Wolf’s Rain: The Search For Meaning

Just a quick notice, because of the nature of the series, there’s pretty much no way this article can avoid from being spoilerific. I’m going to put the more tag up here so if you want to avoid that stuff, don’t click it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


“They say there’s no such place as paradise… Even if you search to the ends of the earth there’s nothing there. No matter how far you walk, it’s always the same road. But in spite of that, why am I so driven to find it? A voice inside of me calls to me. It says ‘Search for paradise’.”

Sometimes in life it’s simpler to simply exist. To survive, to be content, to seek material things because we think those things will lead us to happiness, but often times as humans we want there to be something more than that. We search and search for elusive “meaning,” and purpose,” something beyond contentment and closer to joy and happiness. We’re not even sure if it exists and the rest of the world seems to scream “there’s no such thing as purpose,” but something, something perhaps beyond our grasp, calls us to more.

That conflict is essentially the driving force of the plot of the anime Wolf’s Rain. It is ultimately a show about the struggle of meaning vs. mere existence.

Zali and his pack have given up the search for paradise.

Wolf’s Rain is set in a world of unrelenting pragmatism perhaps one might say. People and wolves alike both strive to do little more than exist, it’s very easy to tell early on that they have lost their meaning long ago. One of the most interesting examples of that is a pack of wolves encountered by our protagonists early on in the series. To get by they abandon their pride as wolves, the search for the elusive paradise, and are essentially used as sled dogs for the humans. This upsets Kiba, whose faith in paradise up until that point had been unshaken. It is heavily allegorical for the world we live in, few people are willing to search for meaning and fulfillment in a world that has given up on it.

Cheza confronts the old Hanabito.

The old Hanabito later encountered by Cheza is another person who has given up on Paradise/Meaning, but for different reasons. Rather than out of a desire to survive like with the aforementioned pack of wolves, she sees no point. She in many ways epitomizes cynicism and apathy, perhaps even nihilism. If the world is going to end anyway, isn’t it safer to just die out without having journeyed for paradise? What purpose is there in looking if one may never find it? This is something that Cheza doesn’t seem to be able to accept either, there must be true happiness somewhere, right?

Kiba revels in his false paradise. He looks so happy. @~@

And what is true happiness though and how does one achieve it? It’s not difficult to see that Wolf’s Rain’s answer is a distinctly Buddhist one, discovering happiness comes only through struggle. When Kiba enters his little desert hallucination, his paradise without struggle, his happiness he didn’t have to work for, it is revealed to be a false paradise. In fact, one could say that the struggle itself, the journey for paradise, is what validates it. If you don’t have to work for happiness then you probably were never happy to begin with, only content.

I swear it’s not what it looks like.

This idea is also brought up again in Jagara’s Keep. The people there are so blinded by their own contentment and complacency that they can’t see the world falling down around them. It too is a false paradise, a clandestine place where no suffering can exist, and so in turn no happiness can exist either. It’s a place of distractions, a place where the struggle for meaning has long been forgotten. Jagara herself opens up a sort of false, temporal paradise for herself and Darcia, which he denies because he sees it for what it is. It is not a Wolf’s paradise and was opened without the struggle required to do so. It too is meaningless.

And the cycle begins again.

In true Buddhist fashion, when the true paradise is opened so to speak, the smallest imperfection leads to a continuation of the cycle. The parallels to the idea of reincarnation are obvious, when you fail the cycle begins anew, such it has always been in the world of Wolf’s Rain.

“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 finalized in its existence. This knowledge has left me in despair, my fate has fallen and scattered like the petals of a dying flower, like the blast from a sand storm it has been warn down and weathered away. As if to be purified, the world will be encased in ice so that it can return to the beginning once more. Paradise is a world that is opened by someone… “

Stray! No regrets ’cause I got nothin’ to lose!

Now is this cycle endless? No, the message of the series seems to be that there is a purpose that we should strive for, that paradise, despite its elusive nature, is within reach. By placing the final scene (And the opening) In our modern world the narrative brings things closer to home. The viewer is challenged to find meaning for their lives and hopefully put an end to the cycle. So while the ending is tragic in many ways it is also hopeful. We can and should still search for purpose, even if the rest of the world seems to have turned its back on it. We must simply choose to listen to the voice inside us which calls us to “search for paradise”.

Whew! Thanks for reading all that! Please note that this is an incomplete analysis, and if you really want to get a grasp on the series I’d recommend watching/rewatching it. It’s really a wonderful series and my analysis could never do it justice.

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jackie Jones
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 00:12:03

    One of my absolute faves, thanks for sharing your analysis :).

    Reply

  2. Blind Spots and Obscure Stops
    Aug 28, 2013 @ 12:13:32

    One of my all-time favourite anime. Re-watching it now and it was a delight to read your blog on it.

    Reply

  3. Bahzi
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 15:55:07

    Very gorgeous dissection/ analysis. Succinct and true. Love it, fantastic job! Although, there are allegories and nods to many different religions and spiritual beliefs in this show, not just buddism. 🙂

    Reply

  4. hydeenote
    May 21, 2014 @ 02:43:45

    Reblogged this on متاهة ~.

    Reply

  5. The Fullmetal Narcissist
    Nov 16, 2014 @ 17:24:21

    I’m planning to put up a review of this series in December… I hope you don’t mind if I cite this post as a source.

    Reply

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