Anime Watchlist is ComicsVerse’s anime recommendation series, where we spotlight some of the best lesser-known shows out there.

Finding well-written anime with compelling stories and lovable characters can sometimes feel like searching for a desert oasis. Fortunately, you won’t have to journey through snowy landscapes and desert wastelands to find the Paradise of WOLF’S RAIN!

WOLF’S RAIN, written by screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto (COWBOY BEBOP) and directed by Tensai Okamura (SAMURAI CHAMPLOO, COWBOY BEBOP) aired in Japan early 2003 and in the U.S. on Adult Swim in 2004. BONES, the studio responsible for animating MY HERO ACADEMIA and FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST, also animated WOLF’S RAIN. Composer Yoko Kanno, known for her work on COWBOY BEBOP and GHOST IN THE SHELL, wrote the beautiful score for this anime. With so many talented names behind it, it’s no wonder WOLF’S RAIN helped Bandai win the 2004 Anime Company of the Year award!

Hige and Kiba stand agape at the sight before them while Toboe clutches his chest and blushes and Tsume narrows his eyes suspiciously. WOLF'S RAIN
The four main wolves in their human forms, from left to right: Hige, Kiba, Toboe, and Tsume. | Image: Funimation

The story spanned 26 episodes and four original video animations (OVA) that later released on DVD in 2004. These OVA episodes continued the story after its initial “end” at the 26th episode. The show received a manga adaptation that serialized simultaneously with the episodes airing in Japan. However, its popularity died over time and WOLF’S RAIN slid into obscurity. Some anime fans might consider WOLF’S RAIN a classic, but unfortunately, the series didn’t receive the attention that it deserves. Recently remastered for Blu-Ray by Funimation, WOLF’S RAIN remains a masterfully crafted anime that withstands the test of time. Here’s why it deserves a spot on your anime watchlist!

The End of the World

WOLF’S RAIN’s intricate lore, while not overly complex, is one of its strongest points. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. Most of the flora and fauna died out, including the beautiful white lunar flower. Lunar flowers are symbolic of the mythical Paradise, a legendary place thought to be a kind of nirvana or heaven. Legend says that only wolves know how to get there, and a girl born of lunar flowers will guide them. However, no one has seen a real wolf in over 200 long years. But that doesn’t mean they’re gone for good; many wolves learned to use illusion magic that makes them appear human. Now wolves live in disguise among humans, fighting for survival in a world that’s falling apart at the seams.

Wolves aren’t the only ones fighting for their lives; humanity itself is declining with the rest of the world. Humans hole up together in isolated, decrepit cities, depending on the nobles ruling them to survive. Three major families make up the privileged caste of nobles in WOLF’S RAIN. Each of the ruling families presides over a portion of the land and live cozily in their castles, also called “keeps.”

The camera pans out as Cheza and Kiba meet at last in a rose garden. Just one example of the beautiful scenery in WOLF'S RAIN
Kiba finds Cher in Darcia’s keep. Who knew Darcia had such a pretty garden? | Image: Funimation

With overcast skies, drylands, and an endless tundra, WOLF’S RAIN makes for a bleak aesthetic. And yet, the world of WOLF’S RAIN is a beautiful one. Scenes of the four main wolves bounding over mounds of snow or sprinting through a withered forest show that there is beauty even in a lifeless world. A gorgeous garden, a hidden lake beyond a treacherous cave, and a magical, hallucinogenic tumbleweed all give this anime dashes of greenery in an otherwise barren land.

Run, Wolf Warrior

The story follows Kiba, a wolf with fur as pure as the surrounding snow, as he searches for the path to Paradise. During his journey, Kiba finds himself in the center of a domed city. There he meets three other wolves: Hige, a light brown wolf with a collar and a goofy personality; Tsume, a stoic grey wolf with a scar; and Toboe, an optimistic reddish-brown wolf who wears metal bangles given to him by his late owner.

