13 August 2010 | sophiavladimirovna
10/10 from a bitter atheist
Let me start by explaining that I am not a religion hater, but I have had several bad childhood experiences involving threats of Hell and general hatred. So, when I saw this anime described as a 'Christian fairytale', I sighed and decided to forget about it...And yet, half a year later, I realised just how wrong I was.
It is difficult to pin a genre on Haibane Renmei - it begins in almost Kafkaesque fashion, with a young girl falling through the air. Then a group of angel-like creatures, the Haibane, find a cocoon growing in the basement of their sprawling old-fashioned residence, with the girl inside. She hatches into a world surrounded by walls, populated by Haibane and humans, and run by a race of untouchable masked beings. She grows her wings, receives the name Rakka ("fall"), ponders her origin, befriends endearing but mysterious Reki, and, in her first winter, suffers a sad loss. Thus begins her journey, and the viewer's, to understand those recesses of our minds we are sometimes afraid to know.
Haibane Renmei's success lies in its depiction of human emotions. There are no guns, explosions, annoying voices and large breasts here. The viewer is simply invited to clear their mind and watch as the lives of the Haibane unfold against a backdrop of a town pleasantly embedded in the past but holding its own secrets. The joy of friendship; the pain and guilt of losing a loved one; the quest towards finding one's identity are the predominant themes of Haibane Renmei.
Another great success is the openness for interpretation. Although the story can be seen as religious, it never preaches, never attempts to convert, and ensures that 'sin', 'heaven', and 'salvation' remain only particular words chosen to describe universal concepts. Certain questions pertaining to beliefs are intentionally left unanswered. What lies beyond the walls? Where do the Haibane eventually fly to? And, most importantly, what are the Haibane and what is their purpose?
Although the first few episodes seem innocent enough, Haibane Renmei quickly becomes deep, dark, and sometimes filled with nightmarish imagery and symbolism. There is also a subtle, but definitely present theme of suicide and self-injury (both physical and psychological) that is more disturbing than most 'horror' anime. Add to that the slow storyline, and lovers of light entertainment will certainly not find much in Haibane Renmei, unless of course they are willing to look.
So, my advice to potential viewers: approach this beautiful series with an open mind, and a willingness to do some soul-searching. At times, Haibane Renmei does leave one feeling like a soul trapped in an endless painted tunnel. But be willing to see the light at the end of this tunnel, that is what Haibane Renmei urges the viewer. Be it faith in a higher power, be it faith in humanity, be it faith in a specific person or be it faith in oneself, the light never truly fades.