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Wolf’s Rain Ultimate Edition UK Blu-ray Anime Review

15 min read

Time to howl at the memories…

What They Say:
Paradise – a legend, a myth, and a hopeless dream in a world that 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 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 out-cast wolves – Tsume, Hige, and Toboe, each with their own story and troubles. Fate bringing them 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?
Contains episodes 1 to 30 on Blu-Ray with both the English dub and the original Japanese track with English subtitles. Presented in Collectors packaging.

Extras/Episodes:
• Contains episodes 1 to 30
• 100 page book/artbook
• A3 posters (x2)

The Review:
Audio:
The Blu-Ray has an English 5.1 and a Japanese 2.0 release – there were no complications of the audio throughout the release and the 5.1 option definitely comes through well with no need to adjust default settings on the audio system I was using. There were no transition problems with the audio and the subtitles/action so in that respect it was fine – the dub track on the Blu-Ray was slightly adjustable but again, nothing hugely problematic. Considering the series age (2003/2004) it is a well-transitioned release (that soundtrack is as amazing as ever) and well adjusted to Blu-Ray.

Video:
Because it is an older release, the video is set in 4:3 aspect ratio so it is still in a ¾ screen format (with black bars on the side) and does feel more of a DVD release in that regard but the clarity of the animation comes through incredibly well despite this so it isn’t wholly distracting, the animation still comes through fantastic combining the dark gritty atmosphere and the change of style from human to wolf flawlessly (the winds during the snow sequences were excellent for example) combined with no repeated animation, therefore it still transfers well onto the screen, with no real noticeable issues. This definitely feels like one of the better older transfers though I wish it could have been in the more up to date ratio so it filled up the screen…

Packaging:
There was no packing for this test release, however for the mega edition there is a lot of bonuses if you get it – a 100-page artbook, 3 A3 posters and 9 postcards along with the collector’s packaging.

Menu:
The menu is a moving diamond-like wall with clips of episodes shown in all of them whilst it moves around to show more stuff – this is the same on all 4 discs with discs 1-3 having Play All, Episodes and Set Up, with disc 4 having Extras. All easily selectable and like most Blu-Rays instantaneous with your choice, along with having the pop-up menu to return to which selection you wish (which does include extras for a change). Visually appealing and very quick = good menu.

Extras:
There are a ton of extras for this massive release – first of we get a couple of cast interviews from the original Japanese crew – the first one is of the four main wolves, played by Mamoru Miyano (Kiba), Kenta Miyake (Tsume), Hiroki Shimowada (Toboe) and Akio Suyami (Hige), whilst the second one consists of the other main characters, in Unshou Ishizuka (Quent), Takaya Kuroda (Darcia), Arisa Ogasawara (Cheza), Kaho Koda (Cher) and Mitsuru Miyamoto (Hubb). The interviews all follow the same pattern; they talk about their character, the scene that gave them the most trouble and a message about the show to the fans. There are a few shots of them performing in the studio and some fun moments as well (some are veterans, some like Arisa this was their first role at the time) which underbalanced the questions.

Then we get the staff interview, which is more of a brief behind the scenes tour – here we have Masahiko Minami (Producer) who talks about his work on Cowboy Bebop and how wanted to make a story of a wolves journey as the basics, the time and historic setting of the show (having a pseudo fantasy theme), working with Yoko Kanno (once again creating awesome music) with other clips involving Tensai Okamura (Director) and Kazuhiro Wakabayashi (Sound Director) regarding their roles in the production of the show.

We get a Pilot Film which is basically a long trailer with no dialogue but words on the screen whilst the beautiful ending song Gravity plays, which talks about Paradise as exposition and clips play whilst introducing the characters.

We get two short promo films and 4 15 second promotions as well, and then the clean opening and ending (episode 1 and 27 versions), as well as the clean version of the song ‘Tell Me What The Rain Knows’ when the group manages to escape Darcia setting up the final arc.

Lastly, we have Trailers for the 20th Anniversary Escaflowne, Red Data Girl, Summer Wars and Nobungan.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Wolf’s Rain on Blu-Ray.

And the heavens opened.

Wolf’s Rain is one of those classic series that almost universally got critically acclaimed. Released in Japan originally in 2003, it had several licences in both the US and UK before rescued by Funimation and Anime Limited respectively (with Madman still holding the licence in Australia) – with huge thumbs up for the characters, storyline, plot and atmosphere, it has held a special place in a lot of old school fans for a long time. In fact, I saw it at the first Amecon in Oadby back in 2004 before looking for it myself and buying it.

