I know Prima Games is a site primarily about video games, but I felt like taking a moment to talk about my favorite anime Haibane Renmei as it’s one that everyone I talk to tells me they haven’t seen.
My response is always, “You should check it out, it’s amazing and only 13 episodes!”
But to be honest, there’s a lot more to it than that and I really want to open up and talk about what the show is, why the show is so amazing, and why I feel everyone should watch it at least once. So… here we go.
Haibane Renmei | The Moving Anime About Death and Salvation That No One Has Seen
Haibane Renmei is only 13 short episodes long, yet despite its brevity, manages to pack in a deep, meaningful story that lingers with you long after you finish watching it. The anime is a serious one that tackles serious subjects and does so in a subtle, somber way.
You shouldn’t start the series expecting it to be comedic and playful like Angel Beats (which this show has been compared to). Trigger warning, the anime deals with heavy topics including death, grief, depression, and suicide.
All of these are subtle, and handled with an extremely delicate touch.
The reason why it’s handled so delicately centers around show creator Yoshitoshi ABe, who’s spoken openly in interviews about how the anime’s story is one that’s extremely personal to him.
It’s also the anime he had the most creative freedom over. Speaking of which, if ABe’s name is familiar to you and you can’t quite place why, it may be due to his work on Serial Experiments Lain and Texhnolyze, both of which are arguably more recognizable than Haibane Renmei.
And yet, despite the lack of widespread recognition… I feel like Haibane Renmei is ABe’s best work; a hidden gem waiting for more people to discover it. Speaking on the show’s creation, ABe mentions that it came from his memories, though he didn’t initially plan for this to be the case.
Touching upon the core message of the show in an interview included as part of the Extras section of Haibane Renmei on DVD (which you can watch above), ABe talks about the show’s theme of salvation – what that means to characters in the show, and what it means to him personally.
“This is a story in which a Haibane girl named Reki finds salvation, and I have memories of going through a similar experience myself. At that time, I had thought to myself, ‘Oh this is, in a sense, my salvation.’ And being able to think that way had meant a great deal to me.
I wanted to write a story based on the period starting from when I had been suffering to the point when I had felt like I’d found salvation.
My experience is filtered into a fictional story, but if I could have the audience feel something similar to what I had felt in the end, then even though the story itself was very personal, by transforming it from a personal story into a fictional one with fictional characters, if I could convey my story in that form, then maybe it would become something meaningful. That’s what I wanted.”
The way ABe transformed his story from a personal one into a relatable, fictional one is impressive. It’s not just the journey from suffering to salvation that makes the show a moving one, but also the questions that it leaves for you to answer.
The show is very much hands off, allowing it to be open to viewer interpretation. There are no right or wrong answers, and digging deeper into the meaning behind the show is rewarding as it offers an opportunity for self-reflection. At least, that’s what it did for me.
I realize the word ‘salvation’ and the presence of angel-like beings may make Haibane Renmei’s story sound like a religious one, but it’s really not. Haibane Renmei is more of a spiritual story, perhaps even a philosophical one as well.
So… what is the core story of Haibane Renmei?
Well, the story of Haibane Renmei, summed up without spoilers, is about a mysterious group of angel-like beings called Haibane. They enter the world through a cocoon at various ages, though most, if not all of them, seem to be children.
All of them enter the world without memories of their previous life. They don’t know their name, where they came from, or who they might have left behind. To refer to one another and begin a new life, they take names based on the dream they have while in the cocoon.
One of the main characters is named Rakka which references her dream of falling. It’s rare, but some Haibane don’t fully remember the dream they have in the cocoon as is the case with Reki, the show’s other main character.
Her name means small stones based on fragments of her dream that she remembers where she recalls walking on a stone laden path in the dark.
Shortly after being “born” from the cocoon, Haibane grow charcoal grey wings which sprout from their back in a gruesome, gory, painful fashion.
Again, it’s rare, but some Haibane aren’t born with pristine charcoal feathers but rather ones coated in black. This is an important spoiler-ish plot point of the show, so I won’t delve deeper into the meaning behind a Haibane having black wings.
The show dances around the topic, but it seems (to me) that Haibane are souls who’ve died in a previous life and are living in a sort of limbo between their previous world and whatever comes next.
The limbo they live in comes in the form of a town named Glie, which is surrounded on all sides by a large wall that acts as a barrier that cannot be crossed.
Glie is home to regular human residents that aren’t Haibane, and it’s implied that they too are born there given the presence of a human resident who’s pregnant, and later gives birth. The show never answers why some are born as Haibane while others are born as humans – it’s left up to the viewer to come up with their own answers.
Something I find interesting is that no one is allowed to leave Glie except for the Haibane on their Day of Flight. Haibane don’t know when this day will be, and it’s implied that Haibane first need to process the lingering, unremembered trauma of their previous life.
The show demonstrates this transformative process with the Haibane’s names. Once a Haibane has reached a sort of enlightenment so to speak, their name takes on a new meaning. It also offers additional insight into each Haibane as an individual.
If you want to have a more positive spin, it seems like the limbo the Haibane live in is a peaceful one that’s almost been designed for them in a way. It’s a safe haven, and a mysterious one at that. The mysteries are ones for you to piece together in a way that’s comfortable, and while you do this, you seem to piece parts of yourself together as well.
It also helps that the art of the show is gorgeous with serene landscapes aplenty, and a soundtrack that's both beautiful and haunting.
Haibane Renmei is meaningful in all the right ways, and it's a show that helped me a lot as I watched it at a pivotal time in my life where I was deeply depressed and going down a dark spiral that, to be honest, scared me. I saw myself in Reki, and to this day she remains the character I relate to the most out of any piece of media.
Seeing Reki go through so much, only to come to a happy, peaceful resolution is something I didn’t know I needed to see in a show until I watched Haibane Renmei. I remember how hard it made me cry, and how much better I felt afterwards.
I’ve heard similar testimonies from others who’ve watched Haibane Renmei, with many saying it’s one of the most moving anime series they’ve ever seen. I can’t guarantee you’ll feel the same way about Haibane Renmei as I do, but if the show can help you find your own ‘salvation’ and sense of peace in your life even in the smallest of ways, I’d say it’s worth a watch.
You can watch the entire series on Funimation. If you do decide to check it out, please let me know in the comments what you thought of the show. I really hope you love it as much as I do, and I hope one day Haibane Renmei will receive the level of recognition it deserves.