The Werewolf in Anime – Dangerous, Yet Beautiful
January 3, 2013 1 Comment
Werewolves will be familiar to anyone who has ever watched any western horror, or horror themed films (twilight counts in this respect), they are often beasts of immense strength, but also primeval and dangerous. In western traditions, the werewolf is often a symbol of becoming a pariah, for losing or failing to find an acceptable role in the social order. This theme can be linked with notions of puberty, sexuality, along with race, class, and gender roles, with werewolves displaying elements of hyper masculinity, along with an inability to truly fit into human society and becoming a dangerous force that must be crushed. Similar ideas run through anime and manga, with many wolf roles portrayed in a highly sexualised manner, or incapable of fitting in with their current society, which ultimately leads them to rejecting it entirely. Werewolves are however oddly absent in a lot of anime, at least in the ways that you might see them in western stories. Instead werewolves, or more accurately wolves and wolf gods in anime tap into a vat repertoire of Shinto and Animism beliefs within Japanese culture and society. Rather than werewolves, we more often see wolves who change shape, gods who manifest themselves in the form of a wolf, or perhaps a Kitsune, although in this case the mythology and beliefs associated with it are quite different.
What is so fascinating about wolves in anime, and in particular those that shape shift is the variety of genres and types of story, which they can appear in. There aren’t quite as many anime that involve werewolves and shape shifters, as there are manga however, with a significant number of shoujo, romance and a combination of these genres involving some sort of shape shifting. There are many anime involving spirits and elements from Shinto, Buddhism and other beliefs that fall within Animism, yet there are a select few that deal with wolves and more specifically lycanthropes. In Mononoke Hime, while there is no actual shape shifting or werewolves involved, it nevertheless gives us some insight into how wolves are considered as deities. San, the wolf princess is a human raised by Moro the wolf god, she is thus considered to be more animal than human. San is not a werewolf in any literal sense, but she is a lycanthrope by nature, taking on the characteristics of one and becoming something more than a werewolf, while still maintaining a human form. San believes that she is a wolf in her heart, yet she is a human and is aware of this fact, but her own notion of what it means to be a wolf comes from her own life experience, something that has been created within her.
San is a very agile girl, appearing superhuman in several scenes such as managing to climb the town’s barricade in two jumps. She acts more like an animal, moving on instinct, jumping around and landing on all fours – much like a dog or perhaps cat. She does not transform, however, and so she is torn between her humanity, and her wolf nature, something that becomes painfully obvious with the acknowledgement that Ashitaka is a human capable of living with nature in a harmonious way. San loves the forest and will destroy anything that threatens it, yet she resists nature itself, and importantly her own nature, that of being a human. This juxtaposition between San’s humanity and her wolf nature helps to demonstrate the complicated relationship that the Japanese have with their landscape. It is both beautiful, but also dangerous, and potentially deadly – the wolf in this respect is a being that is both wonderful to look at, a proud animal who does not deceive, but is also dangerous and will destroy if driven to it. San is in a sense the embodiment of the wolf, or more specifically humanities idea of the wild in human form – she is dangerous because she is unconstrained by human societies rules and laws. In this respect we can see the wolf as an allegory for the dangers that exist outside of society – the wild, untamed wilderness where mystical beings live.
Wolf’s Rain is an entirely different look at wolves in Japanese mythology and society, one that explores the more tragic qualities of wildlife and in particular those that can shape shift. This series presents us with a far less optimistic view of the relationship between humanity and nature than the eventual ending of Mononoke Hime. While the wolf pack may have the appearance of boys at times, they are not; their behaviour and understanding of human society and morals are those of a wolf, which often leads to tragedy and death. We have incidents where one wolf kills a young child that he is trying to save, while another one is revealed to have accidentally killed an old woman who took him in. Neither of these wolves seems to understand their own strength compared to humans, which is why they are dangerous, they are adolescents in every way, with little concept of right and wrong. The wolves in Wolf’s Rain are not mindless or soulless, given over to their animal nature in the way that western werewolves often are, but neither are they true humans. They are incapable is living in human society, and their interactions often lead to tragedy, and ultimately their own demise.
The wolves in Wolf’s Rain also present a curious and problematic approach to an understanding of nature. While they appear to have an understanding of nature, being the noble beings that wolves are meant to be, and according to the series, they are the only creatures capable of finding paradise. This follows on from mythology, both western and eastern, which presents wolves as noble, majestic beings that have maintained a purity that humanity has lost. However, as the show progresses we soon learn that the paradise which the wolf pack searches for may be an illusion, one that was created by them, for them. This suggests that wolves can be as out of touch with nature as humans, and are as prone to dreams and idealised notions of paradise. The suggestion that paradise is what you make of your current surroundings and who you are with completely passes them by. Wolves and lycanthropes in Wolf’s Rain are dangerous because of their youth; they are unbound by society and its laws, daydreamers, creatures that are incapable of seeing the reality that is in front of them. In a sense, the wolves in Wolf’s Rain are too human to be wolves, and maintain too many qualities of a wolf to live in human society – they are caught between the two, which ultimately leads to their destruction.
