For Rakka The Bird is the critical episode of Haibane Renmei. This is where Rakka hits rock bottom, literally, but that ends on a note of hope, of reconciliation, of redemption.  Following as it does from Scar – Illness – Arrival of Winter there are references to self harm, but only references.

The episode opens on a cold morning as Rakka is applying the medicine that will hide the black spots on her feathers.  As the excess drains from her wings she stares into the mirror pensively.  A knock on the door has Rakka hiding her wings as Kana [1] calls Rakka to Kuu’s room where all the Haibane are gathering.

Arriving in Kuu’s room Hikari asks if Rakka likes the wing covers.  Nemu announces that each Haibane will take one of Kuu’s possessions to remember her by.  Reki suggests the bed and Rakka also asks for the Old Home diorama.

As Reki brings the rolled up mattress into Rakka’s bedroom, Rakka is setting up the diorama in the living area.  At this stage I still see this as slightly morbid on Rakka’s part although setting her own frog up properly is a mildly hopeful sign.

Reki comments on the weather.  Nothing.

Reki asks about Rakka’s wings.  Rakka finally asks for how long she will have to cover her wings.  Reki says through the winter whilst the power of the walls to keep out evil is weakened.

Rakka wonders what the Haibane are, and this leads into questioning not only the town and walls but her own existence.

It takes Reki a little while to answer this but I think that her answer is the one that Rakka needs: that Reki once felt the same way [2]that there is an answer, but that only Rakka can find it.

Rakka and Reki are next seen cat-herding aka trying to take the Young Feathers as a group into town.  Reki has her hands full as Rakka is distracted by the wind farms that Kuu used to lie beneath.  The wind blows over the green scenery and Reki quietly notes that this is the last time they will see it like this: snow is coming and then everything will be white as clouds.

Reminded by the clouds comment Rakka finally admits out loud that she cannot remember the entirety of her Cocoon Dream, but feels that she met someone or something important in the dream.  Rakka also admits that she is afraid to face what she can’t remember.

For a moment it looks like Reki wasn’t listening as she dealt with the kids but then promises to be by Rakka’s side no matter what happens. 

For a moment Rakka relaxes, even smiles, but then looks up to the power lines to see the crows watching her. Frightened she runs after Reki and the kids.

In town, at the thrift shop, the owner has somehow managed to find 10 coats in the same style.  Of course the lengths have to be adjusted so whilst Reki helps out, Rakka starts looking for her own winter clothing.

The owner is a kind sort and throws in some boots as an early New Year’s present when Rakka picks a dress.  He has noticed how down Rakka is and thinks that the Haibane should be cheerful, that they are seen as good luck charms by the townsfolk.

In her fragile state his simple kindness and generosity is almost more than Rakka can take.  Then a couple of other townsfolk come in and, to put it bluntly, the young woman goes “squee” at the sight of a cute Haibane, chattering away about how something good will happen today.

Rakka puts up with her touching the halo, but as she comes closer to the wings Rakka triggers on the damage she did to herself in Scar – Illness – Arrival of Winter and shatters.  Rakka flees the store.

After running some distance Rakka falls over, and loses one of the wing covers. A gentleman helps her to her feet and hands the cover back. But as he picks it up a blackened feather falls out, and Rakka breaks again.

Rakka is walking, staggering really, on the hill of Wind Farms. At one of the windmills she breaks down crying and states that it would be better if she didn’t exist at all.

This is the moment when Rakka has nothing left to lose, and the crow can finally reach her. 

The art design and animation in this sequence is eerie against a golden sunset, the rhythm of the windmill, the rising wind, the flashbacks to the other times Rakka saw the crows.  As shown in the image, Rakka’s eyes go dull indicating that there may not be anyone home right now.

Nobody's home right now...

Finally Rakka can see that the crow is calling her, and follows it into the Western Woods.  As she enters the woods the Old Home bell rings but Rakka turns her back on it, on home. 

