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Anime / Haibane Renmei

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From left: Nemu, Reki, Rakka, Kana, Kuu, and Hikari
"To know your sin is to have no sin."

Haibane Renmei (Charcoal Feather Federation) is a 13-episode anime which began life as Charcoal Feathers in Old Town, a doujinshi series by Yoshitoshi ABenote .

The series concerns a group of mysterious children and young adults named the Haibane, who live in a walled city which only has one entrance and which none of its inhabitants are ever allowed to leave. The Haibane differ from the regular human inhabitants of the city in the way they are born (erupting fully-formed from cocoons) and in the fact that they have both halos and wings, just like angels (though the word "Haibane" — "charcoal feather" — comes from the fact their wings are charcoal gray rather than pure white).

No one in the city truly knows where the Haibane come from or what purpose their lives serve — even the Haibane themselves are largely in the dark about it (although there is much fan speculation about their true nature). Most of the Haibane seem to remember having some sort of existence before their awakening in the city, although none can remember any concrete details about their pre-birth lives. Each Haibane has a mystical and mysterious dream while cocooned; the dream has some connection to the Haibane's previous life, and is used to give the Haibane his/her name after hatching. The only people who seem to have any information about the Haibane are the Renmei, a group of mysterious masked travelers who live at the very edges of the walled city (and are the only people who can come and go as they please), and they're anything but forthcoming.

The main heroine of the story is a newly-arrived Haibane named Rakka, who spends most of the series coming to terms with her new existence. Her friends are the gloomy, snarky Reki, tomboyish Kana, Bookworm sleepyhead Nemu, Meganekko Hikari, and the childlike Kuu.

This anime is gently-paced and contains relatively little in the way of action, instead choosing to explore the compelling mystery at the heart of the story and how it affects the characters. It's a definite must-see for fans of ABe's work (as well as anyone who may be intimidated by his other work, as Haibane Renmei is easily the gentlest of them), and for anyone who may be looking for something profound and understated.

The show is licensed in the west by Funimation.

