This review covers both Wolf's Rain and the Wolf's Rain ova.
Wow, I really wasn't expecting to like this series as much as I did. Wolf's Rain is a rather cheesy anime with strange pacing changes and a mediocre plot. But what makes a series work as a whole? The answer to that is easy, it was just enjoyable. The characters, the atmosphere, every little detail was somehow able to hold this anime together.
Let's start with the story. Simply put, it's not that great from a technical standpoint. The story begins with a wolf named Kiba's thoughts about paradise. No one knows exactly what paradise is, but obviously all believe it to be the most most wonderful, perfect place in existence. It is said in the mysterious Book of the Moon that wolves will be the ones to reach paradise. That is what the entire story revolves around, wolves (and people) trying to find paradise. Not exactly the most creative plot, and the execution is a problem as well. Two-thirds of the story is slow, it goes very slow and then after 4 recap episodes (really guys?) the pacing picks up speed. I'll go more into the story later.
The animation quality is quite good. It was made in 2003, so its age is noticable, but it's still pretty darn good. Especially the wolves, the wolves look great and move with amazingly well-done animal anatomy and action. The human characters also look pretty good and all have different, defining features. The backgrounds are detailed and there are not a whole lot of still shots used to waste up time.
The music. My god the music is wonderful. From the rather dated, but still catchy opening "Stray" to the beautiful ending theme "Gravity" to all of the great background music, wolf's rain had a superb soundtrack. There are also many subtle but spot on sound effects, usually more noticable during battles, with splashes of blood, the clicking of guns, and sometimes (like near the end) snapping of bone (ugh, I'll never forget that scene...) being prominent.
Now for the really important stuff. The story, as I said earlier, was problematic. The Book of the Moon and the legend of paradise is not exactly explored in full, nor are the wolves. Most of the anime is about the group of four pretty-boy wolves, Kiba, Toboe, Tsume, and Hige running around to many different places, and the side characters Hub, Cher, Quent, and Blue searching for the stolen flower maiden and the wolves. In a way, the side characters seem unimportent to the main story, as they somewhat end up helping the protagonists, but mostly deter them (Mainly Quent doing this by trying to shoot them.) As someone once said (Don't remember who, sorry.) the anime seems to have side characters just to show that it has side characters. This does not mean that those characters were bad at all, though. Cher was a strong scientist searching for the flower maiden with the persistent Hub following her every step of the way. Their relationship was interesting, as they were torn apart by work and called off the marraige they had planned. Quent was even more interesting with his manic desire to murder every wolf left alive because they killed his family (well... ) along with his trusty dog Blue. As for the wolves themselves, their personalities seem to work well together. Tsume is the tough, hard to convince, city wolf who says he despises humans. Hige is laid back, seemingly careless, and just goes with what goes. Toboe is the little one, the runt, who loves humans and is always positive and working to keep the group together. Oddly enough, Kiba, the main wolf, is the hardest to describe. He seems somewhat cliched, though quite likeable as well. Cheza, the flower maiden, is a strange creature. Born from lunar flowers, they say she is the key to opening paradise. She refers to herself in the third person "this one" and has strange healing abilities. All of the wolves are attracted to her (not sexually though, there is no real romance going on. Even Hub and Cher feel like just an old fling, but one that still tries to hold its roots) and are drawn in to the scent of lunar flower. As for the evil characters, they are certainly well-defined as such. The two main nobles, Lord Darcia and Lady Jaguara, are both after the key to paradise, though they are also working to stop each other. SPOILER The reason for this is later explained by Lord Darcia's love, Hamona, who is basically in a coma due to paradise sickness. END SPOILER
The major problem with the story, as mentioned, was how slow it goes. I love slow-paced animes, but there is a time and place for such pacing. In a drama anime about finding the place of eternal happiness, it seems somewhat out of place. There seemed to be some filler (Definitely the four recap episodes, but I ended up skipping those both times I watched it) especially near the middle. SPOILER The deadly forest with the wierd pointless talking owl, the false paradise Kiba sees in his paralyzed state in the desert, just to name some that I remember. END SPOILER Now, these are not that bad, as far as filler goes, but they break the flow of the anime up a bit. They have some important elements, but could have been done better.
Now the ending. My god, the ending. This seems to be a love it or hate it ending and I absolutely loved every minute of it. No spoilers, but it gets pretty damn tragic. It made me emotional in all four of the last episodes, almost as much as AnoHana did, and that is saying something. It is a happy ending, also a sad ending. Optimistic, but pessimistic. Nothing changes, yet everything changes. Words can't accurately describe what happens: it must be seen. To me it was one of the most amazing endings of any anime, and I could not see Wolf's Rain going out on a perfectly happy "all-is-well" ending at all.
In the opening theme, the line is sung "Stray, no regret 'cause I've got nothing to lose."
That one line sums up the bittersweet journey that is Wolf's Rain.
TL;DR - An interesting but flawed drama anime that holds an atmosphere that seems much more lost and sad, and less filled with fanservice and action than one would expect out of the show. Quite a nice surprise, really.