Continuing into the woods Rakka finds an old well surrounded by crows.  There is a ladder of sorts leading down, and something on the dry bottom.  The crows just sit there, watching Rakka, as she feels compelled to climb down.

Rakka nearly falls as she starts climbing and her reaction shows that she hasn’t quite given up yet.  At the same time the crows land on the top of the well to watch.  Close to the bottom one of the rusted rungs gives way and Rakka does fall.

The next scene is essentially the view from the bottom: a small circle of light in a black background.  It is overlaid by the sound of a closing door and running water, which is just creepy.

Then the door opens, the sounds stop, the light disappears and Rakka says that it would be better if she didn’t exist at all.

Suddenly it is the Cocoon dream again only Rakka has her coat, wings, halo, and a black feather in her hand. It is also cold.

Then back to the original dream, although Rakka is still a bit dirty and battered. The crow, again, tries to arrest her fall. Again, Rakka says that it can’t but thanks it anyway.  The dream Rakka turns back into her current form and falls into an enormous well.

Darkness.  Then we see Rakka’s halo before it lights up Rakka lying on the ground.  As she wakes Rakka discovers a black feather in her hand, and the skeleton of a crow, surrounded by feathers.

The bottom rung shatters when she reaches for it.  With no way out, Rakka faces the skeleton and wonders why she isn’t afraid.  Although it took the form of the bird, Rakka feels that she knew it in another form, a long time ago.

Meanwhile back at Old Home, a frantic Reki is looking for the missing Rakka.  The other Haibane are worried, and start looking for her. 

Nemu points out the similarities to the time Reki ran away, but Reki observes that Rakka isn’t as stupid as Reki was.  Nemu clearly regrets pointing this out, and apologises.  I do have to say that the dub script in this scene is noticeably clumsy, surprisingly so given the general quality elsewhere.

Back in the well Rakka is burying the crow, and apologising for not being able to do more.  She can’t even remember her own name, let alone who the crow was.

She knows that the crow was someone who was always by her side, even when she thought she was alone. 

There is a sense of gratitude, of Rakka reawakening, even as the snow begins to fall and the credits roll.

There is an after credits sequence, which does not appear if the next episode is selected from the menu, of the other Haibane searching fruitlessly for Rakka.  The scene then cuts back to Rakka looking at the grave and flashing back to dialogue from previous episodes.

The last flashback is Sumika asking what it felt like to be born and Rakka answering that it felt like someone was protecting her.

For all that The Bird looks, and sometimes feels, like a grim episode, what happens in the well is entirely about redemption and reconciliation. 

Rakka may be physically lost, but emotionally she has gone a long way to restoring herself.  Thus far I’ve purposely omitted the names for each of the discs in the Australian release:

  • Disc 1 is New Feathers, and covers up to episode 4 (Trash Day – Clock Tower – Birds Flying Over the Walls);
  • Disc 2 is Wings of Sorrow, and covers up to episode 7 (Scar – Illness – Arrival of Winter)
  • Disc 3 is Free Bird and starts with The Bird.

I think that these names are particularly apt: the first disc is about introducing the world and Rakka, the second is about breaking her, the third is putting Rakka back together as a stronger, freer, Haibane.

But even as Rakka finds herself, and her place in Old Home, we will see more of Reki’s dark past, and how fragile Reki’s grip on her place in Old Home is.

For both these arcs The Bird is the pivotal episode, it is the episode that the entire series hinges on.  The Bird is also beautifully scripted, and pulls off the needed message perfectly. 

The Bird ends with Rakka still a long way from being out of the woods, but now having hope and a path to the future.

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 – Gender and Haibane Renmei
Day 7 – Library – Abandoned Factory – The Beginning of the World
Day 8 – End of Summer – Rain – Loss
Day 9 – Dub vs Sub?
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

[1] I think, the voice is slightly muffled by the door.

[2] This part isn’t entirely true: to an extent Reki still feels this but over time has become better at dealing with it, and at hiding it.

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