Haibane Renmei provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Area: Places that are abandoned by the humans of Glie eventually become "Nests" where Haibane emerge and live. Old Home and Abandoned Factory are two such locations. The nature of these locations also appear to influence the Haibane that appear. Old Home was once a dormitory, so all the Haibane there are girls whereas Abandoned Factory has no such limitation.
  • All There in the Manual: The series guide included on the DVDs explains some of the mysteries of the town, such as implying that the Toga are sinbound Haibane who ran out of time to redeem themselves.
  • Anime Hair: Averted with everyone but Kana, who has greenish hair.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Presumably what the Day of Flight is all about. Now what exactly that higher plane is (Heaven, rebirth, etc.) is anyone's guess.
  • Apology Gift: During the festival near the end of the series, baubles of different colors are given to people, with white signifying an apology.
  • Beautiful Void: Quite intentionally.
  • Becoming the Mask: All that Reki thinks she can hope for. Crucially, Rakka shows her it's real Character Development.
  • Bifauxnen: Kana.
  • Bird Run: Especially done by Kuu.
  • Book Ends: The story begins with Reki discovering Rakka's cocoon, and ends with Rakka finding two new cocoons the following spring.
  • Break the Cutie: Rakka, to the point she hits rock bottom, literally (in a dry well) and figuratively. Then she gets better.
  • Broken Bird: Reki, and she even has wings to account for it and all.
  • Clever Crows: A theme that starts in Rakka's cocoon dream. In general, crows symbolize freedom, as they are the only creatures able to fly over the walls of Glie. For Rakka, they seem to symbolize a friend that Rakka had hurt in a previous life and forgives her.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Midori seems to be this. Turns out she had a good reason for not liking Reki. It's further played with at the revelation that they used to be friends.
  • Clock Tower: Kana works in one.
  • Cool Big Sis: Reki could qualify as a mild version of this trope.
  • Cool Mask: The Renmei keep their faces covered by odd-looking masks.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The religion/festivals featured in the anime seem somewhat based on Christianity, and the wings and halos of the Haibane are no doubt inspired by Christian angels. However, the creators of the show emphasize that the Haibane themselves are not angels, and that their look was developed purely for aesthetic reasons. Also, there is much speculation that the city of Glie, where the anime takes place, may exist somewhere between Heaven and Hell in a place roughly equivalent to the Roman Catholic idea of Purgatory. The meager hints to what awaits beyond the Wall seems to hint more towards Buddhist reincarnation than Christian Heaven, so perhaps it is more of a crappy Pure Land than a Purgatory.
  • Deconstructive Homage: Many aspects of the setting are deliberately similar to that of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, but the series presents the setting very differently and is almost diametrically opposed to the novel thematically, presenting a much more communalist and generally positive outlook.
  • Despair Event Horizon: What Rakka and Reki have to cross in order to free themselves from being bound by sin.
  • Doujinshi: The anime was based on one.
  • Epiphanic Prison: This is one interpretation of Glie, as a Haibane's Day of Flight generally only comes after he/she comes to some kind of major realization about his/her character.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: Touching the walls makes Rakka so cold she instantly goes numb.
  • False Camera Effects: The 'camera' goes handheld in the OP.
  • Fantastic Racism: The discrimination against sinbound Haibane.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: Kana fixes the clock tower bell the day of Kuu's day of Flight.
  • Going Commando: It's All There in the Manual that female Haibane have trouble wearing bras because of the wings.
  • Good Morning, Crono: The first episode starts with a dream the main character has immediately before hatching from her cocoon, and the first few episodes are devoted to her learning about Glie.
  • Hand And Wing Signals: In the Renmei compound, Haibane may not speak without permission. To communicate, they respond to the Renmei by shaking bells draped on their wrists and wings. The Renmei are also seen communicating in a hand language, alluded to by ancient runes found here and there.
  • Haz Mat Suit: The inside of the wall requires Rakka to wear something very much like a radiation suit to stay protected. We see examples of "fallout" from other people touching the wall, even indirectly through metal objects.
  • Hidden Eyes: Rakka, in at least two moments of distress: growing her wings, and washing Kuu's room after her departure.
  • Hide Your Otherness: Reki and Rakka use a special dye to hide (and possibly slow) the fact that their wings' charcoal grey feathers are turning black. This is more than cosmetic, since it indicates that they are becoming sin-bound.
  • Holy Halo: Subverted. The Haibanes' halos accent their angelic appearance, but are actually artificial, created from materials gathered in the interior of the wall around Glie. They also don't appear to have any purpose except to indicate when a Haibane's Day of Flight is approaching, when they begin to fade and flicker. They are also used as a symbolic bond between the Haibane, and some fans believe that there are hints to the effect that they somehow anchor the Haibane to their new home, whether psychologically or metaphysically.
  • It's All Junk: Kuu, the smallest of the Haibane, gives a large winter coat to Rakka, the newest Haibane. Rakka appreciates the gift, but only fully realizes its significance when the others explain to her that Kuu had kept the coat, which was too big for her, in the hope that she would eventually grow into it. By passing it over to Rakka, Kuu accepts that she will never grow to be as big as the other members of her group. This is a major turning point in the series, as shortly afterwards, Kuu ascends in her "Day of Flight," which the Haibane can only achieve after dealing with their personal issues. In Kuu's case, this seems to have been disappointment in her status as a small, "unimportant" member of their society - which Rakka helps her overcome, by accepting Kuu's guidance and acknowledging the little Haibane as her senior/sempai. By giving the coat to Rakka, Kuu showed that she was content with who she was, and prepared to move on rather than chase the impossible.
