Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Wolf's Rain: Benefit of the Doubt reviews an anime series

It's striking how a well-handled end note can change the tone of a whole narrative work. I watched the anime series Wolf's Rain this weekend, and I think my opinion of the whole piece hinges on the developments that happened on the final disc, in episodes 27 to 30.

To be clear, I'm not a serious anime/manga buff. I've seen my fair share -- I usually go for essential film-length anime, like Studio Ghibli, Perfect Blue, Ghost in the Shell, Vampire Hunter D, etc. As far as series go, my only full-length viewing experiences have been Neon Genesis Evangelion and Trigun, although I've seen a lot of standalone episodes of other anime. This means Wolf's Rain is my third full anime series experience.

I need to structure this review carefully, because it's largely a spoiler-laden discussion; however, I think my spoilers would actually spoil the whole series for any potential viewers, and I want people to watch this anime and have a full experience of it.

So this is the basic review, for people who are considering watching Wolf's Rain: go for it. I muchly enjoyed it, and though I had to stifle some laughter during some of the more ham-fisted segments, I was able to buy into the characters and the setting. Skip episodes 15 to 18 - they're pure, boring recap. Be prepared to suffer some anime tropes and stereotypes, but allow the series to take you along on the ride, which is mostly moody, escapist action.

If you're halfway through the series and you're on the fence about it, I strongly suggest you watch to the end, and then come back and tell me what you think.

For both of the groups cited above, please stop reading. Watch the series, finish it, and then come back to this review and discuss your opinions. The following paragraphs will definitely contain spoilers, and they're spoilers that will probably make the experience of Wolf's Rain less profound and less interesting.

For those of you who have finished it, I have to ask a question: how often do we see an anime close on such an unrelenting, apocalyptic note as Wolf's Rain's final disc? How often do we see such a change in tone? How often do we sit through the honest, unflinching demise of each of the characters we've come to see as our protagonists? Is this common? The darkest anime I've seen -- series like Trigun and Eva, or movies like Perfect Blue -- seemed to end with some sort of confrontation, cessation, and redemption. Wolf's Rain's last disc took me completely by surprise.

In general, the series isn't too shy about its traditional anime trappings. The cohort was a predictable clash of personalities, from the streetwise bad boy with a heart of gold to the idealistic child character who discovers his inner strength. The journey to Jaguara's palace and the second-to-last disc's plot-twisting revelations and personal triumphs ... these things are common anime fare, familiar from Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, and Trigun, and various other similar experiences I've had.

However, the final disc of Wolf's Rain took a turn into the wasteland. The journey of adventure and discovery seemed to become, in the space of a single episode, a futile trek across a ravaged landscape, empty of purpose and emotionally unstable. The characters sacrificed themselves for their causes, but against the backdrop of extinction, these idealistic deaths seemed strangely empty and insignificant, even as each revealed the tragic beauty of the individual's life.

In the last disc, the series became strangely remote and melancholy.

Paradoxically, it was in these final bleak episodes that the whole series seemed to take on an unexpected glow. Until the characters started to die on the final trek across the snow, I hadn't realized how attached I'd gotten to them. By and large, I'd written them off as stereotypes... but their unexpected mortality brought an extra sentimentality to my relationship with each of them. I'd found Tsume and Toboe rather annoying during the meat of the series... why was I so sad when I saw them die ascending the mountain?

Setting aside the merits of anime, and the more general aesthetic question of whether a whole series can be redeemed by the final 10% of the narrative, it's worth noting: Wolf's Rain is a series that found its themes and treated them remorselessly. If you want to see it as a 22-episode introduction and a one-disc climax, go ahead, but in its closing notes, the writing was gutsy, and it finally earned its stripes as an epic tale.


Anonymous said...

I thought the ending was quite sad, I was in tears when Tsume, Blue and Higa died. Though it kind of kept me hanging on, because we really never got to see paradise and it was Kiba walking through the street alone.

But the lead up episodes were really important for me as you got to know the characters backgrounds and what they have delt with and why they decided to join Kiba.

Wolf's rain is the third anime I have watched completly (the first being DBZ and Digimon) it is more interesting and the separated story lines all ending up joining together.

Anonymous said...

You should check out Elfen Lied if you liked Wolf's Rain's ending. It's only thirteen episodes, so it's easier to stick with to the end than Wolf's Rain is. Be warned of gratuitous blood, gore, nudity, and tragedy; watch it anyway, it is worth it.