One of my pet peeves is when people imply that a work is good solely because it's allegorical. Pompous assholes will come up with something like, "If you didnt like Haibane Renmei, it must be because you didnt catch all the symbolism!" and then end their argument right there, as if people can be entertained with empty metaphors alone. This is obviously absurd.
Ok, you say. If you’re so smart and symbolism isn’t what makes Haibane Renmei so freaking awesome, what is?
…good question. I’ll get to that later.
The story won’t be grabbing anyone at first; the beginning consists primarily of mundane world building. At this stage, the show is rather easy to dismiss. Nothing important seems to be happening, and one wonders if the entire show will continue in the same mild, slice-of-life vein.
Only after the series has taken its time to set up shop does it begin to shine. Observant viewers will begin to notice how the seemingly disparate symbols in the show – Reki’s cigarette, the crows, grey wings, etc. – all tie together into a single coherent message. Two of the characters begin to deepen past the meaningless smiles and docile attitudes, and the story begins to shift from the expository themes of rebirth and friendship to the show’s true focus: redemption. All of this culminates into the final episode, which is one of the most masterful pieces of drama that I have ever seen.
Haibane Renmei certainly can’t be considered a classic from its animation. While the character designs and backgrounds are clean-cut and generally eye-pleasing, motion is often choppy and there’s nothing in the series that anyone could remotely consider “eye-candy.”
For that matter, while the music fits well with the series and the voice acting is fine, there’s certainly nothing awe-inspiringly awesome in the audio.
Just like the story, the characters are forgettable for the first few episodes. All of them have a sort of bland and pleasant small-mindedness that makes them difficult to actually care for. At this stage, few people will actually dislike any of the characters, but fewer still will love them.
However, the eventual development of the two protagonists - Rakka and Reki - is almost unparalleled. In most series of this nature, the characters often take a backseat to the high-falluting storyline (see: Texhnolyze, Boogiepop Phantom). However, even as the series begins to allegorically add themes like lost innocence and personal forgiveness, the characters remain loveable on their own terms. For this reason, Haibane Renmei has some of the best characters ever conceived in an anime.
ARTSY ANIME SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
Haibane Renmei (HR) is a one of a kind show. Never before or never after has there been a show of self acknowledgement walking hand in hand with a slice of life show. All other shows are bleak and tragic if they head for the former or easy going and aimless is they head for the later. Yet HR did the unthinkable and managed to find the perfect balance amongst these two very different concepts.
The main characters are all women with feathers on their backs. They are not angels of any sort. They just appear out of a cocoon one day, without any recollection of who they are or what they are doing there. They are all living in a city, along with other normal people and since they have nothing to do, they are used as helpers in various areas. This setting is further complicated by the fact the entire city is isolated from the rest of the world and the only people coming in and out are weird dressed priests.
As I said, the story manages to be both easy going and yet highly mysterious at the same time. Half the duration is spent on getting to know the characters as they slowly adjust in the city and find something to do, something to work with, even someone to love and care for. At the same time it is a journey of self acknowledgement, as they try to find out who they are through their inborn talents and desires. The entire story is about learning and getting wiser, while at the same time having a good time with the people all around you. And to be honest, there really are answers to all the questions in the story; it just takes for the viewer to look for them and not expect them to be spelled directly to him with some explanatory monologue. There is no such thing in this series; all the talking is there just to further colorize the characters but never to reveal the mystery. Plus, despite the various allusions to Judeo-Christian religions, all the aesthetics have mostly to do with philosophy and spirituality and not faith or God; don’t make the mistake looking for things that are purely artistic and not direct allusions.
Even the production values are made to make you feel special. Everything is shown with soft colors and a subtle style of maturity, nothing too moe or shonen. Although all the characters are drawn with simple characteristics, their mannerisms and facial language are done exceptionally so to know how they feel all the way. Nobody stands out immensely and to be frank this is not a show focusing too much on specific characters. Although we mostly see the world through Rakka’s eyes, the plot involves many others who interact with one another to further bring life to the setting. The most tricking feature is the form of the city, detailed and common-looking at first but still has many undertones of mysticism, such as the priests, the scriptures and the wall that surrounds it.
