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.
In the end, what makes Haibane Renmei so great isn’t the symbolism, but how the anime combines this symbolism with its excellent character development to create a powerful human fable. Haibane Renmei delves deeply into the true nature of forgiveness and personal salvation, and returns with some of the most thought provoking material to ever be put in an anime. That said, many people may dislike the show.
I have already talked about the first “flaw” of the show – the deliberate pace of the exposition. This is NOT a series that should be watched with a short attention span. Furthermore, if you commit yourself to watching any Haibane Renmei at all, you should commit to seeing its entirety; because of the revelations of the final episode, it’s entirely possible that your opinion may change near the very end.
The second major complaint that I’ve read is that the show concludes with too many loose ends. However, these so-called plot holes are not accidents, but purposeful omissions. In my opinion, the details that are not explained are either irrelevant to the show’s purpose or would be cheapened by a simple explanation. Like all truly great works of art, Haibane Renmei requires the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions on the show’s actual meaning.
Overall, Haibane Renmei is a wonderful anime. Come for the thought-provoking existentialist themes, stay for the beautiful story.
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.
Being on every "recommended anime" picture list originating from 4chan or reddit, a lot of people say to watch this anime even though its not for everyone and evidently, not for me.
The first three episodes were cool and I thought they were the introduction, but it turns out HALF of the series is the introduction. I was super hyped starting this show after hearing about it and having it relate to Serial Experiments Lain (worked on by the same guy but not necessarily in a major way IIRC) but it was a major letdown that the story had a great setting without any movement with the characters.
It's got that "early 2000's" feel. Concept art is similar to SEL in style (just look them both up) This and the music kept me going.
The music is so good, I've listened to it for weeks after I finished the show. Blue Flow is eerily nostalgic for me and brings warm feelings with the other background music doing the same.
Characters aren't really touched upon other than Reki and Rakka who are the main focus of the show. Often times the characters seem flat and I couldn't care less what happens to them because I don't know enough about them even if they aren't the main focus of the show.
The last two episodes made it worth it, but its not worth dragging through the rest of them, trust me, I have done this. Stop at episode 4 if you don't like it. The show is essentially a framework for your own interpretation; they give you the mold to the show, you have to come up with everything else, like what do the festive nut colors represent other than the two explained? or why does the wall do what it does? or how did the regular people get there? The show never touches upon this because its too focused on its characters, and by characters I mean Reki and Rakka and NO ONE ELSE.
I'm probably gonna get torn a new one for this review, but its as honest as I could get and sure, its been awhile but I wrote this without looking anything up to refresh myself. Again, this isn't for everyone. I expected a fantasy show and got a slice of life with characters who have wings instead.
Haibane Renmei can be hard work. It develops slowly in meandering scenes of world building and characterisation that usually give the impression none of them connect. Most damningly, its heavy symbolism demands its audience pay attention despite the plodding pace and randomness. I'm just not that kind of viewer. The closest anime to this distilled sort of 'nothing happens' I remember enjoying is Planetes. However, even that defaults back to a serialised narrative fairly quickly and introduces political and scientific themes I feel passionate about. Haibane Renmei sticks to an extreme slice-of-life format for ten out of twelve episodes that left me struggling to relate.
But then, at the end, it explodes with the kind of brilliance that makes the painful wait fade into obsolescence. If you are an anime fan with infinite patience and a desire for unique detail, Haibane Renmei will deliver abundant rewards with exceptional ingenuity. If not, don't worry about it, it's short.
While I will try to remain unbiased as possible, there will still be a large element of bias present in this review since this anime is one of my top favorites.
The story is very slow-paced, so if you are looking for something that's constantly full of action or drama, this may not be the show for you. It's easy to drop this show after the first few episodes because the beginning largely serves to set up the rest of the story, but is not as memorable as the rest at first glance. I would highly suggest that anyone considering dropping the series watches it to the end however as the story does pick up eventually and is one of the best I've seen. While somewhat preachy narration can take detract from the show a bit at times, the series uses symbolism to artfully analyze topics that are taboo to or very poorly represented in many other shows. Some metaphors are immediately obvious, others you might not catch until you've seen the series a few times over. It doesn't explain more than it needs to, but rather gives the viewer the liberty to fill in the gaps with their own experiences and interpretations. The setting also has some loose inspiration from the novel Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World which is an interesting read, but largely separate from the plotline of this series.
I'm honestly torn on whether to give the animation a high score or a low one. Backgrounds have almost the appearance of watercolors, but don't have the level of detail that many shows include and the animation itself would greatly benefit from more frames/a higher frame rate since movements can be rough or jerky at times. However, I still found both the art and animation very pleasant to look at and think the muted colors are very fitting for this series.
The soundtrack to this series is very pleasant and calming. The music always fits the tone of the moment and sets the scene instead of standing out unnaturally. The entire soundtrack can be found on YouTube and is great to listen to while writing or working on art since it is very melodic and peaceful and isn't too distracting.
Although the cast is largely female, I highly applaud the show for not sexualizing any characters or character designs in any way. The only two characters who undergo significant development are the two mains (Rakka and Reki), but most others still have a place in the story and dialogue is largely realistic. Minor humor is included in interactions between charactes where it would logical in the real world, and when characters say something intended to be funny or cheerful at a clearly innapropriate time, the impact of or pain caused by their words is clear. There are plenty of mudane conversations, but the lines are blurred between when these words are sincere and when they are just a mask used to pretend that everything is alright.
This show is more than simply the sum of its parts. This series is not something that you would necessarily watch for fun, but it very realistically represents the build-up of pain and suffering for those who are afraid that they have no one. Many anime show you tragedies and expect you to make the emotions yourself, this series shows the emotions and lets you apply them to what is significant to you.