Wolf’s Rain (Urufuzu Rein)

Wolf’s Rain (Urufuzu Rein) 2004

With so much of the Cowboy Bebop team involved here I felt exactly zero seconds of doubt in terms of whether I’d enjoy Wolf’s Rain.

Of course, that shouldn’t be enough by itself – execution matters, right? But Wolf’s Rain definitely works and it’s a great series despite the inclusion of four recap episodes.

And while recaps can obviously be useful both from a production standpoint and for the viewers, I was thrilled to be able to skip them 😀 (Supposedly the recap episodes had to happen due to production delays re: the SARS scare or perhaps more likely(?), just a temporary budget problem and Bones didn’t want to ‘waste’ the slots they’d already lined up during broadcast).

Well, whatever the reason – you can safely skip the recap episodes and still enjoy a pretty ace show. It covers a lot of ground, dystopian science-fiction, fantasy, action and romance, and looks great, though viewers raised on modern anime might consider the animation dated – though to my eye, it’s pretty much as great as Bebop.

To sum up the story in an incredibly short (and not at all uanced) way, Wolf’s Rain follows a small pack of wolves (and the humans who help and hinder them) as they search for a legendary Paradise.

It’s a nice simple premise that allows the ‘quest’ element to shine through, as the wolves slowly come together and learn to trust and work with each other, hounded at times by human hunter Quent, or the menacing all-powerful Nobles, or even their own internal conflicts.

If you’re familiar with Keiko Nobumoto’s writing style then you can expect a certain amount of sacrifice and tragedy even, so get ready for the heart strings to be manipulated throughout – especially toward the end, though the epilogue should please some viewers at least. You can also probably expect a few surprises about your favourite characters or even the villains, some of which are foreshadowed really nicely too… but I don’t want to spoil any of them here!

Another aspect I really enjoyed was Yoko Kanno’s OST – which is overall really quite lush and orchestral, and one of the recurring themes I especially liked:

Opener Stray shows her ability to once again work with typically western pop sounds, with that 1980s-era Genesis feel to the song, and where the chameleon that is Steve Conte provides another great vocal (with more Tim Jensen lyrics, to reunite the classic Cowboy Bebop musical team).

I know some folks do consider this series ‘slow’ (and even at times dismissive of some its background plot-threads) but I didn’t have that problem myself, nor did I really focus much on the allegorical aspects re: Christianity, they didn’t add to the series nor distract me, as they’re pretty subtle – it’s not like Neon Genesis for example, where it’s very upfront.

With a series like Wolf’s Rain I think the main aspect I really appreciated, aside from the characters and mythology it built (and everything I’ve mentioned above of course) was the fact that Wolf’s Rain was an original idea. Now maybe that word is a misnomer here, but I mean, as opposed to being an adaptation, or being set in a school or having only teen leads, which is a nice change compared to a lot of anime.

5 Stars  

(If you’ve never seen this and you do give it a shot, you’ll probably recognise Mamoru Miyano’s vocie (who plays lead wolf Kiba) as ‘Light’ from Death Note or ‘Ling Yao’ in FMA: Brotherhood or maybe where I realised I’d heard him before, as ‘Rintarō Okabe’ in Steins;Gate.)

(I especially love this version of the artwork for the physical release)

A.I.C.O. Incarnation

A.I.C.O. Incarnation (2018)

Netflix has allowed me access to a few newer shows in a timeframe that’s about 50% faster than my usual average of something like “2 years after a series even hits DVD” – and so this time around it’s nice to only be about 1 year (give or take) behind everyone else 😀

And thus, I’ve now also seen A.I.C.O and a few others on the platform and they’ve each been typically high quality in terms of animation (and this one by Bones is no exception there) but the series didn’t blow me away.

Nor did I feel it was ‘bad’ at all. There were a few elements that maybe didn’t match the level of the animation for me, but the show was still compelling and even tense, at times. (They even split the fan service kinda evenly across the male and female characters).

Where A.I.C.O. Incarnation drops a little for me is the lead character Aiko’s passivity – to some extent, she’s kept in the dark for a lot of the series (so the audience can be placed in a similar position of course) and though she’s generally cheerful and at times full of resolve, it was a shame she didn’t get to take control much.

There were a few times where I imagine the manga did a better job of introducing some of the supporting cast and world-building, and perhaps there was also missed opportunity to go a little further into the central conflict of personhood.

