Haibane Renmei: The Complete Series Review

Haibane Renmei has been trapped in licensing limbo for quite a while – after Geneon Entertainment collapsed, many of its old properties were lost to the winds. However, FUNimation decided to pick up a bunch of their old titles over the past few years, this little gem among them. Many fans have been waiting years for a rerelease of this show, unwilling to cough up some $200 for one of the old out-of-print Geneon sets, and now they can finally add this to their collections. But is this obscure title worth adding to yours?

Haibane Renmei: The Complete Series [DVD]
Studio: Radix
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
Release Date: September 4, 2012
MSRP: $39.98

Main Feature:
In Haibane Renmei, the focus lies on the “Haibane”, a group of mysterious children and young adults. Instead of being born through normal means, they emerge from cocoons, fully-formed and clothed in white robes. Despite their odd “births” and the set of wings and halo each haibane possesses, they are otherwise indistinguishable from normal humans. Although each haibane remembers having some sort of life before waking up in their cocoon, they cannot remember anything that might give them a clue about their former identities. The only exception is a vivid dream that each one has while inside their cocoon, which determines their name. For example, the protagonist had a dream of falling through the sky, so when she emerges from the cocoon and meets the other haibane, she is given the name “Rakka”, literally meaning “falling”.

The narrative follows Rakka as she learns more about her existence as a new haibane, and comes to terms with the mysterious world she now lives in. The town of Glie is a strange place, with perhaps stranger values: it is a city completely walled off with only a single exit, where none of the townspeople are allowed to leave. Every haibane is required to find a job in the town or surrounding landscape. They are forbidden from carrying money, instead making use of small notebooks in which they record their daily wages, and they may only buy used clothes or secondhand items. The only people who seem to know the reasons for any of this (as well as the only ones with any connection to the outside world) are the eponymous “Haibane Renmei”, an organization that supposedly exists to help protect the haibane.

Only thirteen episodes long, the show’s pacing is gentle, exploring the relationships between the characters. Early episodes take things slowly, showing Rakka’s daily life as she becomes used to her surroundings in Glie. Eventually, the plot heads in a slightly darker direction, dealing with themes such as regret, loss, and loneliness. It never quite becomes a downer, but Haibane Renmei definitely gets emotional at times.

Technical Quality:
This show originally aired in 2002, and it really shows. It still looks very pretty, but that’s more of a testament to Yoshitoshi ABe’s art style than studio Radix. It clearly didn’t have the largest budget to begin with, and when compared to currently airing anime it looks very dated. Even so, the simplistic animation fits with the quiet and understated tone of the show, with beautiful, wide paintings of Glie’s countryside standing in for more detailed backgrounds. There’s also a sort of… softness to everything that gives the show a comfortable feeling despite its sub-par animation.

As is standard for properties that FUNimation has rescued from Geneon, their original dub is left untouched. The dub itself is decent, but not amazing: the show is half over by the time Rakka’s voice seems to click, but most of the other cast sounds quite good. The ever-present Wendee Lee voices a minor character in one episode, Michael McConnohie lends his baritone to the elderly Communicator of the Haibane Renmei, and Erika Weinstein has a very natural-sounding performance as Reki.

Special mention goes to the show’s score, composed by the very talented Kow Otani, who is likely best known for his work on Shadow of the Colossus. Even years after first watching the show, hearing some of its tunes can get me a little emotional.

Bonus Features:
Geneon was not known for having the best bonus features, and this show is no exception to that. We have next episode previews, a few trailers for upcoming FUNimation releases, and some old TV spots for Haibane Renmei itself. On the more interesting side, there is an interview about the show with writer Yoshitoshi ABe and producer Yasuyuki Ueda from Anime Expo 2003, and an extended credits sequence with concept art set to a rather odd song from the Japanese OST. Topping things off is a bizarre few seconds of animation accompanied with the phrase “Got Wings?”, with no further explanation offered.

Overall Value:
Haibane Renmei is an odd creature. I want to unconditionally recommend it, but I know that not everyone will appreciate its particular brand of nuance. It is subtle and artsy, nothing like what you may expect from most anime. If, however, you are looking for something slower and off the beaten path, then there are few shows on the same level as this one. Any discerning anime collector should be scrambling to place this one on their shelf.

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