Paradise...Lost? Understanding the Ending to Wolf's Rain

You may not know this, but Wolf’s Rain is my favourite anime series. I say that having minimal understanding of the show’s symbolism, and I take issue with certain facets of its execution, but I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it before. However, what I’ve never gotten behind was the closing scene, literally the last 15 seconds of the final episode. At least, until recently. And let me explain why.

By the way, this contains spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the show yet…please do so first.


Anyway, the show follows the journey of four wolves, Kiba, Tsume, Hige and Toboe, and their journey to find “Paradise”. Paradise, according to the show, is a realm where the world, now corrupt and dying, begins anew, with everything being in perfect balance. Paradise also has a catch, as only wolves can open this world with the help of a gatekeeper named Cheza, who’s made of moonflowers. But all of that’s revealed over 30 episodes, so in the meantime it’s a race between the four wolves, three nobles and a group of humans to seek out this legendary, and possibly even mythical, Paradise and reap the rewards.

To keep a long story short, the wolves make their way to the mountaintop where Paradise is said to be opened, all the while most of them dying, until it’s only Kiba, a badly-injured Cheza and the series’s prime antagonist, Lord Darcia, struggling inside the mountain for the fate of the world. Darcia dies, Cheza wilts, Kiba is reborn and Paradise is opened. And then we see Darcia’s cursed eye poison a nearby flower and…we get a scene with Kiba running along the city streets like nothing happened.

End show.

My reaction in a nutshell. (Courtesy of Nick Zhukov.)

Yeah…words can’t express how pissed off I was by this. After thirty episodes, four of them pointless recaps, and an emotionally devastating finale, we arrived at the destination point and achieved our overall goal. We watched our favourite characters die at the hands of the villains. And now that we’re there, it was all a lie? What’s wrong with this show, jerking us around for nothing? What a rip!

Alas, I could find no resolution for this unsatisfactory conclusion. But the show had ended, so I was forced to come to terms with my disappointment; h*ll, in an unpublished collaboration with a fellow g1, I had this to say:
“That said, my final complaint with this show IS with the OVA, particularly with its final scene. Not because it's bad, it isn't, or because it's unnecessary, it isn't, but because it felt redundant. There was no need for the modern day setting to reinforce that Paradise doesn't really exist, the previous shot in the garden with that corrupted flower was more than enough to do the trick. I appreciate what they were getting at with it, but…meh.”
So yeah, not a happy camper. But then I went to hear a world-famous, Jewish speaker give a lecture at my synagogue. In his speech, he talked about the tragedy of living, and how it can be hard to handle the cruelty while maintaining love and optimism. And it hit me. After years of confusion and anger, the ending to Wolf’s Rain finally made sense:

Paradise doesn’t actually exist…at least, not in the conventional sense.

You might be thinking, “Well, you already acknowledged that, so why are you repeating yourself?” Think about it this way: Wolf’s Rain is a meta-textual series. This means that everything about it, be it characters’ names, the setting, in-show easter-eggs, lines of dialogue, the likes, is alluding to other works of art. In some cases, the events are even metaphors for something grander, like how Paradise is a metaphor for a state of being. A rather obscure, non-concrete metaphor, but a metaphor regardless.

So when a show mired in cold, detached subtlety, not unlike this one, decides to take its key idea, finding Paradise, and flip it on its head, it’s trying to establish something for the viewer. You might not get it right away, but that’s why it’s called “allusion”. Allusions are meant to be thought over and reflected upon, whereupon you better appreciate it in its proper context. In other words, the ending, like the show itself, means something.

Here’s my take: the ending is a reality check for how we view our own little utopias. You know how we always say, “In a perfect world, this would happen”? Well, that’s our projection of utopia on a less-than-perfect reality. Because, let’s face it, life sucks. It’s filled with hardships, bad stuff happens to good people, evil thrives, you get the gist. And we have to learn to accept that. But it’s hard, so we don’t.

