Haibane Renmei Vol. 4: Day of Flight
I didn't quite know what I was getting into when I ordered Haibane Renmei late last year. I had seen an episode of Lain here are and there, and I owned all of Niea_7, the first Yoshitoshi ABe work that I truly appreciated.
Trust me, after Haibane Renmei, I promptly went back and watched all of ABe's other stuff, and his newest project, Texhnolyze, is probably the show that I'm looking forward to seeing the most right now.
While no clear explanation is ever spoon fed to the audience, from what I gathered, Haibane Renmei is set in a realm parallel in existence to our own. The Haibane are children - none past their teens, really - who arrive in a small town surrounded by an impenetrable wall in an unusual way. After experiencing a dream, they awaken in a cocoon, hatching like a baby bird from an egg.
Then, they sprout wings. And they're given a halo. Suffice it to say, there're certainly some religious connotations here.
Figuring out exactly why this happens is part of the fun of the show. Are they in an afterlife of sorts? Perhaps they're bound to this world by some sin, which requires atonement before they can leave. In any case, the mystery of the Haibane is easily one of the most fascinating things I've pondered in a long time.
Despite the extremely interesting setup, it's the characters that make me want to keep watching the show. Most of the story takes place from the perspective of Rakka, a newborn Haibane. However, by the fourth disc, her story is overshadowed somewhat by that of Reki's, a Haibane who's been in Old Home for seven years.
When a Haibane is ready, they leave the town, forever. On this "Day of Flight", no one sees them leave, and no one knows where exactly they go. Reki has been in the town for quite some time, and she's getting dangerously close to never being able to leave. After too much time has passed in the city, a Haibane loses its wings and must move away from everyone else, living a lonely life that most likely won't last long.
I'm not sure that I've ever cared about characters as much as I have in Haibane Renmei. Chances are that is in no small part due to Yoshitoshi ABe's talent as a character designer and writer. This is an astonishingly beautiful series. Overall, it has a very soft look, but the animation is superb. It looks as good in motion as it does on the case cover, which is quite a compliment. Green is a very common thematic color, though it makes sense to me for the designers to use it frequently. When I see green, I think of spring, new life, and second chances, all which are applicable to the story.
The lovely visuals are even lovelier when you check them out on a 16:9 television, for this disc is presented in anamorphic widescreen. Sure the sound's just in stereo, but the video quality makes up for it.
Voice acting is spot-on in Japanese. The actresses who portray the Haibane convey emotion but not melodramatically, and many of them are quite soothing. The music is also excellent - so good that this was actually the first Geneon soundtrack I bought when they started releasing them domestically. Kou Ootani composed the soundtrack, which consists of very organic music. Violins, guitars, and other haunting stringed instruments help lay the foundation for ABe's world, and I loved every minute of it.
This disc contains a long interview featuring ABe himself, along with his producer. There's also a respectable amount of concept art and other worthy extras. There are only three episodes on this disc, but they're the last three episodes of the series, so there really wasn't much else to add to the disc. Also included in the extras is the special credit roll for the last episode of the show.
At times, this series isn't very exciting. There aren't really any colorful explosions, fanservice is practically nil, explanations don't come easy, if at all, and the religious themes may turn off some viewers. Yet it's one of the best anime series that I've had the pleasure of experiencing, and it's one of the finest examples of anime that proves that cartoons aren't just for children. Not because it's gory and flashes boobs around, but rather because it's intelligently written, tackles some fundamental questions of humanity, and displays tenderness rarely seen in modern shows. This is a show that everyone should watch, and I can't recommend it strongly enough.