When on the lookout for reviews and articles discussing anime, I am always interested in the personal experiences the writers of the community have to share. While I usually prefer to discuss the medium in a more formal and authoritative voice, I am also interested in the less formal personal experiences writers like to share in their works. Not to take away from the formal and authoritative voice, but it tends to lack warmth and is sometimes unable to properly convey the writer’s ideas, which are usually tied in with their emotions, to a certain degree. Another fan’s personal experience with any given title is a truly interesting box for me to open. Why did a reviewer think such a series was worthy of high remarks? Is it based on their previous experience in the genre or maybe just the opposite? Why was the anime so relatable to the author of the article? Did is touch upon a certain demographic background or particular sensibilities? Answering these questions not only puts us on the path of learning more about the title being discussed, but also the how and why the fandom experiences it in any given manner. In other words, we learn more about both the medium of anime and its fandom in a single stroke. Today’s topic, Haibane Renmei, has inspired me to take this personal approach to discussing anime as it is a title that reverberates with me on numerous levels. An experience that I would not and could not be able to properly convey in a more formal and authoritative presentation.
I love when an anime title, or any story for that matter, is filled with melancholy, which sounds like a weird oxymoron. As I have mentioned before, the sentiment of pensive sadness is something with reverberates with me on multiple levels. For myself, melancholy is the sentiment I feel when I learn about how my happiness (or blissful ignorance) or someone else’s cannot last forever. In other words, when reality checks in. Melancholy is the sentiment I feel when I’m fully aware that the joy I’m experiencing can’t last forever and will come to an end one day. On one hand, I’m happy to have learned something new, even if it comes at the price of happiness. On the other, it hurts to know that happiness, or any given positivity can’t last forever. However, I don’t necessarily view melancholy negatively. As I see it, it’s the sentiment which reminds me to not only enjoy the moments of happiness that I’m currently living, but to also appreciate the smaller things in life because like everything, they will not last forever. Haibane Renmei is a series which I believe is very much in tune with this sentiment of melancholy which defined my experience with the series.
Haibane Renmei is filled to the brim with melancholy from its presentation, to its characters and the story. In fact, a properly presented melancholic story is particularly hard to come by, since the sentiment is so hard to pull off in an on-screen presentation. It requires a perfect cooperation between the audio visual presentation and the plot to brew up the mood of thoughtful sadness, a sentiment which is hardly universal. This is in no small part due to the work of Yoshitoshi Abe, who is the creator, script writer and character designer of the series. His distinctive moody style has received recognition in Haibane Renmei, Serial Experiments Lain and Texhnolyze. All three of these titles are cult classics due in large part to their rather dark and moody atmospheres. As for why I think we should recognize the worth of melancholy is a personal opinion on the other hand. Just like any emotion, melancholy is subjective to our own experiences. However, it isn’t all out sadness or depression. Instead, it’s a sentiment of sadness brought about by thought. To me, melancholy is a form of pensive sadness brought on by our awareness of the world around us. It is a feeling that we experience when we understand (or attempt to understand) how our life functions, how people truly are and that the good times never last. All of which are key points that Haibane Renmei play upon to present its story to the viewer. Through the use of its moody atmosphere, creative world and the troubled characters, Haibane Renmei induced an all pervasive sense of melancholy with every passing episode as I learned more about every aspect of the series. In the following paragraphs, I will attempt to colour you a picture of the series and its messages as I experienced them.
The world of Haibane Renmei is one of an illusorily beauty which deceptively hides a grander secret. Within the giant walls, which surround the town of Glie, the Haibane Renmei are born. Angel-like with halos and charcoal coloured feathered wings sprouting from their backs no one, not even the Haibane Renmei know from where they originate or how they came to be in the world. Unable to remember their past lives, they are given names based on their very last dream before being born into the world anew. While they are treated with respect by the human villagers of Glie, the Haibane Renmei live separately outside of the town in rundown edifices nicknamed as ‘Old Home’ and ‘Abandoned Factory’. They never earn money from the jobs they work and can only use second hand items and clothing. As a result, the Haibane Renmei live frugal and humble lifestyles until their time of flight arrives, the moment a charcoal feather disappears in a blinding light to finally move beyond the giant walls which surround the town and its surroundings.
