Its the distant future and the Earth has been caught in an endless winter. Humanity has pressed on as it is known to do by building enclosed communities where they can keep the weather at just where they need it to be in order to eek out what little living they can brazenly defying the worsening condition of the world around them. Theirs is a world on the brink of apocalypse and according to an old legend its heralds will not be humans themselves But wolves. But didnt wolves go extinct 200 years ago? Well no they didnt. They acquired the ability to project the image of humans upon themselves and to the eyes of most of us they can walk among the general public completely undetected. Whether they act on it or not these wolves are drawn to the presence of an entity called The Lunar Flower a mysterious white plant thats supposed to be just as extinct as they are. Four young wolves all abandoned in some way or other have been brought together by circumstance to answer that call braving the elements and countless other dangers in their quest to find Paradise. Its a call theyll follow to the ends of the earth Which according to the legend is exactly whatll happen if they find it. In early 2003 Studio Bones had yet to make a name for itself It had some modest success with Rahxephon and the Cowboy Bebop movie but the big hit that would establish it as one of the top production companies was still about six months from hitting the air waves. The anime world at this point had not yet become accustomed to Bones unmatched aptitude for bleeding beautiful art and animation out of even the smallest of budgets. Well Wolfs Rain isnt one of those cheaper shows It actually went pretty well overbudget and the results speak for themselves. This is one of the most beautiful anime Ive ever seen on almost every conceivable level. There are a few staticky key frames here and there mostly where they wont be noticed by anyone whos not deliberately looking for them but for the vast majority of its run Wolfs Rain is fluidly animated without a single camera angle out of place. From the mundane images of wolves running across a snowy terrain to more fantastical CG images of air ships and mansized computer screens not a penny was wasted in bringing this story to life. And the artwork is even more beautiful The landscapes are mesmerizing even when theyre mostly dominated by hues of white and gray. Whether our lupine heroes are trudging through a blizzard or looking for answers in the many domed cities they come across the intimate level of detail will make you feel as if youre there with them You may even feel the urge to wrap yourself in a blanket during the colder scenes. Character designs are inspired thoughtful and very easy on the eyes. Not only does each design fit its characters personality and story to a T The tough guy is dressed in leather the laidback guy is wearing a baggy hoodie and the forlorn divorced couple are dressed like they stepped off the set of Casablanca to name a few But theyre distinctive enough that even in wolf form youll never have any problem remembering whos who. So the animation is beautiful the artwork is beautiful What about the music? I rarely talk about music as it normally all sounds the same to me but when the name Yoko Kanno is attached to a project that music doesnt fall on ANY deaf ears. Kannos music has built her a sturdy reputation amongst the anime medium and rightfully so In Wolfs Rain she provides a range of different music styles from orchestral to western and oddly enough some rock ballads that have actual English lyrics to them. I recently listened to the RWBY soundtrack And I mean really listened to it And while Ill save my comments on it for another day it did remind me how important it is to build a soundtrack that fits the tone of your show not only musically but also lyrically. Otherwise you wind up with a breakneck paced action song with the lyrics of a solemn breakup song Which is just sloppy. Yoko Kanno understands this and even in English the songs she composes fit the series perfectly adding to the emotional impact of any given scene shes attached to. The English dub of this show is every bit as good as the original Japanese track with a cast of actors that flawlessly transition their characters through gradual subtle development that may be lost on some viewers Which if youre monolingual like I am makes it the better option. Johnny Yong Bosch pulls off what may be one of his best roles ever as Kiba the leader of the pack adding emotional depth to a wistful character who could have easily been portrayed as bland and bythenumbers. Crispin Freeman faced a similar problem playing an allout tsundere character But Tsume is probably one of the best uses of the tsundere trope and Crispin brings his trademarked sincerity to every single step of it. Joshua Seth takes the loveable slacker Hige through some reveals that will honestly leave you speechless once you reach them and Steve Blums Darcia will earn your sympathy as well as your terror sometimes in the same breath. The only real problem I have with the dub is Tomoe played by veteran Mona Marshall Not because of her performance which was outstanding but because no matter how many times I hear her do it I cant buy her as a young boy. The rest of the cast is very natural sounding and subdued with special emphasis on Kari Wahlgren Jessica Straus and an insane cameo from Beau Billingslea halfway through. Despite the caliber of the starring cast the best performance is probably that of Tom Wyner who plays Quent Yaiden an old alcoholic whos sworn vengeance on the wolves for He believes Burning down his village and murdering his family long ago. I mentioned earlier that Studio Bones has some very consistent tendencies in terms of their animation. Well the same can be said at least in their early years about the stories they took on. Wolfs Rain is the third of several consecutive Bones projects that deal with deep complex ideas about faith and humanity as well as the general theme of there being another world parallel to our own. Its also easily the most mature of the group at least as far as Ive seen. It has a very slow pace but its rarely boring as it spend most of its time developing and exploring the intriguing cast of characters and the expansive mysterious world around them. There are very few big moments throughout the bulk of the show but when they happen they happen in huge climactic ways taking every possible advantage of the buildup and development that lead to them. It