Haibane RenmeiThis week, I’m departing temporarily from the Dublin Library’s collection to review Haibane Renmei, a gorgeous, thought-provoking anime series available at the Bookmobile, Castro Valley, and Union City branch libraries.

Haibane-Renmei is one of those series that’s utterly engrossing but difficult to describe.

A fantasy turns poignant and gently humorous, it begins with a sequence of a young girl falling from the sky. She awakens from her falling dream, only to find herself hatching from a cocoon, into a world both strange and oddly familiar to her.

Her first few days after emerging from the cocoon are bewildering. She is shown the ropes by a group of teenagers and children living on the grounds of an abandoned school where she emerged, grows a pair of angel’s wings in a painful and messy process, and is given a halo (which, in one of the funnier sequences, refuses to stay straight, so the kids make her a contraption consisting of a headband and an old wire hanger, to keep her halo aligned).

As the days pass, and she settles into her new life as part of a little commune of angel-winged kids, the girl, who can remember nothing of her old life, is named Rakka (“Falling”) by the others.

Venturing away from the school grounds on an outing to a nearby town with her companions, she learns that the winged kids are called “Haibane,” and they occupy a special place in this world. They are permitted to work for food and clothing and other necessities, but are not allowed to handle money. They are also forbidden to buy or have anything new, so their clothing comes from thrift shops and from charitable organizations. Most of the townspeople treat the Haibane like charming nuisances, and a mysterious organization, the Haibane-Renmei, pays for rent and utilities at the old school.

The town itself, set in the midst of a gorgeously-animated landscape of fields and windmills, is reminiscent of a medieval German village, with cobblestoned streets and neat, gabled houses. Oddly, the village and its immediate countryside are surrounded by high walls. It is forbidden for anyone, human or Haibane, to cross over these walls.

The series presents many mysteries: who are the Haibane? Why is the town walled in? Who are the Haibane-Renmei? What lies on the other side of the wall? None of these questions is answered directly, but by the end of this short (13 episodes) series, enough hints have been presented for the viewer to make some guesses. 

What guesses? That would be telling, and given the magical, lyrical quality of this series, it’s almost beside the point.

Haibane Renmei is an excellent example of an artsy fantasy anime series. There are no Haibane Renmeidragons, giant robots, magical swords, or spaceships here. Instead, the story unfolds in a series of beautifully-animated, charmingly-characterized vignettes.

So, is Haibane Renmei appropriate for your children? Although rated 13+ by its publisher, Geneon Entertainments, this series contains no sex or violence, and is appropriate for all ages (though younger viewers may not appreciate the leisurely pacing and philosophical themes).

On a related note, the Alameda County Library’s web site also provides a listing of anime and manga-related sites on its Teen Scene Entertainment page: http://www.aclibrary.org/teens/default.asp?topic=Teens&cat=Entertainment#anime