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Wolf's Rain

In a post-apocalyptic future, four wolves in human form seek a fabled paradise at world's end

*Wolf's Rain
*Vol. 1: Leader of the Pack (eps. 1-5)
*Bandai Entertainment
*125 min.
*MSRP: $29.98 hybrid DVD

Review by
Tasha Robinson

A ccording to an ancient legend, when the world is finally coming to an end, a path to paradise will open. But only wolves will be able to find that path. Unfortunately, in the miserable post-apocalyptic world of Wolf's Rain, wolves died out 200 years ago. Or so most people seem to believe. As the series opens, one wolf is living in a domed city in human form, as the leader of a street gang that performs periodic daring raids on the supply transports destined for the upper-class Nobles. Tsume isn't terribly popular among his gang, because of his recklessness and his apparent complete lack of interest in whether they live or die. But he does show an interest when they find what appears to be a huge, wounded, dying dog.

Our Pick: A

That dog turns out to be Kiba, another wolf and a proud, standoffish newcomer to the city. Thanks to his clash with Tsume and his run-in with the fanatical wolf hunter Quent Yaiden, Kiba is shot and taken to a laboratory, where he meets a third wolf, a young, amiable fellow named Hige. Meanwhile, Tsume runs into yet another wolf—Toboe was raised as a human pet, and is at a loss and looking for friends after the death of his caretaker.

Through coincidence or fate, all four wolves end up together, hunted by Quent and questioning what brought them to the city. Kiba claims they were drawn there by the scent of a flower—specifically, the Flower Maiden, a woman supposedly crafted from "Lunar Flowers" and somehow key to the paradise prophecy. The Flower Maiden, Cheza, is being held in a laboratory under the city, kept in stasis by scientists who keep her floating in fluid in a giant glass ball.

Kiba and Hige attempt to penetrate the lab's security and get to Cheza, but before they can a mysterious Noble with supernatural powers shuts the lab down, puts all the humans instantly to sleep and removes Cheza from her prison. Confronting the wolves, he says he'll meet them in paradise. Then he disappears, and a 30-episode quest begins.

A melancholy mystery

The repetitive character interaction between Wolf's Rain's four protagonists gets tiresome by the second episode. Tsume, a stereotypical angry anime loner, snaps and snarls and storms off every few minutes, while Toboe keeps insisting he's a nice guy and going after him, no matter how many times, or how rudely, Tsume tries to drive him away. Hige is good-natured but obsessive about creature comforts, while Kiba, the visionary, is obsessive about paradise. Watching the same dynamics play out between them over and over does become annoying.

But that's about the only misstep in an otherwise very different and very intriguing series. The wolf-men of Wolf's Rain aren't werewolves; they don't change form so much as give off the illusion of human shape. This leads to a lot of interesting visuals, as the show switches back and forth between what a human observer might see and what's actually happening—as when Tsume attempts to "grab" a gang member who's falling off a pipe high above the city and actually sinks his canine teeth into the boy's shoulder. The show makes it clear that wolves neither think nor act like humans, no matter what they might do to fit in. And a lot of the series' most interesting dynamics come from wolves behaving like wolves in human environments—breaking up into packs (complete with obvious hierarchies), challenging each other for dominance, fighting to defend their turf and so forth. Non-human protagonists aren't unknown in anime, but a series this centered on them is highly unusual.

And Wolf's Rain is also unusually well executed, both visually and as a total package. The animation is gorgeous and intense, and Yoko Kanno's soundtrack is, as always, highly diverse and unusual, with many different genres surfacing to bolster specific tones. So far, Wolf's Rain has come across as sort of a melancholy mystery, with a great deal of very dynamic and exciting action mixed in. A lot of questions remain unanswered, but the series is moving forward rapidly, and so far it seems very much worth the ride.

Bandai's produced a very solid English-language dub for this release, and the disc extras are nice, too—they include a cast interview, along with a pile of trailers and teasers, plus the textless opening and closing animation. — Tasha

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