I have always had a fascination for wolves, so yes, that means that at one point I was one of those starry-eyed girls who’s Dream Bedroom of Childhood contained a poster of a beautifully rendered painting of a wolf howling at a full moon, typically with a backdrop of pretty stars. Like this one.
At heart, I still am.
Two recent discoveries tapped into that old love of mine, the first being an anime series called Wolf’s Rain, which stars possibly the best cast EVAR of “bishies” (short for “bishonen” or “beautiful youth”).
The other is a recent film release called, The Wolf Children.
And in that case, if you can get over the subtle hint at bestiality, it actually proves itself to be a very touching story of parenthood and coming-of-age in the face of adversity, winning quite a few accolades, which was enough to convince me to buy the DVD even though I hadn’t seen it. And I was not at all disappointed. I put it on the shelf with all other movies that can make me cry (admittedly, crying at a movie for me is just the eyes watering, but for me that’s a big deal, because at the same time my insides are getting torn up inside by big emotions–I just can’t fill those cry buckets physically). Don’t believe me? Just click on the family pic above.
While both pieces are very different in their tone, they both seem to contain that underlying current of many a story about wolves and how they’re not really monsters: wolves are mysterious (and I say that while waggling my fingers dramatically). Aside from the roles they play in many a variety of religious practices, the history between humans and wolves seems to tap into something profound, encompassing themes of humanity vs. nature, and a kind of misunderstanding about who is truly the monster: the man with the gun, or the wolf with the teeth? Especially when taking into account that fact the domestic dogs are bred from thousands of years ago from the wolf, there’s also seems to be this story of a pact between humans and wolves that evokes a sense of promises made and broken, with that light of redemption just out of reach that we humans crave in the face of our darkest demons.
And this is not a concept exclusive to the two works I mentioned above.
Another anime series, titled Spice and Wolf, features the travels of a young merchant named Kraft Lawrence and the wolf god of the harvest, Holo, whose human incarnation is a young girl with wolf ears and a tail (of course that’s how she appears, this is Japan we’re talking about, home of the kitsune fox demons who now crop up in anime shows as bishies with fox ears and the like).
And any fan of Hayao Miyazaki will undoubtedly be aware of one of his best works, Princess Mononoke, which I think gave sufficient evidence (if Miyazaki’s work hadn’t already) that you can craft a story about the struggle of humans vs. nature without sounding preachy. In fact, you can make it downright epic.
And Twilight. Good God how it tried. *chokes a little on own bile*
Like Miyazaki, Mamoru Hosoda, who directed the aforementioned Wolf Children, has taken the concept of wolves again and created a touching story of love and mystery. It starts appropriately enough with a love story between a woman named a Hana, and a wolfman named Ookami (which means “wolf” in Japanese, lol), and how they (SPOILER ALERT) have two kids together before Ookami promptly gets hit by a truck while hunting in his wolf form. You’d think that that kind of death would come off as almost hilarious, but Hosoda plays it out so perfectly that you’d have to have a heart of stone not to watch it and not feel your heart getting ripped to shreds right along with Hana’s.
But in her own courageous fashion, Hana manages to find it in herself to do what she can take care of their two children, who are, to make matters more complicated, half-wolf and therefore constantly switching back between their human and wolf forms. But in the end she manages gracefully, and as for the children themselves, a girl named Yuki and a boy named Ame, they have their own personal journeys of coming-of-age: one chooses the human path, the other chooses the path of the wolf. And both those journeys are well-told too. Yuki ultimately chooses to be a human, and we see her struggle with that half of herself so she can fit into that world, and Ame meanwhile ultimately chooses to be a wolf, drawn to the forest and feeling stronger in himself because of his choice. And even though there’s a point in the film where’s it’s kind of obvious where it’s going to go, the climax nevertheless delivers something heartfelt and beautiful, bringing in too that concept of a mother who has worked hard to rear her children and now must let them both go on their own ways in life.
One of the last sound bites in the film is, appropriately enough, a wolf’s howl.
