“Everyone is going to die. It’s a natural part of life.
But if your life has no purpose, you’re dead already.”
~Kiba, Wolf’s Rain
Wolf’s Rain is one of my top five favorite anime out of the 520-odd series I’ve seen all the way through. I’ve already written a review of Wolf’s Rain, if you’re interested in my general thoughts on it. As for this post, I’ll provide some of my insights about the show or themes in the show. Rebirth, reincarnation, the cycle of life, and life’s meaning are all motifs that the ending episodes of the series try to show. Other themes throughout are existentialism, the darkness of the world, faith, courage, sacrifice, and human psychology. (This analysis includes the 4 Wolf’s Rain OVAs, which were meant to be the last 4 episodes.)
Faith and Friendship
“They say there’s no such place as Paradise. Even if you searched to the ends of the earth, there’s nothing there. No matter how far you walk, it’s always the same road going on and on. But in spite of this, why am I so driven to find it?”
~Kiba from Wolf’s Rain
Belief is in equal parts futile and necessary. You won’t accomplish anything by believing in lofty spiritual salvation. Trusting and believing nonetheless is stubborn. In some cases, I consider it close to delusion. But if it helps an individual, and doesn’t hurt themselves or others, then is there anything wrong with delusion or blind faith? No. People need it. I don’t believe in anything supernatural, personally, but I know many who need their religion or spiritual beliefs in order to function. Some are much better people because of their faith.
The characters in Wolf’s Rain need to keep believing in something supernatural in order to have a reason to live: they believe in the Paradise world that can only be opened and occupied by wolves. The insticts of the wolves tell them to search for Paradise, but some wolves become discouraged and settle for less, giving up on the journey. In order to avoid giving up, and surrendering to a very grim world, Kiba and the other wolves must have faith in Paradise. They must also believe in the significance and personal meanings of their lives, which ties into Existentialism.
Believing in your friends is an important theme in Wolf’s Rain too. That’s a form of “faith” I think everyone, including myself, needs in their lives. For most of the series, the theme of faith in your friends is shown through Tsume, the eternal skeptic. Later, it is best evidenced by Hige’s story.
Tsume is quite an unusually antisocial wolf. Since he once betrayed his pack in the past, he believes he is now unworthy to be in another pack or have anyone be good to him ever again. The facade he sets up is the opposite– Tsume makes it seem like he thinks he’s is better than everyone else and doesn’t need support. However, time and time again, when Tsume needs it, Kiba, Hige, Toboe, and Cheza help him. When it comes down to it, Tsume gives it all back, becoming the reliable (if grumpy) older brother figure for everyone.
In the last few episodes of the 26-episode series, it’s revealed that Hige’s small pack was caught by Jagura in the past. All were killed except Hige, who was given a collar with a transmitter in it. The experience was so traumatic that Hige developed dissociative amnesia to forget it. Later, he leads Kiba and company into the city ruled by Jagura, and is then tracked by his collar and caught. Hige views this is a betrayal of his new pack, since he endangered all of them by leading them to the city. Tsume accuses Hige of being a traitor, what with no way to confirm that he didn’t do all this on purpose. Hige proves himself to his pack again by helping to fight Jagura in episode 26.
Still, in the first of the OVAs, Hige believes he is unworthy of having friends/ a pack. Tsume is still a little skeptical, but Toboe believes in him. Kiba, the alpha wolf, stoops to supporting the wounded Hige physically and emotionally. He tells him that they’re still friends, searching for Paradise together, and that hasn’t changed even if Hige was a traitor. Kiba believes in his pack and values each of them, though he doesn’t always make such a show of it. Because of Kiba’s words, Hige accepts things and moves on. He believes that his friends believe in him.
The Courage to Connect
“In the white freeze, I never spoke of tears, or opened up to anyone including myself. I would like to find a way to open to you– it’s been awhile, don’t know if I remember how to. I’m here waiting, on the edge. Would I be alright showing myself to you? It’s always been so hard to do.” ~Steve Conte
These are two other prominent motifs in Wolf’s Rain. Kiba is so courageous all the time that it’s easy to take it for granted. The only times Kiba looks afraid are when his Cheza and his friends are in danger, and his expression is almost more like shock and/or anger rather than fear. But it’s not that Kiba never feels fear. It’s that his fear pushes him to act, and since he is a very wild wolf, action usually takes the form of attacking the threat. There’s hardly ever an encounter where Kiba isn’t the first to charge into action, even when the odds are stacked against him. Other examples of courage can be seen in the stories of the characters Toboe and Blue.
Compared to the other three wolves, Toboe is slower, smaller, and weaker. Though he whines sometimes, as any pup does, the young red wolf never gives up on following Kiba’s lead and being Tsume’s constant companion. He’s not used to traveling the wilds, and emotional or sensory disturbances are especially upsetting to him. Still, Toboe courageously stays with the pack. He has to fight more mental battles than the rest because of his background. In episode 22, he singlehandedly defeats a gigantic, monstrous walrus who was intent on killing the wolves for trespassing on his icy territory. That’s when Toboe proves that he’s as strong as the rest, or will be with a little more experience.
