by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 25 of
Wolf's Rain ?
How would you rate episode 26 of
Wolf's Rain ?
I've described Wolf's Rain's approach to piecing together its narratives and characters as "dreamlike" before, and “False Memories” and “Moonlight Crucible” continue to crank the show's sense abstract fluidity ever closer to the "Eleven" notch on the amplifier dial. The episodes also highlight what I think is the defining factor in determining the success of a “dreamlike” story, which is whether or not the viewer feels like a participant in the dreaming or an observer being kept at distance from it. In dreams, stories and characters can get stitched together with no need for rhyme or reason; the dreamer usually possesses an innate understanding of what they are observing or experiencing, even if it doesn't actually make much sense at all once they think back on it in the waking world.
The best kind of story-dreams can replicate this strange alchemy of awe and unquestioning acceptance. The ones that struggle are unable to keep the viewer from being distracted and confused by their own powerlessness in the face of the uncanny and strange. There have been many instances where Wolf's Rain has made effective use of this dream logic, and it has generally done well with its broad strokes — magic wolves; talking owl spirits; it's overall “gothic nightmare bourgeoisie post-apoca-punk” vibes. Its insistence on refusing to explain too much or dwell on the finer details that might give its story a greater sense of reality has become more of a hindrance in this final stretch of episodes, though. Take “False Memories” for example: It has the unenviable task of setting up Wolf's Rain's climax, and it ends up fumbling the most important pieces.
Hige's battle with his own implanted memories and the betrayal he committed by leading the wolves right to Jaguara's Keep is the central “focus” of the episode, if it can be said to have any focus at all. His whole sense of self has been shattered by the false memories mentioned in the title, and throughout the whole episode I couldn't help but think “What memories?”. I'll admit that I didn't go back and rewatch every single episode, but I did check out some of those recap episodes just to make sure, and I still can't recall any conversation or flashback of Hige's that explained anything about who Hige was, or who he believed himself to be, before he ran into Kiba back in the show's premiere. How on earth is this sudden twist supposed to impact the audience if we never had any cause to understand what Hige has lost? Outside of Hige's conspicuous “H” collar, we've never been given much reason to suspect anything was out of the ordinary for him either, which only adds to the sneaking suspicion of Wolf's Rain wanting us to be impressed with the idea of Hige's story without having to put in the work of actually telling it properly.
Also, Wolf's Rain pulls the same stupid trick it pulled last week when Jaguara's soldiers show up and randomly shoot the collar off, which apparently is enough to get Hige back on track to save his friends. If the ordeal was going to be solved by a single stroke of luck that has nothing to do with character development, then why did we spend so much damned time on it? Likewise with Hubb, Tsume, and Toboe being imprisoned in the Keep, or with Kiba's own fruitless quest to free Cheza. For a show that isn't at all concerned with having its character motivations or the logic of its world make literal sense, we sure do waste a lot of time just watching things happen to characters until they all conveniently end up wherever the plot needs them to be. Tsume and Toboe simply slam on their cell bars until Hubb figures out the right timing of it; Kiba fights his way through a bunch of soldiers until he ends up imprisoned by Jaguara anyways; even Cher just kind of lucks her way into sneaking into the castle, and who does she bump into but Darcia the Third himself? Where the hell has he been these last ten episodes? Who knows, he's here now, which means the plot can resume once again.
“Moonlight Crucible” is a better episode than “False Memories” because the plot is allowed to exist again, though it stands out for other reasons. It is the last episode of the original television run of Wolf's Rain, before the story was concluded with the four OVAs that make up Episodes 27-30. The loss of the opening theme song and change to a new end theme alone make for a very different feeling show, and then we have the introductory exchange between figures that the subtitles describe only as “Alchemist A” and “Alchemist B”. They offer a more succinct breakdown of the current situation than anything we've gotten leading up to this moment: The Moonlight Crucible is a device that converts moonlight into energy for the city, but Jaguara is now unleashing its true power to tap into Kiba and Cheza's connection, thereby usurping control over the opening of Paradise, which will create a haven for the Nobles of the world, instead of the wolves. We also learn that Jaguara is the comatose Hamona's younger sister, and she also harbors an undying love for the enigmatic Darcia III, even though his grandfather Darcia I is the one who first botched this great ritual, and caused the destruction of the world while he was at it.
Even this vague, half-formed attempt at establishing context is much appreciated, especially at this stage, where the story is quickly descending into its operatic and bloody climax. Darcia, who is some kind of creature that is neither Noble nor wolf, appears in his animal form to attack Jaguara while she is conjuring a false vision of Paradise; Hige attacks Jaguara but is horribly wounded; Darcia is poisoned; Kiba gets in some bites of his own; Darcia slays Jaguara at last, and hints at his own intentions concerning the fate of Paradise.
It's a lot of action, and it's as gorgeously drawn and framed as anything we've seen from Wolf's Rain thus far, though the fate of our heroes and their poisoned world is as unclear as ever. As far as dreams go, the frayed threads that hold Wolf's Rain together are holding out through sheer force of stubborn will; as a story, it may very well fall apart in these final four episodes, though it will be quite the beautiful mess if it does.
Odds and Ends
• Who's [Not] a Good Boy!? Since all of the wolves are just doing their best this week, Hige included, I'm going to give this dishonor to Quent, who I genuinely can't stand at this point. Even his tearful reunion with Blue isn't enough to redeem him in my eyes, yet, because he's spent the last twenty-six episodes being a completely useless and irritating pile of clichés who apparently never once stopped to question why or how a pack of wild animals would raze an entire village to the ground with the destructive capabilities of a well-armed militia. Quent is stupid, and annoying, and he makes Wolf's Rain worse whenever he's on screen. Blue deserves better, and so do we.
• For as much as I harp on the show's sloppy storytelling, it's visuals and soundtrack are in top form in these two episodes. The animation is solid all around, and we get not one, but two moody and effective insert songs from Yoko Kanno: “Heaven's Not Enough” in Episode 25 (sung by Steve Conte) and “Tell Me What the Rain Knows” in Episode 26 (sung by Maaya Sakamoto).
Wolf's Rain is currently streaming on Funimation.
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