Haibane Renmei is a 13 episode TV series released in 2002. Ten years later and it is still one of the best series of the last 10 years. I have tended to watch Haibane Renmei in blocks, and this alters the viewing experience as episodes run together in my head, and subtleties are lost .
So this is the first of 20 posts reviewing Haibane Renmei slowly, and with regard to the subtleties of this gentle series. These posts will have fairly detailed synopses and will be spoiler heavy.
The first episode opens with an unnamed girl falling through a dark sky . The girl is unafraid and notes how soft and fluffy her surroundings are. A raven attempts to arrest her fall, she thanks the raven but asks it to let her go. The girl falls through clouds into a bright sky with a building below, begins to feel fear as we cut to another scene.
Inside the decrepit corridors of Old Home we see Reki’s halo before Reki emerges from the darkness to discover a huge cocoon in one of the rooms. Reki’s panic over the cocoon is priceless and segues neatly into the return of the other Old Feathers : Kana, Hikari, Kuu, and Nemu.
The Young Feathers, who are basically kids with wings and halos, are extremely curious about this. Reki’s attempts to chase them away do not work. 🙂
Reki’s insistence that the room be cleaned, that it would be too sad for someone to be born into such a dirty room, works differently for newcomers to the series and for those who know what is coming. On a first run it is simply consideration and gentleness; on subsequent runs it is a mask covering a bitter memory, as well as the start of Reki becoming the mask .
There is also a brief look at Kuu’s insecurity at being the youngest, and smallest, of the Old Feathers.
Inside the cocoon the unnamed girl wakes up, starts breathing, and making her way to the edge of the cocoon where she hears voices. The old feathers are discussing drawing straws to watch over the cocoon when it starts to crack open. The image to the right is their expectant look just before the room floods and we cut to water pouring out through the door.
In the next scene the girl wakes up in a well lit room and everything now feels rough, and her back hurts. Then the Haibane enter and overwhelm her with conversation .
Not to mention the wings and halos which the unnamed girl doesn’t have.
Reki asks her about her dream. The girl describes her dream of falling from the sky and finds out that the dream becomes the source of each Haibane’s name:
- Kuu (Air) was floating in the air;
- Hikari (Light) was surrounded by a sparkling light;
- Kana (River Fish) was drifting in a river “just like a fish”; and
- Nemu (Sleep) was sleeping in her dream .
Somehow no-one notices that Reki doesn’t mention her dream at all, or brings it up . As some ash falls from her cigarette, Reki names the girl Rakka (falling).
Rakka protests but discovers that she cannot remember her original name… or any other aspect of her previous life. Obviously language skills and general maturity were retained but no personal details.
Once the name is given, Hikari gives Rakka her halo. Alas it doesn’t quite stay in place so we are treated to the sight of Rakka wearing a wire guide to hold it in place. The others leave to return to work as Reki starts talking about wings and mentions that Rakka’s will grow soon.
The sequence where the wings grow is extremely well done: it looks and sounds painful. Reki does what she can to help Rakka here, including the long, tedious, and gross job of cleaning the grease and blood from the newly fledged wings. Reki describes them as “not white, not black, but beautifu charcoal grey feathers”.
One aspect of Haibane Renmei that I am especially glad of is the complete lack of fan service. Despite Rakka’s back being uncovered to allow the wings to come out there was none, and the scene was handled in a very clinical manner .
During this sequence Rakka’s concern about her humanity and her lost home leads into some necessary infodumps and the inevitable “why me?” Given the state of pain, confusion, and ignorance that any Haibane is in at this point, this is entirely understandable.
There is an amusing note with Rakka’s halo generating static electricity…right above her hair. Rakka’s hair jumping towards her halo becomes a running gag throughout the series, often with sound effects.
The episode ends with Reki formally welcoming Rakka to Old Home.
In some runthroughs I have found the first couple of episodes to be very heavy on infodumps. These are entirely justified by the fact that Rakka doesn’t know anything about the world she has found herself in. I also suspect that watching in blocks exacerbates the effect of the infodumps – they weren’t too intrusive in this episode, and time will tell if this applies throughout the series.
It is also worth noting that, with one exception, each episode of Haibane Renmei has three titles. I’ll try to highlight the relevance of each title in the review of each episode. The exception is important: pretty much the entire series hinges on it.
There is a real sense of wonder to Haibane Renmei, it is there from the moment that Rakka embraces the raven before asking it to let her go. This carries you through to that moment at the end where Rakka is angelically lit by the light through the window  as Reki welcomes her to Old Home.
All in all a solid first episode that always leaves the viewer wanting more.
Day 1 – Cocoon – Dream of Falling from the Sky – Old Home
Day 2 – Town and Wall – Toga – Haibane Renmei
Day 3 – The World of Haibane Renmei
Day 4 – Temple – Communicator – Pancakes
Day 5 – Trash Day – Clock Tower – Birds Flying Over the Walls
Day 6 – Dub vs Sub?
Day 7 – Library – Abandoned Factory – The Beginning of the World
Day 8 – End of Summer – Rain – Loss
Day 9 – The Gender of Haibane Renmei
Day 10 – Scar – Illness – Arrival of Winter
Day 11 – The Bird
Day 12 – ???
Day 13 – Well – Rebirth – Riddle
Day 14 – Kuramori – Haibane of Abandoned Factory – Rakka’s Job
Day 15 – ???
Day 16 – Parting – Darkness in the Heart – Irreplaceable Thing
Day 17 – Bell Nuts – Passing of the Year Festival – Reconciliation
Day 18 – ????
Day 19 – Reki’s World – Prayer – Reconciliation
Day 20 – Looking Back At Haibane Renmei