Ashes to ashes, dust to dust- our viewing experience of Haibane Renmei

It surely took us quite long to post this review, although we had watched this the previous December, just before Christmas. The title of the post is a pun, of course: the phrase is used in a religious context and Haibane is in a great extend religious (strangely, without the appearance of any cult or worshipping acts); at the same time Haibane means ‘ash-grey’. BUT if read literally, it expresses also the taste the anime left us with… 

ABe’s original illustrations have a way better feeling than the anime’s designs.

Instead of summary:


Neko:

Unfortunately, while the series started and continued with many possibilities to finish as a masterpiece, it left me quite disappointed in the end.

First of all, let me comment on its positive aspects. I liked the design, music was fabulous, characters were getting your interest and were most likeable.

The negative point was the fact that after the series was finished, I felt like I was left with nothing. Perhaps this is because poetry and series that want to give a message indirectly are not my cup of tea; hence I was left unsatisfied.  Personally, I’d want a more clear explanation for all the things I’ve watched instead of the many holes in the plot we got.
In no way I suggest that I regretted watching it. It’s not a bad series; on the contrary, it has many positive points. But under no circumstance can I put in among the best either can I say that I would recommend it to someone else. It’s really a shame, because it had what it takes to be something much much better.

Foxy Lady:

Haibane Renmei is one of the series that all the others consider a masterpiece and I have trouble seeing it as such. For me, it’s humbly overrated. In the only departments I can give a 10/10 are music and Reki’s paintings.  If I want to be more lenient I can also recognize the philosophic bits concerning the ‘circle of sin’, the intentions of our acts (if they matter more than the result of our acts) and the power a name holds (especially the changing dynamic of it), which I’ve explored on my early blogging days .

All the rest… from the beginning the character design annoyed me without being able to explain the why. For those that don’t know me well, I shall inform you: I dislike moe, so I don’t have such expectations, and I adore slice-of-life series, so I’m used to simple design and I even like it a lot, e.g. in Master Keaton.

Rakka gave me on my nerves constantly from the start to the end: her hair, her childish voice, her ‘innocence’ and her stupidity , her melodramatic behavior towards the end –this “I want to help!” 100 times is unbearable!- and of course this ‘nandemonai’ 5-6 times during the series… jeez…

And the ‘good’ animation –where did you find it exactly? If we compare Haibane Renmei with other good series, the former was completely ‘off’ at some moments, for example the movements of hands and body when they ran. It annoyed me to no end that the movements weren’t fluid.

But the most irritating of all is the amount of unanswered questions… and no, I don’t expect every and each series to feed me chewed food, to answer all the questions. Revolutionary Girl  Utena and the Girl who leapt through time let some parts of the story open to the viewer BUT they aren’t that many or have big fandoms out there that give some satisfying alternative answers/suggestions in most of the symbolisms/questions.
I’ve seen here and there a Purgatory explanation, but I’m not satisfied at all by this.

First of all, Reki herself is the one emphasizing today and that eternity is something non-existent. This is contradictory, if we follow the explanation of the souls that are heading towards salvation. The Purgatory theory doesn’t give us hints what are the town’s people or why should they exist or why the hell are Toga, if not angels (that pass the walls of death??? @_@)

Then some suggest that these children have committed suicide. But this is correct only for the ‘bounded’ from the sin. Now, I wouldn’t like necessarily a cut clear explanation, but many different dreams could have be shown, so that we could have come to a conclusion. Still: why are Haibane born in different ages? Why Reki in contrast with Rakka was born like this? And how can the Purgatory theory can be combined with Nemu’s story about the beings that were ‘mistakes’ and should be erased from existence?

While at the very slow beginning of the series I was consoling myself that the series is critical towards religion and her illogical commands, in the end it turns out to be religiously and metaphysically oriented… Why all these rules? Why should the souls be ‘punished’ or ‘purified’- even if they committed suicide?  What’s the meaning in loving themselves in afterlife?  Shouldn’t it be a lot earlier? =.=

Why is there this almost accusatory stance against Reki, when she said that she protected Rakka for her own reasons? I can’t find anything bad in this. All our feelings and deeds are oriented towards our self-fullfilment and protection…

On the one hand, crows carry parental symbolisms, and on the other hand the priests as well as the townspeople seem to dislike them. And why when Kou died did so many crows fly up in the air? It was like Kuu’s soul transferred in those crows…

As long as the walls are concerned, there’s no hint why anyone who touched them got sick or why those voices were coming from their inside. I, also, can’t get why the ‘real names’ of haibane were hanging there.

And oh well, I guess there’s this issue I have with religion –I’m atheist/agnostic, whatever you prefer. I don’t believe in the concept of soul the way religions perceive it. It’s a kind of cowardice and weakness to hope in an after-life, because you didn’t succeed in the present life. Stand on your feet and walk! Life goes on. After all, if someone fosters this worldview, (s)he will postpone living today, lessening the meaning of life.
Finally, I don’t like it when someone wants to prove him/herself through works that are confusing and generally don’t make much sense. Every work made by human beings has intentions and thoughts of the creator, either the creator wants it or not. So, just say what you want to say, mr. Genius, and don’t make me feel like fool that I don’t understand you!

Whenever I talk with American people ,I feel that they, compared with Japanese people, cannot leave things ambiguous(I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, of course). For example, many questions in this interview ask for clear answers to ambiguous parts of the anime. Haibane-Renmei is, as the title suggests [hai means “ash gray” in the terms of color],a story with various things in gray, that is, a story with many ambiguous factors. It is not a story to find answers, but one to wonder about the answers. In regard to things whose answer is not clearly shown in the story, think for yourself and apply your own answers to it. That will surely make this story very special for you. […]

This may make you think I’m being loose with the story, but my superficial consciousness has not been able to extract it completely yet, and thus I cannot talk about it for sure. This is a story, just like this, created by converting my own subconscious into a story.

If someone writes, just to write… The result that I get, the way I see it, is an unconstructed one. Which I don’t think it’s fluttering for a ‘masterpiece’. And this multi-interpretation suggestion is in my humble opinion pretence, because it de facto happens with every narration the ‘audience’ sees, reads, listens to. (The only exception could be some hentai, sappy romance and similar material…)

The most frustrating thing with Haibane renmei was that I couldn’t bring myself to neither hate it nor love it. I haven’t felt like this before. It makes me so uncomfortable that I can’t decide what I feel… =.=  It made me cry so hard- I’d like at least some answers for compensation!

P.S.: I found recently a very good source for Haibane Renmei goodies, including most importantly proposals for interpretation. They can be ‘extreme’ at some points and aren’t without holes, but they are a good and honest effort.
http://cff.ssw.net/episodes/haibane.htm
http://cff.ssw.net/episodes/glie.htm
http://cff.ssw.net/episodes.htm

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2 thoughts on “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust- our viewing experience of Haibane Renmei

  1. I'd argue with you on that one. It's not over-analyzing, it's about trying to fill TOO MANY holes. Just look at all these questions I've put. Can you give an answer? I challenge you 😛 always friendly, ofc

    As for the visual part I preferred way better the original textured illustrations

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  2. Unlike with Lain, ABe was much more free to design as he pleased with this work. The results are quite nice. However, it is easy to jump on the slippery slope of over-analyzing things. Of course, there are some unexplained elements, but he does give us clues and invites our imagination to wonder. This anime is certainly not a poignant allegorical tale, but a pleasant visual experience with some veggie burgers for thought 😛

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