Haibane Renmei is a pretty unusual anime in many ways, but the biggest difference is the themes. No guns, battles or sorcery. Just a gently story about girls with wings, called haibane, living in a town surrounded by a wall they cannot even touch, let alone pass through. The series begins with the “birth” of a new girl, Rakka, at the Old Home: an all-girls dormitory for haibane. It then follows her development and relationship with the oldest haibane there, Reki.
Created by famous character designer, Yoshitoshi ABe, the anime is based on his dōjinshi of the same name. This marks his writing and directing debut. And boy does he knock one out of the park. He cares deeply about the characters and their setting giving us details like how the girls get their halo to the everyday banality of their lives in this dream-like town.
But the story does get serious as we find out that the haibane can graduate from the town and go beyond the wall, a day called The Day of Flight. The mystery is why some stay behind while others continue their journey, and specifically why Rakka and Reki’s wings start turning black and why Reki has never had her Day of Flight.
So many themes run through the series. The sense of compassion and love the characters have for each other, even the stern elders who run the town. The fear of facing the unknown both without, like the wall, and within, like the sin that darkens a haibane‘s wings. The power of love to heal a broken soul.
Haibane Renmei is such a good anime that I’ve recommended it to people who hate anime. So far, they’ve come back impressed. It has a mature story telling that North America seems to have abandoned in favor of avante garde or the banal. I can only hope ABe finds some more inspiration to give us new series like this.