Haibane Renmei

Tagged: TV

Japanese animated tv series (2002). Radix. Based on the Manga by Yoshitoshi Abe. Directed by Tomokazu Tokoro. Written by Yoshitoshi Abe. Voice cast includes Ryō Hirohashi, Junko Noda, Tamio Ōki and Akiko Yajima. 13 25-minute episodes. Colour.

A girl dreams of falling whilst a crow tries to prevent her descent. Meanwhile, cigarette-smoking Reki (Noda), wearing a halo and small pair of wings, discovers a giant cocoon in a storeroom. Eventually it hatches, releasing the dreamer. She is given a name, Rakka (Hirohashi), and a halo; wings burst bloodily from her shoulder blades.

Rakka, five other young women and several children, all haloed and winged, live in "Old Home", a building near the (mainly) human-inhabited town of Gile. Known as "Haibane" they lack memories of any life prior to their hatching, aside from their cocoon dream. Most work in Gile; kindly treated, they must follow the rules set by a society called the Renmei. A huge Wall encloses the Pocket Universe region: it is forbidden to approach and harmful to touch. Traders from outside the wall, called Toga, sometimes visit but only the bizarrely masked Renmei Communicator (Oki) may engage with them.

Rakka grows close to Old Home's other residents, particularly Reki and Kuu (Yajima) and so is distraught when Kuu disappears. Later a light shines up from the Western Woods: it is Kuu's "day of flight", when a Haibane supposedly flies over the Wall, unless they are "sinbound" – like Reki. Rakka, brooding over Kuu's departure, becomes temporarily sinbound, until crows lead her to the skeleton of one of their kin: the Communicator deems this a sign of forgiveness by someone she had wronged in her previous life.

Reki though is still sinbound, falling into despair but refusing help, painting her room to match her cocoon dream. This includes railway tracks (a past-life suicide is implied): an ill-defined train manifests, bearing down on her; she finally asks for help, enabling Rakka to push her out of its path. Reki is now free of her sinbound cycle and shortly afterwards has her day of flight. The show ends with Rakka finding two cocoon seedlings growing together and happily running to tell the others.

Halos are applied using Technology (which doubles as a bagel mould). Rakka is employed by the Communicator to clean the Wall's inner channels, where the Haibane's true names are inscribed: she must wear what resembles a radiation suit (the Wall itself looks man-made rather than a product of magic). Technological familiarity is patchy: Reki has a scooter and there is a wind farm – but Reki's painted railway tracks are unrecognized, called "iron lines".

Despite their angelic appearance the writer has stated the Haibane "do not worship any particular deity". As with his previous Anime, NieA Under 7 (2000), much is purposely left unexplained, though Eschatology is clearly a theme. Viewed by many as a classic, this is a good, philosophical series – partially influenced by Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1991) – with an intriguing background and engaging characters. [SP]

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