Wolf’s Rain Review: Journey to Paradise

Wolf’s Rain is a 2003 anime by studio Bones, with the original idea created by Tensai Okamura. It was the first anime I watched all the way through, and chose for myself, after growing up in a fundamentalist religious community that kept me from watching most TV shows. Wolf’s Rain has remained in my top five favorite anime ever since I first saw it in 2011.

When it aired, the last four episodes of Wolf’s Rain weren’t ready, so the studio added 4 recap episodes in the middle of the 26-episode series. The last four episodes were released as an OVA. This review will include the OVAs in the analysis of the story. Since I think Wolf’s Rain deserves a 10/10 with no questions asked, it’s going to be difficult to be “objective,” but I’ll try. In the end, all anime reviews have some level of bias. Please enjoy this Wolf’s Rain review!

Story: 9/10: Astounding

The world is near its end, and people live in domed cities because the environment outside is too harsh. The humans are ruled by Nobles, people possessing technology that’s indistinguishable from magic. There are few animals around, and wolves have been extinct for 200 years– or so the humans think. The “wolves” in this world are magical creatures, able to talk to each other in wolf speak, understand and imitate human speech, and create nearly fool-proof illusions that make them appear human. This way, they can hide in human society. The wolves also have some supernatural powers like inhuman strength and agility, and ability to regenerate from serious wounds and blood loss in only a few days.

The white wolf Kiba seeks Paradise, the heavely world of legend, which is only accessible to wolves. Lunar Flowers are extremely rare plants said to grow near the entrances to Paradise, so following the scent of the magical Flowers is key. Most of the anime is focused on Kiba and how he builds and interacts with his pack of companions. As they wander the world in search of Paradise, they are guided by Cheza the Flower Maiden, an articifically created being who has human and Lunar Flower attributes. Wolf’s Rain is primarily a character-driven story. Other interesting characters are Quent, the hunter who believes his son was killed by wolves; Cher, a female scientist obsessed with Cheza; and Lord Darcia, a Noble who has never stopped trying to access Paradise, even after it cursed him and his lover.

The story isn’t quite perfect, though it’s close. There are a few problems with the structure, and also some things that irritate or confuse a lot of viewers. For example, you have to pay close attention plus make some assumptions to get an idea of the history of the Wolf’s Rain world (like how some Nobles left the planet), what the legends and prophecies are (foretold in the Nobles’ Book of the Moon), or even what Paradise is (somewhat up to interpretation). If you like things to be clear, to-the-point, and easily understood, you might not like Wolf’s Rain since it is vague, artisitic, and symbolic in style. The main problem with the structure are those 4 entire episodes of recap, which provide very little new insight into the characters.

The story conclusion at the end of the OVAs may be disappointing to some, or hard to understand for others. But it’s all because Wolf’s Rain is a story full of themes and ideas; if it were literature, it wouldn’t be a novel, but a long, epic poem. Rebirth, reincarnation, the cycle of life, and life’s meaning are all motifs that the ending tries to show. Other themes throughout are existentialism, the darkness of the world, faith, instinctual nature, determination, courage, sacrifice, human psychology, and death and loss. All of this, plus the masterfully done characters, art, and sound, come together to make a nearly perfect anime.

Art: 9/10 Astounding

Considering that it was made in 2003, Wolf’s Rain is an artistic masterpiece. It’s about average for an action/fantasy anime in 2010-2012, which means that in 2003, it was amazing. To me, it’s still amazing, because I know so much more time and work was put in by real people (not computers) to make it. The backgrounds are exhasutive and beauitful, both nature and city scenes. The colors are subdued compared to shounen anime of that time, but that helps set the tone of the show as serious and not “kidsy.” The character designs are timeless and unforgettable. Everyone looks hot, badass, or both! Eyes and hair are very detailed on close-to-face shots.

The action sequences are fantastic. They’re exciting and all the movements are well-planned, though sometimes there is a little too much of those slow-motion shots for the wolf attacks. There’s a decent number of frames per second throughout the series, though maybe not compared to Bones anime of today (Bungou Stray Dogs, for instance, has a lot smoother-looking animation). The series is not afraid of bloodshed and showing people die, either.

The wolves and the other animals that sometimes appear in Wolf’s Rain were all stunningly drawn and animated. It’s rare to find anime with animals that actually look realistic. It’s almost unbelievable feat to animate wolves, dogs, big catss, and especially horses realistically, without CG, and with consistency for more than a few shots. Wolf’s Rain does it for the whole anime. The humans also look more realistic than in most anime.

