Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wolf's Rain

"An axe-age, a sword-age, a wolf-age"

It is impossible for me to be objective about Wolf's Rain. I mean, not that I usually try to sound impartial anyhows, but something like Wolf's Rain just contains too many of my favorite elements, panders too insidiously to my personal tastes for me to even be able to spot any flaws or weaknesses, aside from their inexplicable decision to stick four clip shows smack dab in the middle of the series, but that's a production issue. It should not be taken as a fault in storytelling. I know it must have plenty of flaws. It is a product intended for mass consumption. I just enjoyed it too much to notice them.
It's got wolves, it's got apocalypse, it's got dystopia, it's got wolves, it's got class struggles, it's got wolves, it's got over-the-top villains and dramatic speeches, it's got... well, wolves. I don't even know where to start... maybe with the wolves?

Though seemingly created (as many Japanese animation series) with one eye toward export, the show still starts from an apparent Shintoist take on its mythology. These wolf-men are not the kin of the accursed Cain or King Lycaon punished and banished for his cruelty and pride, but Kami. Their shapeshifting ability is... not. It is more akin to glamour magic than to anything else in European mythology. In fact, humans themselves - ah, but I don't want to spoilerize nothin' just yet.
Suffice it to say that the wolves are wolves, intrinsically, their human sides little more than a mask. Their values are those of roaming apex predators. They value freedom above safety. Personal pride and dignity permeate their interactions. They are individualists with a sense for meaningful cooperation, not herd animals nor wage-slaves. They are the wolf in man at its best. They aid each other for personal reasons and by the same token they frequently quit each others' company and simply walk off into the world.

And what a world it is. Cyberpunk/steampunk motifs seem to have made some impression on Japanese entertainment, perhaps because Japan was subject, like the old Communist block, to rapid technological growth displacing the centuries-old cultural balance (not once, but twice) and then displacing itself in rapidly sequential iterations of inefficient, ineffective mirages of progress. Dodes'ka-den, dodes'ka-den, dodes'ka-den. Or maybe it's just Murakami's fault. Either way, the action of Wolf's Rain takes place in the usual clandestine underworld overshadowed by the machinations of an inescapable, brutal but clumsy technocratic aristocracy. Bucking the system is nearly impossible. The wolves can only haunt the outskirts of its influence.

Wolf's Rain is not the most original anime out there. If you've seen a few episodes of one or two others, you will know when the boss fights are coming, know who the tragic villain and the villain-villain are, etc. It sticks to a lot of popular tropes. Many events transpire simply because that's the way things go in this sort of entertainment, and anyone unfamiliar with the amount of suspension of disbelief necessary to enjoy anime will likely not enjoy the series. Yet it manages enough twists on the old archetypes to seem fresh, and best of all, it doesn't pull its punches. Hopes get dashed. Characters die off. Existence is suffering. And paradise? Who knows. Maybe the best we can do is keep moving.

Keiko Nobumoto. I need to remember that name. Cowboy Bebop was the series which made me stop dismissing anime as nothing more than mass-market tripe and I would recommend Tokyo Godfathers to anyone. Amusingly enough (given the Cowboy Bebop reference) the music in Wolf's Rain was relatively good, fitting the scenes it accompanies, but the opening and ending themes were somewhat annoying. The opening theme even copies a little riff from the opening of Serial Experiments Lain... was that supposed to be subliminal association? Sorry, it was too clumsy. This, from the creator of Cowboy Bebop's jazzy soundtrack?

There, I can finally criticize Wolf's Rain on one point. Give Yoko Kanno a slap on the wrist. She was slacking. Though at least it's better than endless choral repetitions of Eeeeeeska-furoone!

P.S. My favorite character was Blue. Don't ask me why. Haven't figured it out yet.

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