It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that a large number of anime fans have encountered Yoshitoshi Abe or the shows he’s created and worked on, nor would I be wrong to say that he has gained a strong fanbase for his beautiful art and creative vision. Many people were turned off by the gritty confusion that was Serial Experiments Lain (one of his previous works), but there were a still few willing to dive into Haibane Renmei despite the previous title's flaws. In his debut as a writer, Yoshitoshi Abe envisioned and penned an anime series that quietly tugs at the heart and that has carved its own place in the anime medium with its unique charm. Like most things, the show is not for everyone. Although it is a solid work that should be at least enjoyed by most of its potential audiences, for those of us who, like I, find themselves yearning for a show that will sweep them away into another world and enchant them, it can easily become more of an experience than just a work of entertainment.
One of the first things a viewer will notice when watching this series, is the visual and artistic style with which it is produced. Although the animation does not excel on any technical level, with occasional distortions and simplifications in the cel work, it certainly gets the job done and is more than made up for in the other artistic elements. The background artwork is detailed, scenic and fits the tone of the series perfectly. The character designs are simple but memorable and attractive, particularly Rakka. Most importantly, the series is washed in a soft, water-coloured style that gives it a subtle dream-like quality. The audio aspects of production were also strong, but, especially in the case of the score music, did not excel. Kou Otani (who recently did the score for Shana) handled the music and created a score that was engaging but ultimately forgettable. The main problem is likely that a real orchestra and instruments were not used to create the music, and although her synthetic compositions are strong, the sound ultimately feels tinny and a bit cheap. The OP and ED are very good, particularly the OP, which fits the series perfectly and is an inviting start to every episode.
Haibane Renmei (lit. Ash feather federation), starts off in "Old Home," a small, peaceful village full of enthusiastic youths. The story focuses on a group of five female "Haibane," whom are young girls with tiny wings on their back, and halos floating above their heads. The five eventually become six as a new girl, Rakka, is "born" into their world. From there, Haibane Renmei follows the trials and tribulations of these girls until its stunning climax in episode 13. With little tangible plot to grip onto beyond the premise, Haibane Renmei essentially revolves around the characters’ journeys in confronting their own personal issues, set against the mysterious backdrop of Old Home and the encompassing town. People often have gripes about plot points and settings not being literally explained or explored, but in the case of Haibane Renmei the fact that the surroundings of the Haibane and their circumstances are a nostalgic haze lends focus to their internal struggles. This series makes no mistake about what lays at the core of its tale and, as such, every heart-warming gesture or pang of despair is captured with potency and poignancy.
The characters themselves are benefited from this focus, with the two main characters given a remarkable amount of depth and intensity for a series of this length. The supporting cast are lent a certain weight, but are not completely fleshed out, which is befitting of their supporting roles, really. One great asset the series has is that, perhaps because it appears to be completely unconcerned with pandering to an audience or a market, its characterization feels uniquely sincere. They’re not classifiable as prodigies, tsunderes, role models or heroes, but rather feel like real people with a real heart and soul behind them. Not only does it make the cast likable, but, particularly in the case of the leads Rakka and Reki, this earnestness draws you into their emotional dilemmas and makes you empathize and identify with them. As the characters struggle to come to terms with themselves and their mistakes, it’s hard not to be stirred and affected.
But much more than just a drama with believable characters, Haibane Renmei is hued in a melancholic and languid atmosphere, and dripping with beauty in its symbolism and mystery. Inviting, warm, and ultimately gripping, Haibane Renmei is a series that is nurtured on emotion and thematic overtones, rather than being constructed with plot and action. If you can appreciate that, then it is sure to captivate. Where Haibane Renmei truly succeeds and other dramatic anime fall to the wayside is in its sincerity. Rather than being conceived for audience appeal, one can feel the passion and emotion of the creator seep through. In short, on top of its charm and poignancy, it feels genuine.
This review is the final result of a review team composed of members from the "Critics and Connoisseurs" club. The team members were:
Washi - who composed the actual review
Archaeon - who contributed directly to portions of the review and gave feedback
Seishi - who contributed guidance from his own experience after already writing a review of this show
Here are their individual scorings for the show:
Category - Washi, Archaeon, Seishi
Story - 9, 8, 8
Art - 8, 9, 10
Sound - 8, 9, 10
Character - 10, 8 , 8
Enjoyment - 10, 9, 9
Overall - 10, 9, 10
In the club wide poll held for Haibane Renmei it received an average overall rating of 8.23