In a secret lab, Kiba and Hige discover Cheza, a girl created from lunar flowers. Lord Orkham, the noble ruling the city, stole her from her creators, the Darcia family. Under Orkham’s orders, lead scientist Cher devotes her life to studying Cheza. Her work causes a rift and eventual divorce from her detective husband, Hubb. The current Darcia heir, Darcia III, steals Cheza back from Orkham, setting in motion a chain of events that hastens the end of the world.

Cher and her team of scientists examine Cheza, who is suspended in a glass orb filled with a special solution to keep her in stasis. WOLF'S RAIN
Cher and her team watch Cheza, who is in stasis at the lab. | Image: Funimation

WOLF’S RAIN becomes a story of constant chase. Kiba, Tsume, Hige, and Toboe chase Darcia to find Cheza, who they know is the key to finding Paradise. Cher leaves to recover Cheza, and Hubb follows her to make things right between them. After Kiba and his friends save Cheza from Darcia’s keep, Cher and Darcia chase after them instead. To complicate things further, a wolf hunter and his dog join the pursuit of Kiba and his friends.

The Flower Maiden and the Wolves

Each character feels fully fleshed-out and three dimensional. Even Cheza, whose innocent demeanor makes for a simple character, has depth to her personality. She cares for Kiba and the others deeply and agrees to help them find Paradise despite the danger.

Kiba is a mysterious character whose charisma naturally draws others toward him. While Kiba states that “Our pack just isn’t the kind that has one,” it’s clear that the other three wolves look to him as their leader. He’s instinct-driven, determined, and usually level-headed. He acts rashly when Cheza is in danger, but Tsume’s harsh words snap him back to reality.

Tsume holds a hamburger and says to Toboe,
Why so “tsume”dere? | Image: Funimation

Tsume, a stubborn and pessimistic wolf, often states that he works alone. In reality, Tsume depends on his friends to keep going. He pushes them away because he fears he may hurt them. However, Toboe sees the real Tsume underneath the trauma and self-blame. Whereas Tsume is grumpy and distant, Toboe eagerly looks for a place to call home in the icy, unforgiving world. Toboe sees some excellent character growth throughout the series as he matures and learns to defend himself and his opinions.

Hige might be outwardly aloof and lazy during fights, but he’s just as troubled as the others. When faced with an obstacle, he’d rather ignore it. However cowardly he might be, Hige knows where his loyalties lie. He is a trustworthy friend to Kiba and the rest of the pack, and his exceptional sense of smell saves them a number of times throughout the show. Hige and the other wolves have many layers to their personalities; just one more reason to fall in love with WOLF’S RAIN!

Bad Wolf

Every good anime needs an antagonist, and WOLF’S RAIN has some of the best. First, there’s the main antagonist, Darcia: a noble with one golden eye that resembles a wolf’s. Darcia is hell-bent on opening the gates to Paradise. His lover, Homona, suffers from a curse that slowly drains away her soul to Paradise. To save her, he must go to Paradise itself. Darcia steals Cheza away from Cher, and later from the wolves, in an effort to save Homona. His motives are understandable and even sympathetic, which makes him a rather piteous villain.

Darcia removes a white mask to reveal his golden wolf's eye in this screencap from WOLF'S RAIN.
Darcia being a creeper and taking his mask off in Cher’s lab. | Image: Funimation

And then there’s Quent, the wolf hunter. He provides a threatening kind of danger that nips at the wolves’ heels at every turn. Quent and his dog, Blue, are on a crusade to hunt down every last wolf in the world. He seems like an unforgivable villain, yet WOLF’S RAIN skillfully manages to make you feel sorry for him. Sympathetic (yet still morally irredeemable) villains are an unmistakable sign of skilled writing. When the villains are fleshed out so well that you start to feel for them, you know it’s a good anime.

