Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Inspiration Part Two: Wolf's Rain

Note: This post goes into similarities between Wolf's Rain and Hinduism - I do not claim to be an expert on Hindu philosophy. There are undoubtedly many things that I'm not getting right, or which appear right only on a surface level. Please point those things out.

There have been a few forays by anime into mythology. The feeling of mysticism and fantastical unreality pervades Texhnolyze, for one. The series is so wrapped up in unreality that it is akin to dreaming...something the series promotes itself. Kino's Journey also gets involved, though as a spectator, not a participant. In fact, the entirety of Kino's Journey feels like reading a book of myths. Of course, in the short history of anime mythologies, the grandest, most epic in scale, is Wolf's Rain.
This is a different type of literary inspiration, tied to a general category rather than a specific work. In fact, in some ways you might say that Wolf's Rain is tied more to religion than literature. The entire series carries with it religious overtones. The mysterious Book of the Moon seems akin to the holy books of many religions, though in particular it seems tied most closely to Hinduism with its idea of cyclical renewal.

The ties between Hinduism and Wolf's Rain are numerous, and appear through various avenues. Numbers, personalities, personas, all of these contribute to the mythological air surrounding the story of four wolves journeying to Paradise. For one thing, the very fact that there are four wolves closely relates to Hindu beliefs. Each wolf embodies one of the four "stages of life" in the Hindu belief. Toboe occupies the first stage, Hige the second. The second stage is characterized by a satisfaction of "kama and artha," which are the physical aspects of life (pleasure and wealth) - both of which Hige finds primarily through his relationship with Blue. In Kiba we find the final stage, where he has detached himself from the world in order to prepare for the next world. Kiba's focus is on the next life, not the present one, and this coincides with general Hindu theology.

Another core concept that jumps out is the necessity for good and evil as a sort of balancing act. Just as Darcia says in Wolf's Rain that a Paradise created by Kiba would be imperfect because of its lack of suffering, hatred, etc. to create a point of reference for the pleasure and love, so does Hinduism point to each god having a positive and negative incarnation. This also ties into the "yin and yang" idea, the concept of light and darkness.

One of the most interesting things about Wolf's Rain is that each character in turn is unable to complete the journey because of an attachment to the physical world. For Toboe it is his attachment to humans, for Blue it is her anger, for Hige his attachment to Blue, and Tsume his attachment to attachment. In the end it is only Kiba, who has his eyes set on the otherworldly Paradise, who is able to complete it, and even he falls short.

Wolf's Rain is about the journey. However, it is more than that - it is the end of a cycle. The end of the series is also a new beginning, the beginning of a new world. One of the basic beliefs of Hinduism is the fact that Brahma continually creates and destroys the universe. In Wolf's Rain, Brahma's eyes are closing, as the world comes closer and closer to destruction. And at the same time, Kiba's quest is to open the eyes of the next Brahma, to create the new world. There is so much beauty in such a quest, to create a better world, to make things better. Unfortunately, the beauty is tainted. Darcia's death taints the perfection.

At the end of Wolf's Rain we see a world similar to our own - in fact, it is our own. The world we were born into, it seems, is the world born of the sacrifices of wolves. This mythological take on human history has its roots in one of the world's oldest religions (and perhaps more - there are many Buddhist ties in the story as well). The message is quite clear - Kiba's journey will continue, perhaps forever as the cycle continues, or perhaps until he opens the true Paradise.

16 Comments:

At 9:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i really like the way your ideas are put together even though i'm only up to the fifth episode- iv'e read many spoilers about the cartoon and i have a good idea of what's to happen.
i don't know much about hinduism or mythology but from what you stated that was all making more sense.
ARIGATO!^____^

 
At 6:40 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Always glad to help. If you want to know more than you ever wanted to know about Wolf's Rain, check out the forums on "Rakuen" the Wolf's Rain fansite (it's in my link bar).

 
At 7:23 PM, Blogger donutsrgood said...

i havent seen to many shows i know about it because my friend tim did the voise for the white wolf about 5 times so go to my website it is www.donutsrgood7.blogspot.com

 
At 10:27 PM, Anonymous Sirius The Wolfhound said...

