Understanding Wolf’s Rain
“When the world ends, Paradise will open, but only the wolves know how to find it.”
So I’ve watched Wolf’s Rain three times now, and only on the last watch did I get a sense of understanding the story, at least a little. Perhaps I was too young, watching it first at fourteen, or too uneducated to see the images and metaphors and get the bigger picture. Perhaps I was too narrow-minded, seeing only the story as it was presented and dedicating my attention to the handsome characters, instead of looking for the deeper message. I took the anime for what it was, and never bothered to ask questions or make comments, because to me, at the time, it made perfectly sense. It strikes me as funny, that it never once occurred to me to ask: what was that all about?
Well, I’ve done my research, and seven years later I finally have asked and answered the question at hand. Wolf’s Rain shares ideas and images from not one, but at least two major religions along with several minor ones, as well as bringing up ideas about death and the after-life. Now, I’m no expert on any of these subjects, so feel free to share your knowledge and correct any mistakes I may have made. These are my personal interpretations of the show.
SPOILERS FOR THE END OF WOLF’S RAIN AHEAD.
Wolf’s Rain and Christianity
The Book of the Moon is introduced early in the dystopian world of Wolf’s Rain. It contains the story of how humans evolved from wolves, and the prophecy that wolves are the only creatures who can reach Paradise when the world ends. The book is an allegory of the biblical Book of Revelation, also known as The Apocalypse.
There are a few things that point to this besides the name and superficial content itself. For example, towards the end we see the world literally falling apart, shaking, with no sunlight to be seen, followed my the shot of the red moon. I quote: “There occurs a great earthquake where ‘the sun becomes black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon like blood’ (6:12).”
At the end of Revelation, the world is replaced by a new heaven and a new earth, which coincides with the end of Wolf’s Rain. The wolves are reincarnated, enforcing the idea that a greater force is pulling the strings.
One detail worthy of note, is James Pryce’s interpretation of Revelation as a western version of the Hindu theory of the Chakra. Chakra, meaning circle, can refer to the rebirth, which again coincides with the end of the anime. But I will get back to that.
Kiba can be seen as a Christ figure, the “white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True” (19:11), as he is the chosen wolf to open Paradise. Darcia is then the false prophet, attempting to wrongly open up the Paradise meant for Kiba.
Personally, I’m not completely sold on this interpretation though. There are a few things that point to Revelation, but they are, in fact, few and far apart. Revelation is a large work of literature, and apart from the things I’ve mention, few other things correlates between the book and the anime. For instance, the number seven pops up in Revelation many times, but is never mentioned in show. The Book of the Moon might be an allusion to the Bible, but is not a widely extended metaphor in Wolf’s Rain. It comes back to visit every now and then, but there are simply too many things that aren’t in link.
Wolf’s Rain and Hinduism (and similar religions)
Samsara is the cycle of rebirth in religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, along with a few others. In Wolf’s Rain, reincarnation is a key point to the end of the anime, and to understanding what is actually going on. After witnessing the wolves die one after another, until there’s nothing left but Kiba and Cheza saying their final goodbyes, with the promise of meeting again in the next world to look for the real Paradise, we’re taken to a modern day society with all four wolves well intact. In these religions, the goal is to end this cycle of rebirth, but it is unclear in the anime whether it is possible to reach a final Paradise (I will discuss this in a bit).
The four wolves can be seen as representatives of the four major goals in Hinduism. Toboe represents Dharma: duties and moral rights. His vow to protect Quent until the end is an example of this. Tsume represents Artha, which is wealth and prosperity, seeing as he runs a gang and is a leader. Hige represents Kama, sensual pleasure. He loves to eat and he has a strong attraction to Blue. And Kiba represents Moksha, the most important goal in Hinduism: liberation. He has a strong desire to be free, and is disgusted by the wolves who work for humans in order to get by. More than anything, he seeks to be freed by suffering and sorrow. In Jainism, Moksha (Kiba), is the only liberation from reincarnation.
In Buddhism, the cycle of rebirth arises out of wrong knowledge about reality, and is characterised by failure, suffering, anxiety, and dissatisfaction, something that the wolves go through their fair share of throughout their journey. The fact that they don’t realise their role as “saviours,” bringing a new world about, may be the exact reason that they are brought back in the new world.
