ANIME REVIEW: “Wolf’s Rain” – Animation Scoop

ANIME REVIEW: “Wolf’s Rain”

On the “Day of Destruction,” which occurred 200 years before the fantasy-adventure Wolf’s Rain (2003) begins, much of human civilization was destroyed. Wolves supposedly died out at the same time, yet the story centers on four humans who turn into wolves. Like the young father in Hosoda’s Wolf Children, they are wolfmen: not the violent werewolves of Western stories, but the kind of shape-shifters that often appear in Japanese folk tales.

The leader of the hastily assembled and often quarrelsome pack is the charismatic Kiba (Darren Pleavin). The other three follow him sometimes eagerly, sometimes reluctantly: cheerfully naïve Toboe (Mona Marshall); Hige (Joshua Seth) nose; and Tsume (Crispin Freeman), a cynical ex-gang leader whose cold exterior conceals a kind heart.

Kiba is seeking the “Rakuen,” a paradise prophesied for wolves. This paradise is linked to the Moon Flowers, and to Cheza (Sherry Lynn), a girl who was somehow created from those flowers. Scientist Cher Degré (Kari Wahlgren) studies Cheza in her laboratory–until the flower-girl is kidnapped by Lord Darcia (Steven Jay Blum), a Noble whose grandfather may have caused the Day of Destruction.

Freed from the tank of fluid in which she’d been imprisoned, Cheza breathes air and joins the cast in their journey. Unfortunately, she has the irritating habit of referring to herself in the third person as “This One.” Adding to the complications are Quent (Tom Wyner), a grim hunter determined to exterminate wolf-humans, and Lord Orkham’s soldiers, who sometimes work with Cher to recapture Cheza.

In their quest, the characters travel through frozen landscapes that suggest the wastes of Siberia. They stop at deserted military bases and crumbling cities where humans cling to a hardscrabble existence. The surviving Nobles still command sophisticated technology, including bizarre flying machines, enormous laboratories, castle-fortresses and machine guns. Western fantasies usually separate worlds of science and high-tech machinery from worlds of sorcery and magical creatures. In Wolf’s Rain, the filmmakers present a world where advanced technology and magic exist side by side.

But Wolf’s Rain suffers from a surfeit of characters, effects, and subplots that Keiko Nobumoto’s script never succeeds integrating. Episodes #15-18 consist almost entirely of flashbacks, which throws the structure and pacing of the 26-episode series out of balance. As many of the secondary stories and minor characters remain underdeveloped, one recap episode would have been welcome. But four installments of repeated material suggests the story is inadequately developed, padded, or both.

Some elements of the plot borrow from the Norse myth of the Ragnarok, a continuing cycle of birth, growth, decay, death, and rebirth. Director Tensai Okamura and his artists use a dark palate, angular designs and dramatic camera angles effectively. But they can’t overcome the needlessly complicated story.

As the final episodes left many questions unanswered, a four-part OAV was released in 2004, which is included in this new set as Episodes #27-30. The OAV chapters pick up where the original ended. Additional complications arise, only some of which make sense. Although Darcia has been stabbed with a poisoned sword, he reappears two episodes later—in the process of transforming himself into a wolf, so he can reach the promised paradise. Eventually the story comes to a protracted, weepy ending, that some blather from Cheza about how the flowers will one day bloom again, fails to leaven.

Wolf’s Rain is an interesting and sometimes compelling series, which make the often clumsy storytelling doubly frustrating. It could easily have been more than it is.

Wolf’s Rain: The Complete Series
Funimation: $64.98 9 discs, Blu-ray and DVD

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen, and The Making of Peanuts Animation. Solomon's "The Art of Toy Story 3" will be published by Chronicle this spring.
Charles Solomon
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