The series never hints at what lays beyond the walls, and it is one of the many questions which I believe Haibane Renmei intentionally leaves open to reinforce one of the points of the series. In many ways, the cycle of life of the Haibane Renmei mirrors how humans live out their own lives and understand their world. We only grasp at straws when it comes to finding the origins of life or its all-important meaning. All in the while we are surrounded by the wall which is the limitations of knowledge and understanding and never learning what truly lays beyond the concrete structure. While human knowledge constantly expands, the more we learn, the more we know less about. It’s the great irony of knowledge. To truly be knowledgeable is to know that we still have much to learn. As the viewer learns more about the secrets of the world of Haibane Renmei, the answers we do receive only serve as fuel for grander questions. Rokka learning as to how to become free of sin and witnessing the inner workings of the walls only serve as a foundation for larger questions to which neither we nor Rokka ever receive. It’s the somber cycle of knowledge in which we never truly find a definitive answer to some of our most important questions pertaining to our existence. And like the Haibane Renmei, we do not know what happens to us when we finally take the final leap from our lives. In many ways, the life cycle of the charcoal feathers reflect the mysteries and boundaries of our own lives, illustrating life in all its beautiful limitations and disparity. Sounds a tad cynical, doesn’t it?
However, it is the mysterious world of the series and the life cycle of the Haibane Renmei which bring about a bitter sweet tinge of melancholy in my heart when I experienced the series. How are the people of Glie able to experience such full lives knowing that they are forever limited by the walls which surround their town? How are the Haibane Renmei so content with their short lives knowing nothing of their past or future? The series generated these questions amongst others which really installed a state of pensive sadness which had me contemplating several ideas and issues. Seeing how happy the villagers and the charcoal feathers were with what they had, do we really need more in terms of knowledge to truly be content with our lives? Would we truly be happy to finally reach the answers that we have been seeking about our origins and destination, even if it means we do not like what we find? Will it actually change anything? Is there a reason why we don’t already know the answers to these questions? For the record, I believe that searching and asking questions is always the right direction to go, even if it leaves a sour taste in your mouth, but Haibane Renmei does a fantastic job at posing these questions through the development of its mysterious world. My feeling of melancholy sprouts from the fact that these are questions that no matter much we search, we might never actually find the answers. The universe is infinitely large and while we continue to learn, our knowledge seems to only open up more questions about how and why everything was, is and will be. Yes, we always find new answers, but it’s a little saddening to be running a marathon which seems to have no finish line.
Not to mention the impact the personal ventures the characters of the series have also have a significant impression on the melancholic feeling I felt when I first watched this series. The Haibane Renmei seem content to live such simple lives despite not knowing their past, their future, or the meaning of their existence. Discouraged from finding the answers that they seek, and forbidden to go anywhere near the walls which surround Glie, they are promised answers once their time of flight arrives. Similar to their human counterparts, they simply choose to accept the status quo and try to live their lives as simply and as happily as possible. Instead of searching for answers, the charcoal feathers put all their energy into being “good” as possible in order to avoid becoming sinful. As to how the Haibane Renmei become sinful is left as ambiguous as it is in our reality. Obvious statements aside, the charcoal feathers fear becoming sinful as the immoral amongst them are unable to take their final flight beyond the walls, lose their wings and are eventually ostracized from the community.
Within the world of the series we also have two characters whose struggles struck a particular chord with me. Both Rokka and Reki, two charcoal feathers, struggle with the fact that they were sin bound. To be sin bound in the world of Haibane Renmei is the worse fate possible for a charcoal feather. For reasons unknown to all, both characters are tainted with black feathers on their wings, which labels them as sinners to both humans and fellow Haibane Renmei alike. The results of the disfiguration of their wings being obvious, both characters fear for their outwards perception to others as well as their ability to one day escape beyond the wall in their time of flight. As a consequence of the particular appearance of their wings, both characters mutilate themselves by cutting and pulling out the black feathers. But like the pain of not knowing as to why they are sin bound and the uncertainty of their future, the black feathers reappear only to make them feel like outcasts once again. And with the return of their black feathers the cycle of pain and sorrow begins anew.
The title of being sin bound in the world of Haibane Renmei comes at the toll of the emotional and psychological wellbeing of those affected by sin. For a charcoal feather, being sin bound is the worst possible fate and to absolve themselves of sin, they must first find the origin of their sin, recognize themselves as sinners and finally find forgiveness. However, to ask for forgiveness is to recognize oneself as a sinner therefore perpetuating one’s status as a sinner forever locking themselves in the cycle of sin, absolution and search for forgiveness. To search for forgiveness is to be a sinner. To accept forgiveness is to be a sinner. However, a sinner must always search forgiveness. If it seems to you that to be sin bound is synonymous with being a victim of a system with obviously broken logic, then you are right.
