[Synopsis]: After dreaming of falling through the sky, Rakka (Hirohashi, Ryou) awakens inside a large cocoon from which she is soon birthed. Once emerged, she meets several winged beings adorned with halos called Haibane who welcome her to their abode: Old Home. Rakka’s own wings grow soon after and she joins the Haibane in their daily routines and lifestyle however she wonders about the nature of the Haibane and at the distant wall that blocks off and surrounds their town of Glie from which none of them are allowed to venture near or beyond.
Haibane Renmei has a fairly small cast of characters, mostly consisting of the resdient Haibane of Old Home and the townspeople of Glie and of them Rakka and Reki are by far the most important within the narrative with the exception of perhaps the mysterious ‘Communicator’.
The majority of the Haibane are friendly to Rakka and each have their own personalities and vocations however beyond that they are mostly flat characters and are given an appropriate amount of attention in accordance with this. The townspeople are similarly underdeveloped simply because they don’t serve any great purpose and none are particularly memorable except for perhaps the store clerk from which the Haibane buy their clothes.
Rakka, the newborn Haibane and the protagonist of the show, is cheerful and friendly and quickly warms up to her fellow Haibane and much of the story is centered upon her drama and her adjustment to her new lifestyle. While she is happy living with her friends and the people of Glie, she is also inquisitive and in this way often ends up voicing many of the viewer’s questions pertaining to the wall that surrounds the town and the enigmatic Toga people. Because of this and her ignorance of the world she serves well as both a means to introduce the world and as an investigative force.
Reki, Rakka’s closest friend and fellow Haibane, is older than her by a few years and has lived in Old Home for some time – she is familiar with the routine of everything and watches after the young Haibane called the ‘Young Feathers’. While her vocation as a Haibane is to look after the children, she shows a similar kind of affection towards Rakka and cares for her when she falls ill. As she is the second oldest Haibane living in Old Home, she is reliable and helpful however she has her own share of demons and her past makes up the rest of the show that doesn’t immediately concern Rakka herself.
The art does a good job of visually executing Haibane Renmei’s beautiful town and countryside setting and matches its aesthetics well with each other to form a consistent portrayal of the world and characters. The character designs are simple but different enough from each other that they are each distinct in their subdued approach; they fit well within the environment of the show and even with such fantastical traits as wings and halos they feel at home. The animation was no great triumph though it did not feel like it needed to be and worked well at the technical level it was implemented at with the occasional scene sporting higher frame-rates that looked good. I would not list the art and the character designs as an actively positive influence on my perception of the show however they worked well for what they needed to do and I have no negative comments concerning the art or animation which were consistent. Some scenes had particularly good execution such as the growth of Rakka’s wings.
Haibane Renmei’s story starts off as a bit of a slow burn as it takes time to introduce the viewer to each of the Haibane and the few townsfolk of note while also situating Rakka within the context of her newfound identity. There is nothing exceptional about this approach however I think it is important that this route was used in that it allows the viewer to slowly establish their own opinion of what the Haibane are and what the implications of the world are as they are unveiled. This kind of thinking is I think the greatest fruit that Haibane Renmei can bear – the show, by way of its fantastic and mysterious premise and setting, raises a great many questions concerning both the characters and the world they live in however chooses to avoid answering most of them.
One’s enjoyment of the show will most likely hinge on whether or not they believe that the show worked well in it’s open-endedness or if it should have instead outright explained itself. Those of the latter persuasion may find that the show felt under-investigated however it is from this same vagueness and mystery where the benefit of interpretation comes into play – by leaving many of its questions and circumstances shrouded in mystery it forces the viewer, at some level, to fabricate their own implications and meanings behind certain exchanges and happenings within the world and between the characters. This will be the greatest differing perspective between each viewer and so those who enjoy critically thinking about the significance of things within their shows will probably be attracted to the narrative style of Hanbane Renmei.
The story itself is good enough however most of the characters were uninteresting beyond their basic traits and the events that transpire are infrequent and rarely of great consequence. I feel the real triumph of the show is in its extraordinarily compelling world. The narrative concerns itself most primarily with the dramas of Rakka and Reki however in its exploration of those characters crafts an incredible world around them which I ultimately found more interesting and enjoyable than any of the characters. The nature of the Haibane is fascinating as well as the walls that surround Glie and the seldom mentioned Toga who can venture out beyond the wall but do not communicate what they know with the town’s inhabitants or the Haibane. What lies beyond the wall, what the Haibane are, and why everything is the way it is are all questions both Rakka and the viewer dearly want answered as their mysterious presentation is incredibly appealing and, in my opinion, the strongest part of the Haibane Renmei.
The story avoids the eeriness of Abe Yoshitoshi’s other famously adapted work: Serial Experiments Lain however features its fair share of darkness within the slice of life framework of the Haibane lifestyle. Additionally, without the directing influence of Nakamura Ryuutarou, the exploration of the characters and the pacing of the story are fare more straightforward in comparison to Lain even while being shrouded in mystery. I think that Haibane Renmei is probably the more digestible of Abe’s adapted works.
Alongside the world setting, I would say that the music of Haibane Renmei is the second strongest element of the show. While hardly any of the scenes lend themselves explicitly to a music-centric presentation and most of the soundtrack is comprised of ‘background music,’ I think the music is a powerful element within the show. I found it was somewhat reminiscent of Otani Kou’s later work in Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita however with a bit more of a flare for the dramatic and the melancholy. While the music rarely takes center-stage within the show, its success in establishing the tone in the initial parts of the show as well as its felicitous presence in juxtaposition to the characters and the world is hard to ignore and is an exemplary implantation of advantageous background music.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
I liked the show to the degree that I did almost entirely because of the world and the way in which it was skillfully presented and so by nature of the show opting not to answer some of the key questions in regards to those things, I felt the show fell short for me despite the elements that I enjoyed. I don’t think that this was a failure on the part of the creators of the show but rather that I am the potential byproduct of the approach they decided to use when addressing the show. It is a dangerous notion to leave a good deal of information up in the air and unspoken for because, for those that become sufficiently attached to those things, the show then fails to capitalize on what they found appealing and becomes ultimately less enjoyable without ever doing anything explicitly wrong.
I gave Haibane Renmei a 6 because, while I found some aspects of the show incredibly interesting and compelling, the other areas of the show weren’t able to compensate for the lack of explanation that the end of the show was begging for. The story of Rakka and Reki is good and I don’t think that it falls short by itself however, after being presented with so many alluring concepts and ideas, to see those fizzle out while their story fails to absolutely blow me away is where the show takes the hits neccesary to bring it down to a 6 for me. It was enjoyable and certainly worth the watch however I can’t quite bring myself to call it ‘good’ as the parts of the show that had the potential to be especially satisfying in their clarification were non-present and left to interpretation.
I would recommend Haibane Renmei to anyone interesting in shows with good world building – the setting is not overly complicated or even that fantastical however the way it presents itself in minimalist quality very quickly poses interesting questions that advance the level of world building past what it might normally exhibit. The initial parts of the show are done in a slice of life style and the latter parts exhibit good drama and interesting events and so I would recommend the show for both of those reasons to those interested in those story elements.