Haibane Renmei begins with a girl who finds herself in a room she doesn’t recognize in a town she doesn’t know. Everyone around her has wings and halos, and she grows her own as well. No one seems to know how or why they became what they became, and they live in a small town bordered by walls that no one may leave.
Over my years of browsing anime forums, I’ve seen that there is generally a pattern in terms of how people respond to “Haibane Renmei”. There is one group of people who have watched the series and rave about it, ranging from calling it exceptional to deeming it a masterpiece. Then there is a second group of people, who always reply that they dropped the series after a few episodes, and found it uninteresting. This is due to the atmosphere of the first few episodes in comparison to the last half. The beginning of the series has more resemblance with slice of life shows than it does supernatural or fantasy shows. They are very slow paced and their purpose is primarily to introduce the characters one by one, as well as get a glimpse of the town that the anime takes place in. But a lot of people cannot handle that kind of pacing and thus drop it before the series begins to explore some deeper themes in the latter half.
It’s quite a unique series. It brings you into a strange setting but does not go into detailed explanations about what or where this setting is. All we know is that this is where the Haibane live, and they come into this town and then leave after a period of time. The rest is left up to the viewers to interpret for themselves. The focus is definitely on developing the characters and there are episodes where the full length is used primarily to give background on one character. This sort of storytelling isn’t for everyone, but it is quite effective here.
There is something of a religious overtone to the series, but it is not overt. The concept of sin and forgiveness plays a major role, but no direct references to any religion are made, although the angelic wings and halos have clear implications. The series is perhaps too short, because we feel as if we are getting used to this world the Haibane inhabit right when the series begins to draw to it’s close.
I should also mention that the music used this series is very well done. The background music consists of gentle strings, piano and a mostly acoustic set of sounds. The opening theme is called “Free Bird” and is a bittersweet instrumental theme, which is a wonderfulbreak from the pop music that usually opens anime series, and would have been completely out of place here. The piece revolves around a melody played over a repeated chord progression, I-v, that is, a major chord followed by the minor chord of the fifth. Here it is G major followed by D minor, repeated. I only mention that because I’ve always liked this chord change because it has a lot of nuance that can be manipulated by a composer to reflect sadness, joy, and as in the case here, a nostalgic, bittersweet quality.
Haibane Renmei is really a series that every anime fan should watch, not necessarily because everyone will like it, but because it is such a unique and important series that everyone should at least give a chance. The series asks a lot of questions but does not answer them, leaving that up to the viewer. Again, if you really prefer to have all the details of fantasy worlds explained, then this series may frustrate you. Otherwise, enjoy a series that is very atypical and very moving.
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