Honestly, the mystery of the wolf here is actually a rather underplayed thing, more a part of the organism rather than the organism itself. But it adds to the whole thing. Really, this film could have been just as moving without the wolf element, if it had just been about a widowed mother raising two children. With the wolf element though there’s a sense of magic, and a little tragedy too since the wolf is extinct in Japan and Ookami was one of the last of that race with a mix of human and wolf blood, evoking images of ghostly wolves people have claimed to see dwelling the forests of Hokkaido. And the stakes concerning Ame are a little more raised in my opinion only because the idea itself is so scary, the idea of letting your child live out his life in the dangers of the wild, but only able to do so because you know that they know they’re ready for it, and you were the one who made that possible.
And again, the relationship between humans and nature is addressed, but definitely with much subtlety. So you might walk away from the film with a greater appreciation for how awesome wolves are, but you don’t feel like anyone thrust that message on you in any way.
Now, Wolf’s Rain, is an entirely different um…beast.
As I’m writing this now, I’m wondering if again there wasn’t some inspiration drawn from the fact that wolves are extinct in Japan. Maybe I’m wrong. I’m only wondering because the story of Wolf’s Rain takes place in an alternate reality where wolves have been wiped out entirely–or so it’s believed, because again we have surviving wolves who’ve only survived because they can disguise themselves as humans. So you can imagine what kind of issues that already brings up, things like the idea of maintaining the integrity of your identity in a world that would kill you for being honest and open about it and honoring that integrity in the first place, as well as the pride, or lack thereof, that goes with it.
All the while these survivor wolves that we follow in Wolf’s Rain are working towards the ultimate goal of finding “paradise”, which if that word alone brings to mind images of redemption and reward and the innate desire to transcend a world rife with suffering, I’m not at all surprised.
This is a fairy tale that takes place in a world where fairy tales have died.
I’m about halfway through watching the series, though I’ve already been spoiled to the ending. Although that makes me no less eager to watch it, especially with this being an allegory (or so I’ve heard) so it wasn’t like I would fully understand the ending without watching it anyway (though I think I’m beginning to). Which reminds me, apologies for the spoilerific meme above for anyone who hasn’t seen the show but is thinking of watching it, but on the other hand, if it’s freely accessible on the Internet, you’re bound to come across it some other way I suppose. Besides, I couldn’t resist when I read what it said.
Regardless, I must warn that more spoilers abound up ahead.
The plot itself focuses on four wolves in particular who are making their journey to Paradise–Kiba, Tsume, Hige, and Toboe. They are later joined by a dog named Blue who is in fact half-wolf and upon awakening that fact abandons her human master, a wolf hunter named Quent. (No, not Quint, he hunts and gets eated by great white sharks.) The wolves are guided to Paradise by a maiden called Cheza who was created alchemically from a fantastical blossom known as a lunar flower. Naturally, wolves are drawn to lunar flowers as they share this kind of symbolic link with the moon, and also, naturally, wolves in this universe are made stronger by basking in moonlight, which adds another spiritual layer to this spiritual cake. The cake also contains lore about wolves being a divine creature, and something from which humans were created. This show is very much building on the spiritual influence of wolves in our own world, right down to the wolves’ haunting howl to the moon.
And as in any world rife with a bleak outlook and prophesied to in fact be coming to end by the moon which is slowly turning red, the wolves and the flower maiden, as well as the other characters, all come across hardships in the form of other wolves who’ve “sold their souls” in a sense in order to survive after failing in their own quests to find Paradise (a wolf’s quest to find Paradise is kind of like a right of passage in this universe), to a dark and tormented nobleman of cursed heritage known as Lord Darcia who is determined to attain Paradise for himself, even after the woman he loves has her soul stolen by Paradise–a condition known as “Paradise sickness”–and is then killed later on by the army of another noble, Lady Jagura. The nobles themselves are a mysterious bunch, not really presented in the traditional sense, but instead as this kind of magic-practicing cult of seemingly higher beings who at one time lead the world towards prosperity by using alchemy to create technology capable of sending mankind into the stars and the like.