It has however probably been close to a decade since I last saw it, so is it as good as I remember, or has age made it lose some of its shine? Let’s find out…

The plot, in essence, is a journey made by 4 wolves – however, the interesting thing is the wolves are also seen as humans…and can be seen as wolves. The legend goes that a place called Paradise will appear which wolves can find – however they have been dead for over 200 years ago. That said, there are visions that they still exist…

Enter our lead character Kiba, who goes into a place called Freeze City, your usual run down town of scum and villainy. He is found by a group of thieves lead by a man named Tsume, who is actually also a wolf as is Kiba – their fight reacts a woman in a laboratory named Cheza, which becomes integral to the Paradise plot. After being shot by a wolf hunger named Quent, we meet our other human leads Hubb, a kind hearted but sceptical scientist, and his ex-wife Cher (they clearly still have feelings for each other, but the arc is that Cher’s work on Cheza as a sign for Paradise is what broke them up). With Kiba caught, we have our third wolf appear, a jokester named Hige who helps Kiba escape and head to Paradise, and episode 2 gets us our 4th wolf, a young one named Toboe who kind of becomes acquaintances with Tsume, but forgive the joke, Tsume is a very lone wolf character (at first) despite the young pups admiration of him,

Kiba and Hige are in tune that this Cheza is the key to Paradise, and thus we know need a true antagonist as Quent is a constant thorn on their sides, but with every rundown down, he have the higher ups believing they are better than the commoners, a.k.a. the Nobles. We are introduced to one of them, named Darcia, who is definitely a bit more powerful than the average human and basically kidnaps Cheza as he seems interested in Paradise as well…

So the plot is three way, the wolves soon will get together with their differing personality (Kiba the silent but strong leader, Hige the comic relief, Toboe the young upstart follower and Tsume the gruff one who doesn’t like anyone) chasing after Darcia, Darcia’s own plot on why he wants to find Paradise despite being human, and the three humans discovering the wolves for their own reasons (Cher for Cheza, Hubb for Cher and his own interest, and Quent for revenge as wolves apparently killed his family). The wolves basically have a lot of episodic adventures which is a way for them to meet others, see how they feel if they are discovered as wolves, running from the enemy, and developing as characters – this is in turn with learning about Quent’s past and how complicated the Cher/Hubb relationship is. It all manages to fit quite well through as this is quite a decent length series (26 episodes and 4 OVA episodes) – with the wolves after Cheza, finding other wolves (who are used like slaves but seem to accept it much to Kiba’s anger), the constant threat of starvation, the relevance of a book used in Cher’s research (The Howl Of The Moon) and Darcia being attacked by Cher’s soldiers to retrieve Cheza. It leads to Cheza being awoken as the Lunar Flower who is destined to showcase the wolves to Paradise – despite being blind, she can sense the wolves and quickly develops a fondness and care for them, especially Kiba, and using her manipulation with plants they are able to escape which leads to another episodic section but with Cheza involved. The inclusion of Cheza is part love interest for Kiba but also part exposition as her powers and connection with the wolves become further explored as you see why she is such an influence on them…

With them on a journey, the character of Quent has his own adventure to find them – one thing not mentioned is his own dog named Blue, who you will soon learn is more than meets the eye…he interacts with both Cher and later with Hubb as you learn more about his past, his alcohol addiction and his rage which is the only thing that keeps him standing against wolves. Of course, this soon gets questioned and especially at the end, as a big moment when he thinks Blue had hurt a child (it was in fact some cocky soldiers who apparently were part of a wolf extermination squad) but when Blue gets hurt, he sadly abandons her to go after the wolves, but due to contact with Cheza…yes, you probably guessed but Blue is also part wolf, which becomes pivotal in the next arc…(especially the reveal as Cheza is not destined to live long)

With more Nobles getting involved (including one in love with Darcia, who is in fact trying to find Paradise to bring back his deceased beloved – Darcia explains in more detail to Cher of all people about this) the wolves nearly find Paradise but are stopped by Darcia – and he’s kind of overpowered so Cheza returns to him to avoid the wolves getting killed – however he can’t save Harmona his girlfriend and goes insane. Meanwhile, Blue joins the wolves as a female wolf (and immediately gets a connection with Hige despite some mistrust because of her association with Quent), with Quent and Hubb now joining forces to find the wolves and also the missing Cher who has escaped from Darcia…

The group do find Darcia and do rescue Cheza as all the main players do bring back together, with Darcia now having to go find them again, only this time more for Paradise in another way…

The wolves are separated (Kiba and Cheza one way, the others another) with a few more travels and exposition (the Iyek tribe being a personal favourite as Toboe is growing up and wants to stay there – in hindsight might have been a better idea but Kiba does end up there, and with it not being the real Paradise, Toboe does return to them – he later manages to kill a walrus being showing how much he has grown as a fighter and as a person, Tsume in particular has also developed into liking the group especially the young pup). However, the biggest character turn is Hige, who has been tricked from the very start and it is revealed that he has a tracker in his collar, which explains how all the soldiers have managed to always track them down, and eventually everyone is captured – he feels incredibly broken due to his unknowing betrayal, and eventually he helps save them which in turn, lets them save Cheza with some other big plot points (like Darcia’s would be lady Jaguara being jealous of Harmona, and the fact the wolves did not kill Quent’s family)…

The last big arc is everyone escaping together in wolves and humans, with Darcia revealed to be part wolf, part Noble, tracking them. Of course an injured Quent when he wakes up isn’t happy being with wolves but it’s a moot point, because the last four episodes are a cluster of emotions. Without spoiling too much, a lot of characters die, we learn Darcia’s reasons for Paradise, and the ending is incredibly poignant but also tragic, and is one of those ones you just have to watch for yourself…

Wolf’s Rain came just as I was getting into anime in the early 2000s, which for a lot of people, a lot of the top tier shows came from – and Wolf’s Rain is mentioned a lot in these. And I agree. It is a rollercoaster – it is very intelligent story-telling, and the character development is superb. Switching from the wolves to the humans to Darcia, there is so much going on that it is inter-woven so perfectly – granted it has 30 episodes to do so but it does so with effortless storytelling.

