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.
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 is a beautiful anime and I really do recommend you watch it. Respect to most anime, it deals with completely different themes. Salvation and redemption, self-discovery and spirituality. You get plunged in a world that's mysterious and dense with symbolism. And it's clear that the Haibane Renmei world has indeed been thought out in detail by its authors, there's a sense of purpose and meaning behind everything, it's inherently consistent. Even though there are things that are not explained, you never really understand exactly what haibane are, and what's beyond the walls, and what happens to the haibane who leave for their first flight and how they ended up there in the first place and so on and so on... but somehow, it doesn't matter. The story isn't about the world behind the anime, it's about Rakka and Reki. While I was watching it, I was forcefully reminded of a book written by Murakami Haruki, Hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the earth; they have in common the city behind the walls, the alternate world, the mystical atmosphere ...
In the first episode, you see a girl born from a cocoon. The night after she's born, grey wings sprout out from her back and she gets a halo, that initially needs a holder to stay in place on her head. We learn that she is a haibane, blessed creatures who live in a city sorrounded by walls that cannot be breached or even approached by the haibane, thus being effectively confined within the city. There is an organization, the "haibane renmei", that takes care of all the more material aspects of the haibane's day to day life, but everything surrounding it is shrouded in mystery. All haibane when they are born have forgotten their past and their names. The only thing to guide them and give them some clues about who they are and where they are directed is the dream they had in the cocoon, so it becomes extremely important to remember that dream and understand what it means. The girl is named Rakka, because while she was in the cocoon she dreamt of falling, and we follow her in her everyday life, as she gets to know the world she is living in and the other haibane that share her life. It's a slow-paced anime, but that doesn't mean it's boring, and the more the story goes on the more dramatic it gets.
If you read any of the other reviews, you stumble quite a few times across the adjective "thought-provoking" - and I can't help but agree. And even though so many questions remain unanswered, the message is clearly there. Beautiful in its simplicity.
What I Liked: The background art was stunning, the setting, the atmosphere, the soundtrack (the sound effects were average, though), the character designs, the fact you learn about Gile and Old Home as Rakka does, it wasn't boring by any stretch of the imagination.
What I Didn't: The character animation felt lacking in comparison to the background art. At least it made up for it in the character designs themselves.
Final Verdict: An intelligent and engaging anime that's not only imaginative but full of symbolism that will delight the more philosophical anime viewer. It may look like a simple (slightly supernatural) slice-of-life anime, but it's much more enjoyable than that. On my Favourite Anime Of All Time list.