What They Say:
Paradise-a legend, a myth, and a hopeless dream in a world that has become a wasteland. It is not meant for everyone, only the wolves thought to be extinct yet still roam the lands. When the Flower Maiden awakens, the path to the end will open.
Kiba, a lone white wolf, wanders into a poverty stricken city on a quest. The scent of Lunar Flowers and the will to find Paradise is all he has. Along the way, he runs into other outcast wolves: Tsume, Hige, and Toboe, each with their own story and troubles. Fate bringing them together, and together they seek out the Flower Maiden, Cheza, and their way to Paradise.
But, doing so is no simple matter. Up against a world that fears them and a man with mysterious abilities, their journey is overrun with challenges and worse-sacrifices. With limited time, they must fight to protect Cheza against everyone who seeks her and discover the hidden path to their destiny. This group of broken souls will form a pack and take their journey to the doors of Paradise. But is it worth the end of the world?
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo and the previously created English language track in 5.1, both of which are encoded with the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series is one that does have its moments of action where the mix stands out a bit more but it’s mostly all about the dialogue with some well placed moments from time to time. With some of it being a bit disconnected from the character such as when the wolves talk it has a fuller sound to it but for the most part we get a decent mix where placement is solid as needed and there’s a sense of loneliness that comes from it all. The music is a natural big draw here, especially that opening sequence, and it has the right warmth and richness to it that connects well. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2003, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirty episodes are spread across four discs with nine each on the first three and three on the fourth where we also get the extras. Animated by Bones, the show has a solid look to it, though it’s one that you wish they had made the transition to widescreen at this point to really drive home the landscapes and bleakness of it all. There’s a washed out design to the colors here that works well and it lets the details stand out when we get them as it works a simple design for the backgrounds, which helps the character to stand out all the more. The animation is fluid when it gets moving and the encoding handles it all very well with a clean and problem free look to it. It’s not a show that stands out in a big way with its encoding because of how it was animated but this is the best it’s looked in a North American release.
The packaging for this release comes in an oversized Blu-ray case to hold the multiple discs for both formats that are all on hinges. The o-card replicates the cover artwork as it goes for something stylish with the illustration of the main characters together, the wolf aspect where the logo is, and the framing of it all. It looks good and certainly stands out amid other pieces but it’s not one that really catches my attention because of the muted colors and how busy it feels in a lot of ways. The back cover keeps to the same overall style and has a good section for the summary of the premise and breakdown of the extras. The shots from the show are tiny and wasted for the most part and we get a very clean and easy to read technical grid. While there are no inserts with the release we do get more artwork on the reverse side with pieces that are a bit less busy, I especially like the one with Cheza, but they mostly fall into the same problem in that they’re more niche visuals than something to really draw in a wider audience.
Working off of some of the design elements from the show itself, we get a kind of split screen with lots of different shapes where clips from the show play through, done up through a kind of grayscale filter with minimal color to reinforce the bleakness – but not really grayscale. THe logo is kept through the middle in white and looks okay but the clips themselves and the fractured nature of it doesn’t really present anything in a good way while the color tone just makes it bleaker than it needs to be. The navigation along the bottom is a standard off-white strip that takes up a decent bit of space with small thin text for the selections themselves. Everything works smoothly and easily as both the main menu and as a pop-up menu during playback so it’s functional at least. Overall, the menu gets the job done but doesn’t add anything to the presentation or property.
The extras for this are pretty good as it looks like they brought what we had from the Bandai releases here in standard definition. That means the clean opening and closings that exist and some of the original Japanese promos for the show. We also get the pilot film material, which is definitely interesting in its style to see how it transitioned between it and the series, as well as a pair of brief cast interview pieces from Japan that are between six to eight minutes each. We also get a decent slightly longer interview piece with the staff that adds just a touch more color to the project.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Originally airing in 2003 and getting a quick release in North America in 2004, Wolf’s Rain came at a time when animation studio Bones was definitely riding high off of some solid projects. They had became one of the go-to studios for some of the more intricate and lavish productions out there, even if the stories didn’t connect well, such as projects like RahXephon. Their attention to detail is both a plus and a minus, however, making it kind of dicey getting into a series they work on when it comes to original material and with this series in particular. The plus side is obvious when you watch the show and you realize just how absorbing it is in the world building going on here and time spent allowing the characters to breathe. The minus side showed up more heavily for Japanese fans who had to deal with a series of four recap episodes occurring in the late teen section of the series. So by that count, Wolf’s Rain is thirty episodes long, but is still really just a twenty-six episode series.
Revisiting this series after seeing it across seven single discs well over a decade ago, Wolf’s Rain is an intriguing series but one that looks to take on the journey formula to some extent. Annoyingly so as it progresses because it becomes the kind of series where the journey is what’s supposed to matter but it plods along far too much. The setting is some time in mankind’s future and things simply are not going well at all. Humanity seems to be regressing in some ways, the bulk of the populace is holed up in worn out domed cities that are falling apart but there’s still some semblance to life as we know it. Out on the train lines that connect these pockets of civilization you’ve got raiders that try to disable and steal the goods contained within them but both sides are pretty heavily armed so there’s lots of violence going on there.