Another idea that frequents specifically Indian and Chinese culture, is yin and yang. It’s the idea that there must be a balance in everything, and opposing forces complement each other. Good cannot exist without evil, and it’s our main antagonist Lord Darcia that enforces this in the anime. In the very last episode, we see a glimpse of the Paradise that Kiba was searching for, only to be tainted by Darcia’s eye, and destroyed.
“The world where you will go hand in hand with the Flower Maiden has neither perfect happiness, nor joy, nor life. This is because it also does not contain perfect sadness, nor misery, nor death.” (Darcia).
Likewise, the wolves have faults in their own characters that hinder them in completing their journey. Toboe is too attached to the humans in his life, and sacrifices himself for Quent rather than moving on to reach Paradise. Hige’s love for Blue eventually prevails his desire to find Paradise altogether. Kiba is the strongest of the four in terms of his lack of attachment, except to Cheza, and he won’t accept her imperfection of being a man-made lunar flower. Thus, he fails to reach the true Paradise like the rest.
There are allusions to other religions as well. For example, there is the Tree of Life and the idea that the wolves will call forth the end of the world, which clearly refers to the tree Yggdrasil and the wolf Fenrir from Norse mythology. It has also been argued that the end of Wolf’s Rain is not the end of the world at all, but simply the start of an ice age. I have chosen not to go into much detail on these theories but to focus on the main religions that I believe are represented in Wolf’s Rain instead.
Wolf’s Rain and the idea of Paradise
A question that occasionally pops up in Wolf’s Rain, is “what is paradise?” The characters have different ways of answering this question; for Hige it is a place with unlimited food, for Toboe it is a place where he is surrounded by the ones he loves, and in Kiba’s mock paradise, we see nature, untouched by human interference.
However, it is Cheza who answers the question most truly. Both she and Darcia explain on several occasions that Paradise is simply the world reborn.
“The world has been destroyed and we’ve fallen countless times, always resurrecting from the ashes as Paradise. It has happened before, and it will happen again. An endless cycle of life and death. The world is a Paradise that was opened by someone, but this era too is almost at an end. We have acquired the means to exceed our natural span of life, never suspecting that the world itself was finalised in its existence.” (Episode 27).
The world in which the story takes place was once Paradise. It is mention that Paradise is only temporary, which means that Paradise is simply the Earth before polluted by humans and evolution. Paradise to the wolves might as well be nature itself. In time, Paradise will be tainted by the human touch once again, and the wolves’ adventure will commence anew.
One interpretation of the show, is that this is actually an endless cycle, leading me to believe that Kiba and the rest are chosen to lead the world into rebirth over and over for all eternity. Kiba especially, as he is described as the chosen one on several occasions. Kiba and Cheza seem strangely familiar with one another, and she mentions that they have met before, most likely in an earlier world. Additionally, the first and last episodes are very similar in terms of cinematography and monologue: we see footprints in the snow, then Kiba on the ground, pondering the idea of Paradise and his drive to find it. It ends as it begins, continuing this circle of life that has been presented.
However, in the final episode, Cheza states that she is “forged,” and therefore they cannot complete their mission of reaching Paradise. Cheza is a flower maiden created by human technology, and not an authentic lunar flower. She continues by saying that now she can finally become her true form, suggesting that in the next world, they might actually reach the real paradise. In the next world, we get a glimpse of a single lunar flower that has survived alone in an alley. Perhaps, if Kiba and the others can find this original flower, they will manage to reach a new, true Paradise.
Lastly, there seem to be a more subdued idea that the wolves will find Paradise in death. All the characters find in their death a tranquility and ability to forgive. They accept that their time is at an end, and go out with optimism. For Cher it’s the idea of having children and a happy life with her husband, for Toboe it is the promise to protect Quent, for Blue and Hige it is knowing that they can stay together “for good.” Hige’s final words to Tsume are “Let’s meet up again in Paradise, okay?” which further indicates, especially since Tsume also dies, that there is a Paradise beyond the world of the living.
What I love about Wolf’s Rain is the ambiguity in it all. Of course, it delivers beautiful animation, a great soundtrack, delicious voice-acting in both Japanese and English, and an interesting plot. On the downside, it seems to be a lack in characterisation, and moves at a very slow pace. Still, in this anime, every single detail matters, and anything can be interpreted into anything, which is what makes this such an amazing show for those who like to read between the lines. It’s very enjoyable on a surface level (just ask fourteen year old me!), as well as a gem for those with an eye for detail. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but definitely a well-done piece of art.