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Haibane Renmei

a.k.a. Charcoal Feather Federation

a.k.a. Ashwing League

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Genre: Fantasy, Drama
Company: Triangle Staff
Format: 13 episodes
Dates: 10/9/2002 to 12/18/2002

“What if I ask for help from the bottom of my heart and nobody answers? What if I really am completely alone?”

A girl dreams that she is falling and awakens to find herself in a different world. She is in a town surrounded by a wall that is so tall one cannot see over it. She grows wings from her back and is given a halo, as well as the name Rakka. She is no longer a human but a haibane, like many others in this town. Rakka remembers nothing of her past life before coming to this new town, as none of the other haibane do. Another haibane named Reki helps Rakka to fit in and find a job, but warns Rakka that she must never, ever, go near that wall.

summary by Keitaro

 

Reviewed: 01/23/2003 by
Grade: 92% av-Keitaro

Highs: Great use of symbolism; a treat for all of the senses

Lows: Some characters are a bit cliché

Haibane Renmei is the latest work of Abe Yoshitoshi, renowned creator of Serial Experiments Lain and NieA_7, and it is easily his best work to date. This anime is so enthralling that it grabbed my attention after the first episode and didn’t let go until the last one ended.

Haibane Renmei is directed well. I felt so many emotions while watching; you will laugh, you will cry, you question the way you live your life… all in a single episode. Most importantly, you will think. This anime uses very powerful symbolism and is entirely theme driven. You don’t have to have gray wings and a halo to be able to relate to what the characters go through. Everyone who has felt isolated, different or just scared can relate to this story on a personal level.

I really love the characters in this anime and how much they develop, but I found their personalities to be a bit cliché. Then there is Rakka. She brings so much to the show, but I found her seiyuu to be very irritating at times. On the same note, however, this anime has an amazing musical score that complements the mood perfectly. There is also plenty of eye candy which can be seen in the great character designs and the amazing fantasy town that the haibane live in. The art is drawn with somewhat dull colors, giving the show a feel that is one of a kind. The animation can be a bit sloppy at times, though.

Haibane Renmei is the kind of anime that makes you think… and keeps you thinking even when it’s all over. It is a nice change of pace for those who are accustomed to action or comedy shows. While this show has none of either, it is anything but boring. This is truly the best drama I have seen in a long, long time.

 

Reviewed: 11/25/2003 by
Grade: 91% av-Eek

Highs: Rife with symbolism and metaphors; rich atmosphere; lovely soundtrack

Lows: Slow pace may lose some

In an age when you believe there will never be another captivating anime, Haibane Renmei blows that theory completely out of the water. Here is a series from Abe Yoshitoshi that is breathtakingly beautiful and far more than skin deep.

While some will point to Neon Genesis Evangelion as having compound symbolism, Haibane Renmei takes a step further simply because its themes work more in real life. From the town wall to the crows to the haibane themselves, this series is so packed with symbolism and metaphors that you can literally spend hours picking apart a single episode, yet it is most powerful when it speaks entire volumes of feelings without uttering a single word. What makes the world come to life is the sheer amount of atmosphere that is always present. Much like NieA_7, the mood is usually very sober but has more of a European flavor with aged buildings and older Western styles. The art is not very sharp like other modern anime and is actually fogged to a certain extent, yet it still retains a warm and charming feel. Adding to the atmosphere is the wonderful music that never becomes overwhelming, yet still has the power to greatly influence the mood. Otani Ko’s score will intoxicate with its imaginative mix of classical, Celtic and jazz music.

Most dramas are usually not paced very quickly, and this is no different. Many of the episodes go about slowly divulging many revelations about the haibane and their world; excepting the occasional bike ride, there is nothing action packed. This anime ends up being strongly based in reality while still having some fantasy elements to add to the symbolism and mystery. If you enjoy action anime, this is probably not the show for you.

Haibane Renmei is a powerful drama about life and mortality; one of the lessons that I got out of it but was left unsaid is “how we deal with life is as important as how we deal with death”. I recommend it to anyone who wants to experience something truly enchanting. From the bottom of my heart, I thank Abe Yoshitoshi for creating such a captivating anime.

