Haibane Renmei – volume two: Wings Of Sorrow

creator: Yoshitishi ABe

72 minutes (PG) 2001
widescreen ratio 16:9
MVM DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Paul Higson

Only three episodes this time, perhaps to section off a devastating chapter in the series, the loss of a prominent character. The myth is still on the build, and with no forceful plotting, soap tactics are inevitable. Episode five, Library/ Abandoned Factory/ The Beginning Of The World, begins innocuously but closes with one of the cleverest devices yet. Rakka is still seeking a place in this shared community of angel and human kind. To this end she accompanies Nemu to her workplace, the library, where the heavily pregnant, departing senior librarian, Sumika is met. The books are donated by the governing Toga and have to take their text from somewhere, so curiosity catches all who have access to the tomes. They sift the pages for clues into the origins of their world. As a going away present to Sumika, Nemu had begun writing a book titled ‘The Beginning Of The World’, leather-bound on a favour. But with the days running away, completing the story seems impossible, particular with the drying of her imagination. Rakka reads the story so far, and contributes the ending.

Her postulation runs that the Haibane Renmei were a creation of god, too close in his image, so he “tucked them away in the back of his mind” and began again, this time coming up with the human, “with whom he was satisfied.” God is not perfect apparently, “his hand was not straight, creating mountains and valleys,” but they adversely appealed to him and he retained them. At first to have been scrapped, mercy was placed on the Haibane Renmei, and they were given this walled, a caste below the greater population of humans. It is an ingenious touch, for now we have in part an explanation, though it might not be so at all, not one jot. Does the book reveal their history, betrayed by a subconscious inheritance in the young angels? Does it predestine the few? Or is it the girls’ purely fictional rendition, to tide us over until the truer, yet more astounding, explanation can be made known to us? It is duly logged and yet the solution to the mystery remains unconfirmed.

Nemu also discloses some of their recently history, when it was only Reke, herself and the children. A row is spoken of, as is Reke’s attachment to another Haibane and unmentionable behaviour that has led to the forbidding of the two groups from entering the district of the other.

End Of Summer/ Rain/ Loss veers into darker territory. In the previous episodes Kuu had been meandering, staring into the sky, her shoulders heavy under an undisclosed burden. The tomboy behaves even more out of character, skipping meals, making favours, recycling and gifting, and given to advice beyond her height and years; acquiescent to her fate.

Rakka wants to return to the household the large room that she has been bedding in since her birth and searches the wings of the building for a chamber of her own. Kuu directs her to a room that is surprised to find ‘feels’ right. How did she know? She didn’t, except for the fact that this was Rakka’s cocoon room and all Haibane are most comfortable quartered in the rooms in which they were hatched.

Then the end of summer comes in storms and a downpour. On the evil craw of a crow, Rakka’s attention is drawn to the view from the window where she sees lights collect on the forest floor and lift into the clouds, a mystery in the distance. A dread has been upon Rakka since that morning she awoke and first set eyes on Kuu. There is a sense that something has become of her friend. Four years have passed since Old Home saw one of the group submitting to a ‘Day of Flight’, and so contented has the household been and so long has it been since that last departure, that they had come to forget the possibility of its next occurrence. Nobody can explain it but when their time comes they will know it, hide the imminent transfer from the household and that they will never return. The unknowingness is effectually devastating, particularly for Rakka. Her grief is documented in the closing episode of this volume, Scar/ Illness/ Arrival Of Winter. The Day of Flight becomes their version of death, if only because of the effect it as on those left behind. The remnants of the little girl’s dead halo are found on the ground, unnecessary where she is going.

The departure of Kuu may make way for a greater involvement from Hyohko, a rebellious male Haibane from the other district, clearly a former beau of Reki, who deplores his angelhood and wishes to be human. In this episode we also see Rakka’s depression manifest in the staining of her feathers and boldly, go the next step into self-harm, scissoring away, cutting out the spoiled barbs. Reki treats her and discounts the novice’s claims of her own badness. It is she, Reki, who is the ‘sinbound’. In her own accursedness she seeps ill fortune to others and is condemned never to reach a Day of Flight, instead to suffer the loss of everyone she has feared to love.

Quite incredibly, the series manages to set everything on its head with the close of each episode. Each revelation reconfigures the relationship of everyone to others and their environment. The music and images continue to finagle with one emotionally. This is a measured package though one might hope and prepare to wait for the complete series. MVM switch one of the end titles on each disc so that it is in the original Japanese though the option is there if viewing the episodes completely subtitled if preferred. The English language version gently suffices and allows you to savour the fantastic artwork. Haibane Renmei volume two should make you chuckle and cry with its clever details.

The extras include the credits free end-title sequence, a couple of very brief television commercials selling the CD soundtrack, episode previews that include a taster for episode eight, and trailers for other titles. Also included is the Art Gallery, as in the first volume, another 44 finished, beautifully defined, conceptual drawings of remarkable draftsmanship.