After the starting three episodes effectively serve as a three-part pilot, episode four is a bit more standard fare, though still an important and entertaining affair.
Continuing where the last episode left off, we’re treated to a quick montage of the wolves journey. Starting from the snowy paw-prints tracked laid as they ran from the city into a desert wasteland before eventually reverting back to the snow laden environment most synonymous with the series. Not only does this serve to highlight the amount of time they traveled since the previous episode, a fact underlined later by Hige and Toboe’s conversation concerning how long it’s been since their last meal (three days), but it provides us a better sense of the world the main character inhabit. This is helped further through Kiba’s statement that by basking in the moonlight, he was capable of surviving an entire month without eating. Along with granting us more insight into the mythical powers of the wolves, it makes the barren state of the world clear entirely through context.
Thankfully though, this episode isn’t focused around the packs struggle to find sustenance, as Hige’s nose quickly picks up the scent food (in the form of a dead animal [deer I think?]). The true crux of the episode reveals itself here, as Tsume not only doesn’t chow down with the rest, but branches off on his own, with Toboe following behind with the intent to bring him back. This plot was inevitable with the character dynamics that were established, and with the area that Tsume stumbles into being the remnants of some sort of military installations, we get some action alongside the character development. After Toboe inadvertently activates some robotic machine, potentially programmed specifically to target wolves (though that’s pure conjecture at this point), the episode deals with the wolves needing to defeat and survive against their newest adversary. In terms of broad strokes, it works well enough and Kiba’s concluding battle with it is particularly entertaining, especially the sequence where he utilizes the icicle as a weapon. The conflict surrounding the battle is what’s interesting here however.
For starters, it continues the trend of the detached Tsume constant heroism towards those he supposedly doesn’t care about. While Toboe is calling out for Tsume, Tsume’s initial reaction is to scoff and leave but his attitude changes when he notices the weapon aimed for Toboe. He leaps out to save Toboe, resulting in him receiving a nasty injury in the process, one which hinders the two’s chance at survival. Once the two manage to find a temporary shelter, we’re given some insight into Tsume’s past. Not through any explicit reveals but the dialogue provides enough hints to his backstory, to at least provide enough sympathy for his behavior. From the note that Tsume is covered in scars, his declaration that having mutually no trust keeps things nice and simple, and his actions throughout the series towards Toboe and Gehl, help paint a picture for what might’ve occurred to him in the past.
Even though Tsume’s position in the group forms the crux of the episode, we’re also presented into some insight into Kiba’s past as well. Unlike Tsume’s who can, at best be inferred to through solely through dialogue and behavior, Kiba’s an entirely visual experience. It most likely details Kiba’s experience of learning about paradise, represented through the lunar flower, from a Native American Shaman by bonfire. What I like most about this sequence, and what makes me believe it’s showing Kiba’s time learning about it, is the close-up of the eye, after the lunar fire, reflecting the fire with a growing intensity as if pin-pointing the moment Kiba’s drive was set afire.
Overall this was another visually impressive episode of Wolf’s Rain. I do have a few more issues with the technical aspects than I did in previous episodes. More nit-picky stuff like smoke being a stagnant background rather than a moving force removed impact from the scene or just waving around the still image of a Tsume path of blood felt like a cheap way to introduce that he was wounded in his effort to save Toboe. Later action sequences made up for it but in terms of lay-out and instilling the visuals with meaning, this is another great episode. The continued ways the series showcases that the wolves are wolves remain entertaining and surprisingly varied despite almost always pertaining to their shadows. This time when the scene switches to Tsume’s perspective, Toboe calling out Tsume’s name is replaced by Toboe howling. However, most of what I want to focus on is Tsume and his constant positioning throughout the episode. Early on, he’s clearly framed distantly from the rest of the cast. It’s a less obvious during the snow cave scene, as Kiba too situated close like Toboe and Hige are but the following scene depicts the gap in-between them with crystal clarity, making Tsume’s departure feel like the natural course of events. Most importantly though, the whole story of him leaving and re-joining the pack is highlighted through the opening and closing montages. Due to the resolution and shading, it’s a bit hard to decipher the order in this moment, but all the rest in the opening montage feature Tsume in last place, with Kiba in the lead, and Toboe and Hige swapping places depending on the moment. This is reversed at the end of the episode in two important ways. The first distinction from the opening segment is that Tsume and Kiba’s positions are swapped but the more important one is that he increased closeness with Toboe. In context of the episode’s plot, it’s simply because Tsume is still injured but in reality it highlights his developing relationship.
This episode wasn’t all about the wolves though, we got a few relatively brief but important scenes focusing on my favorite divorced couple in all media, Hubb and Cher. Outside of Hubb getting totally dazed by Cher’s goodbye kiss, there isn’t much in terms of sweet moments between the two. Cher’s comments to Hubb are interesting and a bit scary, as she’s seeming going through some sort of existential crisis before leaving Hubb and the city behind. However, she doesn’t go without leaving Hubb without a present, and I’m not talking about the aforementioned kiss. Tasking him with the job to water imaginary plants, and using his tacky present from the episode before, she manages to direct his attention to the Book of the Moon. The most interesting element to speculate here is why she took such an indirect approach, and if that ties into her dour words during the dinner. To be honest, I don’t actually remember myself even slightly, so it’s something I’m really looking forward to re-learning.
Overall though, “Scars in the Wasteland” is about the wolves, their newly formed pack and in particularly Tsume’s dynamic with them (which early on provides one of the sickest burns in anime history). The strength of their relationship is defined through instinctual behavior as well, at least when it concerns Kiba. The last fascinating moment of the episode was Hige and Kiba catching whiff of Cheza’s scent, yet upon realizing the danger that Tsume and Toboe’s life are at stake, the most steadfast and stubborn character in pursuing Paradise doesn’t waste any time ditching the lead in favor of saving his fellow wolves. Much how Kiba’s reason for helping Tsume simply boiled down to instincts, I reckon the same holds true for Tsume saving Toboe. With the difference being here, is that Kiba is a lot more open than Tsume. I would probably classify this as the weakest episode thus far, but Wolf’s Rain is still very much holding up for me, and this episode is still better than what I can expect from most shows at their best.