I'm happy someone decided to investigate the inner working's of Wolf's Rain and it's mythology. Inspiration can come from any source and really enrichens the project with ligitimacy. The only problem with the story is that it made me CRY! I'm sure only some people watching the show TRULY understand it's context. And of course, only a few of those actually understood the ending! I may not be into anime as much as you, but captivates me. Peace out, keep on rocking in the free world, and so on and so forth!

 
At 8:59 PM, Blogger Michael said...

sirius: It's true, most people will, unfortunately, gloss over the aspects of Wolf's Rain that make it such a great series. However, I think that's okay. We're all trying to find our own little niche anyways, so if it just so happens that a small group occupies the "Wolf's Rain is amazing" corner, all that means is that we have a more exclusive club.

 
At 6:30 PM, Blogger Melanie Faith said...

I just finished the series today, in fact, after many months of progressing through the series. Needless to say my hubby and I were confused by the ending. Do the wolves recognize each other in the next life--and are they even wolves any more? (wondered that after seeing Tobawai picking up a kitty); I assume that Keba is running at the end because he senses Cheza nearby. Does she have a "new form" like she says to him before she becomes the "seeds"--or is *that* her new form. Also, do Blue and the other characters (the human ones) get to go to the "new world"? Is the whole cycle doomed to repeat itself--and will the same characters be casted or is it an altogether new experience with new players? Do wolves even exist anymore or have they become obsolete? So many questions... that's the number one irritation of watching anime--the "alter-american-mentality" endings. lol

 
At 6:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen wolf's rain twice, I even own all of it! I'm so lost in the end though, is that paradise at the end? Why does Kiba run at the end? Where is he running to?

 
At 1:50 PM, Blogger Michael said...

I wish that I had the comments set up to show dates, as well as just times. And I should get those emailed to me, since I don't revisit this blog that often anymore...

Anyhow, as proof that I do continue to revisit this blog to check for comments, I'll first start this by saying that it's January 26, 2008 - over a year since my last post on this blog. Now on to these more recent comments.

Melanie (and, in a way, I'm going to answer "anonymous"'s question as well): I'll first attempt to answer your specific questions before I get into the intent behind your questions, and how yes, it is an American mentality that unfortunately won't be satisfied by this story's composition and thematic elements.

As far as the wolves recognizing each other - I would doubt it. The world has been remade, and since the story hinges on Hindu and Buddhist philosophy (with the concept of rebirth) I would assume that none of the characters know each other in this new life. Blue and the other humans entering this reborn world is unlikely, as the story continually states that there is paradise, but only wolves can find it.

Now, on to the implicit assumption behind your questions.

In Western society, we have a linear conception not only of time, but of events. There is a beginning and an end - this concept is rooted in the strong influence of Christianity on Western Civilization. Wolf's Rain, however, comes from a cyclical conception of time and events. Things happen recurringly, so that what we see is not necessarily a pattern repeating itself, but a loop of kinds. So my best interpretation of the ending of Wolf's Rain is this: Kiba intended to create a paradise, but his pure belief was tainted by Darcia's impure ones. Thus, our world was created.

This ties into the duality concept of good and evil as balancing one another.

Wolf's Rain is a mythological retelling of the creation of our world, and what our purpose is now that we are here. It is quite obvious from the ending sequence that the world that Kiba "created" through his desire for paradise is our own. Thus, we are part of this cycle of events. Whether it is inevitable that we repeat Kiba's journey, and destroy ourselves only to be remade, or whether we finally attain "nirvana" of sorts, is up to us. At least, that's my interpretation of the ending. I hope it satisfies you.

 
At 11:09 PM, Anonymous Bbvoncrumb said...