It takes courage of a different kind to open up to others when you are emotionally lost, wounded, or weakened, or have a lot of baggage from the past. All the characters in Wolf’s Rain, to an extent, go through this, which is debatably what the opening song “Stray” is about. The characters that show this best are Toboe and Tsume, with their rocky but brotherly bond, and Blue. She opens up to Cheza and to Hige with love and the desire to protect them. This, despite being vulnerable because of her separation from Quent, and the recent discovery that she is part wolf.
Not only does Blue trust in Cheza, Cher, and Hige, but she also shows great courage when she reveals her true self to Quent. He hates wolves and has sworn to kill any and all he encounters because he believes they killed his son. Blue shows her canine form, her human form, speaks to Quent with words for the first time, and tells him she is part wolf. She also tells the truth that she recently overheard: it was not wolves, but the soldiers of Lady Jagura who destroyed Quent’s town and killed his family.
Things don’t go over smoothly. Yes, Quent was happy to see Blue, but will not travel with her as long as she is on the side of wolves. The two of them separate on purpose this time, and for the first time, Blue is truly on her own, rejected by her “Pops.” The fact that she moves on and seeks out the other wolves to re-establish a connection shows that she is truly courageous.
Another example can be seen with Toboe and Quent. What with accidentally killing his first owner, and being rejected by Leara, Toboe has trouble with humans, but he loves them and wants to serve them. He has little experience interacting with his own kind, so it’s impressive enough that he managed to create a bond with Tsume. What’s even more amazing is that he developed caring feelings for Quent, even knowing that he hates wolves. In one episode, Toboe saves Quent from freezing to death by warming him with his own body. In the end, the young red wolf dies trying to protect the old man, having promised Blue he would look after him.
Human Nature/ Psychology
Both humans and wolves are social creatures, but of course, humans have more complex social structures, interactions, and relationships. Humans long to be connected to other humans, espcecially when times are tough. Hubb and Cher are prime examples. Like countless humans, these two fell into a passionate, youthful romance and were married quickly. It turned out Cher was a career woman, uninterested in having kids or even pets; she was apathetic in contrast to the expressive and sweet-natured Hubb, who wanted a big, loving family. Cher became obsessed with her scientific work (and I don’t blame her, Cheza is fascinating). In the end, she and Hubb divorced. In the show, though, each still wants to be emotionally supported by the other.
They’re not romantic characters that fall in love a second time and get along perfectly afterward. Rather, they’re not even a couple for most of the series because there’s so much friction and awkwardness between them. Still, on some level, they want to be together because the world has become so harsh and their lives so unpredictable. Couples who have separated are more likely to get back together if both their lives have gone south and they need a companion, either for practical support or emotional support (or both). If the original couple doesn’t get back together, each of them will seek out a new partner. Where does that tendency come from?
This is an interesting part of human nature and also evolutionary psychology, the study of how evolutionary instincts and primitive drives still influence human behavior today. Long ago, humans– especially the females– agreed to enter lasting partnerships with one other in order to secure what they needed for survival: food, shelter, support, and a mate so they can pass on their genes. Imagine a cave man and woman having a simple verbal exchange, deciding that they will cohabitate if the man gets sex and warmth in the cold and the woman gets someone strong to hunt food for her. That’s an incredibly primitive interaction/ agreement, and yet, similar reasons still drive people to connect and reconnect to this very day.
A Bleak World and A Mournful Song
“Heaven’s not enough if, when I’m there, I don’t remember you.
And Heaven does enough! You think you know it, and it uses you.”
The world of Wolf’s Rain is grim and distressing. The world is nearing its end. Everything is cold and grey. There are few animals to be found anywhere. Most of the natural environment is no longer suitable for humans to live in. They dwell instead inside domed cities, where crime runs rampant and the population becomes lower and lower with people stealing and fighting over limited resources. All humans are ruled over by the Nobles, people possessing technology indistinguishable from magic, while everyone else has steampunk level technology or worse.
Throughout Wolf’s Rain, terribly dispiriting events occur. Darcia’s story is tragic. For daring to try to access Paradise, he was cursed with the eye of a wolf and his lover was cursed with an incurable illness. Quent’s home was destroyed and his wife and son were slaughtered by corrupt soldiers working for the Nobles. Toboe wants to get along with humans, but he accidentally killed his first owner by misjudging his own strength. In the end, he is killed trying to protect Quent, who had been cold to him for so long. In the OVAs, every character eventually dies, most of them in violent and heartbreaking ways.
There is a beauitful and moving song that makes me tear up when I listen to it, called “Heaven’s Not Enough” by Steve Conte. It appears in episode 25 of Wolf’s Rain. The song imparts the feelings of both the humans and some of the wolves, thinking that even Heaven is not enough to make up for the losses and despair they have suffered or are suffering. For Darcia, Jagura, and Hamona, the lyrics may be literal, expressing the desperate desire to get into Paradise when they are not allowed. For other characters, the song means they don’t even want to enter Paradise because they don’t want to part with the ones they love or can’t move on from what they’ve lost.
