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.
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. Story: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.Art: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. Sound: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: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.Enjoyment: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. Overall: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.
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