Wolf's Rain
Episodes 27-28

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 27 of
Wolf's Rain ?

How would you rate episode 28 of
Wolf's Rain ?

There's a dichotomy I've been struggling to get to the heart at in these Wolf's Rain reviews. This admittedly makes for a repetitive experience — both in terms of these reviews, and in watching the show itself — but Wolf's Rain 's identity has been so fundamentally defined by this stark contrast in its elemental makeup that it ends up being the drain that all of my feelings about this series circle around. I like it well enough, or at least I think I do, but I've liked plenty of anime that I wouldn't exactly describe as “quality art”. Is Wolf's Rain good? Despite being so close to its final chapters, it is harder than ever for me to know for sure.

Aesthetically, Wolf's Rain has generally been excellent across the board, and its first two OVAs continue the show's fine tradition of looking and sounding incredibly cool. The cinematic ambitions we got a peek at in the final broadcast episodes return in full form, and even though “Where the Soul Goes” and “Gunshot of Remorse” don't contain any of the operatic action that has defined the final arc of this series, we still get some of the most sumptuous cuts of animation that Studio Bones has delivered yet. The shot of Hubb and Cher's van careening off an icy cliff is thrilling and terrifying despite lasting only a few seconds; the lovingly animated sequence where Blue and Hige reunite in their wolf forms is so sweet that it almost sells the emotional connection between the two characters on its own; even the opening shots of “Where the Soul Goes”, which simply pan over the dying remnants of Jagaura's city, manage to communicate a sense of lived-in human presence that has been so lacking from the series as a whole.

The sound design is top notch, too. Yoko Kanno's score, which has been Wolf's Rain most consistently excellent tool, is in top form throughout both episodes, despite the lack of traditional spectacle to accompany it. The English voice-acting is elevated too, and wouldn't you know it, Quent and Hubb end up as the stars of the show. Not the characters themselves – don't worry, I will get to that in a second – but Bob Buchholz and Tom Wyner turn in their best performances of the series, here. Wyner has always been great at delivering Quent's dialogue, even when the dialogue sucked, and he really fine tunes the man's singular brand of acidic self-loathing in what I can only presume is a final bow before the curtan call. Poor Bob Buccholz has had virtually nothing to work with as Hubb, who has remained the most functionally useless character of the entire series until this very episode, which finally gives Hubb something to do other than sound vaguely frustrated and confused. Hubb's big moment arrives in “Where the Soul Goes”, though, and Buccholz goes for the gold.

Granted, this comes at the cost of Cher dying a death that is both tragic and unintentionally hilarious, though the latter part is by no means her fault. Falling off a cliff after the pack's truck careens across a disintegrating ice field is a visually poetic way to die, but it feels perfunctory in a narrative sense. Wolf's Rain is really trying to hammer home that the world is ending, and that the humans' role in the wolf's ascension was only ever to serve as final witnesses to the apocalypse, and all that. It's an artful idea on paper, but that doesn't automatically equal great storytelling, especially when the editing of the sequence has the scene cut from Cher falling from such a height as to render her a mushy bag of bone shards, only to immediately and awkwardly cut to Hubb holding Cher's dying (but completely beautiful and untouched!) body.

This is what I mean by the dichotomy of Wolf's Rain. All episode we've had to suffer Hubb and Cher's dreadful romantic exchanges, which honestly reminded me of the worst dreck that the Star Wars prequels had to offer, and Cher's melodramatic death is just as silly. The music and animation make you feel the weight of Cher's fall, though, and Buccholz's raw and anguished cries convinced me, for literally the first time ever, that Hubb really might have loved this woman he's been obsessing over all series.

Or let's go back to Quent, a character I have made no secret of loathing. And to be clear, I don't dislike him because he's an asshole that doesn't deserve the love Blue is so desperate to give him; I hate Quent because there are so many ways that Wolf's Rain could have communicated that he is an asshole undeserving of Blue's love, and for some reason the show consistently chose to go the route of “copy the film noir clichés that an amateur writer might have ripped off immediately after seeing The Maltese Falcon for the first time”. What “Gunshot of Remorse” proves, in fact, is that Quent would have been so much more useful to this story if he'd been allowed to fully commit to his awfulness even earlier in the series. Jumping into harms way to protect Blue may have been the objectively right decision to make earlier, but it's also the most predictable character arc imaginable. For Quent to double down on his fanatical hatred, even in the face of true magic and the end of all things – now that's a cool direction for the character to go. It's a shame that Wolf's Rain has been so busy drowning in its own ambitious plot that Quent only just started to get interesting when Wolf's Rain is ready to end.

What gets me the most is that Keiko Nobumoto is the furthest thing from an amateur writer; she handled the composition for freaking Cowboy Bebop, for goodness sake, and she's worked on all sorts of classic projects over the years. Wolf's Rain premise and world are incredible, rife with potential, and there's so much mythic power to be mined from this ragged wolf pack's journey to the end of the world. I don't know if something vital in the dialogue has been utterly lost in the English translation, since I don't have access to the original Japanese language track, but I do know this: Wolf's Rain has spent dozens of episodes insisting, in every way that it can, that it is telling a deeply tragic and haunting story, and if you experienced Wolf's Rain as a silent film, or an opera, you might believe that. Every single time the characters have opened their mouths, though, they reveal that nothing lies beneath the surface of them, and thus their entire journey has felt hollow, a performance in and of itself that lacks that irreplaceable spark of life. Wolf's Rain is too well-crafted and lovingly told to be a bad anime, but with only two episodes left to go before it concludes, I fear we are past the point for the series to land as anything other than an ambitious missed opportunity.


Odds and Ends

• The Good Boy counter has run its course, what with the impending death of all living things and all, but let it be said that all of these wolves are good, even when they don't exactly make for amazing characters, because all wolves are good. Though Toboe should probably get special mention, what with his taking a bullet for goddamn Quent of all people.

• Other plot items I should probably mention, even though I'm not invested enough in the characters or story to have anything interesting to say about them: Blue and Hige have gone off on their own, because they're in love for no particular reason; Tsume is apparently racist against half-breed wolves for no particular reason (that's a Bad Boy, Tsume!); Darcia is still around, and I guess he was the wolf that attacked Kyrios? Why did Darcia do this? I'm sure there's some MacGuffiny reason or another that we'll get in the last pair of episodes.

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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