Haibane Renmei anime review

Haibane Renmei anime review
A dream of falling from the sky...and then birth. Rakka is born from a large cocoon into the Old Home, greeted by a group of females with small wings on their backs and shining halos above their heads. Soon Rakka’s own wings grow, a halo is placed on her head and she is told that she must work in the nearby town of Grie. She soon realizes that the town and the entire world they live in are confined behind the Wall, a tall, impenetrable wall that none except the mysterious Toga are allowed to exit.
Rakka, a newly born Haibane (Angel) awakens into an unfamiliar world with only a strange dream of falling from the sky as her only memory. Alone and scared of who and what she is, she is cared for by fellow Haibane as they try and search for the meaning of their existence as well as what lies beyond their town's imprisoning walls.

Winged girls with halos on their heads living in a run-down mansion. A huge broken belltower nearby. Flocks of blackbirds everywhere. A mysterious forest and a forbidden wall. Wow… what a world that Abe Yoshitoshi (famous for his Serial Experiments Lain mystery drama) creates in Haibane Renmei. Rarely have I seen so much religious symbolism within a single decidedly non-religious series (there’s not a single act of god worship or ancestor worship in all the 13 episodes), and it’s hardy intrusive, too. If you want to, you can try to link it all to Christian traditions, but you will also understand the message behind it if you don’t.

The series works best if you just lean back and enjoy it. And there’s much to enjoy. During most of the series, the entire mood is serene and calm and with hardly a hint of action or conflict - and you will still find it all very entertaining. There’s hardly that trademark wacky “anime humor”, but everything is presented with the same understanding smile your grandparents always gave you when you told them about your latest adventures. It’s just so very easy to lose yourself within the world where haibane and humans live side by side and lead their lives in peace and mutual help.

It would be false to say that there is no conflict at all, however. There are two major dramatic plots, one within Rakka and one within her best friend Reki, and both are handled with a level of emotional depth that I haven’t seen anywhere since Takahata’s masterpiece Grave of the Fireflies. While neither of them is a tear-jerker like Fireflies, both will make you really care about the feelings of the protagonists and the people around them. They revolve around life and death, loss of hope and loss of salvation, and again, while you can try to see religious connotations within them, you don’t have to. On a simple emotional level, both plots will reach you whether you are Christian, Buddhist, Pagan or atheist.

While the graphics are mostly good and sometimes outright impressive in their mixture of cel art and CGI rendering, the music is absolutely masterful. All the compositions, from the opening to the ending, are of a beauty that simply outshines lesser works. For a series of only 13 episodes, it is very diverse and always fits the mood perfectly. Compare this to Kanno Yoko’s compositions for Cowboy Bebop or Kajiura Yuki’s .hack//SIGN - it’s every bit as good with the added bonus that it never sounds out of place.

Had the seiyuu provided the same quality in their work, we’d be talking true greatness. Unfortunately, aside from Reki (and to some extent Rakka), most of the voice actors are only capable of generic emotions and staple cookie-cutter characters. It wouldn’t be right to blame just the seiyuu, though - the script hardly gives the characters aside from Rakka any time to show more than their most basic personality. Because of this, it’s very difficult to understand why Rakka would grow so fond of young Kuu, one of the girls with only three or four scenes and hardly a memorable one… and yet she becomes the single most important thing that shapes Rakka’s behaviour and character. Aside from Rakka and Reki, the other girls just do not receive enough attention.

Also, while Haibane Renmei is designed to make you think by offering you mysteries to tickle your brain, it does not provide answers to these riddles. You won’t find out what is behind the wall, and there are no hints towards who decides which people become haibane and which not. In my opinion, these questions do not need answering, but some might be put off by the fact that there is so much mystery and so little revelation.

All in all, Haibane Renmei is almost a masterpiece and, by far, Abe Yoshitoshi’s best anime up to now. The quiet plot will soothe and relax you, the drama will make you sympathize with the suffering of Rakka and her fellow haibane, the music will take you on a journey to a faraway place, and the ending will leave you warm and cozy as though you were tucked in by a beloved person late at night. Thoroughly and utterly enjoyable from the first glimpse of Rakka falling until the final look over the small valley where humans and haibane live together.

Better than review, is a Trailer video of: Haibane Renmei. Watch it now:
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