The four wolves are all a perfect contrast to each other – Kiba ironically maybe the weakest of the four in terms of development as he is very stubborn, silent but once he meets Cheza, his determination and strength/leadership are not questioned. Hige is the big eater and fun member but when he realises he has unintentionally led the wolves into traps, he feels like he doesn’t belong and it’s his growing relationship with Blue combined with the others now bonded as a family that makes him snap out of it. Toboe is the youngest and the most energetic, but also most worried he is holding the group down, and when he starts to grow up, his last scenes (especially with Quent) show just how much the kid is loved and how he has grown up. And last but not least, Tsume probably has the most development of the bunch, from gruff untrusting warrior, to battle hard warrior with a heart of gold (his story of telling Toboe about his scar near the end is surprisingly tear-jerking), when he smiles you know it’s genuine and even the hints were here right at the beginning with his old gang…

And it isn’t just the wolves – the story is just as focused on the humans. Cher and Hubb have one of those amicable break up relationships which shows the two still ooze love for each other, but like a lot of relationships, the focus on work and career can screw that up (personally experience here) – Hubb is a loveable everyman who knows his limits but still holds an upbeat and friendly disposition especially with Cher and Quent, and him learning about the wolves throughout and slowly learning and accepting is a big part of his character, which leads to a rather telling ending for him. Cher as well goes through as a surprising confidant of Darcia, her love for Hubb still there as her conflict over him vs. work is throughout, and is the one most believing of the wolves as her connection with Cheza floats throughout. Cheza herself as a plant entity seems just there to be a god to the wolves, but she also gets her development as she goes through self sacrifice, her powers limited to the energy and water (like a plant) and the scenes with Kiba are surprisingly sweet. My favourite of the gang is Quent though, the gruff old alcoholic that his thirst for revenge appears to be the only thing keeping him alive, he’s surprisingly likeable despite that as he too grows through development, and whilst for most of the show his hatred for the wolves is still there to the point of not believing Blue about his past, the ending redeems him entirely to the point of utter heartbreak.

Lastly, the villain Darcia is a perfect villain. He is overpowered yet still has some vulnerability – he has a complex past and legit reasons (which become way more apparent by the end) for finding Paradise, but still comes off as a complete monster just simply by being better than the others. His past, his way that he spares Cher yet not his fellow Nobles (again, more apparent why when the series gets near the end) shows he has some compassion, but also nothing will get in his way of what he wants. By the end, the symbolism of what he has become combined with what happens (the last few scenes can be interpreted so many ways) means that he won…but he lost. It’s a very telling and intelligent finale that you can rewatch so many ways.

So this is a near perfect series – even today it is totally watchable and has utterly few flaws.

BUT….(gets ready to defend himself)…there are 2 things that stop it from being a top grade.

The first is the totally unneeded 4 episodes that were used as recap episodes – this was near the end of the series as well and despite the narration of the characters, it really wasn’t needed and just made the series feel a tad more dragged. And secondly when Darcia is revealed with his secret at the end, the way he basically goes through all the good guys feels like most of the battles and wits happened before this was basically for nought and felt very rushed and lowered the impact of the tragic tear jerking moments that have happened. The one with Toboe and Quent was very well done, but after that it just felt that this could have been developed far better instead of the aforementioned recap episodes. You could argue a lot of the episodic scenes could have been condensed because they weren’t integral to the Paradise storyline – personally, I felt they still worked well because it shows other wolves, other entities similar to Cheza which further developed the relevant characters so I was fine with them, but if you wanted to condense the series, some of these could have been shortened or even removed – that said, thanks to the interesting human characters, these episodes still furthered the story so it’s just something that is your cup of tea or not.

Minor gripes aside, this is a series that nostalgia goggles haven’t filtered, so older fans will love to see how clear this series is on Blu-Ray, and new fans can see a wolves journey and just get integrated into this story which can be seen as simply any fantasy series, and just get engrossed in it. Love it.

In Summary:
Wolf’s Rain was considered a classic back in the day and is still a classic in today’s market. The journey of some young wolves searching for Paradise is a heroes journey with a lot of bumps in the road, made even more interesting thanks to the human characters and a fantastic villain. Little to fault bar a few minor things, Wolf’s Rain engages intelligent story with developing characters, a finale that can be interpreted many ways, a few tears shed, a few laughs engaged, and a lot of appreciation for the ethic and design. The ultimate pack is a bit pricey but you get a lot for it, and definitely a series for both young and old. Highly recommended.

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: A-

Released By: Funimation via Anime Limited
Release Date: April 4th, 2018
MSRP: £109.99
Running Time: 650 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
PlayStation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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