Haibane Renmei Review


AKA: Charcoal Feather Federation
, Ailes Grises, Une fille qui a des ailes grises, A Girl Who Has Gray Wings, The Haibanes of Old Home
Genre: Fantasy/Drama/Experimental
Year Released: 2002
Distributor: Funimation

Origin: Japan
Running Time: TV Show, 13 episodes, 23 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: This is a very unique series, but I’m sure fans of other Yoshitoshi ABe works should be into this.

Notes:

-This review reflects the original Geneon DVDs before Funimation re-licensed it.
Fun Facts:


-Haibane Renmei is one of the few anime series that’s based on a doujinshi (fan comic) series. This would be like an independent comic getting adapted into a major TV show.

-This anime was scored by Ko Otani who’s also worked on Shadow of the Colossus, Outlaw Star, Diablo III, and the Gundam Wing franchise.


To be honest, there are times where I tire of movies and anime that get praised to high heaven. More often than not, I end up being disappointed or in some cases, enraged by how things can be overrated especially when it comes to mega-popular titles. I tend to purvey hype backlash whenever I deal with this stuff.

Haibane Renmei is not one of those series.

I remember watching this over a decade ago after hearing some glowing reviews about this series. Sure, it never had the popularity of the Dragon Ball franchise or even mainstream acceptance like Cowboy Bebop, but I would say that it has way more artistic integrity and took more chances than a lot of productions.


Haibane Renmei
takes place in this fictional countryside town called Glie. It’s walled up and people live in small communities in the area. The population consists of humans and creatures called Haibane (literally meaning charcoal feather[s] in Japanese). The Haibane look like humans except they have halos and small charcoal flightless wings on there back. No, they are not angels. Let me make that clear. They are “born” by hatching out of these large eggs and they come out as children or teens. 

The newest member of the community is Rakka who’s this naive girl who’s trying to learn about what it’s like living in this mysterious town while not remembering anything. There’s Reki who becomes Rakka’s role model/big sister figure who has a tendency to be a chain smoker. The rest of the main cast includes Kana who is this very tomboyish girl who’s brash and loudmouthed. There’s Hikari who’s slightly ditzy, but tries to be serious. There’s Kuu who is hyperactive yet slightly socially awkward. Nemu is the oldest of the bunch, but she’s such a sleepyhead, yet she’s very calm and is the voice of reason.

The early episodes act as slice-of-life stories as Rakka learns about Glie from the other Haibane Renmei and tries to find her place in this small town. The world building is superb when it comes to the human/Haibane relationships with how the latter can only get secondhand items, the Communicators who operate silently most of the time while using these bells, or how certain Haibane can become “sin-bound” and get black wings. Even the wall itself has a major role which I won’t spoil, but it affects one character in a very serious way when she touches it.



The relationship between Rakka and Reki is superb how they have this sisterly outlook for each other. Reki may seem like some rebellious woman, but she legitimately takes an interest in Rakka especially after one scene where she takes care of her later on. I saw a little bit of myself with the Reki character because even though she acts as the elder sibling with most of the characters, she has a lot of internalized hurt, darkness, and self-loathing about her which I could really relate to. It reminded me of my last couple of years in college where some underclassmen looked up to me, but I dealt with so much hidden depression that I questioned how good of a friend I was and that was after I first watched this anime.

Another strong aspect is the music. Seriously, Haibane Renmei has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard in anime. Ko Otani doesn’t get as much credit like Yoko Kanno or Joe Hisaishi, but when he makes some scores, they can be really good. The music uses an electric mix of folk, Celtic, and chamber-based numbers. The opening theme song called “Free Bird” (no, not THAT Free Bird) fits the anime perfectly with it’s lush instrumentation. The ending theme “Blue Flow” by Heart of Air is a beautiful ambient pop piece. I still can’t believe that the lead singer of that band Masumi Ito was also involved with Oranges & Lemons who did the theme songs for Azumanga Daioh which are completely different.



Haibane Renmei is also one of the most unique series I’ve seen so far. The storylines and world are quite original. It also is the most un-stereotypical anime ever since it doesn’t contain cliches like speed lines, crazy Shonen Jump-esque action, fanservice, or stupid harem situations despite having a mostly female main cast. Shoot, most of the female characters are some of the most conservatively dressed animated characters ever. The animation is very good. It’s not mind blowing, but the movements and aesthetics still hold up after being fifteen years old at the time of this review. I’ve seen animated projects not even as old as it who’ve aged a lot harder and worse. 

If you want to see animation as a legitimate art form and are sick of seeing the same old trends rehashed in animation, then I can’t recommend Haibane Renmei enough. The characterization, plot, music, and animation are top-notch. I’d consider this to be Yoshitoshi ABe’s magnum opus with all the anime series that he’s worked on for almost twenty years now.




Adjustable Point System:

Subtract 1-2 points if you don’t like quiet anime or more artistic ones

Pros:

-Incredible soundtrack

-Superb characterization especially with Rakka and Reki
-High quality animation

Cons:

-A couple of instances of dodgy CGI like the windmills
-The lack of action may not be for everyone
-Can be too quiet and contemplative at times



Final Score: 10/10 Points



Content Warning: Teens and up. There isn’t that much objectionable content like the occasional swear word or two. Some of the themes are dark like self-infliction and suicide. Despite not being a violent series, there’s a gory scene where Rakka’s wings sprout out of her back in episode 1, but that’s about as bloody as it gets.

-Curtis Monroe

Photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

5 comments

    • Aww! That’s great. Haibane Renmei has always been one of my favorite anime series that is still good after over a decade since I first saw it. I think you’ll really like the world-building and the friendship between Reki and Rakka. I’d even say their friendship is quite sisterly despite the characters not being related. Hopefully I didn’t come across as too much of a fanboy as I talk about the first thing I’ve given a 10/10 to.

      Like

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