It used to be the case that if you wanted to start a fight in an anime clubroom, all you had to do was stand up and proclaim “Wolf’s Rain is pretentious” and watch the chaos unfold. Fandom has since moved on. Now they get fights about whether Madoka Magica is a deconstruction or not. I’m going to see if I can rekindle a few of those old flames by calling Wolf’s Rain a load of pretentious old twaddle. Also Madoka Magica is a deconstruction. Also also Lelouch is not the cart driver.
Wolf’s Rain is set in the pre-apocalypse where the world is being slowly destroyed by oppressive grey screen filters. The story follows a bunch of boys as they track from city to wilderness in search of a nebulous concept called ‘Paradise’. The boys are actually Wonderful Outstanding Lovely Fellows, or W.O.L.F’s, who have deceived humanity into believing the W.O.L.F’s all look like humans because otherwise humans are just too jealous of the W.O.L.F’s so they try to wipe them out. Along the way each of the W.O.L.F’s go on a voyage of self-discovery while meeting a variety of interesting characters trying to work out why the world is ending.
Despite my snarky tone, there is a lot of good things to say about Wolf’s Rain. The characters are well-rounded and flawed in interesting ways. My favourite characters were normally the humans because the four main W.O.L.Fs didn’t act very human. Which might be intentional, but in particular with the poster boy Kiba it was very hard to get invested in his story when he felt so inhuman with his actions. It was more like he was a robot following a programme in his brain than someone governed by emotions. The humans were way more interesting because you actually understood why it was they were going to the great lengths they did. Some of my favourite episodes were when it was just two of the humans chilling out, chatting with each other. One that sticks out in my mind was when the alcoholic wolf-hunter and the divorced husband spent an entire episode driving across the wasteland. It allowed the anime to show a rare sense of humour while also giving us plenty of time to get deep into these character’s minds.
On a slightly less positive note, while the animation is certainly impressive, the grey landscape on grey buildings on grey characters makes the show very repetitive and dull. 2003 was around the period TV animation started to get to grips with fully digital animation and no longer look universally awful, and Wolf’s Rain is one of the most technically proficient anime from that year. But it’s so grim and grimy and endlessly grey that it’s boring to look at. There’s no stylised decay in the style of Casshern Sins. This is the realistic concrete building apocalypse. It may be intentional, but that doesn’t stop it from being boring. Similarly with the W.O.L.F characters. They are supposed to not feel quite human in their actions and thoughts. It’s a plot point that they act like there’s a radar in their mind governing their actions rather than logical or emotional thought. But that still means they are difficult to have any emotional attachment to. It makes their actions feel like tools to move the plot along rather than that of people.
The tone of the overall story is…I’m not sure if there’s a word in English for it. Full of itself? Head jammed firmly up its own arse? Chuunibyou? Imagine a man wearing a trenchcoat indoors just hiding an Iron Maiden t-shirt with sideburns and a neckbeard. Or a lady with badly dyed purple hair, trousers with 50 million chains and pockets on them and wearing black eyeliner. Or just imagine the early-mid 00’s emo culture. Imagine someone like that watching this show and explaining to you:
“You just don’t understand man. The wolves are, like, misunderstood by society just like me. Other humans just don’t understand them so they have to isolate themselves from the scum. But that’s OK because they are the ones that will achieve paradise when everyone else succumbs the capitalist materialist apocalypse. It will be the noble wolves that reach paradise. I identify with the wolves because society doesn’t understand me so I deceive everyone into thinking I’m human but actually I’m a wild beast who is just searching for paradise. Oh please take me away wolves where I can’t be persecuted hey listen to my poetry about how I became a wolf and got a sexy wolf wife and then we hey wait where are you going pah just another person afraid of my inner wolf.”
The story is supposed to be about the world being reborn to wipe away sin, but humanity doesn’t appear to have committed any sins. The biggest sin they appear to have committed is not have the luck to be born as a W.O.L.F. There’s this over-arching story about how this noble tried to become a wolf, which is far and away the stupidest part of the whole story with the most embarrassingly awful dialogue and dumbest plot twists, who again seems to be only punished because he’s not a W.O.L.F. My snarky W.O.L.F. thing is because there’s no reason as to why wolves are the creatures that open paradise, beyond idk wolves are cool animals. While I thought the anime was generally serviceable throughout the airing run, by the time it reached the end I was starting to realise the whole thing barely had a purpose. The final episodes were just ‘everyone dies in melodramatic fashion’, but I got no sense as to why they had to die so the whole thing felt pointless.
Which leads me to my big final point: Wolf’s Rain is pretentious. It’s plenty ambitious and got loads of highfalutin but no over-arching theme to back it up. ‘Everyone must die for their sins for the world to be reborn and also wolves are cool’ appear to be the extent of the themes. Elfen Lied was also really big around the same time, so I’m just going to blame Wolf’s Rain’s popularity on the emo culture that was hip with nerds at the time.