 

Reviewed: 10/12/2004 by
Grade: 78% av-Kjeldoran

Highs: Completely original setting; gripping in its obscurity

Lows: Creates too many ends to tie up

I don’t think there has been an anime that, for me, raised as many questions after the first episode; not out of confusion since things develop too slowly for anyone to panic, but out of curiosity for the haibane and the town they inhabit. The fact that none of the main characters seem to know about the whys and wheres makes the whole adventure of discovering their mundane routing exciting. It is always implied that there is a direct link with their world and ours, but the issue always floats around like a feather in the wind.

The same curiosity could be had watching the beginning of Serial Experiments: Lain by same creator Abe Yoshitoshi and many, including myself, were left annoyed by the resolution. Did Haibane Renmei have the same problem? I’m afraid I have to go with “yes”, even though getting to the disappointing resolution was much more fun with this anime. I ended up having an idea of what a haibane is, yet, so much had been developed around them that understanding what they were was not enough. Most of everything was left blurred. I’m usually a fan of symbolism, but when everything is a symbol, you tend to lose track of their relation to reality.

Haibane is still a gripping anime. Originality is, of course, a huge factor, but there’s also a certain pleasantness brought about by the nice pick of colors and designs. Everything is beautiful without really knowing why. Sadly, the art and animation take a rather nasty fall a bit later in the series; lack of funds or time must have been involved since characters lose a lot of their detail (especially facial) and fluidity of movement. The backgrounds and music do not seem affected and are consistently delightful and original.

To be on the safe side, I recommend not hoping for any revelation like I did. Just enjoy the cuteness and originality, and Haibane will turn out to be a charming little series.

 

Reviewed: 10/25/2016 by
Grade: 70% av-Gendo

Highs: Compelling imagery; highly original

Lows: Slow pace; seemingly pointless activity

Ordinary people live side-by-side in the small town of Glie with haibane, angel-like boys & girls sporting halos and wings. The town is after the typical Medieval European style, but the setting is largely modern. Electricity and gas-powered motorbikes are there, although telephones seem oddly absent. Like a Medieval town, it is surrounded by walls. Oh yes, the walls. High and impenetrable, and none of the residents ever leave — at least not to return. There is a definite religious/spiritual feel to this right from the start — well, wings and halos will do that, I suppose — but even beyond that. Beyond that too, is the sense that something is not right, almost a paranoid feeling from the fact that no-one really knows or understands what’s going on. And little is explained along the way. It is best to understand that this is ALL metaphorical. Sin, forgiveness, and by extension salvation, are the real themes here. I suspect that one raised or otherwise steeped in Buddhist thought might find the presentation and treatment of these ideas more familiar than one accustomed to Western religious/philosophical thought. A phrase used at one point, the “circle of sin”, certainly seems to relate more to the Buddhist idea of samsara* than anything in Occidental theology. The manner of arrival in town — the loss of recollection of previous existence — and the manner of departure — are all very suggestive of reincarnation.

Colors are muted, appropriately, with most everything in grey and sepia tones. Faces seem rather clumsily attached to the bodies, and are nearly white in contrast to the more natural tan skin color prevalent. If this is meant simply as shading, it doesn’t work well. Background and closeup art is quite good, though anyone not in closeup is little more than a blob.

The biggest drawback here is that very little actually happens. In a way, this is almost a dark Azumanga Daioh without the laughs. There are some haunting and touching moments, some drama. However, nothing of real significance to the story and main characters happens until well past the halfway mark. Perhaps much of this is intended as a sort of ink-blot test, let the viewer interpret it as he or she will. Above, Keitaro-sensei says that this “is the kind of anime that makes you think… and keeps you thinking even when it’s all over.” True. But it would be comforting to know that there is really something there to think about.

*Rather appropriately to the story, one of the definitions given for samsara at Wikipedia is “aimless and directionless wandering”.

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