It’s quite easy to forget, eight years on, how frustrating it was to watch Wolf’s Rain when it was airing. Not only did the series slap its fans with no less than four back-to-back flashback episodes, retelling the events of the first half of the season from the point of view of each principal character, but it did not end properly, so that we had to wait six months for four final OVA episodes.
On the other hand, it was well worth the wait. Wolf’s Rain has endured very well over the years, and often gets recommended highly, picking up waves of new fans who don’t have to put up with the recaps and delays. Yoko Kanno’s music, riding on the wave of popularity Cowboy Bebop had brought her, was excellent – if not as good as Bebop’s OSTs – and another collaboration with Steve Conte brought a memorable and uplifting opening theme. The end song, with Sakamoto Maaya, is one of my favourite anime tracks of all time, at least in its short form. The production standards are mixed, some episodes looking far better than others and some seeming barely to move, but the overall aesthetic of the piece is excellent, with very interesting and instantly memorable character designs and great ideas about two images of the same person overlapping in ways that aren’t always clear yet never need to be overanalysed.
The concept is strong. In a grim future, wolves have learned to pass as humans in order to survive. Unlike humans, they can sense ‘Lunar Flowers’ and are compelled to seek out the ‘Flower Maiden’ who will lead them to a Paradise. With the end of the world approaching, though, there are humans who want to find their way to Paradise themselves, and some believe that it is the wolves’ blood that will open the way.
Central to the story are the wolves who come together at first unwillingly, but soon learn to rely upon one another. Kiba (‘Fang’) is our main character, determined but taciturn and standoffish. Hige (‘Whiskers’) is the comic relief, an easygoing and laid-back wolf who helps bring the others together. Tsume (‘Claw’), with his daft Village People leathers, is the cynical fighter, a little arrogant to disguise his loneliness. Then there is Toboe (‘Howling’), the adorable juvenile with a great desire for affection – especially from humans – and a diffident nature. They are later joined by Blue, the female wolf-dog with a past she is ashamed of, as well as Cheza the flower maiden, who they all consider a kind of mother figure. Pursuing them is fearsome masked Darcia, hoping to save the love of his life.
In the end, the story collapses under its own weight, even with the long-awaited OVAs. There’s an inevitable need for tragedy, but it all becomes rushed and artificial and relies on antagonists going insane in a rather unconvincing way. While the final scenes stop short of everyone coming back to life for a happy ending, it really isn’t far off, and rings false.
But other than a difficult ending and pacing issues, the series is incredibly enjoyable and revolves not around quests or fights or animal nature, but characters interacting and growing from lone wolves to a pack of mutually reliant comrades. In story terms, it was ultimately unsatisfying, but in terms of memorable ideas and great characters, it remains a favourite of mine and always will.