by Ben Nuñez
In the world of Wolf’s Rain, wolves, who had long been believed to be extinct by the general populace, have been making a sudden reappearance. As it turns out, wolves had somehow managed to disguise themselves and blend in with humans (perhaps it’s mystical, or some sort of psychic ability, because it doesn’t seem to involve any sort of physical transformation). The return of wolves is considered by those familiar with their mythology to be the harbinger of something prophetically significant, a major turning point in the fate of the world.
The first volume of Wolf’s Rain introduces the tale of a young wolf named Kiba, who is on a quest. Along the way he runs into several other wolves who have hidden themselves amongst human society: the rebellious leather-clad Tsume; Hige, a happy-go-lucky fellow who tags along for the heck of it; and Toboe, a young pup just looking to belong. Together they form a pack, and search for Paradise.
Crucial to this search is a young girl named Cheza, quite literally a delicate flower of a person. She is “The Flower Maiden”, bred from “lunar flowers” and believed to be a beacon to Paradise. Locked up in a lab, being studied like some sort of specimen, Cheza’s presence draws the attention not only of Kiba, but also of a mask-clad, mesmerizing individual by the name of Darcia. He is a renegade member of the ruling class of superior technology-wielding Nobles, and kidnaps Cheza for his own mysterious reasons. And so the journey begins.
As the wolves chase after Cheza, they are all in turn pursued by a supporting cast of characters: Quent Yaiden and his dog Blue, to which the vengeful hunt for wolves has become an obsession; Cher Degre, one of the lead scientists in the study of Cheza; and Cher’s ex-husband Hubb Lebowski, a police detective whose investigation into the wolves’ existence gets him involved in their intrigue.
Wolf’s Rain is at its heart a study in character development, as well as group dynamics. Kiba isn’t so much a leader in the traditional sense, being in charge and telling the pack what to do, so much as he takes on the mantle quite literally; Kiba’s companions voluntarily follow his lead. The way they interact with each other, and how they grow due to their interaction, is central to the telling of the story.
Just about everything in Wolf’s Rain seems expertly-rendered, with high production values. Top-notch animation produced by BONES studio is greatly enhanced by Toshihiro Kawamoto’s expressive character designs, Yoko Kanno’s pervasive soundtrack, and solid vocal performances put in by both Japanese and English dub casts.
The English voice track is considerable for the professional quality of the actors across the board, from the main characters and supporting cast, to the people in the background who only recite a few lines of dialogue. Everyone comes across as natural-sounding, as opposed to the over-the-top cartoony caricatures of some anime dubs. This relatively subdued level is a good fit for the oftentimes somber tone of the show.
The animation is impressive with particular regard to the portrayal of the wolves. BONES’ animators have gone to great lengths to capture the wolves’ essence, and the art manages to imbue them with a vitality that makes them believable representations of their real-life counterparts.
Wolf’s Rain is an entertaining, eclectic mix of fantasy and science fiction (both genres seem to pretty much go hand-in-hand these days). The narrative does tend to get slow in spots, which can be attributed to a reflective nature in its storytelling. When the action does kick in, however, it gets downright visceral. Overall, the show definitely has strong appeal.
Volume one, released by Bandai Entertainment, contains the first five episodes of the series. Both English and Japanese dialogue tracks, along with English subtitles, are available. Also included on the first disc are a number of promotional trailers, a textless opening and closing, and an interview with members of the Japanese dub cast.