Haibane Renmei–Anime Review

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5 stars
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.

  • Title
    Haibane Renmei (The Charcoal Feather Federation)
  • Genres
    Fantasy, Drama, Religious Allegory
  • Contents
    13 episodes on 4 DVDs (1 boxed set)
  • Languages
    Japanese with subtitles, English
  • Based on
    A doujinshi manga by Yoshitoshi ABe
  • Screenplay
    Yoshitoshi ABe
  • Director
    Tomokazu Tokoro
  • Animation
  • Broadcast
    Fuji Television, 2002-2003
  • Region 1 Publisher

anime kana (suppress unwanted aLinks links)
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.

Parental Advisory

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

GlieGlie (GURI) is a small but ancient city. It has a European appearance but the inhabitants speak and write Japanese.
Surrounding areaIt 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.
WallThe 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.
HaibaneThe Haibane 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

The Old HomeOne group lives in an abandoned boarding school called “The Old Home”.
RakkaRakka ( “Falling” ) arrives at the beginning of the story and is initially very frightened and confused.

RekiRekiShe 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.

KuuKuu ( “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.
KanaKana ( “River Fish” ) is boisterous and tomboyish. She likes mechanical things and works for a clockmaker.
HikariHikari ( “Light” ) is somewhat younger than Reki, and works at a bakery. She is cheerful and popular, a hard worker but sometimes a bit irresponsible.
NemuNemu ( “Sleep” ) is the oldest member of the group. She works at the town library and is notorious for sleeping late.
Young FeathersThe Young Feathers are a noisy group of miniature Haibane. They are cute but rather bratty.

Haibane of the Abandoned Factory

HyoukoAnother 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.)
Hyouko and MidoriHis friend Midori ( “Greenery” ) is openly hostile to Reki.

Ordinary Humans

The HousemotherThe Housemother helps Reki take care of the Young Feathers. She is not afraid to boss the older Haibane around either.
SumikaSumika, a librarian, is Nemu’s mentor.
OyakataOyakata ( “the boss” ) runs the clock tower where Kana works.
Clothing Store OwnerThe Clothing Store Owner sells used clothing to the Haibane and thinks that they bring good luck.
The BakerThe Baker runs the bakery where Hikari works.
The Cafe MasterThe Cafe Master runs the cafe where Kuu works.

Other Characters

TougaAny 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.
The CommunicatorOnly The Communicator (Washi) 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.