A gloomy, dark and forsaken land. Outcasts, initially strangers, set out on a journey together to find paradise. On the way, their bonding becomes stronger as they reach for their goals and try to avoid the abundant enemies. Tragedy, courage, pain, all efforts seemingly in vain in the face of the approaching apocalyps. This is Wolf's Rain, a visually powerful story about identity and desperately reaching for a future in a world that's coming to an end.
Although the atmosphere is the strongest asset of this anime, the aforementioned deeper meaning of the story is interesting. The personal struggles of the characters as they try to survive and work towards their goals are also highly involving and intriguing, although the surface story is often slow paced (especially in the beginning), full of unnecessairy events and covered in unappealing mystery. Still, after you make it through the difficult beginning it will surely get to you; even if not consciously, you will still feel it in your gut.
Although the pacing is generally ok, the four recap episodes at ¾ of the story (15-18) are totally out of line. They add nothing fresh to the story, and everyone would be better off not watching them. Except for these eps, there isn't really anything fatally wrong with the pacing, although in the beginning it's difficult to keep watching while the end is rushed.
I'm still not really sure if the ending of Wolf's Rain was a good or a bad thing. It got to me so badly that I was left in a total shock. It was, at the time, one of strongest emotional punches I had received up 'til then and I didn't feel so totally devastated again until Clannad After Story knocked at my door. In retrospection, however, I feel a little bit tricked, because the ending was in fact rushed and ultimately even felt a bit cheap. I will leave this matter for the viewers to decide for themselves.
As I mentioned before, Wolf's Rain really impresses through powerful visuals; poor ghetto's, dead forests, scientific labs and endless snowy landscapes as far as the eye can see present you with the overall mood of the show. You'll feel just as forsaken and lonely in this dramatic, post-apocalyptic world as the lead characters, you'll be able to taste their pride, their doubts, and despite all the shit they go through you will also feel their strength, as the feeling of despair steadily closes in on the inevitable tragedy that will unfold. If animation alone can make you feel that way, I can't help but speak highly of it.
The character designs were also really appealing and fit the corresponding personalities of the lead characters well. Most of the time the anime was not very colourful, but that was one of the things that made the mood so strong. What I liked as well was the lack of human-wolf transformation sequences (usually sequences like that are initially cool, but they start to be excruciatingly boring once you've seen them more than 10 times...). Instead a perspective change was chosen, which did not only feel more mature, but also emphasized that the wolves didn't change their appearance; the only thing they changed was the way they allowed humans to look at them.
The wolves are stunningly beautiful too, and their movements and mannerisms are surprisingly realistic. It's almost impossible not to instantly start loving wolves after seeing this anime ^_^...
I guess the music was ok and fit the anime decently. Nothing stood out in particular, but it was sufficiently dramatic to lift the power of the animation to a next level. The opening theme ('Stray') really impressed me though (hence the 7.5), not really because the music was brilliant but because I've never experienced lyrics that matched that well with the overall feeling of the anime. Combined with the visuals it's one of the most memorable opening themes in the anime world, and it always got me into 'Wolf's-rain-mode' instantly. A lot of people do give a lot of credit both to 'Cheza's song' and 'Gravity' (the ending theme), but although they do have a simple charm, I personally think they are nothing special.
Surrounding sounds and voice acting were decent too.
It certainly takes most people (including me) a few episodes, but a strong attachment to the four lead characters will form relatively quickly. Before you know it you care for them deeply, although you won't realise this consciously until the leads are faced with mortal danger.
The leads are real people with complex personalities. Especially Hige, the slacker with the dark past and bringer of repeated comic relief, and Tsume, the silent, risktaking gangster who initially mocks Kiba's idealism but becomes a strong believer himself towards the end, stand out as being particularly interesting and believable. Kiba, the proud idealist looking for paradise, remains shrouded in mystery for most of the time and therefore comes across as less real than the other characters. He accounts for the eyecandy, though. Toboe's clumsyness is endearing, but in my opinion he doesn't really add anything substantial to the strong cast of leads. Cheza, the mysterious flower maiden, was a bit of a disappointment for me. Her personality was like a blank slate, passive and fairly uninteresting. (In the picture below from the left to the right: Hige, Kiba, Cheza, Tsume and Toboe)
A few interesting personalities also arise as the story of the divorced couple Hubb and Cher, and the relentless wolf-hunter Quent and his dog Blue unfolds. Their fates slowly become entangled with that of the wolves towards the end, testing their courage, friendship and love repeatedly. These characters will touch your heart as well, although it will probably take some time.
Altogether, the group dynamics were incredibly interesting in this anime. Most of the lead characters and even the side characters are intriguing and real and before you know it you'll care.
Wolf's Rain is a gloomy, athmospheric post-apocalyptic drama. The powerful visuals will most likely sweep you off your feet, and the realness of the characters will get to you emotionally. The tragic story that unfolds is one of a journey looking for your identity and desperately reaching for a future in a world that's coming to an end. Although the surface story is not always interesting with quite a lot of unnecessairy events and unappealing mystery, the deaper meaning of the show and the characters still make it so that Wolf's Rain still earned it's 8 really, really well.