Despite its unique feel, HR is not a show everyone can appreciate. Since it is not following the usual formulas it is not a show for mass viewing. Action fans for example will find it boring as hell. Slice of life fans will most likely find it too confusing and miss its underlying messages. Even mystery fans will consider the scenes where the characters are just working or eating to be dead time. I myself thought of all the above from time to time. As whole though I must admit that entertainment aside, the planning of this show is exceptional, unlike anything else out there. I can’t even seem to wish for something to have been done better, since everything works fine for what it shows, how it shows it, and how long it lasts.
Bottom line, I recommend this show to everyone, not necessarily as something entertaining, as much as different and poetic. If you can see past the clichés you are so used to, you can really see it for the jewel it is.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 7/10
General Artwork 2/2 (well-done)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (basic but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 8/10
Voice Acting 3/3 (rather mature and fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 9/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (slow)
Complexity 2/2 (rich context)
Plausibility 2/2 (vague and confusing but it’s there)
Conclusion 2/2 (solid)
CHARACTER SECTION: 9/10
Presence 2/2 (strong)
Personality 2/2 (rather basic but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (simplistic but it’s there)
Development 2/2 (strong)
Catharsis 2/2 (definite)
VALUE SECTION: 8/10
Historical Value 2/3 (quite famous)
Rewatchability 2/3 (high if you don’t mind the slow pacing)
Memorability 4/4 (extremely well-thought off to the point of forever remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 7/10
The slow pacing may be a bother at times but overall it is great.
Haibane Renmei was an anime that I thought was going to be more than what it was. I was honestly a little disappointed. If you're reading this, it's a good thing because now you won't expect too much out of it. I'm not saying it was bad. I'm just saying that I was disappointed.
There are Haibane, which are a group of individuals that look like angels, who live in Old Home. Most of them are children. Every Haibane is born from a cocoon into this world and before they are born, they all have a dream. They are named after their dream. Rakka ("falling"), the main character, has a dream about falling and a crow trying to keep her from falling. She is cared for by Reki, one of the older Haibane. Rakka is introduced to everyone and is told that she must find a job. Haibane are not allowed to have anything new, use actual money, and are forbidden to touch the wall that surrounds Glie, the town they all live in.
Rakka follows each of her new friends for a day at their jobs so that she can decide what she wants to do. Her friend Kuu disappears later on and Rakka is told that she has taken her Day of Flight, or when Haibane pass over the wall never to return. The Day of Flight is only for those who are no longer "sin-bound." Rakka becomes very depressed and runs away after her wings begin to turn black. Her black feathers are caused by her "sin." She falls in a well, where she finds the bones of a crow, which causes her to remember her dream. She is then rescued by two Toga, people who are from the Haibane Renmei, or Charcoal Feather Federation.
Still hurt from her fall, she tries to return to Old Home, but touches the wall when she hears Kuu's voice. The Communicator, a translator for the Toga, tell's Rakka about the Circle of Sin, which Reki is caught in. Reki finds Rakka, but becomes jealous when she realizes that Rakka's wings are back to normal. It's up to Rakka to help Reki take her Day of Flight before her time is up.
It's a very unique story and I found that I liked where everything was going up to the point where Reki's problem came up. I understand that Reki is an important character, but I thought that Rakka was the main character; then, it switches all the sudden to focusing only on Reki. I love how it ends, but I just wish that the story could've focused on Rakka and her Day of Flight rather than Reki's. For a short anime, you don't get too much into the characters and their backgrounds, which was another con for me. I wanted to know more about some of the characters and, more importantly, the Toga. Rakka is a little shy and sweet while Reki is more of a stubborn character, but she's very caring and protective.
It's only available in Japanese, but the voices are good for the characters and the music is good, too. Notice I didn't say great. Not really anything about this anime is great; it's just ok. It's not an anime that I want to watch again and I had forgotten a large part of it (except for the scene where Reki's sin comes up because it's so dramatic). I don't know if it's something I'd recommend because it's not really much of anything; it's not comedy, it's not romance, it's not horror, and it's not fantastic. If you're bored, watch it...that's about all I can say really.
