This anime, Wolf’s Rain, was one of Studio Bones’ first big hits. It was actually massively successful in the West. Studio Bones would later that year capitalize on an even bigger hit, Full Metal Alchemist. Previously, Studio Bones only had a minor role in the industry working on the tough movie adaptation of Escaflowne and then the Cowboy Bebop movie as well. Together with new director Tensai Okamura (key animation Ghost in the Shell), the Wolf’s Rain anime came out before the manga and is a retelling of that story.
To start, this story is incredibly unique. Wolves have been said to be extinct for quite some time, yet unbeknownst to humanity, they live among them. A wolf is able to disguise itself by using some sort of trickery on the human eye making it see just another human instead of a dangerous wolf. Set in a run-down slum of a world, the main wolf Kiba and other wolves have been drawn to the same city by some sort of aroma. In the legend and an instinct of the wolves, following this fragrance will lead to paradise. The story follows the pack across the baron environment as they such for paradise. Of course, they aren’t the only ones looking for it and the pack must survive their journey while also being hunted by a man out for revenge.
Plot wise, it is not the most intuitive story. From the start, the viewer has no idea what is the point or why we are where we are most of the time. However, this sets the tone for a mixed pace reveal as time through the anime develops. The viewer stays with the main characters discovering the same things the wolves are. This is done incredibly well keeping interest in the passing events and character development. Right away after meeting each wolf, the viewer and the wolves learn what a lunar flower is. A lunar flower is the reason for the drawing scent. We also learn scientists artificially created a living being out of flowers to “unlock” paradise. It is all very confusing initially, but not overwhelming enough to deter the audience from experiencing the same as the wolves. We and the wolves slowly experience what the world has to offer in terms of what paradise is or could be, what flower girl is and her impact for the story, and even the differences to similarities humans have with the wolves.
Wolf’s Rain never truly focuses on one character as much as the wolf pack and their journey together. As would most people meeting for the first time, the wolves do not get along due to their conflicting personalities. Although, due their instincts based on how each of them have lived drives their actions throughout the anime. This is an extremely refreshing concept. Even though they struggle and fight to survive, they still pick a pack leader and follow despite their differences. The antagonists in the story are more a plot point for struggle, but the hunter Quent with his half dog/wolf pet Blue even has his own struggles similar to the wolf pack in many ways.
As with most Studio Bones shows, the animation quality is timeless. It is absolutely shocking this debuted in early 2003. Characters and environment designs are downright unique and breathtaking. Detail and style ranging from the wolf’s growl expression to even snow falling onto a character just gives a wow-factor rarely seen. Sound effects like the growl to the composition played during environmental “journey” scenes give a great sense of vastness. Voice acting and character speech writing is hard to swallow though. Everything seems awkward during interactions creating constant cringe transition moments. This alone is a huge negative for the anime. So much so that it kills many touching moments with awkward unnatural pauses. Even during plot explanations there are many repeats over the same dialogue and almost kills the semi-love scenes in some of the series most emotional impact ridden occasions. The fight scenes among the wolves and humans alike cause for some of the most action packed scenes in anime with everything being animated from the fur moving from the wind to the blood dripping out of the jaw after a wolf digs its’ teeth into a human’s neck. Yes, there are times when this anime gets pretty gory.
A major gripe to note is the story does not finish here. A 4 episode OVA completes the journey. Plus, the main conquest of the story is basically complete, so much of the interest is lost to even watch the OVA for many. There is even a four episode recap thrown in that makes the anime come to a screeching halt. Overall, Wolf’s Rain is an incredibly journey. The story unfolds for an emotional ride, but writing and dialogue tend to kill the mood constantly. With incredible animation quality, fantastically drawn out characters, and a unique plot Wolf’s Rain is now a total classic.
TL;DR: Wolf’s Rain brings one of the most unique story and fantasy setting in anime. The animation quality speaks volumes to how Studio Bones treats its properties. It is amazing how wolves that can be portrayed as humans obsessed with a girl made from flowers looking for paradise could work. It really is too bad that the dialogue is so hurtful so many times throughout the epic fantasy journey. Those 4 recap episodes followed by the need to watch a 4 episode OVA did not help matters. It makes one wonder why the recap episodes were there to begin with. (Note: the OVA came out 6 months after the completion of Wolf’s Rain)
Recommended Audience: A fan of the fantasy genre and for a bit of an older audience due the complexity of the story and gore should not look any further than Wolf’s Rain. There are not that many anime out there that can touch the animation quality and uniqueness to this one.
Wolf’s Rain nearly finds paradise yet still a 3/5
Director: Tensai Okamura
Premiered: Winter 2003
Episode Count: 26
Rating: R 17+ Wolf violence
Genre(s): Action, adventure, sci-fi, fantasy
Price: Ebay complete collection $100 USD