This status of the werewolf as a social outcast can be balanced by the existence of a wolf pack, an alternative social order that the werewolf can belong to. InuYasha demonstrates how a pack can help to control, along with providing a place in which a misfit may belong. InuYasha, being the half-demon (a dog demon, rather than wolf), half-human is a social outcast, incapable of belonging in either society, thus forced to wander the earth alone searching for the jewel that will turn him into a full demon. By falling in love with Kagome, and becoming part of the group that eventually surrounds them, InuYasha finds a place where he can belong. This group importantly, is made up entirely of misfits who are unable to function in normal society – take for example Miroku, the monk with extreme hedonistic tendencies – the pack serves as a barrier, a place for them to be themselves. The pack is a controlling force, and if you go against it, you ultimately face the wrath, not only of society, and the pack itself.
This notion of the wrath of the pack is demonstrated in Ookami Kakushi, where the world of wolves and ancient gods, along with the human world intermingle. The boundaries blur in such a way that it is often impossible to tell them apart, which is part of the problem. In a sense, Ookami Kakushi is exploring what happens when the boundaries between a wolf society (the pack, and quite possibly nature) and that of the human realm (logical and intelligent) intermingle. It also demonstrates the sexual desire that wolves and werewolves in particular have come to portray in western and eastern mythology. In this show, all humans emit a certain scent, one that can attract wolves. However, our main character Hiroshi Kuzumi is described as being a ‘temptation’, someone who emits such a strong scent that wolves exposed to it for a long period of time will lose all their senses. In a curious twist that is almost unique to anime, instead of having a beautiful woman as the temptation that drives men mad, we have a high school boy who drives women mad (although there is one man involved). His temptation is so powerful that he drives the wolves of Joga to lose their humanity and become beasts of pure desire. Even making a classmate (who happens to have a crush on him) Tsumuhana Isuzu to lose herself for a moment and attempt to seduce him, thus giving in to her desires, rather than approaching them from a more logical, or ‘human’ perspective.
The sexual desire of the wolves here is restrained for much of the series, but it cannot be restrained forever. The force is so powerful, that their society is incapable of truly controlling it, demonstrating the power and uncontrollable nature of the wolf, one that acts on instinct, with no knowledge of either good, nor wrong. The ‘fallen’ as they are known in Ookami Kakushi give into their desires and temptations of the human world, thus becoming dangerous. Their threat to the harmony of the pack is such that they must be destroyed for fear of damaging the cohesion of the pack itself. The pack in this case is the controlling factor in wolf society, and to go against it means, not only being ostracised from society, but ultimately leads to the downfall of the individual, who is incapable of functioning without the pack. The wolves in Ookami Kakushi are however in human form, and potentially aren’t wolves at all. The term ‘wolf’ may be used as a description of a close group in a town that follows a set code and sticks together for safety. But, that the ‘fallen’ exhibit such strong urges often associated with wolves and more specifically lycanthropes suggests that they are merely wolves who have evolved to use human forms, but maintain their wolf instincts. There is also symbolism used in Kabuki theatre, with the cycle of life and death portrayed as a Kabuki play. The reaper of the wolf pack, the being that keeps everyone in line, appears in a highly elaborate outfit, complete with ornate scythe and makeup which is reminiscent of Kabuki costumes. It is as if the entire plot is a highly stylised play complete with beautiful costumes and music, which hide the immense amount of feelings and needs that lie just under the surface. Wolves in Ookami Kakushi are therefore beings that need to exist in society, but their sexual lust is almost uncontrollable, so their needs to be a deity that watches over them to maintain the cohesion of the pack.
Wolves and werewolves (broadly lycanthropes) appear in anime in a variety of forms. They are as, if not more complex beings than those seen in western films and media, where werewolves are more animalistic, demonic beasts that are neither man nor wolf. They are symbols of sexual lust, which are incapable of interacting with society in a meaningful, and above all, normal way. In Japanese mythology and religious beliefs there is a greater impact of animism, along with Shinto beliefs that have helped to shape the notions of wolves that we see in modern anime series. Werewolves and wolves in particular are neither good, nor bad – they are problematic because they lack understanding and knowledge of human society. There are numerous manga and anime that involve wolves; many of them also have an element of romance (Ookami Kakushi for example), where a wolf falls in love with a human. That this is naturalised and portrayed as perfectly normal – often after numerous trials on the part of the human, along with the wolf – suggests that wolves have as complex a relationship with Japanese society as they do in the west. It also shows how wolves and werewolves have been romanticised, with many of them portrayed as incredibly handsome or beautiful, some might argue dangerously so. But that may be one of the reasons people continue to be drawn to the wolf, and in particular the lycanthrope. They are handsome and dangerous beings that exist outside of societies norms, something that perhaps many people yearn for, werewolves therefore provide an outlet for that, and a dream of something more natural and free.