Heres my interpretation: Paradise, is the original form of the world, before humans polluted it. Wolves are the original form of life, as the book of the moon says, humans evolved from wolves. Emphasis on the words "original" here =D. Now, i see it as this: once the chosen wolf (Kiba) travels with the flower maiden (Cheza) to paradise, the world will end. But if paradise is the world, only in its original form, it must first exist before the current world can be destroyed. If paradise exists and the current world is destroyed, paradise will then evolve as the new world, into a age of humans and pollution, only to be destroyed again and reborn. (At this point im glad there isnt a character restriction on the post) SO... Kiba+Cheza = Paradise, except for this the intervening Lord Darcia. Since Darcia is only part wolf (like 1 10th for his eye) even though he has managed to enter wolf form, hes is obliterated upon trying to enter paradise, this is sticking to the "only wolves are allowed in paradise" theme, as humans evolve from wolves, how can a human live before they have evolved? (Also at this point i beleive most of you have quit the browser and started crying in confusement, which is fine, since im only 14 and cant really tell this in a non-confusing way =D) But, as you will see Darcias eye is able to remain in Paradse, but quickly starts polluting it with his impure thoughts. OK! for those of you still with me heres the ending scene interpretation: The new world has been created from paradise. And its been alooong time since Kiba opened it, since its fully inhabited by humans. It shows Kiba walking past all his friends, Hige, Toboe and Tsume. This probaly shows that they will sometime all meet again. When Kiba starts running, i think its him running towards paradise, hes still the same guy, with only 1 thing he has to aspire to, and thats finding paradise. So, to put it briefly: The world will end, but only when paradise opens. Kiba does NOT make it into paradise, he dies, but in paradise wolves are born. 50000million or so years pass and now humans have evolved and Kiba is born again, and so his search for paradise begins. Im 14years old and i really really have never cried so much in the last 3hours or so that the 25-30 episodes took, and i have spent many a time pondering its themes. This is my best interpretation of the ending. Hope it helps!

 
At 1:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have finished watching all of Wolf Rain. At first I dis liked the ending but reading different peoples interpreations on the ending has help me to understand it. But I diss agree that Blue and the other humans were not reborn because in many different religions dealing with rencarnation or rebirth everything and everyone is reborn but that does not mean they are the same person or that the will met the same people also or same desions. I also disagree with the fact that they could not have a since of recognetion because if you read or study people who have had memorys of past life then you will see sometimes people do relize oneanother. I'm not say that they will have memories or recognetion but I would not rule it out either.

I find it sad that they have to relive the suffuring thogh and that he never truly finds the paradise he is looking for but is that not stating that we can never find or create a paradise on earth not a pure one any ways. I believe that even if we did have a perffict paradise we would not be sagasfide because sometimes the inperfections are what make us aprecitate what we have. I also belive that paradise is what we make of it.

The only quesion I have is do you believe that we all surch for something just so that we exist, I mean wither it is love, to help others or distroy others do you believe it is to give our life a purpuse or meaning in this world but I often find that the world keeps going wither we exist or not.

 
At 8:31 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Bbvoncrumb: Thanks for your thoughts on the ending. One person's interpretation often can't capture the entirety of a show's meaning and message, and I thank you and all the other visitors who have contributed to my understanding of the show.

Anonymous: You bring up some very good points about recognition and reincarnation. Since we are only exposed to the "new world" in Wolf's Rain for a moment, we can only speculate, but I'd like to think that both of our positions could be equally valid, depending on the direction the creators decide to take.

As for your question concerning purpose, and meaning...

I'm a Christian - just so you understand, this is the origin of my point of view. I believe that our desire for purpose and meaning are a result of our separation from God through sin. Only through God's love can we find purpose and meaning that are fulfilling.

 
At 9:14 AM, Anonymous Camilla said...

I think that the world has "began" again, in the ending, and that all the characters are sort of reborn. Weder they are humans (Tsume riding a bike and Toboe holding a citty) or wolfes, i dont know. but i think that Kiba starts running because he remember what happend. He was still (barley) alive when the new word was created, so maby that makes him remember who he was, and his purpose. The other ones died before, so they dont remember. Kiba starts his search again, and this time he is closer to fining the Lunar flower than he was in the old world. maby he gets closer everytime and in the end will reach paradise? I dont know, but i hope so, and this is my interpetation. i know it is quite incomplite, but this was my first thoughts about the ending. (sorry for my bad english).

 
At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Camilla said...

I think that the world has "began" again, in the ending, and that all the characters are sort of reborn. Weder they are humans (Tsume riding a bike and Toboe holding a citty) or wolfes, i dont know. but i think that Kiba starts running because he remember what happend. He was still (barley) alive when the new word was created, so maby that makes him remember who he was, and his purpose. The other ones died before, so they dont remember. Kiba starts his search again, and this time he is closer to fining the Lunar flower than he was in the old world. maby he gets closer everytime and in the end will reach paradise? I dont know, but i hope so, and this is my interpetation. i know it is quite incomplite, but this was my first thoughts about the ending.

 
At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad I could find a discussion on this great series so long after it came out! I was drawn to it because of the spiritual overtones.

