Wolf’s Rain and Animals in Anime

Keiko Nobumoto’s Wolf’s Rain is considered a classic in the anime community. It is set in an alternate, post apocalyptic-world. A world where wolves have been hunted to near extinction but have found a way to survive and live alongside humans. Which is by them disguising themselves as humans. The anime has four main characters. Kiba, Tsume, Hige and Toboe. Each of whom is named after different parts of a wolf.   They are named, respectively as Fang, Claw, Whisker and Howling. The first half of the anime centres on the meeting and interaction of these wolves whom, besides Kiba, have found ways of roughly assimilating themselves with society. Tsume is the leader of a gang who rob the nobles. Toboe is introduced to the viewer as a young boy or pup. It also shows that an elderly woman raised him as a pet but has died forcing him to live on his own. Hige, is an aimless wanderer who happens to be in Draecon city at the same time that Kiba is found there. Kiba is the only wolf that finds it truly unnatural to live under a different guise. He is also the most unassimilated of the ‘city’ wolves. When the viewer is introduced to him, he kills people he believes to be a threat to him, unaware of the ‘rules’ of the city that Tsume points out to him in the first episode. The first part of the anime is focused on the main characters finding each other through various, fateful encounters. It is also established that they are all there due to the fact that they are attracted to an ‘interesting smell’. The smell, it is later uncovered, belongs to a girl who is being held captive as an experiment. This girl is called Cheza and is believed to be the “maiden of the moon” the being that will ultimately lead the wolves back home, back to Paradise. One of the more important members of the supporting cast is the character of Blue, a half wolf, half dog, that is used by a hunter named Quent to hunt down wolves as Quent believes that wolves are responsible for the death of his family and the destruction of his village. The main storyline is littered with other supporting cast members who are not relevant for the purpose of this essay.

The Wolf and its Different Depictions in the East and West

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The wolf has always been depicted as a loathsome and mysterious creature. Western literature in particular is a more important proponent in exaggerating the stereotypical misconceptions of the wolf. One could look at any number of western literary references to justify the previous statement. A classic example would be the tale of Red Riding Hood. The wolf symbolises the threat of strangers on our youth and the dangers of children interacting with people they do not know. More recent examples include J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, where the wolves of Isengard aid the orcs in their quest to destroy the humans (1954 & 1955). C. S. Lewis also characterises wolves in a notably, unflattering demeanour. They serve the Empress’ in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe as her main henchmen, responsible for retrieving the children. As mentioned previously, there is a strong likelihood that these characterisations were made due to sinister nature that wolves were believed to have had, despite the fact that it was a misunderstanding (1950). In any event, previously, western authors never attempted to address this misgiving. This is especially true when one contrasts the western concept of the wolf against the wolf depicted in Japanese popular culture. Anime creators humanise animals in several different ways. The first way is to not disturb the physical attributes of the animal but to give the animal a human psychological make-up, sometimes with no real justification within the storyline itself. Cowboy Bebop’s Ein, is a dog, which has all the features of a Welsh Corgi, however, Ein’s personality is distinct due to his mannerisms and the intricate manner in which Hajime Yadate illustrates the dog’s intelligence. There are also several anime’s, which create human and animal hybrids such as in Hyper Police. The animal symbolism in these anime’s is not similar to the western depictions. Domesticated animals and animals that are personified as being noble is seen as the heroes. This list includes dogs, cats and wolves. This use in popular culture though does not repudiate the fact that wolves according to the Japanese were also pests that were hunted into extinction on Japanese soil. Anime however attempts to readdress the depiction.

Princess Mononoke’s Wolf Symbolism

The Studio Ghibli production known as Princess Mononoke has themes within the movie that draw very serious parallels with themes found in Wolf’s Rain. In Princess Mononoke the wolf, Marou, is accepted to be a god created by nature but due to rapid human development, it must protect the woodland and the creatures found in that woodland. The human’s, as said before, accept that Marou is a deity and understand that it is attempting to protect the woodland area from encroachment and ultimately destruction. Despite this, however, the human characters preserve there own self-interests even if it means that there could ultimately be an imbalance in nature. In Wolf’s Rain Lord Darcia the Third attempts to do the same thing as Lady Aboshi except for different reasons. Darcia does not want money, he wants to find a way to bring the woman he loved back to life, even if it means destroying everything including himself. This includes using Cheza, the “Flower Maiden” or “Key to Paradise” as a tool in achieving that means. Darcia and Aboshi represent the epitome of human nature, that is self-interest. This is in direct contrast with the attitude of the wolves. The wolves seek to preserve the natural order. They are willing to sacrifice themselves to achieve these goals. In Mononoke Marou is slain by Lady Aboshi due to her attempting to protect the other so-called ‘deities’. In Wolf’s Rain Kiba, Hige, Tsume and Toboe confront any type of danger, even where that danger could spell death, if it means protecting Cheza and achieving their goals. The characters of San, Marou’s adopted human daughter, and Kiba are also very similar, except that they are on opposite ends of the same spectrum. San is a human that is an outsider to society, she does not accept her humanity purely on the basis that she appears to be human, and instead she battles alongside the wolves in an attempt to eradicate Lady Aboshi and her followers. Her conflict arises out of the duality within her. Her inner-wolf is battling her human self; she cannot abide by the ‘city’ rules or the rules that society has imposed on us. Kiba, on the other hand, is a proud wolf that despises humans but he must assume a human identity in order to survive. His conflict is as intense as the conflict that San endures, but his human-self is able to conceal it better than San is able to. He, despite being entirely unsuited for the world of humans must appear ‘normal’ in order to survive. Often when he acts as a wolf or as his natural self he is drawn into a clash, sometimes with other wolves that have lost their wolf identities.