Haibane Renmei does a splendid job of demonstrating how human ideas, such as sin, can have on an individual and can negatively impact them socially, emotionally and physically. For fear of not being able to take her time of flight, Reki had completely separated herself form the other charcoal feathers by the end of the series both emotionally and physically. The toll of not being able to find a means to rid herself of her sin had taken too much effort and energy out of her for years. Instead, she opted to give up and let her life slip away. Haibane Renmei’s message here is a strong one, and still as relevant as ever. A system of judging the worth of individuals based of morality is not only ineffective, but can be downright cruel towards to outliers of any given community. Both Reki and Roka, could not fully remember the meaning of their dreams, and therefore did not know as to how and where to search for forgiveness. Instead of helping them, the series both labels them and ousts them as different for the inability to meet this certain set of requirements. Not only is it completely unfair, it also feels like an inescapable hellhole for those afflicted.
The series induces a strong sense of melancholy within me since it resonates with an all too apparent reality with which most of us tend to look over. Even though most of us do not judge the make-up of an individual based solely on their morality, the notion still influences and colours our perceptions of others. The usual targets of such perceptions of tinged morality are those on the borders of what I think we can call the ‘acceptable society’. For example, homosexuals, transgendered individuals, criminals, drug addicts, and the poor are all examples of groups that we find on the fringes of society. And while I accept any of these groups with open arms, mainstream perceptions still holds these groups back due to their differences from what is expected in mainstream society. This is in due part to the influence morality still has on our perception of other groups. In many regards, the above mentioned groups are negatively labelled for some form of social deviance that they are the result of or responsible for. It doesn’t explain the entirety of reasons these individuals find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to society, but demonstrates morality still has a significant impact on how we perceive other groups.
And like in Haibane Renmei, these individuals suffer for who they are at the hands of a broken system of judgement that isn’t built to accept them. Instead, they either force themselves into society by attempting to lie about who they are or remain on the fringes to be continually judged by those whom meet the somewhat nonsensical requirements to be recognised as socially acceptable. Rokka’s and especially Reki’s struggle with not being able to meet the standards of morality while being on the fringes of their respective groups made me think that their difficulties were a rather accurate reflection of how social outsiders think and feel in our own world. What made me rather sad, was that both of them only found solace once they were forgiven and hence permitted to take their time of flight. Or in other words, they conformed to the system of judgement in the world of Haibane Renmei instead of it changing for them. It’s sad to say, but on that note, Haibane Renmei is also accurate.
Haibane Renmei fills me with pensive sadness because of how accurately it reflects certain points in our own reality. On one hand, the mysterious world of the series provides the viewer with a fantastic allusion to the difficulties relating the grander mysteries of life. Can we ever truly know what happens after we die? Will knowing the answers actually change anything in our lives? Or are we forever bound by the restrictions of our abilities to ever be able to find the answers we seek? On one hand I’m glad to keep asking questions about the grand universe in which we live, but as the series acknowledges, I’m aware that either you, I or humanity will ever truly find a definitive answer to the problem. It’s the thought that leaves me with a sentiment of melancholy, I’m glad to know that we are always learning, but it saddens me to know that we are forever limited in what we are able to grasp and understand. On the other hand, Haibane Renmei sends out a strong message about how morality affects those whom we judge to be on the fringes of society. The series accurately reflects how those who are not acceptable by mainstream social standards are often demeaned through a moral perspective and labelled with some form of social deviance. It not only justifies their societal positions in the eyes of mainstream social standards, but demonstrates how morality still has an impact on how we both label and judge others. As it was the case with both Rokka and Reki who were judged by standards that could not meet by a system which does not recognize the worth or differences of those whom not always meet a certain set of societal requirements. Both these aspects filled me with melancholy because thinking about them was great in the sense that the series made me ponder about issues I don’t usually pay much attention to in the first place. However, such thinking led me to saddening conclusions about both ideas discussed above. On one hand I’m happy to have critically thought and learned due to this series, but on the other the realizations I made both on my own and those presented by Haibane Renmei, left me a saddened by the end. I always found the sentiment of melancholy to be sad, but in some odd sense beautiful for what it brings to me at the same time.
Thank you for reading to the end. Hopefully I was able to properly colour my thoughts and experience of Haibane Renmei in a cohesive matter for you to understand. As always you can find me on Twitter, or if you have comments or questions please leave them down below! As always thanks for reading and take care until next time.