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Review: Haibane Renmei

The previous review was insufficient. It read as follows:

The Charcoal Wings Foundation is an association of apparantly angelic people, living a life within a large walled area including a small city and enough farmland to support it. It’s all about self-discovery and the inner conflicts within people. What is a good person, anyway?

I’m pretty sure the whole thing is set in Purgatory, actually… I have no evidence to really support this, though.

Genre: self-discovery
Emotion: drama

It is possible to describe most anime series in terms of their setting. Very few shows break so much ground that it becomes nearly impossible to convey their content or intent without also discussing large parts of the setting. In a show like that, discussing the setting can become problematic if it is also true that the viewer only discovers certain aspects of the setting late in the game. Haibane Renmei is in a class of its own as to the setting, and it does reveal things very slowly to the viewer. This poses a bit of a conundrum for the would-be reviewer.

The title means “Charcoal Wings Foundation”; it refers to a group of people who happen to have grown gray wings. These people look like angels, from the wings to the halo, but they are most certainly human. The halo is composed of a special material, and is crafted for each Haibane; it eventually sticks to them to the point where it is possible to maneuver a person’s head by manipulating their halo. It sticks to them, six inches above contact with their scalp, with no apparant means of support. Why, and how? It’s never explained.

Perhaps that’s one of the things that makes this series good: its magic feels real. It isn’t flashy, it isn’t showy, and it isn’t always helpful; the rules are simply different. Yes, the Haibane have wings, but it’s a painful process when they sprout and it’s important to clean the blood and mucous off them afterwards. They’re certainly not functional. There are elements scattered all throughout the show like that: things work differently than they do on Earth, but there’s much anyone can do about it, so people just do their best to live and deal with things as they come.

The art and music are beautiful and evocative. The palette is subdued in pastels, and the music nearly always fits perfectly. Together, they evoke the sense of a crisp, thickly overcast winter day: whether you like it or not, this is the way the world is, so it’s best to just overcome whatever difficulties you face as best you can.

I said in the first review that I had no real evidence that this series took place in Purgatory. That’s true, but it’s worth noting that the major goal of the characters is to attain a clean, unburdened soul. Is redemption possible, or necessary? Does Original Sin stain some people so heavily that they can’t redeem themself despite the way they live? I can’t really speak much more about the story without giving away plot points, but these themes and similar ones are covered well.

This series is not about action. It’s not about comedy, and it’s not about cute. It’s not about magic in the same way that any other series might be about magic. It’s about immersion in a truly new world, unique and fascinating. It’s about friendship and the absolute necessity thereof. It’s about personal growth, sin, redemption, and the overall state of the soul. It’s subtle and well-crafted and good. Watch this series if you like contemplative quality.

Genre: Haibane Renmei
Emotion: when the sky is solid slate and your breath is clearly visible and your heart is light because you’re starting a new, good day.
BTFS: .92

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