Characters: 8/10 Excellent

(L to R: Hige, Tsume, Kiba, and Toboe)

Not everybody likes the characters in Wolf’s Rain, but that’s a given for any anime. The main wolf characters are Kiba, designed like Alaskan Tundra Wolf, Tsume, in appearance like North American Gray Wolf, Toboe, who is much like a Red Wolf, and Hige, who looks like a Mongolian Wolf. (Some will say Mexican wolf, but those are too small.) Anyway, classification aside, these main characters are developed slowly but well over the course of the 26 episodes. They all have interesting concepts. For instance, Toboe was raised as a pet for humans and still has a fondness for them, and Kiba is the opposite, a wild wolf driven by natural instincts.

Other characters are Cheza, the flower maiden, who admittedly doesn’t get much character growth; the Nobles, Lord Darcia and Lady Jagura; the human couple Cher and Hubb; and the hunter Quent, with his hybrid wolf-dog, Blue. They two are each intriguing in their own ways and have distinct personalities. I think the characters in Wolf’s Rain deserve a 9/10, but since their development is a little slower than optimal, and sometimes hard to pick up on, I’ll settle for 8.

Sound: 10/10 Masterpiece

(Kiba, played by Mamoru Miyano)

There is nothing at all I can find lacking in the sound of Wolf’s Rain: not in the beauitful OST, the perfect voice-acting, or the drop-dead-gorgeous opening and ending songs. (Op: “Stray” by Steve Conte and ED: “Gravity” by Maaya Sakamoto.) I don’t even know what else to say. Stop right now and listen to some of the music tracks or extra songs used in Wolf’s Rain‘s OST. You can find some on YouTube. One of the songs is “Heaven’s not Enough,” by Steve Conte and another is “Tell Me What the Rain Knows,” by Maaya Sakamoto.

The performances of the seiyuu were all great. Here are a few of them. Miyano Mamoru played Kiba and did a stupendous job– he is now famous for playing roles like Light (Death Note), Tamaki Suou (Ouran HSHC), and Okabe Rintarou (Steins;gate). Miyake Kenta, voice of Tsume, is now famous for voicing All Might (My Hero Academia). The seiyuu for Hubb is Miyamoto Mitsuru, a personal favorite, who played Yashiro Gaku in Erased and Mori Ogai in Bungou Stray Dogs. Damn, his voice is sexy! Tanaka Atsuko played Lady Jagure and she’s famous for voicing Kusanagi Motoko in Ghost in the Shell.

Funimation made an English Dub for Wolf’s Rain, and for a dub, it isn’t so bad. (I generally prefer subbed, unless it’s a funny show where I don’t have to take the bad acting and scripts seriously.) For those who love their Funimation dubs, this one has “the veterans” that I know you love, such as Joshua Seth (Hige), Johnny Yong Bosch (Kiba), and Crispin Freeman (Tsume).

Enjoyment: 10/10 Masterpiece

(Fan Art of Blue and Hige)

I can’t even think of how I could have enjoyed Wolf’s Rain more. Wolves have been my favorite animals since I was 13 or younger. Fantasy and sci-fi are my preferred genres, and if they also have action and fighting, plus profound themes, then it’s almost too much goodness to bear. Wolf’s Rain made me laugh, made me get angry, and made me cry a lake’s worth of tears. (Note: bring tissues when you watch the 4 OVAs). Even if it wasn’t a happy ending, the messages and characters and art and music made me happy!

My favorite characters are Hige and Blue; I empathized more with Hige as a teenager, but now I feel a lot more like Blue. The wolves all look so majestic! And the pairing of Hige and Blue… I ship them so hard! Ah! I could seriously ramble on for hours and end up typing ten pages about Wolf’s Rain, so I’d better just stop now. If you ask me what I enjoyed in this anime, I’d ask you what there could possibly be in the anime that I didn’t enjoy.

Overall: 9.2/10 Astounding/ Magnificent

It’s rare for me to give an anime a score in the 9s category. Only high budget anime films or my top 10 favorite anime series end up with scores like that. (My scale operates from 1.0 to 10.0, and most of my ratings fall anywhere from 5.2 to 8.8, with especially bad anime in the 4s.)

Anyway, to me, Wolf’s Rain will always be a masterpiece, but what about you? Why should you watch it? Besides the profound themes mentioned in the story section, there are plenty of good reasons to check out Wolf’s Rain. There’s the astounding artwork, the euphonious music, and the interesting or sometimes funny characters. Do you like action, adventure, fantasy, sci-fi, or animals? Wolf’s Rain has all that. Are you tired of cutesy anime or fanservice anime? Wolf’s Rain will fix that up. I recommend everyone giving this anime a try.

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