And this is why, once we get glimmers of our utopian ideal, we’re disappointed. True, the element of expectation is important, overhype is always problematic, but disappointment is life getting in the way. It’s interesting that the show about hope in dark times would tackle something so harsh and sad as disappointment, as it spits in the face of Kiba’s ultimate desire. Remember, he has the first and final piece of dialogue in the entire show. Everything, essentially, revolves around him. And that dialogue is the most important piece of the puzzle:
“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. It just goes on and on. But, in spite of that... Why am I so driven to find it? A voice calls to me... It says, ‘Search for Paradise.’”
It sounds bizarre saying this, but of the four wolves, Kiba really has the most depth. Tsume’s arc, while interesting, is really “lone wolf learns the value of camaraderie”. Toboe reaffirms what he already was: a loyal companion. Hige is the “traitor turned friend,” except that he doesn’t really develop until much later on. But Kiba has the biggest turn-around, going from a loner with a strong desire for wolf’s pride, to a mellow pack leader, to the saviour of the world. He lives the longest, dies last and is the most active part of the final scene, running in the streets while his friends sit on the sidelines. He’s also the anchor of the show’s theme of finding a better world than the current one.

So how fitting it is that reality gets the final say, not him, no? Yes, he has the closing monologue, and yes, it’s his story. But reality doesn’t care. You may think you’re in control of everything you do, but are you really? Can you control your birth gender? Who your parents are? Your birth name? Even the exact second at which you’re going to die?

The real fallacy of living, I think, is believing that everything that happens to you is in your control. It’s not. And while our hopes and dreams for a perfect, utopian world can’t be met, it’s to be expected. That’s why it’s a utopia. You can fight and die for it, but it’s your own, unrealistic utopia. And reality has no time for that.

But the beauty of the ending, I think, is arguing that that’s okay. So your perfect world can’t happen, so what? Does that mean you can’t have hope anyway? Does that mean you can’t find a glimmer of utopia? I think you can. And given that wolves are revered as a sign of hope in Japan, that wolves are the only ones allowed to open Paradise, let-alone survive in it, is indicative of that.

Besides, Paradise isn’t only an entity. It’s a concept. It’s a concept that signifies that hope never dies, even in times of despair. Because if you can find something hopeful in this world, even in times of disarray, to cling onto, then you know something? That’s Paradise. And I think that’s what Wolf’s Rain was trying to say with its closing scene…

Either that, or I’m reading too much into this ending and it legitimately sucks. You be the judge.

Comments

  1. I truly like your interpretation. While getting consumed by this series, I was rather shocked about the ending. Since the start, I believed that they will all end up in paradise. And within the last 3 episodes, everyone died. What irony. If I compare it with my initial ending, my "utopia", I feel almost naive. After such a long journey, I am shocked about Darcia´s eye, turning world to hell. I, like you, believe that the blossoming flower in the city has something to do with feeding us some hope, creating a parallel universe in which paradise can be found this time. Something like an alternative ending, setting it to zero. The disbelief you gained after watching the series about getting a happy ending, however, is enormous. After what Kiba said, that there is nothing but the long path that has no end, I do not think that there will be paradise waiting for them. But, still, there is always the small voice in my head that says "maybe it will though". Is this the reason why some people keep going? Although they experienced so much sorrow? I really wonder

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    1. It's interesting because the concept of "Paradise" as a literal manifestation may be impossible, but the metaphorical component is tangible. And even then, the struggle of finding paradise is what really matters, even if it's achieved through pain and grief.

      It's almost comparable to, assuming you don't mind me going Biblical, the reason why Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. That would've been the ideal place for them to live, but their very existence would've been meaningless had they stayed. They had to appreciate struggle to experience joy, and that meant exposing them to the harsh realities of the world. I think Wolf's Rain's ending is similar to that...

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  2. there's a lot of future talk in this show too... First (and most important I think) is when Kiba meets Darcia for the first time, Darcia asks Kiba what dose he hope to find in Paradise. Kiba says a future, not hope or despair. just a future. and then in one of the lasts episode Darcias talks about his vision of paradise "it has neither perfect happiness nor joy nor life. This is because it also does not contain perfect sadness nor misery nor death."

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    1. Interesting. I'll have to keep that in mind when I rewatch the show for the fourth time...

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