Haibane Renmei – volume three: Free Bird directors: Tomokazu Tokoro, Jun Takada, and Koji Yoshikawa 73 minutes (PG) 2001 MVM DVD Region 2 retail RATING: 8/10 reviewed by Paul Higson

Three more episodes in the fabulous Haibane Renmei series, opening with something of a wake in episode eight, titled The Bird.

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A simple ceremony takes place in Kuu’s room with each of the remaining angels in turn collecting a keepsake. There is something dispiriting about this practice given the relatively short time between their birth and their mystery passage on the ‘day of flight’. The ceremony has a certain pointlessness when in several short generations there will be no one who loved around to remember them in the tiniest. It resonates depressingly into the real world where lifetimes are summarised, at their most successful, into the relative preserve of an obituary while others settle for start and end dates on gravestones. Episode 10 will emphasise this to some extent by returning to Reke’s arrival at Old Home, no more than 15 years before when the only other present member of their group is a young Nemu.

Back in the present Reke has the idea that as one that is ‘sin-bound’ she will never see a day of flight. Nemu is aware of the brevity of their time and this reflects in her agnostic practice of trying to preserve herself in another form, primarily the episode five reveal of her attempted writing of a book, essentially about Sumika, but as much so the author. The despondency of episode eight threatens the series. You don’t want the series to spoil by giving up its secrets but something is needed to ward off the building intonations of a darker conclusion. As the newest resident of Old Home, Rakka is the hardest hit by Kuu’s departure. She has neither had enough time to properly get to know Kuu and there is still so much to learn and understand. It might help if someone thought to warn her but no sooner has she overcome one revelation and its direct effects then the next terrible revelation is upon her. A crow calls her into the forbidden wood and in following it into a well the rotten rungs collapse and she ends the episode with the skeleton of a bird at the dark bottom, with the snow clouds gathering and the concerned sisterhood out searching.

Episode nine, Well/ Rebirth/ Riddle opens with the snow falling, swirling, about the charcoal winged ones, in a landscape of wind turbines and it couldn’t be more beautiful. The impressive opening shots are there to bump start the episode into wonder as, for the most part, what follows is more basically animated, awkward, obtuse and relatively dull. It is two of the Toga that rescue Rakka, only to leave her alone again in the chilly woodlands. Lost, she finds the great wall and touches it. Having learned of her situation from her rescuers, the Old Communicator tracks her down. The conversation is a little frustrating for Rakka… and for the viewer… as the script prides itself at this point on The Riddle of the Circle of Sin, a desperate and in no time at all overdone paradox. Still, Rakka appears freed from her sinner status, even if she doesn’t quite see how or why. More clues as to the origin of the angels are trickled out and Rakka is found and returned home. But she is ill, and Reke quickly determines why. She has touched the wall and that must never be done.

Episode ten is Kuramori/ Haibane Of Abandoned Factory/ Rakka’s Job, and as mentioned this opens immediately into the past and an Old Home that is worked by Kuramori and Nemu. It is the latter that has discovered Reke, in a boarded up disused quarter of the building. She has not only already hatched but her wings are through and she lies there treacherously weak on the cold floor in her own blood. Kuramori makes herself ill gathering the natural medicines needed to save the girl’s life which brings about some friction between the youngsters. The simple act of discovery, particularly in that crucial moment, and in a house with so few Haibane of operative age, explains the relationship of love and resentment between the two older ones.

The episode returns to the present were rebellious Reke angrily takes on the Old Communicator. Worrisomely, for the viewer and the future of the series, there are broad hints that up to three important characters might be taking their day of flight soon. It was the youngest who left most recently and, in truth, it is not just the hinted three, any of them could be next. For touching the wall Rakka must be punished and is summoned by the Old Communicator to the temple. It takes the form of an important, specific job which takes us to an unexpected place, throwing up yet more remarkable details in casual, quick succession that rescues volume three from its burdensome darkness, alive again to the creators’ imagination.

Extras are a promotional trailer, art gallery, episode review, a preview in to the next programme episode, and trailers for Paranoia Agent – volume one: L’il Slugger, and Full Metal Alchemist.