Haibane Renmei – volume one: New Feathers

voice cast: Ryou Hirohashi, Junko Noda

creator: Yoshitoshi ABe

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

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Paul Higson

Gathered here are the first four episodes of another anime series, Aureole Secret Fantasy’s Haibane Renmei, and it is just the right number of episodes to adequately introduce the mythology and encourage you to investigator further.

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The Haibane are charcoal-winged girl angels, and this 92-minute compilation is an observable run-up to the soap opera to come. It opens with the new girl in the fold in freefall and the appearance of a cocoon in an unused room of large building referred to simply as Old Home. It has become residence to the angels who come in two age tiers. There are the older girls, the driving characters, and then there are the primary school sized that are known as the Young Feathers. The new girl is born from the cocoon of an age that places her with the older girls, who must take jobs with the humans, take no money for that employment, and be responsible for the younger children.

These girls have no actual leader, but prominent among the five is the chain-smoking, surface insouciant but genuinely caring Reki, the artist, haunted by something one presumes that we will have to wait until a later volume of episodes to discover the full extent of. She seems also to avoid leaving Old Home. The others are more comfortable with their lives. Kana is a bit of a tomboy, with that little lad’s fascination for taking things to pieces and fixing the broken tickers. Hikari is the bespectacled little love, Kuu, the runt with a passion for nature and freedom, and Nemu is the motherly and orderly one. In the first episode, Cocoon/ Dream Of Falling From The Sky/ Old Home, the new girl learns a few things about being Haibane. Like, she has no memory, that she will take her name from her recurring dream (Raka which translates as ‘falling’) and that she will undergo several drastic changes during the first few days. Hikari is the attendant to the mould that shapes the girl a halo. The halo won’t stay in place for several days and requires a brace. The wings come shortly after. “It will sting a bit when the wing tips break through the skin.” Don’t forget the pain. Obviously they couldn’t resist the rites of passage, the girl becoming woman, though the makers crap that one up as younger angels already have their wings. The feathered appendages tear through the flesh dramatically and we have the incredible image of wings covered in blood. None of this has anything to do with Clare Rayner.

Episode two is Town And Wall/ Toga/ Haibane Renmei in which we are introduced to the human general population of the near town and a generically homely and European habitat it is too. Wind sails generate the power and everyone, angel and human, is confined to this landscape by a huge surrounding wall. The angels can only take what the humans discard. Even when restricted to the local thrift shops for their clothes buying they are dependent on an allowance system provided by the Charcoal Feather Federation. Temple/ Communicator/ Pancakes sees Hikari escort Raka to the temple for her induction and then back home trying to trick the young feathers into eating their bitter carrots. Trash Day/ Clock Tower/ Birds Flying Over the Wall is the episode that unhurriedly continues the introductions, Kana taking Raka to her place of work to see how the occupation takes her. The owner is a grouchy watchmaker with a disgruntlement that hides his true paternalistic approval of his apprentice, a son-come-daughter package all rolled into one. He is playfully horrid with her. “Who would buy a watch from a watchmaker if he was always late?”

It is visually fantastic and though I should inherently be demanding plot, story, action and a conclusion, I’m not… caught up in the pleasantry and, perhaps, too relaxed in the expectation that all will come into that happy ending when the remaining episodes have eventually come my way. It has a controlled loveliness threaded with dark lines of mystery that is irresistible and relatively meditative in this rash, brash age.

The Kou Outani score is heart trippingly gorgeous. His track for the opening titles, titled Free Bird, soars into a glorious epiphany. It sets your hayfever off, I’m telling you, something in the eye. Extras include previews/tasters for the episodes from the original Toho television transmission, a sketch gallery, the original Japanese opening, minus titles, and trailers for more new titles from the label.