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Anime Reviews: Haibane Renmei

Updated on May 16, 2015

Subtle and serene, Haibane Renmei is a calming and refreshing anime to behold, even if it may test your patience to its breaking point.

Title: Haibane Renmei a.k.a. Charcoal Feather Federation
Genre: Drama
Production: Triangle Staff
Series Length: 13 episodes
Air Dates: 10/9/2002 to 12/18/2002
Age Rating: 7+ (dark or disturbing thematic elements)

Summary: In a vivid dream, a girl is falling--falling for what seems like forever through the clouds. When she awakens, she finds herself in a different world. She doesn't remember who she is nor where she came from, knowing only the vague details of her dream. Surrounding her are people who call themselves the "Haibane," adorned with steel halos and small white wings. Your name, they explain, is given based on your waking dream, and because the girl awoke after dreaming of falling, her name is now Rakka, derived from the word for "to fall." Outside, a quaint country town surrounded by a gargantuan stone wall greets Rakka, and as she adjusts to her new life as a Haibane, she is warned to never, ever go near the wall.

The Good: Subtle visuals; pleasant music; intriguing setting; symbolic elements create ample food for thought
The Bad: Extremely slow-moving
The Ugly: May rid you of your desire to grow wings

My trip to Otakon 2003 will forever remain one of my most cherished adolescent experiences. For the first time, I was surrounded by others who shared my passion and my interest in all things anime. One of the very first things I remember seeing once I was there (aside from the veritable whirlwind of Fullmetal Alchemist swag) was a banner advertising a new series called Haibane Renmei. I wasn't quite sure what to think of the artwork, which depicted our 5 heroines in a group shot, because it looked too 'artsy' for my tastes. 7 years later, I would finally give the series a shot, and while I was right about it being artsy, I was all wrong about it not being for me.

Right off the bat, you'll notice that, like every other Triangle Staff production, the art and animation are well-done but also toned-down and inconspicuous with soft, watercolor backgrounds. I guess you could say the overall aesthetic can be described as "humble." The character designs themselves are fairly realistic in the sense that they have hairstyles and colors that actually exist in nature! As a whole, Haibane Renmei is very pleasing to the eyes, especially if the more visually bombastic anime out there don't appeal to you.

Not to be outdone, the musical score follows the same routine--soft, quiet, and calming. From the almost-heartbreakingly beautiful opening theme, "Free Bird" (no, not THAT one), to its haunting ending theme, "Blue Flow," and everything in between, the soundtrack is just perfect for the show's subtle, haunting, and ethereal atmosphere.

Can I say "subtle" a few more times? Because that's the show in a nutshell: subtle.

Speaking of which, when was the last time you viewed the setting as a character in and of itself? Sure, we've already got a tightly-knit cast of interesting characters here, but the town that the series takes place in is big enough, imposing enough, and also mysterious enough to be counted as a character. From the picturesque city square, to the familiar small-town shops, to the clock tower, to the innumerable underground tunnels...there's always something new for Rakka (and by extension, us) to see, and you want to see even more.

Including that freaking wall. Who built it? Why is it there? What does it represent--oh crap! It's a symbol!! And it's not the only one, either. Why must the Haibane wear magical floaty steel halos? Are they dead? They don't look dead. And besides, there's regular people in town, too! But wait, why can't Haibane buy any of their trade goods new, instead relying on used goods? Prejudice in the system? Who are these Communicators and why can't the Haibane speak to them? And most importantly, what does it all mean in the end? These questions, and so many more, will inevitably arise while you go through the series, and in my opinion, that's a wonderful thing. You actually get to use your brain and come to your own conclusions!

And it's not like the writing is lazy or anything--the story still works just fine without your help--but rather, it's because Yoshitoshi Abe, the series' creator, wanted this story to be as personal for the viewer as it was for him. The man had a burning passion for Haibane Renmei, and his loving care is present in every single frame. And trust me, the deeper you delve into the setting, the more rewarding the experience becomes.

But alas, Abe's tender love and care for his creation lead to its damning flaw: it moves far too slowly. I'm assuming that the intent was for the series to be as engrossing and immersive as possible, creating the illusion of being in a quiet and pleasant rural town, but I often found myself looking at the clock, despite being heavily invested in the story and characters. Now, I'm sure that slow pacing isn't an issue at all for many people, and I typically am among that number, but this one really got to me. Haibane Renmei, I love you, but HOT DAMN.

That aside, this truly is a wonderful little series that anime fans should check out immediately, especially if you're looking for something calmer and more intellectually engaging than the usual fare. Just don't get yourself all wired up on coffee beforehand.

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10. While its slow pace may test the patience of some, Haibane Renmei is a calm and humble little series that becomes more rewarding the more you delve into its many mysteries.

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