- Genre: Drama, Slice of Life, Psychological, Superatural
- Episodes: 13
- Studio: Radix Ace Entertainment
A young girl is slowly falling. She doesn’t know from where or towards what and then she wakes up. She doesn’t remember anything but the people around her are kind. They explain that she is a newly formed Haibane and her life is starting from this moment. The girl is given the name Rakka, after her dream. She is introduced to her new family, her new home, her new life and slowly educated on the rules that will now govern her world. It’s a strange world, with unknown dangers and odd regulations. It’s limited and closed off. It’s also a kind world, gentle, strict but loving. As Rakka slowly pieces together the mystery of her own existence, she finds herself entangled with the people around her.
Admittedly this is a pretty old show but it left a big impression on me. I have been wanting to write a post about it for a long time now since I never seem to hear about it anymore. It took me this long because I actually had to figure out how I felt about the series. Spoiler alert – I didn’t figure it out. This might get messy…
Although ABe was only responsible for the visual designs in Serial Experiments Lain, Haibane Renmei (in which he was heavily involved on several levels, most notably as the writer) does share a lot of elements with this earlier work. For one, it is visually striking and the character designs are unmistakable. Like Lain, the show has minimal movement and therefore the animation has aged very well. The backgrounds are simply stunning and if nothing else you should look up the artwork for the show, it is definitely worth it. The soundtrack is also an important element and adds a lot to the story. If you are they type who enjoys carefully chosen music cues, you will appreciate Haibane Renmei.
Am I the only one that finds it a funny coincidence that ABe’s two most prominent project start with a young girl falling? This should have been a random thought, it has nothing to do with my “review”.
Haibane Renmei is a philosophical thought experiment in anime form. There is definitely some obvious religious imagery – the Haibane are grey winged angels after all – but the narrative itself never directly refers to any one religion and completely abstains from preaching or even offering moral guidance. There are no allusions to a God or higher power at all, in fact. Rather, layers of symbolism, both visual and textual, are slowly presented and the viewer is left to draw their own conclusions and impressions based on personal experience. As you can imagine, your mileage will vary and Haibane Renmei is a very different series from one viewer to the next.
The storyline, such as it is, follows Rakka’s exploration of her new environment while giving us glimpses of the other characters’ personal journeys in a more or less slice of life format. It progresses at a leisurely pace that can seem downright sluggish at times and impatient viewers will be tested. Moreover, again like Lain, this show doesn’t offer much in the way of answers or resolutions. It presents the audience with abstract questions and a nebulous setting and leaves them to do all the work of clearing things up. It wouldn’t be unfair to call it frustrating. If I had not watched this when I was up for the challenge, I would probably have been bored and unimpressed. Fortunately, I was in the perfect mood for it and it became a compelling and beautiful mystery.
The Haibane are born from cocoons that mysteriously appear. They are always without any memories except for their last dream before awakening in Old Home (the name of the abandoned school house where all the Haibane live) and are named after that dream. We never know why they come into being, what they are or the significance of their dream. They also just disappear sometimes. It seems as if their very existence is transitory. I have a detailed idea about exactly what’s going on but I’m not going to share it because the point is to create your own theory.
I also loved Glie, the town around Old Home. The design for the town is simply breath taking and to me Glie was almost a character onto itself. This town is surrounded by a tall wall and it seems most people cannot survive beyond its confines. Only the Toga (traveling merchants) are allowed beyond the wall at all. The Haibane themselves aren’t even allowed to go near it. Glie is also populated by ordinary humans who live peacefully alongside the Haibane.
There are all sorts of rules that regulate Rakka’s life. Haibane can and do work, but they are not allowed to earn money so instead their earnings are simply written down in a ledger (as the world becomes more and more digital, this seems to be the norm for most people now). Weirdly, they do not have access to tools or non-essentials, unless these have been thrown out by humans. So amicable symbiotic relationships have formed between the two. The show is full of these little oddities that remain for the most part completely unexplained. However, the Haibane are treated quite well and clearly loved and cared for. What does it all mean is completely up to you.
So what about that mildly click baity title? If there is any prevailing storyline here, it’s the relationship between Rakka and Reki. It should be said that Reki is a wonderful character. Complex, intelligent, wonderfully fleshed out without becoming overly expositional. If Rakka is the protagonist and point of view character, Reki is the actual object of the story. Their growing friendship is the element that holds the story together. Although never sexual, their relationship gets very intense and intimate. It’s even clearly stated the Reki has a history of developing strong feelings for other girls. The ship practically writes itself (you’ll need to ask somebody else to write it though). I find it honestly baffling that with all the lists of anime with Yuri subtext out there, this show never comes up.
Did you read all of this and come out still not knowing whether you should watch Haibane Renmei? Like a lot of things, what you get out of the experience will depend on what you’re willing to put into it. It’s very slow and frustratingly vague. It could be obnoxious. Depending on your own experiences you may pick up on symbolism that I did not and find it unpleasant, preachy or even depressing. All I can say is I was left feeling optimistic and just a tiny bit better about…everything.
Random thought: This show made me discover Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World which I enjoyed a lot
Favorite character: Kana
What this anime taught me: It’s never too late to start over
Vodka can be mixed up with anything. Even more vodka
Suggested drink: Naughty or Nice (it’s morally ambiguous, you see)
- Every time we see a mask – take a sip
- Every time we see a cocoon – take a sip
- Every time a Haibane grows a black feather – worry
- Every time we see a crow – take a sip
- Every time Reki has a smoke – take a sip
- Every time the Haibane share a meal – have a snack
- Every time a dream is mentioned -take a sip
- Every time there are feathers littering – take a sip
- Every time we see train/track motifs – take a sip
- Every time we see the Communicator – wonder