After pondering some more about Haibane Renmei, I realized that it was better than I initially thought, so here's an updated review.
Haibane Renmei is quite an enigma with me. I decided to invest in this anime because prior to this, I watched Serial Experiments Lain, which I loved. I was curious about Haibane Renmei since ABe (character designer of Serial Experiments Lain) had creative hands in it, and seeing a brief opportunity to get this anime really cheap, I seized it back in February. While I was a little disappointed by a few flaws that annoyed me a bit, I can't say that I felt cheated at all because its flaws are only mildly annoying and it improves a lot after the first third (in which the first third is okay).
The story to Haibane Renmei is about a sleepy town called Glie, which has people in it called Haibane. Haibane are people with halos and flightless wings making them resemble angels, and are forbidden by the Haibane Renmei (Charcoal Feather Federation) to leave the walls of the city. A new Haibane named Rakka arrives at Old Home, a place that houses Haibane. Before Rakka's “birth,” she has a dream of falling and of a crow trying to save her, and this dream will haunt her after her arrival in Glie. When Rakka arrives, she gets engrossed with her inner demons and along with another Haibane named Reki, help each other out to escape the Circle of Sin.
I'll get this right out of the way and voice my main quibble with what could have been a post-2000 masterpiece in anime. In the first third or so of this anime, there were some tonal imbalances that while far, far less annoying like the tonal shifts in anime like Elfen Lied, High School of the Dead, Trigun, or Witchblade, still felt fairly awkward in an anime that's supposed to be more serious and emotional.
In the first four or five episodes, there are a few scenes in this anime that felt a bit out-of-place in such an acclaimed anime title. The main examples are of a few scenes of Rakka brushing her hair, and some strands spring up, complete with cartoony springing noises. A scene where the head of Old Home gets the younger Haibane to eat their carrots, and the way the kids are animated as they frantically eat their carrots to get pancakes later on looks quite goofy and cartoonish. Finally, the other that immediately comes to mind is in episode four, the way Kana wakes up Rakka looks silly and out-of-place for a more serious type of anime.
Though to this anime's credit, these scenes that annoy me, again, aren't nearly as abrasive and frequent as the excessive swill you'd see in the worst the anime genre has. Even more to the anime's credit, after around the fifth episode or so, the tone and visual style remains serious throughout, and therefore improves quite a lot. However, these tonal flaws are still in the anime and I can't pretend that they aren't there, as they still gave me a mildly odd taste in my mouth, though like I said earlier, this series improves very quickly.
I thought the characters were done really well in this anime overall. Practically all of the characters have distinct personalities that don't really feel cliché and feel believable.
I like the fact that despite the fact that this anime deals with sins and whatnot, there really aren't any characters that are “good” or “evil.” They all just felt like regular people, giving this series a down-to-earth feel.
I especially liked Rakka, Reki, and Kuramori (even though Kuramori is more of a minor character). Reki was the most interesting to me because when the series starts, you see her as a hard-working motherly type, but as the series progresses, you see a lot of hidden yet believable dark traits that make her so interesting. I should also point out that because of the great, plausible development of many of the characters, I had a pretty big lump in my throat by the last episode because I cared about certain ones that much. This is something that normally doesn't happen with me an anime.
The other characters, like Hikari, Kana, and Ku are also pretty interesting and well-rounded, and are a good fit for this type of anime.
The main themes of Haibane Renmei deal with forgiveness, friendship, and sin.
This is best exemplified in the relationship between Rakka and Reki. Without spoiling much of anything, I'll simply say that Reki has a lot of suppressed burdens and does whatever it takes to reach some sort of salvation. After one of the Haibane departs for her “Day of Flight” (when a Haibane goes beyond the walls of Glie and never returns), Rakka is rattled with severe depression and her wings become tainted by dark spots, indicating that she's bound by sin.
What I like about this anime is that when dealing with sin, that it's not so black-and-white to depict typical “sinners” and “saintly” people, as there's plenty of people who aren't bad at all, but are still riddled with sin through one way or another.
The animation and artwork for this is done pretty well.
The look of Glie is among the more creative of fantasy environments. It gives off an otherworldly feeling, since it doesn't look like much of anything from any given time period. It looks almost like a rustic, countryside village that still relies on technology that pre-dates computers. People have electricity and small motorized vehicles, but that's about as fancy as the technology gets, but some people have pretty “modern” possessions like t-shirts, baseball caps, and skateboards. Seeing this mixture of technology and possessions almost makes Glie feel like an otherworldly place beyond our plane of existence and is like a collection of things from other people's lives from many time periods. I'm so glad for an anime with a fantasy setting, they didn't use the done-to-death Medieval Western European visual styles.
The artwork for the characters and the environments are done quite well and for the backgrounds, are very detailed. There's a mixture of 2D and 3D animation that's done really well, too, since particularly with the windmills, are 3D CGI mixed with 2D animation that don't feel out-of-place at all. The character designs are nice as well, since even though I'm generally not a fan of the more “cute” and “gentle” types of character designs, the designs for the characters are done right since they have a softer side to them without feeling overdone at all.
Most of the animation is quite smooth as well, since there weren't many scenes that I felt had much (if any) hiccups. I only recall one or two scenes that had characters that didn't move at all, but I think they were used in “moving picture” parts during some bouts of tasteful exposition, so they don't come off entirely as laziness on behalf of the animators.
Kow Otani's soundtrack for this anime is a breath of fresh air compared to most anime soundtracks. The music in this anime is classical and is very reminiscent of old, Western European folk tunes that fit the rustic, down-to-earth look of this anime. Some of the compositions used in the more emotional and dramatic parts in this anime complement the scenes really well without feeling at all forced or overdone.
There was only a few scenes in this anime that could be upsetting to viewers, but even these aren't extreme. There's a few scenes of Rakka and other Haibane sprouting their wings from their backs, and these look a little painful to watch, there's a few scenes of minor bloodshed and one that's a bit more severe with a dead Haibane that don't go beyond the TV-14 rating printed on the DVD case.
In relation to the mature content in this anime, I'm glad that the creators of Haibane Renmei didn't try to make the female characters erotic eye candy for the male audience and there's not any fanservice (softcore or hardcore) anywhere in this.
While I was a little disappointed with some of the odd tone and visual shifts in the first third of the anime, Haibane Renmei still has a lot of great things going for it that improves a lot as the series progresses. If you don't mind a few tonal shifts and crave an emotional slice-of-life anime, then Haibane Renmei will probably be manna from heaven. Otherwise, if you're like me and get more irritated by tonal shifts, then you may want to take this with a tiny grain of salt, but still expect something very fulfilling in the end.
All in all, it took a little bit for this to grow on me, but now I'm quite happier to have seen this than I initially was.
What did you think of this review?