One of the things that seems to stick with a lot of people is the extinction of the wolves some 200 years ago from the planet. The reason for their being driven to the ground isn’t given early on, but there’s a reverence and a hatred for the creatures that most people say no longer exist. But there’s a legend that has persisted over time that when the end of the world comes, a Paradise will be revealed and the wolves shall lead the way to it. So depending on your perspective, you could see the wolves as the saviors as they’ll lead the way to this Paradise. Or, if you believe them to be extinct but they start showing up again, it means the end is near for mankind and it’s all doom from here on out.
In the opening part of the series, the main thrust is to bring together the people who will make this journey. Four very different wolves, who see each other as both wolves and humans much as most humans see them as just humans but occasionally as wolves (often mistaking them for dogs), come together in one of the domed cities. The eldest of them all, Tsume, is still something of a young man but he’s hardened against the world and uses humans for his own purposes. He leads a small group of humans to raid the trains and to cause trouble in general, but mostly just to amuse himself as there really isn’t much to look forward to in life. But his life changes as three other wolves slowly make their way into his life and the city. The first is Kiba, a young white wolf who has “come down from the mountains” and into the city in search of the Lunar Flowers, a woman who will supposedly be important to the wolves in achieving Paradise. He’s had her scent for some time and has found himself drawn to this city where she is.
His time in the city and after a brawl with Tsume leads him to be captured by the police and kept in the same place where the Flower Maiden actually is, though she’s fairly sedated and not aware of her surroundings. Kiba’s not revealed himself in human form and is considered just a wild dog to be checked out after the incident. But Kiba’s time is short in his jail as another wolf, Hige, a more happy-go-lucky type, has been searching throughout the compound for the Flower Maiden as well and stumbled across a fellow wolf. The two of them end up pairing up for awhile and try to decide the best course of action for finding her and figuring out what’s drawing them to her.
Along the way, they end up getting caught up in a hunting session that’s the lifelong mission of a grizzly old man named Quent and his vicious dog. The two have spent years hunting down wolves and he comes across as something of a fanatic since he talks of wolves looking like humans and being among them and stealing their lives. He spends some time initially tracking Kiba but then comes across another younger wolf named Toboe, a wolf that’s grown up in the city with an elderly woman who looked after him. Quent ends up driving him underground and he meets up with Tsume, who can’t stand a wolf like him since he’s basically been domesticated to some extent.
The various forces that have been at play bring things to a head when the woman who could lead them to Paradise is abducted by a Noble, someone who lives above the rest of humanity and seems to have amazing powers and technology at their disposal. The Noble’s arrival in the compound sets into motion the events that finally brings all the wolves together and the realization that they are indeed in search of this woman and that the city offers them nothing else anymore. There are some great fight and escape sequences that lead up through this as they all come together and then try to figure out how to get back into the real world and out of this small tomb of humanity so that they can find their way to Paradise.
Unfortunately, once we get past this, Wolf’s Rain kind of plods along for the bulk of its run – and that’s not even talking about the recap episodes. As a lot of viewers will note in watching anime or most serialized shows over the years, it’s often not the destination that makes a show work but the journey itself. Revisiting this after so many years and marathoning it over two days instead of watching it over something like seven months really does change your view of it. The show has some neat ideas to it with how the world is put together, the wolve’s themselves, and the way humanity views it all, but it doesn’t take long for the journey aspect itself to fall apart. Its main weakness is that it really is just very uninteresting. The four main wolves do bond in their own way over the course of it and it has the right kind of pack mentality to it but it also doesn’t provide enough for them to really break out of their archetypes. And with little in the way of true backgrounds here set against this bleak end of the world view, well, there’s not much to engage in with each character to make them more. The function well as the archetypes but they aren’t able to be more than that, keeping things fairly flat and one-dimensional overall. Which is unfortunate because there’s potential for more.
But what really got me over the course of it through the marathon aspect is just how little really does change until we get to this bigger moments toward the end, which don’t carry the right way since there aren’t strong enough characters to give it the impact it needs. What you end up seeing are some decent moments with some of the supporting cast that grows along the way from time to time, since they have a chance to actually have some form of backstory beyond just being a wolf, but the core group come across as though they’re stuck in a cycle they can’t break out of. This is reinforced even more when we get to the recap episodes and see just how little they found in those first fourteen episodes for each of the characters to draw out and work with. Frankly, you could start by watching the recap episodes and move forward from there and truly not miss anything meaningful, which puts me back into that position that this series was twice as long as it needed to be as they thought they could make it work with the right kind of bleak emotional weight they were trying for but couldn’t make compelling.
Wolf’s Rain is a show that I certainly had some nostalgia for as it came during a particular heyday and release style that made for some compelling viewing. Revisiting it now has me looking at it differently as I’m watching it in a way I wasn’t before and it just didn’t hold me. There are some really neat ideas to work with here and I love the animation for the wolves as well as some of the conceptual ideas for how this particular time and place in the world works, but it felt like it dropped the ball on a lot of things when it came to creating the world and exploring it so that it was compelling, particularly through the characters that never rise above their archetype of projected arc. Funimation’s release is definitely welcome as this is a show that has been out of the market too long and they did a lot right with it that should please fans that will be excited to have it in such excellent form.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Cast Interview 1, Cast Interview 2, Staff Interview Pilot Film, Promo Film 1, Promo Film 2, 15-Second Promos, Textless Opening and Closing Songs
Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: February 7th, 2017
Running Time: 750 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.