Welcome back, friends! It’s time for another round of “Have You Heard Of…”! Today’s topic: Haibane Renmei.
As I’ve mentioned in previous anime-related posts, most of the anime series I’ve watched thus far are pretty well-known, at least among other anime enthusiasts. But I have managed to take in a few of the lesser-known ones, and one of my favorites is Haibane Renmei, a short and sweet series that is a lot deeper than it may first appear.
Haibane Renmei originally aired in 2002, and is just 13 episodes long. The series centers on the story of Rakka, a recently-hatched Haibane. The Haibane are a mysterious race of beings who look pretty much like humans, aside from the fact that each has a pair of small grey angel wings and an itty-bitty halo.
When Rakka first awakens, she finds herself in the quiet, walled-in town of Glie (pronounced “glee”). Like all Haibane, she knows she used to be someone else, living in another place, but remembers next to nothing about her former life. The other Haibane that Rakka meets as soon as she hatches from her cocoon are thrilled to see her. They give her a halo to wear, and soon help her cope with the painful process of growing wings.
Rakka learns that the place where she hatched is called Old Home, and that the others who live there went through the same changing process she did. She soon becomes fast friends with the others, who help her get used to her new life in Glie, and help her find her place in it as she tries out different jobs to see which one will stick.
As time goes on, Kuu, one of Rakka’s friends, suddenly vanishes. Grief-stricken, Rakka learns that Kuu has taken her Day of Flight, and will never come back to Glie. She is told that all Haibane who are not “sin-bound” will take their Day of Flight, just as Kuu did. In Rakka’s sadness, her wings start to turn black. Rakka’s friend Reki finds out, and tells her that the same thing happened to her some time ago. She gives Rakka some of the special salve she uses to cover the blackness on her own wings. Rakka learns that both she and Reki are “sin-bound” — that is, there is something from their past life that they are still guilty about and must overcome. In the time that follows, Rakka does all she can to help Reki overcome what troubles her. Will she succeed? And will she ever free herself from her own guilt to become a full-fledged Haibane?
Haibane Renmei is a bittersweet series that is heartwarming without being saccharine, and in many ways, it strongly reminds me of some Studio Ghibli films. It follows the slice-of-life format that many Ghibli movies do — it has little drama and doesn’t have a strong plot arc; instead, it focuses on the development and internal struggles of the characters as they go about their daily lives. And like some Ghibli stories, Haibane Renmei has a way of looking at dark, heavy themes through a whimsical, dreamy lens.
Some of the tropes the series contains are a little on-the-nose — Glie is an analogue for a purgatory-like place, each Haibane must find a way to atone for or come to terms with events from their past life in a quasi-religious way, and the Day of Flight is a metaphor for the mystery of the afterlife. But when all’s said and done, Haibane Renmei does what all good stories do — it tells us the truth about concepts we’re familiar with (life and death, sin and forgiveness, the redeeming power of love and friendship) by coming at them from a new angle. It frames those ideas a way that makes them easier to understand — and makes the sharp edge of that truth easier to bear.
All maudlin thoughts aside, Haibane Renmei is a delightful and sweet anime series that’s easy to take in through the course of a couple of afternoons. And though it’s short, it’s the sort of story that will stick with you long after the last episode.
Have you seen Haibane Renmei? Tell us what you thought about it in the comments!
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