  • Koan: "One who recognizes their own sin, has no sin". The Communicator presents this riddle (called the Circle of Sin) to Rakka after Rakka falls into the well, and ruminating on it and the bird who presented itself to her is what ultimately frees her from the sinbound curse.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Any information any Haibane has as to who they were before appearing in Glie is limited to each individual's cocoon dream. Lampshaded when Rakka mentions how she knows how to ride a bicycle and feels she would normally have been singing as she rode, yet doesn't know any songs to sing.
  • Lighter and Softer: Haibane Renmei is definitely this compared to Yoshitoshi ABe's other "serious" works, namely Serial Experiments Lain and Texhnolyze. It has a fairly comprehensible plot (though there are mysteries less significant to the main plot that aren't revealed), minimal objectionable content (for example, little to no violence), and is only a mature show in the sense that it has mature thematic material that younger audiences would have trouble understanding or find boring. All in all, it is a very calm and gentle show with a fairly uplifting tone.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Justified by the Haibane being required to own only previously used objects, and there's only one thrift store in town allowed to do business with them.
  • Meaningful Name: Each Haibane receives his/her name based on the dream each had while in the cocoon, but their "real" names are written with different kanji representing some aspect of why each Haibane was born a Haibane, while being read the same way as the original name. For example, Rakka's original name means "falling," but her real name uses completely different kanji read the same way.
  • Messy Hair: Tufts of Rakka's hair stick to her halo like static cling.
  • Mundane Afterlife: The series may well take place in one.
  • Mundane Utility: Hikari uses the halo mold to...make bagels. Rakka is less than pleased to find that out. Even if Hikari used the mold after removing Rakka's halo from it, Rakka still felt unclean from the whole business and spent part of the evening washing her halo.
    • Then, in the following episode, Kana wakes up Rakka by yanking on her halo, which by this point has enough attraction to pull her head along with it.
    • In a slight play on this, towards the end, Midori shows her peevishness towards Hyouko by leaving a dish on his halo.
  • No Antagonist: All the tension and conflict in the story comes from character interactions and Raka and Reki's struggles with becoming sinbound.
  • No Hugging, No Kissing: The Haibane seem to be chaste for the most part.
  • Ontological Mystery: The story is built around one, with Rakka's exploration of why she's there and what she is being the foundation. That said, not many of the questions get direct answers.
  • Painful Transformation: The Haibane are born without wings. They get a sharp fever before the wings sprout; said sprouting is a bloody mess, and it hurts.
  • Perpetual Molt: Piles of feathers are everywhere, but unlike most examples, this is treated as a problem if someone notices.
  • Posthumous Character: Kuramori, although her Day of Flight is the reason for her absence rather than death. She nevertheless served as a surrogate mother to Reki and Nemu as shown in a flashback. Her sudden departure was also the cause of a rift between them.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The wall that Haibane are not allowed to cross? It generates a type of energy that is collected for forging into halos. Where does this energy come from? From plaques with the names of dead (or possibly transcended) Haibane. Rakka eventually wondered if Kuu's name was among those on the plaques.
  • Prelude to Suicide: Days of Flight are treated similarly to someone suddenly dying or someone committing suicide. Reki almost failing to achieve her Day of Flight in the final episode is treated especially so. She says her "goodbyes" to everyone, detaches herself from her friends, and packs up all her belongings. There's also the scene, right before she asks Rakka for help, where a younger version of herself stands in front of imaginary railroad tracks. The series ends with her realizing that You Are Not Alone, which allows her to break out of her Circle of Sin and take her Day of Flight.
  • Pronouncing My Name for You: One character corrects the fact that Rakka refers to him as Hiyoko, pointing out it's "Hyohko", with exaggerated emphasis on the "oh" sound to make the pronunciation difference clear.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: They're only painted onto the floor of Reki's room, but end up no less dangerous than real tracks.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Reki's studio increasingly becomes this as her despair builds. It isn't actually seen until the last episode though.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When picking out used clothes in episode 2, Nemu picks out a coat identical to one Mayuko wears in episode 7 of Niea_7. Also, the restaurant where Kuu works is named Cafe Karuchie, which is also the name of one of the places where Mayuko works.
    • In the booklet included in the American DVD packaging, it describes the well as being called "Sadako's well", referencing The Ring.
  • Slice of Life: The Haibanes' daily lives are featured in several episodes.
  • Smoking Is Angsty: For Reki smoking serves as not-so-subtle visual cue for deeply flawed character. She quits it as a final sign that her Character Development really happened.
  • Stepford Smiler: What Reki believes herself to be, helping everyone simply to cleanse herself of sin.
  • Stock "Yuck!": In episode 3, a group of young feathers run away at the fear of being forced to eat carrots, and the kids who remain refuse to eat them. Reki forces Rakka to put on a demonstration of how good carrots are (which she finds hard to do), only for the children to be successfully bribed with pancakes as a snack if they finish their carrots.
  • The Corruption: Being sinbound is a mild form, as it causes the Haibane's feathers to turn black.
  • True Companions: The Haibane.
  • The Wall Around the World: The wall that surrounds Glie.
  • Wrench Wench: Kana is mechanically-minded and fixes the clock tower's mechanisms.
  • You Are Not Alone: Reki convinces herself there's no way she could ask for help. Fortunately, she's proven wrong.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Granted, a Day of Flight isn't death, but it's close enough for this trope to count. It's also why the Haibane are not allowed to own anything that isn't second hand. They are evanescent visitors to the town, so they wish to be as little of a burden as they can while they are there.