The Gravity of Love and Friendship

The complicated character relationships really give WOLF’S RAIN its depth. Tsume and Kiba have one of the most interesting dynamics in the show. Although Kiba and Tsume rarely talk their feelings out, their relationship is still tangible and sees development. At first, Tsume didn’t believe in Paradise and thought Kiba was tricking the others. Tsume eventually learns to trust Kiba’s instincts and Kiba comes to rely on Tsume’s strength. When a pack of older wolves claims that Paradise doesn’t exist in an early episode, Tsume tells them he has no doubt that Kiba will lead them to Paradise. Seeing Tsume state his faith in Kiba speaks volumes to the layers of his personality and their relationship.

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Then we have the scientist, Cher, and her detective ex-husband, Hubb. When they reunite, both Cher and Hubb realize that they are part of something much bigger than a lab study. They put their differences aside and team up to find Cheza. Cher and Hubb represent the simple things in life, often forgotten by the busyness of our daily work. Their love, once lost in the chaos of everyday life, is rekindled by adversity. They symbolize the good in humanity in a world where humans seem to be nothing but destructive.

WOLF’S RAIN: A Masterpiece of Storytelling

The crowning jewel of what makes this such an amazing anime is the excellent plot and storytelling techniques. WOLF’S RAIN displays a mastery over the art of subtlety. It doesn’t dump information on you like some shows might. Instead, it gives the audience tastes of the story and what’s to come. Most of the plot can be understood through carefully crafted scenes. There’s almost never a need for a character or narrator to directly state what’s going on.

The amount of foreshadowing is absolutely incredible. Even the opening theme song is an excellently placed device that premeditates the series’ conclusion. Like an ornate piece of jewelry, WOLF’S RAIN has tiny gems hidden throughout each episode that offer subtle hints and explanations. Every time you watch the show, more intricate little details shine through and cause you to marvel at how well the writers were able to sew the story together almost seamlessly. Background characters are hardly ever forgotten and are sometimes even valuable plot devices.

WOLF'S RAIN begins and ends with the same scene: Kiba collapses in the middle of a snowy field.
Kiba collapses in the snow at the beginning of the first episode; a scene mirrored elsewhere in the story. | Image: Funimation

And that’s not all. WOLF’S RAIN is also rich with symbolism. While the post-apocalyptic setting might seem depressing at first, WOLF’S RAIN is really a cyclical story of life. The journey of the four wolves represents an almost clockwork mechanic. Even if someone nudges a gear or two, fate will continue to tick on as planned. Some of the imagery in the first episode is mirrored elsewhere, emphasizing the cyclical elements of the story.

We’ve Found a Kind of Paradise in WOLF’S RAIN

WOLF’S RAIN has an incredible cast of main characters that appeal to the viewer. Their emotions are real and raw, and it’s easy to sympathize with them. The antagonists have genuine motivations for their misdeeds, and none of the characters in the show are “problematic.” WOLF’S RAIN offers no fan service, gives each character a chance for growth, doesn’t excuse the actions of the antagonists, and doesn’t fall into any offensive tropes or gags that are common in anime today.

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The story is artful and contemplative and allows creative interpretive thinking. And even though the show is deeply philosophical, the story can be enjoyed without peeling back all those layers. It’s complex without being totally confusing and shows a mastery over storytelling. The soundtrack is so catchy that you’ll find yourself singing the lyrics for weeks after you finish watching it. And best of all, the art style truly withstands the test of time. Even after 15 years, WOLF’S RAIN still looks great.

Whether you’re looking for an anime to make you think about life, or you just want to enjoy a beautifully animated story with a well-thought-out plot, WOLF’S RAIN is an incredible story from start to finish. It’s hard not to fall completely in love with this anime at the very first episode. After finishing WOLF’S RAIN for the first time, you might even find yourself watching the series again and again in the years to come.

WOLF’S RAIN is available for streaming and on DVD via Funimation.

Featured image courtesy of Funimation

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