The full lyrics can be read here. The last part of the song goes like this. “I felt the face of a cold tonight; I still don’t know the score. But I know the pain of leaving everything really far behind. And if I could cry, and if I could live what truth I did, then take me there! Heaven, goodbye.” For all of the characters at the end of their lives, the final lines of the song tell us their mixed thoughts. They do want to enter Paradise and/or find peace, hence, “If I could live with what truth I did, then take me there.” This sentiment is coupled with hopelessness when none of them are able to open Paradise. That’s why the last words are, “Heaven, goodbye.”
Why did Tensai Okamura come up with such a thoroughly depressing world for his characters and their stories? What is the darkness of Wolf’s Rain trying to tell us? As always with analyses of themes and story elements, it is likely up to interpretation. I hold that the austerity of the setting is needed to communicate the inner feelings of the wolves and the nobles, neither of whom express much grief or desperation with words or tears. The depressing setting and plot are also necessary to make the experience all the better when the audience realizes the final truth of Paradise.
Existentialism and the True Paradise
“When were we born? When do we die? Why are we born? Why do we die? The world has been destroyed and reborn countless times, always resurrecting from the ashes as Paradise. It has happened before, and it will happen again. An endless cycle of life and death. The world is a Paradise that was opened by someone.” ~From Wolf’s Rain
From a purely objective point of view, nothing has a point. Life on earth is meaningless. Deeper meaning is a concept that humans came up with, and it’s a critically important one for our survival as a species and for the mentalities of our societies. Nihilists believe that there is no point to anything, so trying to find personal meaning is a waste of time. Existentialists, however, believe that it’s crucial for people to find subjective meaning in their lives, all the more so because there is no objective meaning. Wolf’s Rain contains strong themes of existentialism.
There are several ways to interpret the ending of Wolf’s Rain, though without argument, it tries to communicate the ideas of rebirth, reincarnation, and the cycle of life. Here’s how I see it, and it’s only my opinion. The Paradise for wolves didn’t open because of the impurity brought by Darcia’s hate. However, that doesn’t mean that Kiba’s hard work was for nothing. The world is ending, and required for its rebirth are the seeds of Lunar Flowers spread by Cheza in her last moments. The flower maiden says, “Kiba, because you protected this one, the flowers will return and bloom once more. So when the world is reborn, and Paradise opens, we will meet again.” The rain that fell after that watered the Lunar Flower seeds: hence the title Wolf’s Rain.
The actions of Kiba and his pack were rewarded: all the wolves, plus Cheza, had their souls reincarnated into the next world. Once again, the mystical wolves will seek their promised land. However, there’s no telling whether or not they will open Paradise this time, either. The curse left behind by Darcia stained the world and the Lunar Flowers. It’s likely that the Nobles of the new world will, like Darcia, be cursed in return by Paradise and driven to contaminate it again. So is it futile for the wolves to seek Paradise, after all? Does the Paradise just for wolf-kind not actually exist? It very well may not. But some form of Paradise still opens, and like Cheza wished for, it’s a paradise for any or all creatures. What am I talking about, you ask?
Consider the quote at the beginning of this section. Those words were spoken by the voice of the spirit owl at the start of the 4 OVAs. “The world is a Paradise opened by someone.” The wolves, nobles, and other humans always talks about how to open paradise, and whose paradise it is. Really, though, “paradise” is the whole earth, as it evolves many forms of life and beauty. Of course, nobody with life experience could claim that earth is a real paradise; it’s not heavenly at all, in the grand scheme of things. But heaven is a human concept, just like hell. Reality is a mix of both. There is endless suffering, both of humans and all living things capable of feeling pain or fear. But there is also the “miracle” of life on earth, and the beauty and complexity of it sometimes makes me feel like I’m in heaven.
The point of life, or its meaning, is up to each individual. The subjective meanings we come up with and the powerful emotions we feel are real. They have value, because we gave them value.
If anybody claimed that the characters in Wolf’s Rain live pointless lives, I’d be royally pissed off. The love Blue felt for Hige was far more important to her, as she said, than getting into someone’s closed-off “heaven.” Cher’s death was sudden, but she died following her dream and doing what she loved: being close to Cheza. Kiba’s search for a heaven for wolves is his reason for living, and nobody can say it doesn’t matter. Darcia’s suffering and hate was so powerful it left a stain on the earth– how comparable to modern humans that is!
Existential thinkers believe in seeking personal meaning for your life and for the universe as a whole. For most, much of life’s subjective meaning is found in relationships and interactions with others. That’s why it’s important to have the courage to connect. You should all be the more eager to connect in a harsh world full of suffering, like the setting of Wolf’s Rain. Believing in others takes both courage and faith. And believing in your life’s meaning and significance takes faith. This includes religious faith, for some people. All these themes tie together perfectly. You should enjoy the beauty of this story for yourself! Go watch Wolf’s Rain!