Faith, Friendship, Death, Life, God and Haibane Renmei
I had been meaning to rewatch Haibane Renmei for a very long time now, it took me a good 5 years to finally get the stomach and be in the right place mentally to watch it. Very frequently and commonly lauded as one of the best anime out there Haibane Renmei is one of the few great anime I find hard to recommend because it does require a certain amount of….thought to fully appreciate.
Haibane Renmei is on the surface an ‘iyashikei‘ anime, an anime that is meant to soothe and relax, most moe anime fall into this category and this show especially the first half definitely does. Taken as a whole though it turns out to be a psychological drama that really doesn’t pull its punches and thankfully tries its best to not be as obtuse about its true meaning. It was written by Yoshitoshi Abe, creator of Serial Experiments Lain and Texhnolyze, it shares those shows aesthetic and use of symbolism.
Haibane Renmei is basically a story set in a fictional world where the citizens of a town called Glie are walled in and cannot leave, apart from a mysterious group of people called the Toga. The town of Glie also has a few special beings called Haibane, these Haibane are all teenagers or children that have wings and halos, very similar features to Christian Angels. The Haibane live separately from the humans and are treated differently, they are kind of protected by the townspeople and are looked upon as a sign of good fortune by some.
The Haibane of Old Home which is where the protagonist Rakka resides are all female. They provide for each other by taking on jobs in the city and assigning chores for one another. Haibane appear in the town of Glie by hatching from cocoons they hatch fully grown but without the wings and halos. The wings violently protrude from their backs within a few days and halos are placed on top of their heads very shortly after.
Because Haibane hatch without any memory of their past life or wherever they came from they are given a name based on the dream they had in the cocoon. In the case of Rakka, her dream was one in which she remembered falling from the sky, hence her name Rakka which means falling. Its heavily implied that the cocoon dream is the last memory of these Haibane’s previous life i.e their dream is a memory of how they died.
The first half of the show deals with how Rakka is coming to terms with living in this new world as a Haibanei and asking what her purpose is, why the Haibanei even exist and then she asks what happens at the end of the life of the Haibanei. Turns out there is a ritual called “The Day of Flight.” This ritual allows a Haibanei who has become satisfied with the life they are leading in Glie to head into the woods alone and take flight over the walls, they are basically passing on. However, Sin-Bound Haibanei never take flight. Sin-Bound Haibanei are those that can not remember their cocoon dream or have done some major ill according to the Toga. Unlike the others, Sin Bound Haibanei have Black wings not white ones. Sin Bound Haibanei are forced to leave the safety of the town of Glie never to return.
The Symbolism and motifs in the show gently suggest that the town of Glie can be considered a sort of purgatory for children who die before their time. Its a concept very similar to the one in Angel Beats! As a matter of fact I would call Angel Beats! a lighter version of Haibane Renmei. Its alse pretty clear that the Sin-Bound Haibanei are the kids who committed suicide as opposed to natural causes. Glie is meant to give these children a second chance at life, help them decide for themselves with a fresh slate whether life is worth living and what it means to them personally. Each Haibanei comes up with their own meaning, their own goals and its very encouraging to see. Some do fail ofcourse and the punishment is a “second death” being exiled from Glie.
Glie allows for the Sin-bound Haibanei to forgive themselves and only themselves and also to for the depressed and lonely to reach out for help. Abe clearly lays out his solution for depression as friendship and simply reaching out and asking for help. Its a theme he continuously repeats throughout the entirety of the show.
The bright side of this is that the Haibanei who do find meaning in their life “take flight.” They have found satisfaction in this world and thus can leave it at ease and with peace. Its still very sad and lonely but coming to terms with that loss is also a lesson that has to be learnt by the Haibanei. A ‘good’ Haibanei can take flight at any moment and they are all meant to be prepared for that and deal with it.
In the end Haibanei Renmei covers a topic that is very rarely dealt with or done justice by popular media. As a Christian and an anime fan its really nice to see an anime that shares some ideologies with what I believe in. Haibanei Renmei is a very good story that clearly came from a very personal place and it shows. Its one of the very few anime Masterpieces I highly recommend seeing it.