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.
StoryOne 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.AnimationHaibane 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.”SoundFor 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.CharactersJust 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.OverallIn 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.
Haibane Renmei was for a long time a very special show for being the only one that could be called slice of unlife. It plays out like a typical “nothing ever happens” type of story, when in actuality it takes place in the afterlife and shows a possible way for the soul to atone and move on. This is no longer the case since there are now more anime dealing with the same concept, such as Angel Beats and Death Parade. It is still the most down on earth of this bunch, but it’s also ignored by most for the same reason. Like most classics of the early 2000s it is very slow paced, it doesn’t have harem or waifu baiting, or plays out like a goddamn videogame. With that said, it does a fine job at fleshing out the main characters without openly explaining what is going on about them. It’s all very indirect and why they can come off as generic at face value. I wouldn’t dare to say they use symbolism for showing us who they were before, but since amnesia is a big part of the mystery surrounding them you have to connect the dots. Does this mean the show is one big mysterybait which I always make fun of? Yes, but it’s done in a very indirect way so I give it a pass. They are not rubbing it in your face like they do in modern shows. You can ignore it altogether and you will still have an iyashikei type of show, something you watch to relax. You don’t want that? Okay, you still have the mysterybait and the world building and the character backdrops. What’s the deal with the cocoons and the feathers and the weirdly dressed priests? You can choose what you want and nothing will feel like you are being baited into watching further. That’s the beauty of the slow paced early 2000 anime. Both relaxing and mysterious at the same time. Of course if you want something thrilling and full of excitement, you are not going to like the show. It will seem like a bunch of typical girls doing chores because they have nothing better to do. It’s like a journey of self acknowledgement where they are not actually going anywhere because they can’t leave the city. It’s like a detective story where there is no rush to find the answers. It’s like a drama where nobody is given much to be sad about. Yes, it can be boring and dull at times, but when you finish it and look back you realize a lot of mini things have happened. And no, it doesn’t even need 500 episodes of build up before it gets good. A dozen are more than enough, meaning it doesn’t overstay its welcome and it doesn’t give you blue balls for over a decade. So it’s basically a slice of life about spirituality and people becoming better by having positive interactions with those around them, until they are ready to move to the next thing, whatever that is. So it’s not even slice of nothing happens, because there is legit progress with a solid ending. It’s not about doing pseudo-lesbian shit for 50 episodes, then they drink tea, eat cookies, and they are instantly able to play the guitar before they go back to doing more pseudo-lesbian shit for another 50 episodes. Anyways, I recommend this show, not as something entertaining or exciting, but rather as relaxing and artsy. It’s not following the clichés of typical mainstream anime and it has substance without tiring the mind.
Now where do I start with this one? I can start by saying that I had a wonderful time watching Haibane Renmei, it had an intriguing story, very strong characters and a world shrouded in mystery. Everything comes together to create a show that I have to consider a masterpiece. Any ways, let's have enough of my waffling and move on with my waffling review. Story and characters Our anime follows the lives of a group of Haibane, angelic-like beings with charcoal grey feathers and amnesia. They live in a moderately sized complex named ‘Old Home’, a fairly run down complex on the outskirts of a town. We see things through the protagonist, Rakka’s, perspective as she tries to adjust to her new life as a Haibane. I won't delve into the story much further as I believe one should experience it for themselves. The show has plenty of symbolism but I'll leave that to you to discover. The show moves at a slow pace, a speed at which I consider perfect for what the anime wants to achieve. With its pacing we are given the right amount of build-up before the heavy plot elements begin to unfold. Had the show of breezed past those episodes, where Rakka spent time becoming accustomed to her new surroundings, we wouldn’t have made that crucial connection with her or the rest of the cast and the heavier moments would have had less impact. These first episodes are akin to the slice of life genre and very good slice of life episodes at that. Moving onto the characters, the two stars of the show are Rakka and Reki. These two characters see most development in the show and the relationship between the two is one of the best parts of the anime. The friendship between Rakka and Reki is one of the strongest suits of the anime. I really felt for the two of them as events occurred and found their relationship to be believable. They both develop as people throughout the show on their own and together. They are two characters that I'll never forget. The supporting cast is very good in their own right, despite not having much in the way of a personal arc. They do serve their purpose in the show’s story very well. They comprise of interesting characters with their own personalities and aspirations. Technical stuff On the animation side of things the anime is very solid, everything moves with a lot of fluidity between frames. There is the occasional hiccup, nothing major although there is one amusing scene where there is a character dismounting from a scooter, with a bird’s eye view. A second character miraculously appears on the scooter behind them as the first is dismounting. The art style is truly fantastic, I was enamoured by the background art and I was a big fan of the character designs. They were not too elaborate and fit into the world perfectly. The OST is fantastic. There is plenty of slow, relaxing tracks during the calmer moments with higher tempo stuff mixed in as things ramp up. The opening theme is a standout track for me, I didn't skip it once and is one of the best openings I have seen and heard. The ending theme is also very good, quite melancholic which fits some of the themes explored in the show. Conclusion There was nothing here that I could pick out as a negative and if I were to try I would have to dive deep into the realm of nit picking. Every aspect of the show, the music, the story, the characters, the art it all comes together and makes something very special. If you are looking for a thought provoking anime, one which doesn't tell you everything and leaves you with questions to interpret for yourself at the end then this is for you. A SpanglishJC ‘Review’ Secret Santa 2016 review
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