In most of the Haibane Renmei episodes the order of the titles is matched by their appearance in the episode.  Kuramori – Haibane of Abandoned Factory – Rakka’s Job is one of the exceptions.  For me this emphasises that this episode is largely a postscript to Rakka’s story, with the main focus on Reki.

Before proceeding I should note that there are references to self harm in the synopsis.

A sad way to be born

As the wind blows, and the snow falls outside Old Home there is a flash back to another winter and a much younger Reki lying in an abandoned room next to her empty Cocoon.

No one found the cocoon before she hatched.

At this point her wings haven’t sprouted, and Reki is lying unconscious in the fluid draining from the cocoon as the snow falls outside. 

By the time a panicking Nemu runs to find Kuramori, Reki’s Sin-Bound wings have sprouted unattended, her cocoon robe is covered in blood, as are her wings.  The first thing Reki sees as she awakens is Kuramori’s kind face.

One speculation that I’ve discussed with friends previously is that, for the Haibane, the halo is the sign of acceptance whilst the wings are the sign of difference. 

To receive the halo first, as Rakka did surrounded by cheerful Haibane, is to be accepted and loved.

To receive the wings first, as Reki did, is to be feared and rejected.

This loneliness is enhanced by the fact that Kuramori and Nemu were the only Old Feathers at the time [1].  It also doesn’t help that Nemu is openly jealous of the attention that Reki receives from Kuramori: she looks away when the halo is given before fleeing when called upon to say hello.

The scene where Kuramori is walking through town with the as yet unnamed Reki, and covers Reki’s stained wings with a shawl, is silent but catches the spirit of the gentle Kuramori well.

The scene in the temple where Reki recounts what little she remembers of the cocoon dream is handled well.  I can see how a child would become frightened of the masked Communicator and completely miss the gentle concern, and this is true in both versions.

The next scene is cut feathers on the ground, a pair of scissors being dropped and an anguished Kuramori having slapped Reki.  Kuramori embraces Reki and promises to be by her side,  to be by her side always.

Then Kuramori is found collapsed near Old Home with the ingredients for the medicine.  As a result Nemu blames Reki, and does so fairly hatefully.  It does have to be remembered that Nemu is still a child at this point.

A crying Reki flees but returns hours later with food bought for Nemu and Kuramori.  Nemu has clearly had a lot of time to think, offers to cook the food together and apologises.  By the time Kuramori awakens to freshly cooked food, the girls are collapsed on her bed with their hands clasped together.

After treating Reki’s wings the three Haibane create the guest room that welcomes Rakka later.  This is when Kuramori declares that Reki is a full fledged Haibane, and Reki enjoys a moment of happiness.  This is the first time I’ve heard Kuramori in the dub and the ubiquitous [2] Wendee Lee does a fine job.

That is when the flashback ends and Reki is revealed, grieving, in the dark for the lost Kuramori. 

I was tempted to crop this image.  However the composition of Reki turning her back on the moonlight, with her eyes shut to the light from her halo, was too powerful to mess with.

As Reki grieves for the lost Kuramori, asking her not to go, the camera pans over painting implements but we don’t see what is in the room yet. 

As Kana is pacing worriedly Reki rushes in to find that Rakka has a fever. It isn’t going down, and Kana was going to take Rakka to the doctor in the morning.  Reki races to the temple and confronts the Communicator, and certainly isn’t about to play the game of signalling with bells.

The Communicator wisely gives permission to speak.  The following discussion about Rakka confirms that she is no longer Sin Bound having received forgiveness from the bird.

The Communicator also warns Reki that she doesn’t have much time remaining as a Haibane.  He warns her that she must prevail over her ordeal. 

Overall I’m becoming increasingly impressed by the tough compassion of the Communicator.  The imposing, authoritarian, facade conceals deep concern for the welfare of the Haibane in general, and Reki in particular.

