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.
A young woman quietly falls to the earth, escorted by a solitary crow. This sort of dream, as many other before have dreamed, comes just before being reborn as a Haibane, a charcoal-winged angel. On the outskirts of the walled-in city lies Old Home, a haven for Haibane to study, live, and learn, while waiting for their chance to ascend to the heavens and escape the confines of their new world. Rakka is the newest inhabitant of Old Home who wants nothing more than to remember her past and discover the secrets of her kind. Together with Reki, Kuu and plenty of other new friends, Rakka will laugh, explore, and search for the meaning of their existence in the process.