After scouring the web for some decent discussions of this I have to say yours is the most thoughtful explanation I've come across.

I appreciate what you said (in the comments) about trying to be aware of one's own (western) worldview. To westerners, "Paradise" usually means Heaven. We tend to view the world linearly and dualistically. To most of us, the "end goal" is a New Eden - a world free of struggle and pain. This place, we imagine, is not like our current world at all. But in the east, especially in Buddhism (Zen in particular), Paradise is the present moment, the mundane; literally right under our nose. (As I believe Darcia says to Kiba in one of the last episodes)

Throughout the whole series, the wolves seemed to be searching for a Paradise like the western definition; an Edenic place where they could reunite with loved ones, free of struggle and pain. This is seen after Toboe dies, and when Cheza sings them to sleep. By the end of the series, Kiba admits that there is no Paradise. To me, that statement seems to be the message of the series: there is no "Paradise" because we are already IN Paradise.

In his last moments, Hige tells Tsume that they will meet again in Paradise. Tsume then says this to Kiba before his death, and Cheza asks Kiba to come find her in the new Paradise. In the last scenes we see them all (in some form) in a city. They seem to be unaware of one another, yet through their body language we get the pervading feeling they are soon to reconnect. They are about to meet again, in Paradise.

In one of the last episodes, it is explained how wolves were the original forms of the Nobles and the humans. The humans and nobles cannot open/go to Paradise because they have forgotten their true forms. They have forgotten their original nature. Personally, this reminds me of the Original Face Koan of Zen (What did your face look like before your parents were born?) Paradise can only be "found" by wolves because only they have retained their true forms - their Original Faces. Although the situation in Wolf's Rain does not perfectly capture the essence of the Original Face Koan, I think it's a good way to understand why only wolves can go.

Furthermore, it is said that Kiba is the "Chosen One" - the one who has lost/shed all attachments, and is therefore the only one fit to open/enter Paradise. As (I think) someone else pointed out, this is very much like the monastic mission of a Buddhist Monk.

......

 
At 1:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...... (cont. from above)

If you watched the ending waiting for a Paradise that looks like the Garden of Eden - completely pure and untainted - you were probably disappointed and confused. Paradise (the next cycle of existence), it seems, looks almost exactly the same as the old world. There is nature and peace in the next Paradise, but there is also a giant human city complete with suffering (the abandoned kitten in the box). What I found to be most intriguing about Darcia's character is that he seemed to be the only person who knew what was going on most of the time. Although he is certainly a cruel and twisted character, I don't believe it is helpful to one's understanding of the series to label him as "evil."

Within Hindu mythology, Brahman (the supreme universal oneness) has many incarnations. Some are gods, some are plants, some are humans, bacteria, rocks, water, whatever. Everything is Brahman. That means everyONE, no matter their motivations ("evil" or not) is an incarnation of the supreme universal oneness. A helpful metaphor for this is a play, or a game. There are many characters in the play, and sometimes they hurt or kill one another, and sometimes we laugh and cry during the play, but the pain and the "evil" characters make it all the more grand and exciting. As OP said, they provide a point of reference. And ultimately, everything is okay because Brahman is just... playing a game with itself.

This is why Darcia's eyeball "tainted" the next Paradise. He is supposed to. His chaos, evil, greed, insanity, whatever belongs there. Like Shiva, his role is to destroy. Kiba's (Brahma) role is to create the next Paradise, to fight and struggle to do so. And Cheza, literally an incarnation of the earth, is Vishnu, the sustainer. I suppose that would make us, the viewers, the audience in this grand cosmological play. Which is pretty cool when you think about film/animation in general :)

 
At 8:17 AM, Blogger Michael said...

Anon: Glad you came across the blog. I'll be honest, when I quit writing posts for Like Water over, well, five years ago (time flies!), I didn't expect this post to be the most enduring of the lot that I had written. That being said, I'm glad it retained enough of my original intent to maintain a discussion years later. Wolf's Rain remains one of the best anime series I have watched, and it's great to have another person who examined it so closely and came to similar, and as you've so explained in your two comments, and strongly reasoned conclusions. Thanks for the thought provoking response, and honestly I think that with what you've added to the discussion, the mystery (at least to Western audiences) of the mythology of Wolf's Rain can finally be considered closed.

Michael
September 4, 2012

 

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