cher and Blue are left on the ground to pursue them, and those two pairings are infinitely more interesting than having to watch Hubb and Cher trade absolutely terrible romantic musings back and forth any longer. Plus, the divorcees now have crystal clear confirmation of the wolves' existence, and Hubb especially is right in the thick of whatever Jaugura's up to, so their scenes finally feel tangibly connected to the plot.
Granted, there remain scenes across the two episodes that feel drawn out and adrift in the show's sea of ideas, like the extended amount of time we spend with the man known as the “Commander” and his troops, since he is a character we will likely never care about, and the whole “military conflict” part of the story is abstract to the point of being meaningless. The same goes for Quent's jaunt with the fleeing civilian refugees, which is a lot of hullabaloo that gets boiled down to just one line from the old man: “Everything's going crazy.” The recurring problem with all of these scenes is that the audience has been given barely any reason to care about which nobles are killing off which others, or what particular cities and peoples are being displaced; most of the locations visited throughout this show don't even have names. The tone would be so much stronger, I think, if the wolves kept finding themselves wandering through battlefields and broken cities that all just bleed together into a single tapestry of desolation. Imagine the wolves' story allowing itself to be episodic and even more willfully strange, like Kino's Journey.
For some reason, though, Wolf’s Rain feels this deep need to break from the wolves' perspective and just linger with all of these boring, pointless human characters that literally have nothing to do with the plot outside of following along behind it as it moves along, struggling to understand the purpose of what is happening. To have a single audience-surrogate human character would have made perfect sense, but to devote fully half the show's runtime to the misadventures of three completely different walking clichés is a decision that has yet to bear any fruit whatsoever.
The wolves are still good, though. Blue is still alive, for one, which is magnificent, and the other wolves get into one heck of a scrape against a giant walrus that lives beneath an ice-flow they need to cross. This is the kind of adventure Wolf’s Rain could use more of, thrilling and oddly melancholy in equal measure, especially once an exhausted Toboe fully loses it at the sight of his friends getting tusk-stabbed and goes all out with the walrus murder. In many other shows, this would be scene as a triumphant moment of character growth, where the once-underpowered rookie of the group toughens up and goes Super Saiyan on the bad guy. Wolf’s Rain is smart enough to mix that triumph with a heavy dose of sad resignation. This is already a dying world, and an innocent kid like Toboe is losing a part of himself by indulging in the violence, regardless of how natural it is for a wolf to hunt. The dying walrus was a protector of this frozen land, once, though there isn't any life around left to protect, and he makes plain his intention to own his death, and the use of his body for the wolves that bested him.
It's an emotionally complex sequence that boils down to the most basic of concepts: Our heroes are hungry, and they want to survive, so they kill the creature that gets in their way. This kind of fairy-tale atmosphere is Wolf’s Rain at its best, because it is leaning into its simplicity without feeling like it has to paper over everything with layers of capital-L “Lore." As the human world and all of its complexities continue to whither on the vine, I hope the show can learn from its best stories and figure out a way to tell all of the stories it wants to tell while keeping things nice and simple.
Odds and Ends
• Who's a Good Wolf!? I mean, it's obviously Toboe, right? He murdered a walrus the size of a whale, for Pete's sake.
• Cher and Blue bonding over how useless the men in their lives are was pretty funny, and that gives me hope that the show will do something more interesting with this pairing than have them drive around aimlessly for an entire episode.
• I like how the difference between seeing a wolf's animal form and human one is merely a matter of perspective. One minute, Blue's a dog, then she's a bipedal lady with a snappy fashion sense next time we cut back to her, and the humans need a moment to register what they're seeing. That still doesn't explain how the two forms seem to sometimes have completely different and wildly inconsistent ways of interacting with the world, but whatever, it's wolf magic.
• Jaugura tops off her dinner of wolfsteaks with a goblet filled to the brim with canine blood, which is how you know she's Not a Very Nice Lady. What does she want? What emotions and past experiences define who she is? Who gives a damn. She wants to eat our good wolf friends, so she needs to die.
Wolf’s Rain is currently streaming on Funimation.
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