Can a television series qualify as great literature? In principle I don’t see any reason why one couldn’t, but few of them have any such ambitions. In any case great literature has to pass the test of time, and perhaps the medium hasn’t been around long enough.
If one ever does qualify, it might well be this strange haunting story about people who have wings and halos, but who are not angels.
Haibane Renmei (The Charcoal Feather Federation)
Fantasy, Drama, Religious Allegory
13 episodes on 4 DVDs (1 boxed set)
Japanese with subtitles, English
Fuji Television, 2002-2003
Region 1 Publisher
This will probably not be to everyone’s taste. Most animes can be enjoyed as light entertainment even if, as is sometimes the case, they have a deeper meaning. This one is not very “light”. It is a subtle, intricately crafted story that raises questions and refuses to spell out the answers. Still, the many fan sites scattered around the Web are evidence of the number of people who have been deeply moved by it.
This series has no sex or violence, but it contains disturbing images as well as adult themes. It is best suited for teenagers and adults.
It would be wasted on younger viewers. Pre-teenage viewers will probably not really understand it, and to the extent that they do understand it they will probably be upset by it.
Premise and Characters
) is a small but ancient city. It has a European appearance but the inhabitants speak and write Japanese.
It has (at a rough guess) somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 human inhabitants and a much smaller number of haibane
, probably less than 100.
The town is surrounded by a region of farmland and forests, all of which is surrounded by a great circular wall which the inhabitants are forbidden to touch, let alone cross.
are named for their small (and non-functional) ash-gray wings. We see only two “nests” of Haibane in the story. There may be others, but the total number of Haibane is clearly very small compared to the human population.
Haibane of the Old Home
One group lives in an abandoned boarding school called “The Old Home”.
( “Falling” ) arrives at the beginning of the story and is initially very frightened and confused.
She is helped by Reki ( “Pebble” ), one of the oldest of the Haibane. Reki is a gruff, chain-smoking, motorcyle-riding character, but she knows a lot of things that the younger Haibane do not. She is tough but compassionate, a natural leader of the group. She cares for the Young Feathers and paints in her spare time.
( “Air” ) is a young Haibane who has lived at the Old Home for only two years. She is innocent and energetic. Humans often mistake her for a boy. She helps out at a cafe in the town.
( “River Fish” ) is boisterous and tomboyish. She likes mechanical things and works for a clockmaker.
( “Light” ) is somewhat younger than Reki, and works at a bakery. She is cheerful and popular, a hard worker but sometimes a bit irresponsible.
( “Sleep” ) is the oldest member of the group. She works at the town library and is notorious for sleeping late.
The Young Feathers
are a noisy group of miniature Haibane. They are cute but rather bratty.
Haibane of the Abandoned Factory
Another group of less reputable-looking Haibane live in an abandoned factory. The apparent leader is Hyouko
( “Icy Lake” ) who dresses to conceal his wings and halo, as if trying to pass as human. (Also spelled “Hyoko”; the latter may be a nickname.)
His friend Midori
( “Greenery” ) is openly hostile to Reki.
helps Reki take care of the Young Feathers. She is not afraid to boss the older Haibane around either.
, a librarian, is Nemu’s mentor.
( “the boss” ) runs the clock tower where Kana works.
The Clothing Store Owner
sells used clothing to the Haibane and thinks that they bring good luck.
runs the bakery where Hikari works.
The Cafe Master
runs the cafe where Kuu works.
Any city requires trade with the rest of the world for its survival. This is made possible by the Touga
, silent masked traders who are allowed to enter the city but are forbidden to speak to its inhabitants.
Only The Communicator
) is allowed to speak with them using a secret sign language. He is also the spokesman for the Haibane Renmei
, a mysterious organization that governs all matters concerning the Haibane.
Anime News Network page.
Wikipedia entry (major spoilers).
Old Home Bulletin Board (fan discussion group).
Sekai no Hajimari (The Beginning of the World). A very extensive fan site.