The whole thing’s woven together to create a very contemplative and meaningful story, and much of that weight is created by focusing the story on our lupine heroes. It’s something that touches on something spiritual, and again, part of that comes from the involvement of the wolves, the idea that despite their divinity there are still those who’d rather go to Hell for killing them off because of personal vendettas again. This is no different from all wolves that have been killed out of fear, no less than anything that kills another simply out of fear and not from any true malice.
With stories like these, building on many stories and legends from before, the wolf appears to have become a symbol of the natural world we have left behind and now fear, a reminder of the relationship we as humans once had with it and have now lost.
In episode 14 of Wolf’s Rain, Dr. Cher DeGray, a scientist who was briefly studying the mystery of Cheza the flower maiden, makes a revelatory comment that the world appears to have been split into two, one humans can see and one humans can’t, and the animals are aware of that.
I would like to agree.
When we come across the wolf, it’s almost like crossing paths with our own human past. I’m not saying that doing so would be without danger, but either way, that’s what it would be. I have personally never crossed wolves, but would love to one day, preferably in a situation where the wolf wasn’t rabid or so starved for food that it was willing to eat me. When I look at a wolf, I see a being that simply acts according to its nature, yet at the same time possesses a kind of wise benevolence, in the way packs operate as a family unit whose members look out for another (of course there’s always the occasional troublemaker), and their range of dispositions is rather poignant to me too,how at one moment they can
assume a defensive or offensive stance depending on circumstances,
to an entirely difference stance of playfulness when the danger or the prospective dinner has been and gone and there’s nothing to do but pal around with one’s fellow pack mates,
to a happy little pack of buggers,
to sleepy contentment,
to timid fear,
And heavens that howl.
It’s a natural communication thing, like ringing someone up on the telephone. But a phone call for us can be as mundane as making a doc’s appointment, to as pivotal to our emotional existence as making sure someone knows that you love them. I don’t wonder if it’s the same for wolves. That and the sound itself has a haunting quality that seems to touch upon an ethereal plane. And couple it with Cheza’s lullaby in Wolf’s Rain and good gracious you have yourself possibly the saddest dirge for a wolf’s death EVAR.
For me personally, what I’m drawn to most in both these shows and in wolves in general, aside from all the awesome reasons I’ve stated above, is the essence of family. Which I did kind of touch on but I’d like to be a little more specific about it for just a moment.
I LOVE stories about family, and maybe it’s because I’m in a desperate search for my own, though this obviously isn’t something unique to just me. It’s innate in most people to seek out a group of people to which they can belong, getting back to that aspect of both humans and wolves being social creatures and generally living in family groups. Both Wolf Children and Wolf’s Rain have these elements in common to varying degrees, as much as other shows and stories I enjoy, like Clannad and Clannad After Story, Anohana, Harry Potter, and Pushing Daisies, a.k.a. “Pie Show”. But wolves in particular contain that theme while at the same time bridging the gap between man and nature in that respect. Both in the mundane (if fictional), like wolves raising an abandoned human boy Mogli in The Jungle Book, to a she-wolf raising the future rulers of Rome, Romulus and Remus.
And it’s awesome.
So stands the wolf as something like the last guardian and teacher of what we might be able to rediscover about ourselves in time. Our collective conscious and unconscious has created this image in a way, with all that we’ve associated with wolves, both good and ill. And that in and of itself I think is a testament to how awesome and important wolves are, the idea that they are in fact on the same journey with us, even if we can’t see it, even if they’re taking a different route to the same destination.
The same I think goes for other creatures, like dolphins, eagles, elephants, and of course any animal that’s a primate just like us, like apes and chimps and monkeys. And I hope that we can all figure that out before it’s too late, so please, if you feel you must tell a story about a wolf, don’t think of it as cliched at all.
Well, it is cliched, but in a good way.
Unless you’re writing Twilight.