is thanks to the slow almost meandering suspense that those big moments Whether they be triumphant heartwarming or excruciatingly tragic are able to work as effectively as they do. Youll find yourself pumping your fist with every insurmountable obstacle they overcome from a battle with a giant walrus to the conquering of their own inner demons and youll find yourself crying on more than one occasion as the harsh world around them constantly tests the strength of their bond and no this series is not afraid to rip out your heart and stomp on it. On the surface this is a very simple easy to follow story. Well mostly easy the villain stuff can get a bit complicated. The wolves and their journey to paradise can be taken purely at face value while still being an entertaining watch. However watching with your brain turned off will NOT give you the full experience and itll probably leave you unsatisfied with the ending. Im not the first person to point this out Far from it at this point But there is a wealth of depth symbolism and meaning hidden beneath the snowy surface of this series and while a lot of it finds its roots in Buddhism there is material for any viewer of any faith to latch onto. I wont go into the religious stuff Although I will say that when you realize that wolves are often seen as divine beings in Japan things start to fall into place But what I can go into is the most accessible theme that the series has to offer. That theme ultimately is the struggle to find fulfillment. As the wolves press on through the apocalyptic world they constantly have to decide whether to continue their journey facing unrelenting hardships in the pursuit of something greater or to quit settle down in a town and just exist. This dilemma is explored dozens of times through those that they meet on their journey with entire civilizations leading stagnant existence devoid of purpose to other wolves whove put aside their pride and sold themselves into grueling manual labor just to get by. Is it better to live a long life of complacency or is it better to die in pursuit of a greater more meaningful path? Does true happiness come through survival or struggle? Wolfs Rain puts forth its own definitive answer to this question and makes several very strong cases for what it has to say but it also leaves just enough ambiguity to keep the debate alive in your mind long after the series is over. Unfortunately the show isnt perfect There are two rather glaring flaws in it that even the most appreciative viewer will have to acknowledge. First of all this is the only series Ive ever seen that has four Yes four recap episodes placed right in the middle of the series. If you have the officially released Complete collection DVD set this recap takes up the entire fourth disk and Wolfs Rain catches a lot of flack for it. As it turns out this wasnt a conscious choice on the part of the creators When Wolfs Rain was going through its initial Japanese run there was a SARS outbreak that incapacitated the majority of the people working at the studio. Short on manpower the four recap episodes were put out to fill up the shows time slot until they could get back on their feet again. Its a pretty damn good excuse all things considered and one thats worthy of a little understanding. And to be perfectly honest even before learning that fact Ive watched this series multiple times without ever skipping them. Thats not to say theyre not skippable They totally are But as far as recap episodes go theyre remarkably well put together and each one tells a chunk of the story through the voice of a different supporting character. They also give you a second chance to notice things going on in the series that you may not have picked up on the first time through. Theyre a waste of time but theyre pleasant and I cant really find it in me to condemn them. What I can criticize however is my other problem with the series The wolves illusions are entirely inconsistent. Theres a scene very early on where a young boy is about to fall to his death and a wolfin disguise tries to catch him. Lacking real arms he tries to catch him the way a human would only to end up catching him in his jaws killing him. This implies Nay straight up confirms That they cant interact with people and objects the way that people can and can only act in ways that are physically possible for a wolf. Well then how do they punch and kick things? How can you explain a scene where one wolf punches another through the bars of a cage? How do they hold knives to peoples throats? Its not a big problem but it still bothers me. Wolfs Rain is available from Geneon entertainment and the rights to it have not yet been rescued by company thats still in business which of course means the series is entirely out of print. You can find the collection online but theyre not cheap and youll be lucky if you find a playable copy for less than sixty dollars. At the same time I dont believe there are any legal sites streaming for it so your options are kind of limited here I dont personally condemn the purchase of more affordable Malaysian DVDs as Im pretty sure its not illegal to do so but those things are shady as hell and its about a fiftyfifty shot as to whether or not they work. I dont necessarily condone illegal streaming either but if you dont have the cash to pony up that might just be your only option. Hopefully Funimation will scoop it up and release it as a classic but until that day its the pirates life for ye Wolfs Rain is a very mature show And I mean that in terms of actual maturity not MRated maturity And as such it demands a very mature audience. You have to show it some degree of patience and a willingness to understand the material so it may not resonate with everybody. People who are looking for bombastic action a clear definition of good and evil easy answers and a happysappy ending that ties everything up in a nice big bow For example the Brotherhood is better crowd Will still be able to enjoy it on some level but it may take multiple viewings to pick up on the deeper themes and symbolism that make the otherwise confusing ending work as well as it does. It feels kind of wrong to criticize a show for being too smart but in this particular case it creates an issue of accessibility And when you combine that with the few other minor flaws I cant really bring myaself to sign off on a perfect score. Its a deep profound series thats extremely well executed but it could have stood to go a little easier on the audience. I give wolfs Rain a 9/10.