Wolf's Rain
Episodes 3-4

by James Beckett,

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Wolf's Rain ?

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Wolf's Rain ?

I watched Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind for the first time in maybe ten years just the other day, and I was struck by the similarities in how both it and Wolf’s Rain handle their fairy-tale versions of a post-apocalyptic world. Though Nausicaä isn't my favorite Miyazaki film, something I've always loved about it is how confident it is to just let you live in its strange, uncanny world, and even when a bunch of exposition gets dropped later in the story to explain the fall of human civilization, it still always feels one step removed from a plausible reality. Wolf’s Rain seems to be reaching for a similar sort of vibe, where we're presented with the vestiges of a human culture and a planet that could be Earth, if you squinted at it really hard, though the connection is always supposed to be tenuous. While that is something movies like Nausicaä manage to pull off really expertly, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about Wolf’s Rain's approach just yet.

It comes down to storytelling style and momentum, I think. “Bad Fellow” and “Scars in the Wasteland” are both very action and plot heavy, even though the series doesn't really have a plot to speak of, just yet. The closest thing we have to a narrative through-line is wolves' quest to find Paradise, and that's about as broad a goal as you can get. Every other thread we've been given so far is more like a half-eaten trail of breadcrumbs that may or may not lead to something interesting down the line. Quent the grizzled wolf hunter is out for revenge, unsurprisingly. Hubb is out for answers, though he doesn't even seem to know the questions that need asking yet. Doctor Cher is up to something now that she's recovered from the attack on her lab. I don't even know what to make of Darcia and Cheza at this point.

The only thing that ties any of the human plot threads together is the knowledge that their stories will connect to Kiba, Hige, Toboe, and Tsume's journey. And when the focus is on our dysfunctional wolf pack, the show is at its best. Kiba and Hige are the simplest and least developed of the two so far, but they're likable, which goes a long way in vague setups like this. Toboe is probably the most endearing of the group simply by virtue of being a naïve and well-meaning pup. I was surprised to see Leara actually return in “Bad Fellow” so quickly, and then I was just as heartbroken when she immediately narced on Toboe, who only wants to make some friends. Later on, in “Scars in the Wasteland”, he's the one who cares enough about Tsume to stick with him and try to act as the protector for once, even when some ancient war machine comes creeping from the metropolitan ruins to ruin their day with its lasers and machineguns.

Then there's Tsume, who I kind of can't stand, mostly because he slots right into a character archetype I already have little patience for, and the writing is so blunt that there's almost nothing else to him. Tsume is the living embodiment of that scene from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure where Pee Wee Herman adopts his best tough-guy glare and insists to his gal-pal Dottie: “There's a lotta things about me you don't know anything about…Things you wouldn't understand. Things you couldn't understand. Things you shouldn't understand. …You don't wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I'm a loner…A rebel.” Except, you know, in this instance he's a magical wolf being disguised as a sexy post-apocalyptic biker bro. I get that the group dynamic has to have conflict to remain interesting, but I would love it if the show were just a touch more subtle in its approach.

Honestly, though, there isn't much left for me to break down in this two-parter. “Bad Fellow” sees the wolves blow their cover and skip town for the wastelands outside of the city, and then “Scars in the Wasteland” gives us a very straightforward survival story, with a sprinkle of robot action for good measure. They're not bad episodes at all, but the human-half of the story isn't even providing enough for us to properly speculate on, so we've got to settle for some dirty wolf boys hanging out in the desert, trying their best not to die. Artistically, they don't represent Wolf’s Rain's best efforts either – the wasteland material is dry in both a literal and an aesthetic sense, and it doesn't really pick up until the action-packed climax.

That said, an adventure story has to start somewhere; a kickass premise and lovely music can only take a series so far, after all. Now that the gang is together and officially of on some kind of journey, I'm excited to see where the pieces all fall, and whether or not they come together in the end.

Rating:

Odds and Ends

• Something I like to track is when and why the show decides to depict the wolves as animals, instead of their human guises. To be honest, I think I would have enjoyed the first leg of this journey more if we got to see the wolf pack in their natural forms more. It would help in reinforcing their precarious position in the world, and it would also make for a much more unique tone, like a nature documentary from the end of the world. There's just something about a bunch of anime boys munching on a rotten carcass that makes the story harder to take seriously.

• We get flashes of Kiba's past here and there that seem to point to a life with an older man who is dressed in what I would call stereotypical Native American garb. Given all the talk of “Red Moons” and “Great Spirits” in this “Book of the Moon” that Hubb is searching for, I figured we'd get into something like that eventually. Here's to hoping it doesn't get too cringey.

• Tsume is being a real tsumdere, isn't he?

Hige's vision of paradise for Toboe: “The flowers are always in bloom, and there's food everywhere! And lots of beautiful babes!” Toboe is surprisingly excited at the possibility of babes, and I have to admit, the thought of sweet ol' Toboe trying to court a lady wolf is pretty damned cute.

• Also, Quent's dog Blue is totally a wolf, right?

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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