Synopsis: The Haibane are winged human-like creatures who are born from cocoons. They exist among humans, but no one really knows what they are or where they come from. This is the story of a newly hatched Haibane named Rakka, and how she lives each day as she is while retaining memories from what seems to be her past life as an ordinary human girl.
Review: If anything, Haibane Renmei is definitely one of the most unique anime series I've seen. Haibane Renmei revolves around the Haibane, who look just like humans except that they have gray wings on their backs and glowing halos on their heads. Although the Haibane co-exist in a small town with humans, they are not allowed to venture out and a different set of rules govern their everyday lives.
Rakka is the latest Haibane to hatch from a cocoon, and she is immediately taken under the wing of an older and more experienced Haibane named Reki. Reki helps Rakka come to terms with what she is and eases her difficulties in adjusting to the human world. Helping Reki and Rakka are several other Haibane: the child-like girl Kuu; the sweet and playful Hikari; the boyish Kana; and the motherly Nemu. At first, Rakka can't fully accept herself as a Haibane since she is plagued by the constant feeling that she used to be a regular girl who had parents and a home somewhere. Her eventual discovery that all Haibane must one day disappear mysteriously on what is called the "day of flight" doesn't help matters much either. Nobody really knows what happens or where a Haibane actually goes on that day, it is just said that when that happens, the Haibane is finally ready to leave the town and exist in the world.
Haibane Renmei can be likened to Yoshitoshi Abe's other series, Niea_7. It presents an extraordinary situation amidst what seems to be an ordinary setting. In Niea_7, we are shown what life is like with a quirky alien girl. In Haibane Renmei, we have a group of supernatural beings thrown in a little town full of regular folk. Given the nature of the series, the pacing is quite unavoidably more languid than some of us would like. Character introspection and development, rather than actions and events, take up majority of the screening time. A lot of what transpires is open to various levels of interpretation. Ultimately though, Haibane Renmei is a story about conquering your own inner ghosts and finding peace within yourself.
Art and animation-wise, Haibane Renmei is really quite exceptional. Sepia tones and rustic landscapes lend a somewhat nostalgic feel, while character designs are very refined and distinct. The dreamy and ethereal musical scoring inspires images of beautiful angels up in the heavens.
If you're one to appreciate compelling characters and a lot of food for thought (plus points if you liked Serial Experiments Lain and Niea_7), you'll surely love Haibane Renmei. I for one find it to be Yoshitoshi Abe's best anime series to date.
Miscellanies: Haibane Renmei was created by Yoshitoshi Abe, who's also behind "Serial Experiments Lain" and "Niea_7".