Unfortunately Reki’s previous encounters make it hard for her to see past the facade.  It also turns out that Nemu is waiting for Reki to take the Day of Flight: the jealous girl has become the devoted friend thinking of Reki’s welfare before her own.

I don’t fault the Communicator for telling Reki this as a lie would have been the only other choice, but it does increase the pressure on Reki in a way that she doesn’t need.

The Communicator does praise Reki for always being there for Rakka, for always doing the right thing, but cautions her not to be envious of Rakka’s progress.  Inevitably Reki focuses on the criticism, and ignores the praise.

Back at Old Home Reki is making stinky, and bitter, medicine for Rakka.  Rakka is then summoned to the Temple to be punished for touching the wall.  Reki wants to ignore it, but a recovered Rakka wants to go to the temple anyway to return the Communicator’s cane.

Rakka feels fine and her wings feel lighter (in the subtitle) or better (in the dub).  I think “lighter” is a better translation as Reki compares [3]  Rakka’s damaged wings from Scar – Illness – Arrival of Winter to the fully regrown wings of Well – Rebirth – Riddle.  Given the extra mass of the repaired/replaced feathers, the wings should be heavier – that they feel lighter says that something else is happening.

Something joyful.

Reki, and the other Haibane, let Rakka go to the Temple.  Inside the Temple Rakka walks down a long staircase underground before being told to put on a bulky robe. A further passage leads Rakka and the Communicator inside the Wall where there is a canal.

Along the edges of one wall are glowing columns that contain the light leaves used to make the Halos.  It is to be Rakka’s job to clean the tags on the columns, and to collect the light leaves. 

This is the point in the series where the track Ethereal Remains is used and it perfectly supports the nature of the place.  As she works Rakka notices that the tags on the wall have the same writing on the fossilised book in the library.

The scene cuts to Midori and Hyohko, the Haibane of Abandoned Factory, walking towards Old Home as it snows.  Midori is carrying a basket and complaining about why she has to do this.  Since Hyohko can’t actually enter the South District, Midori is going to have to deliver it.

Running into Reki, Midori passes the gift on which is apparently for Rakka.  It turns out to be a set of cupcakes to apologise for the soup Rakka spilled in Scar – Illness – Arrival of Winter.  It seems Hyohko isn’t totally insensitive, although his handwriting is worse than mine [4].

Hikari wants to give something in return, Kana disagrees (as it was an apology), and Nemu looks to Reki to break the tie but she demurs.  There is a need to visit Abandoned Factory anyway – Old Home fosters the Young Feathers that can’t be looked after there, but they visit a couple of times a year. 

As the arrangements for the visit are being made, Reki is starting to withdraw from the Haibane.  Reki even asks Nemu to stop worrying about her, that she doesn’t want to be a burden to Nemu, before fleeing to her room alone.

With three episodes left to go Rakka is now fully secure as a Haibane: her ordeal is over, and her job will aid Haibane yet to come. This will pay forward the help that Rakka has received thus far, and I don’t think this is an accident.

However the extent to which Reki is also a Broken Bird is now fully revealed.  Reki is still Sin Bound, still unable to remember the cocoon dream [5], and heading the wrong way by withdrawing from the other Haibane.

Despite this emerging darkness, the overall tone of Kuramori – Haibane of Abandoned Factory – Rakka’s Job continues the trend towards hope.  There have been happy moments for Reki in Old Home, and Reki’s efforts did go a long way towards saving Rakka. 

From the structure of the titles, to the comments of the Communicator, there are hints that saving Rakka is what will save Reki in the end.

This is a solid episode, deftly written, and beautifully presented.

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 – The Sound of Charcoal Feathers
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] In terms of age both Nemu and Reki were borderline Young Feathers.

[2] Wendee Lee has on occasion been referred to as the American Megumi Hayashibara.

[3] This is accomplished by a much briefer flashback.

[4] Those few unfortunate enough to have seen it know what I mean. 🙂

[5] Not necessarily a bad thing as it happens…