Haibane Renmei has a subtle, mysterious charm to it. It has a very subdued atmosphere for the most part save for a few dramatic moments that play very well in contrast with and against the overall tone (if that makes sense).
Some things may not make sense to people though. I myself feel I may have missed some things in subtext, but I was still able to appreciate the overall themes and metaphors used throughout the anime. Rakka and Reki also lead the story along well, though no one else in the cast particularly stands out.
-minor spoilers below-
The Haibane Renmei is never fully explained and neither are the circumstances surrounding the premise such as why there are Haibane to begin with, what exactly makes the Toga so special (though I believe their true nature was implied along with the Communicator's), but some could argue that the vagueness fits well. As for me, I'm left wanting to know some more, but not desperately so that it knocks my overall enjoyment of the story.
-Ok, you can read again-
Overall, Haibane Renmei is a solid series that works well with its premise and for what it is, though it definitely isn't for everyone. Some might be put off by its slow pacing (even I'm guilty with switching between tabs a little more than I should have) and the lack of attention-seeking drives like action or comedy to pull the viewer in. But if you can look past that, I'd say give this a watch.
And here I thought I had a solid top 10 that wouldn’t get titles added one after another anymore. I couldn’t have been more wrong, with the last two series I’ve watched now both in that area; first being Kino’s Journey at #8, and now Haibane Renmei at #3!
Needless to say, I was amazed by Haibane Renmei. It was quite possibly the only anime I’ve seen so far that excelled in both the journey and the (build- up towards the) conclusion to this level: leave one of the two out and it would still receive a spot on my top 10.
Enough praising while you still have no f*cking clue what the anime is about. Haibane Renmei follows the lives of a group of Haibane, winged beings similar to humans, living in an old mansion close to a town inhabited with people, in a large area isolated by huge walls. The anime starts with the main character, Rakka, “entering” this mansion and meeting with its residents.
During the episodes, you’ll find yourself raising a great deal of questions about almost everything surrounding the Haibane. Almost none of these questions will be explained to you directly, but the anime is filled with clues, usually in the form of symbolism, to provide you with indirect answers. It definitely is a thought-provoking anime, and if you’re into those kinds of shows, you’ll love piecing the clues together, in order to find out new things each time. While it does this, even if you aren’t paying full attention all the time, you’ll still have a pretty good idea what’s going on and you’ll most likely figure out the big lines behind the story of the Haibane without too much effort, unlike some other shows that do this, like Serial Experiments Lain.
It really pains me not to go further into the story, but any more than this will spoil the experience. Basically, Haibane Renmei starts off by giving you a friendly, and while not perfect enough to be called a Utopia, a peaceful feeling. The anime won’t actually corrupt these feelings, but not everything is as perfect as it appears to be at first sight.
On to the animation department. It was incredibly well animated. I’m not specifically talking about the quality of the static art here (although it was very well done, albeit a bit aged), but more about the quality of how the animation “flows”. The scooter scene in the OP is an excellent example of what I’m talking about.
The music was, or is actually (listening to the OST as I’m writing this) very soothing and is the perfect fit for this series. The opening theme, in combination with its visuals, instantly became one of my favorite OPs, not even once while watching this did I skip it. The ending theme is also very fitting. While it’s just as soothing, it’s also very melancholic and feels especially in place in the later episodes.
In case you haven’t noticed yet, in which case I suggest you actually read the above, I just became a huge Haibane Renmei fan. Don’t let this beacon of praise fool you though; I can definitely see why some people wouldn’t like Haibane Renmei.
First of all, it’s slow-paced. While I had no moments of boredom while watching this, someone less interested in the slice-of-life genre probably will have a couple of dull ones during the first half of the series. Another big one: the show gives no complete closure. The finale really is incredible in more ways than one, but not all of your questions will be answered, leaving plenty to the imagination, which is either a very positive thing, or a big turnoff, depending on what you’re looking for in anime.