On the other hand, aside from the great animation, Aiko herself has a design that seems usually reserved for antagonists/creatures, with her red eyes and dark hair, which was an interesting tweak I thought. The other stand out for me was the Beetle, which is pretty ace – the design of most of the vehicles has a really flexible sorta structure actually, which is a nice bit of attention to detail re: the kind of terrain the characters must traverse in order to save Japan from the encroaching ‘matter’ that threatens them all.

In the end I thought A.I.C.O had a great mix of moe elements, action sequences and twists but also character/weapon/vehicle design, so it’s a good near-future sci-fi if that’s your kinda show.

3 Stars

(Director Kazuya Murata has been involved (in one way or another) in a fair few great projects over the years, from Ocean Waves, Beserk, Eureka Seven, FMA (2011), Porco Rosso, Gunsmith Cats, Xam’d and even Shemnu II for the Dreamcast :D)

The Skull Man (Sukaru Man)

Just a quick review for right now – today it’s The Skull Man which is a noir-ish science fiction/horror series with a few surprises.

The Skull Man (Sukaru Man)
2007

When I started this, I wasn’t aware that the anime was based on a one-shot manga by the massively influential Shotaro Ishinomori (who was one of Osamu Tezuka’s protégées) and that the series sort of served as a prequel to Cyborg 009.

Due to that, the ending of The Skull Man fell a little flat for me in that it didn’t offer perhaps quite enough in the way of resolutions while at the same time opening up too many new questions.

But aside from that I still enjoyed this, it’s a short series and while the box art might suggest more horror – there are moments of levity and maybe overall, there’s more of an ‘investigative reporter gets in too deep’ feel to everything, even with the science-fiction elements.

(It’s also an interesting look at an alternate reality where a 1970s aesthetic is clear in the costumes and technology).

Throughout, the writers do a great job of keeping you guessing re: the true nature, motivations and identity of the Skull Man and the various villains within, and while I personally wanted a lot more in the way of screen time for the mask’s origins itself, there was still plenty of other aspects like cults and bioweapons to keep me watching.

Worth a look if you stumble across it, I reckon but you might be disappointed by how quickly it wraps up once it gets close to the end.

3.5 Stars

Eureka Seven AO

Without having seen the the first Eureka Seven I was able to come to Eureka Seven AO without expectations, which was nice. Because of that, I suspect I enjoyed this anime more than the fans who seemed disappointed with this sequel series.

Eureka Seven AO
2012

I was in the mood for a mecha show when I came across Eureka Seven AO one day, and gave it a shot without worry too much about the first series, thinking this would be different enough. And the battles were certainly great, the animation too; but in the end, I probably enjoyed the political aspects and the Okinawan setting most.

Having said that I did have a few issues but I’ll quickly include a few other aspects that stood out as positives for me; everything looks great and the tension between both pilots and their leaders at Generation Bleu keeps things interesting, as does our hero Ao’s search for his mother.

On that note, especially toward the end I bet I would have picked up on a lot more hints and reveals connected to the original series, had I watched Eureka Seven first.

I also enjoyed the occasional twist to the story but when I step away from the setting and the engaging visuals, there was something didn’t hook me as much as I’d hope, the characterisation.

Sometimes it felt a bit ‘off’. Maybe it was because motivations weren’t always made clear enough for me to ‘go along’ with some of their choices – Naru especially comes to mind here.

Another aspect I didn’t enjoy was the lack of time spent grounding the viewer in the world re: the alien aspects. Once more, this might have something to do with me having missed the original anime.

One of the main villains ‘Truth’ felt a little generic too but there was an extra moment that I loved, occuring near the end. I remember being pretty thrilled by what I feel has to be a homage* to the opening of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

Not to be too relentlessly down on this series, there was also the use of some fourth wall-style humour that was fun but even with elements I mentioned above (and a great OST), I’ve definitely enjoyed other mecha shows more.

3 Stars

*Below, I whipped up a quick side by side – and even though there are clear differences (and I also changed the sequence of one shot), you can see how Eureka takes time to offer a fond homage to Nausicaa.

On the left, there’s Nausicaa and the right Eureka: we start with an establishing shot of a ruin, then our viewpoint characters burst inside, then they attempt to lift a crumbling toy/notice the corpses of the previous inhabitants (in both texts they have succumbed to a spore-like sickness).