Every once in a while, you come across a series that was so well put together, you just know it will stand the test of time. Enter Haibane Renmei. Expect spoilers, so please avoid this post if you haven’t seen the series.
For all the faults one can find in it, Haibane Renmei‘s good points keep it standing strong. Many characters are very underutilized, especially in the latter half of the series, but the their interactions with one another simply fit well together. Some episodes and events distract from the story as a whole (attempting perhaps to give a bit of silent world building), but everything wraps up succinctly in the end. There’s a lot of ambiguity, but I find this to be one of the greatest strengths of the series which takes place in its own world unlike our own.
I found Rakka to be perfect as a main character. She’s portrayed as an ordinary girl who’s been thrown into a new world, a new life, with no memories of herself. There’s nothing special about her. She’s susceptable to loneliness and depression (things which I believe lead to her death prior to becoming a haibane). She learns to face these feelings within herself, and to accept that she will be forgotten by those who know her little, while understanding that those closest to her will always keep her in their heart. Will she see Kuu and Reki again one day? I don’t see why not. They may or may not have known one another before they arrived in Old Home. That was one existence for them. They became friends while spending their time together as haibane. This is another existence for them. What follows is certainly a third, and potentially final, beginning, one where they may no longer know one another, and one where they may meet up again for the rest of their time.
The blurry focus given on Reki certainly made for an enjoyable end to the story. Hers is the tale of a young girl wrought by sin, a selfish girl who took let those around her be hurt to try and rescue her from her own clash with loneliness and depression. Her story is bespeckled throughout Haibane Renmei as much as her wings are with sin, yet it remains as hidden as those dark spots underneath the medicine, until they’ve become so large that they consume entirely.
Kuu, Nemu, Hikari, Kana, Hyoko, Midori. What’s the point in saying anything about them? Let’s see…
While Kuu became an instant favorite of mine, she leaves before there’s sufficient time to get to know about her. Her movements and interactions with both the younger feathers and the older haibane tell a lot about her character. However, it’s her words which display her growing maturity. She has to leave before Rakka gets to know her enough and spent enough time with her. This becomes true for the viewer, too, who spends even less time with her.
It’s her job as the ring bearer that really puts Hikari into the story. Her desire to use the mold for baking, her carelessness nearly falling over on the bridge, her spaciness on not warning Rakka of the rules to communication with the counsil, and her concern over Reki’s silence about Rakka’s condition are what makes her a character. And then…? Kuu aside, Hikari’s my favorite, but I feel she’s lacking as a character in the story. Her concern with Rakka’s condition feels like a nod in her direction, something to show that she’s still there.
I feel Kana gets the most out of being a secondary character. While Rakka’s trip to the council with Hikari leads to learning how to act around the council, it’s the time with Kana that gets Rakka more comfortable with being a haibane. And how can you not feel a bit excited as Kana talks about getting the clock working again, and about its history leading up to how she found it? It’s through Kana that Rakka is formally introduced to the crows (with a second opinion by Kuu). She’s laid back, likes to take her time, and doesn’t care to have responsibilities dropped on her all of the sudden. She contends with Hikari for my second favorite character for the series, and only loses out because of the cuteness in Hiraki’s expressions and actions.
The purpose for Nemu is the be the one who knows Reki the best, the one who has known her the longest. Outside of this, she’s the one I felt the least connection with. I’m sure there are plenty of people who will think otherwise, but the episode involving the creation of the world is the one episode I find to be boring, and too slow-moving when it comes to the overall story of the series. Whereas I find Hikari to be underutilized, I feel Nemu is misutilized. If anything, her purpose is to take Rakka away from the story building up around her.
For her small part, I found Midori to be a strong character. She’s opinionated and as stubborn as Reki is. She wants to be friends again with that lonely girl she had once gotten to know, but she knows that isn’t going to happen. The defining moment for her is when Rakka says she’s wrong about Reki not wanting help for anyone, even if Midori doesn’t show it. There is no one other than Midori able to bridge the gap between Hyoko’s fireworks and Reki seeing them, giving her a time to shine (not to mention Rakka with that brick). To me, she has a greater presense than even Nemu.
Like Midori, Hyoko has a lot going for him as a character. He’s often concerned for Reki’s well-being, even if he tries to hide his concern over a cold exterior. He doesn’t always say the right things the right way, but he doesn’t mean ill by it. He’s willing to own up to his mistakes, and to apologize for them, even if indirectly. This all makes for a character able to unintentially impact those around him in big ways. Helping Reki confront the wall, checking with Rakka if Reki had left, and his decision to help Reki in the one way he can think of, and a bit of mystery as to why he came to shun being a haibane… These all result in a more colorful character than Nemu, and a character with more purpose than Hikari.
What do I think of these characters with feather cast in charcoal-grey? Some serve their purpose better than others. Some could be used more. In the end, they work well enough to hold up a palatable story, with a good mix of getting to know characters and watch them interact, and of learning about the world around them.