Sometimes a series comes along that is so rare, so special, that it would be worth watching just for itself, without any of the usual hooks one expects in anime or manga. Haibane Renmei is one of those series. It is as worth watching for what doesn’t happen, as what does.
Right off the top, Haibane Renmei has the distinction of being the first anime to be based completely off a doujinshi. Yoshitoshi Abe, well-known for his character designs in Serial Experiments Lain and Niea Under 7 had a vision of a bunch of characters called “Haibane,” (which means “charcoal wings”) one day and collected a bunch of sketches of them into a book called Haibane Renmei, (“Charcoal Wings Federation,) which he published and sold at Comiket in Tokyo. The book became really popular, and people kept asking him who these Haibane were and what they were and so on – and so he drew a little doujinshi about the place they lived, called “Old Home – a sort of “slice of life” of the Haibane. The story had a lot of holes in it – there didn’t seem to be a clear beginning or end, and there were alot of things that the author didn’t know about, by his own admission, like why they can only wear hand-me-downs, and the like.
These characteristics were, lock, stock and barrel, plopped into the anime of Haibane Renmei. The story doesn’t have a clear beginning, nor are many things explained – in fact, the whole world that the Haibane inhabit is left wide open to the imagination. Because of this, not despite it, Yoshitoshi has managed to design one of the most beautiful and intruiging anime I’ve ever seen. To be blunt, I bawled like a baby throughthe end, but I never felt manipulated or cheated.
The art is seriously unconventional in many ways, the storyline defies description, since it seems to begin sort of in the middle of a thing and go on until it stops. The piece we’re party to are examples of truly fine writing – sweet, whimsical, serious and mature by turn and compelling all the way through. There is a great deal left to know about the world of the Haibane – what comes before, what comes after, where do the come from and where do they go? But I’m inclined, like the people that inhabit the space, to simply accept it for what it is and just enjoy the beauty and poetry of the story.
I can hear you asking, “yeah, but is there Yuri?” My answer has got to be that that depends on how you define “Yuri.” If you mean sex between women, then no, definitely not…. What you can say is that Haibane Renmei is about an incedibly intense emotional bond between two women, one that significantly alters their lives, or at least what we see of their lives. (And, for die-hard Yuri-seekers, I think there is *definitely* a case for calling Reki woman-identified, if not women-loving. Her former intense relationship is also with a woman, and that one is portrayed as being awfully close to love.) I’m of the opinion that Reki and Rakka have as close to a love relationship as is possible in the Haibane’s world.
So, despite the fact that it’s not about anything, and nothing really *happens*, and there being no overtly yuri relationship, Haibane Renmei wins, in my opinon, as one of the hands-down finest anime I’ve ever watched.
Art – 9
Music – 8
Story – 10 The story is breathtakingly well-written
Characters – 8
Overall – 9
This is a must watch for anyone who loves good storytelling.
And now, for something completely different – here is *my* interpretation of the events of Haibane Renmei. I don’t claim to be right, or even close – this is just what feel was going on:
POSSIBLE SPOILERS WARNING
Rakka was in love with someone…let’s say, for argument’s sake, that it was another girl. She and the other girl decided to kill themselves so they could be together eternally. The crow symbolizes Rakka’s lover – she “freed” her in a sense, but is also the reason she crashes, and ultimately, she needs to let go of that attachment to her previous life before she can move on.
The world we see is a kind of Purgatory, which is why the Haibane stay there for inconsistent and erratic periods of time – because you’re going to be there as long as it takes to do whatever it is you have to do. Life isn’t bad, it’s not Hell, but it’s not great, either, because its not Heaven. And the people who live there and sort of take care of the Haibane are other people who have not committed a “sin” so much as simply died with their souls in a limbo state…so they expiate their crimes wth service and another lifetime.
What are the Haibane, then? I think that they are children who died under extreme circumstances. The older ones might have killed themselves, or been killed, the younger ones may have died through accident or injury, but whatever the circumstance was, it was a violent death and therefore a “sin.” Perhaps the little kids died without being baptized.
In any case, these children die with what *they* feel is a spot on their souls and end up here. Like they feel partially responsible for their own deaths. If they felt completely filthy, they’d likely end up in some sort of mutually created Hell, so in this case they feel ambiguous about their nature. As they do their “work,” they expiate those sins, cleanse their spirits and eventually have to move on.
So, that would explain why Reki and Rakka bond so closely…perhaps in life they had similar stories, dying on account of the oh-so-popular “forbidden love” and intuiting that they could feel safe with one another. Or maybe they were just falling for each other, who knows? But there they were in Purgatory, where relationships have to be non-sexual, and temporary, because of the nature of the thing.
We can always fantasize about what happens when Rakka goes ober the wall herself, right? Maybe she enters her version of Heaven. meets up wih Reki and they fall in real love and live in eternal happiness. Sounds nice, right? Maybe someone will write a fanfic.
Anyway, so there you have it…*my* interpretation of Haibane Renmei.