Haibane Renmei Episode 2: Exploring the World

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In the introductory episode of Haibane Renmei, Rakka entered the enigmatic world of Glie, specifically the house she will inhabit as a member of the Haibane; the entire episode consisted of her being “born,” emerging from her cocoon and developing her wings (a painful process in which the wings in question break through her skin). As one might imagine, this leaves a rather dramatic first impression on Rakka – she has no memories of her life prior to Glie, so she must begin anew among a new, angelic family of Haibane who accept her into the fold, since they likely went through the same experience when they arrived in the town. The cocoon where Rakka spent roughly the first third of the episode certainly represents rebirth, but where is she reborn into? As one might expect, episode one provides precious few details concerning where, exactly, Rakka appears; it is the first episode, after all, but we can gather from the surroundings that the building is fairly old, with dust accumulating everywhere, and empty rooms seemingly everywhere.

Episode two helps tremendously in giving some background – whereas the previous episode focused exclusively on Old Home (the erstwhile-abandoned building that now serves as as residence for the central cast), this outing opens up the world to show the setting in a wider context. But before that can happen though, Rakka finds herself adjusting to her new environment; she finds herself feeling sore because of the wings, and her nondescript dress feels somewhat out of place against the cleaner, more average design of Reki’s clothes. In fact, we first see Rakka putting on said dress; she’s newly born, so she has no other option aside from this one piece of clothing to wear. The rest of the cast had time enough to shop for necessities, but they see no fault in providing second-hand clothes for a Haibane who so recently joined their home – they’ve had to deal with purchasing clothes second-hand, as well, and they’re grateful for everything they have. This helps illustrate the point that Rakka is a newcomer – the rules and regulations of society are foreign to her, and thus she has to figure them out and come to terms with a new society that she doesn’t recognize. This aspect of the show identifies a key issue in the series – the nature of reality, and how one travels from one “world” to another. As Rakka originated elsewhere, we can understand her dream and cocoon as metaphors for her rebirth; life exists on a spiritual continuum, where the immutable spirit can reside in one realm, then transfer to another via death/detachment. We can therefore understand Glie as a sort of “other realm” wherein the spirit takes on a new identity – in the first episode, Rakka realizes she doesn’t remember her old name, so her identity here represents a new life, one unique to the world of Glie and indicative of the fact that people may change physically and spiritually when in different realms. That the Haibane appear angelic in form can be understood through that context – ABe may not have had too much in mind when he created the series (after all, the series is ambiguous, and one can draw different conclusions), but Haibane Renmei does reflect the spiritual in this regard. Glie could very well exit “outside” the world we recognize – it’s vaguely European in design, and the world beyond its walls is never defined.

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The subsequent scenes gradually present more of the town – Rakka receives her first glimpse of the overall world by stepping out into the veranda, where she interacts with the Young Feathers. Here, one can imagine the bucolic nature of the environment; despite the fact that the Haibane obtain clothing (and possibly everything, aside from food) second-hand, they’re treated with civility by the human population of Glie. They’re all in the same situation – as we shall soon see, the Haibane “purchase” clothing second-hand from a small shop (which serves more as an indicator of status than treatment), and the table scene cements the feeling of family that exists in Old Home. Kuu explains later that Old Home happens to be an abandoned dorm that the Haibane eventually inhabited; throughout the first episode and this one, viewers can notice the accumulated dust that collects in random rooms, and the sheer size of the complex, indicative of a building that has a history. After all, the Haibane aren’t the first to inhabit it; the general clutter of the rooms shows that they’ve come to make it their own, however, and the emergence of the cocoons suggests that nature itself practically set up shop here, giving the Haibane a place to be “reborn”.

The whole concept of rebirth echoes through this series – Rakka recognizes that she isn’t from Glie, but has no memories of her life prior to her arrival here, and the conversation that the Haibane of Old Home have at the dinner table sheds some perspective on this aspect. Each Haibane has a new name, drawn from their first dream in Old Home; none of the characters have any real recollection of their previous experiences, so Old Home acts simultaneously as a safe haven (the city operates as a protector, with the wall serving as a barrier between Glie and the outside world, through which the citizens can’t proceed) and a home base where family resides. Reki’s comment about her own dream hitns at some possible deeper meaning behind the world – how did the Haibane arrive here, and what do the dreams signify about the individuals having them? The only dream we explicitly see is Rakka’s; this recollection, which opens the first episode, shows Rakka falling to Earth, with a raven attempt (but failing) to save her. Ravens typically carry the symbolism of death in European folklore, thanks partially to their status as scavengers; that one appears in the first episode, inexorably connected to Rakka, reflects on that, and gives the indication that Rakka is deceased. At the same time, the raven only appears in conjunction with Rakka, indicating a deep personal connection between the two; there’s a scene later on in the series where Rakka discovers the skeleton of a raven at the bottom of a well, which puts this into personal perspective for her. Before that, however, one can infer that the ravens likely offer some spiritual guidance for her, or at least hint towards some currently-unknown personal anxieties harbored by Rakka.

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Going into the second half of the show, we now see the forbidding tones of Haibane Renmei come to light – the wall surrounding Glie acts as a barrier between the city and surrounding world, and only a select few (known as the Toga) are allowed entry into and exit from the town, expressly for trading purposes. The Haibane directly benefit from the Toga, as some of the trade profits get channeled towards Old Home utilities and the Young Feathers; what’s unusual is that nobody knows where the Toga go, and neither do they have any knowledge of the outside world. As far as the population is concerned, the world beyond Glie is a blank slate – the Toga cannot communicate with anyone except the man aptly named The Communicator, who serves as a mediator between them and the citizenry (and can only speak through a specialized sign language), so they thus have no means of relating their travels to someone else. This does mean, however, that the Haibane are looked after; they may not be able to earn money, but the city provides for them, and Haibane are required to keep track of their “purchases” via notebooks provided by the organization that looks after them, the Haibane Renmei.

This episode emphasizes the nature of family, that groups look after their own – the Haibane take care of each other, and the Haibane Renmei provide for them as best they can. Particular care should be made for Rakka and Reki, who receive the attention in this episode’s final minutes – their plight as protagonists are informed by the overarching nature of Haibane Renmei, since they provide an example, at the personal level, of the narrative-level theme of “family and redemption” that will play out throughout the series. Rakka’s new, and she must navigate difficult personal straits with the help of her comrades; she has to figure out what brought her here, alongside understanding the complex social fabric of Glie and its inhabitants. She stands in for the audience, who are just as new to the environment as she is – Rakka works as her first friend as guide, as she’s seen Haibane come and go throughout her life. Nothing seems to make sense at the moment, but that’s alright, because this all serves as a learning experience; a new world is confusing and a little frightening at first, but once Rakka understands it a little more, she can find it to be calming. Perhaps most importantly, however, the Communicator notices her amongst the crowd; he will eventually become a guide for her, as well, helping her understand the intricacies of Glie, and providing rules towards social behavior.

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