The Duality of Man: Humanity and Nature

The subtext of Nobumoto’s work alludes to Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf (1927, Picador 1955). In particular the duality of human nature. Hesse to, uses the wolf as a tool to illustrate man’s eternal struggle between the human and the animal within. In Steppenwolf, the protagonist, Harry Haller, receives a treatise containing information that describes him perfectly. It finally states that he is a man with two personas, one a man and the other one a wolf. Each being is ill suited to society. The man can be seen as a mask that Harry wears to hide his wolfish self, much like Kiba and the other wolves in Wolf’s Rain. There characters are also very similar. Kiba’s human appearance makes him physically indistinct from the other humans that he interacts with, his true self does not accept that he has to conceal himself to survive but in order for him to obtain the unattainable goal of reaching Paradise Kiba has to maintain the façade. Kiba, therefore, does not accept this society, the same way that Harry does not accept society, He considers himself ill suited to this world, which drives him suicidal. They also appear to be self-reliant, wanting no real interaction with the outside world. This too illustrates the struggle of wolf and man, that is the ability to appear as if no one else is needed but truly thrive from the companionship of others. Harry finds Hermine and then believes in the fullness of life again, Kiba finds the other wolves and is then only able to truly seek Paradise. The world that is sought by both of these individuals is a natural world, which does not make social distinctions, something both find in their horizontal companionships. The same holds true for all of the wolf characters in the anime. This is also effectively illustrated when one assesses the difference between Blue’s relationship with, Quent Yardin, and her relationship with Hige. Blue is subservient to Quent, to him she is a pet and a tool that he uses to effect his revenge on all wolves. In Hige she finds trust and companionship, which is why she gives in to her natural wolfish nature. Love and equality is natural.

Ando Shoeki and The Return to Nature

Ando Shoeki was a Japanese natural philosopher of the 18th century. Shoeki (this being his professional title) was a major advocate, during the 1700’s, for the belief that there should be no social distinctions all people should be equal (Okamoto 6). He had a formal conception of equality. His two primary beliefs were that all men and women are equal but they may have different uses, and that nature is the supreme law. When one returns to nature then one can achieve a social utopia. The main reason why his beliefs could be construed as such is that Shoeki was born into the farmer class, which was the lowest class in feudal Japan(Ibid). He believed that cultivating land worked with the universe’s law of giving to the people. The land that was cultivated and yielded certain stock that could be used in a world where it was efficient to engage in subsistence farming. In the start the only character thtat seems to have any real issues with the nobility is Tsume. It is apparent that Tsume does not really require any of the goods that himself and his robbers pillaged from the trains, which supply the fortress. He forces his band of robbers to continue despoiling the nobility of their goods even when there is no need to. It seems likely that despite Tsume’s seemingly indifferent demeanour he just wants to hurt the nobility, his natural instincts drive him into conflict with the nobility even where there is no motivation for that conflict. Later in the storyline, however, due to Darcia’s continued attempts to use Cheza to bring back his long lost beloved, the other wolves are drawn into an ensuing struggle to challenge the hierarchy despite the fact that they are so loathed in society. The wolves are the lowest class due to their physical inhumanity, but due to the fact that they are more natural element, only they can really threaten the hierarchy. Especially since man creates its own order that ultimately challenges nature and the natural order.

Why Use Wolves?

Nobumoto uses wolves intentionally due to their continued mystery and mysticism. Wolves are creatures sourly persecuted by humanity in all forms. Nobumoto and other concept creators use these types of animals to explain a simple yet multi-layered message. That is that social injustices and inequalities are created as a result of man-made laws. Nature struggles to accept the manner in which humanity causes such deeply entrenched imbalances such as eradicating a species of a certain section of land. Man cannot accept that it is a part of nature, Nobumoto attempts to illustrate that nature could use its most exploited tools to overthrow the rules of the city, the universe is not bound by those rules. As far as the animal symbolism goes, man used wolves as tool to create our civilizations. The same way in which, the kings of old used humans to build civilizations purely on the grounds that the king accepted that some people were inferior to others. The wolves in Wolf’s Rain represent humanities imbalance and selfishness, its ability to dictate who is allowed o co-exist with them and who is not. Nobumoto takes an ostracized creature and plays with the stereotype to demonstrate this point.