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Irothtin avatar 5:14 PM on 11.05.2009  (server time)
The Best Thing Ever: Haibane Renmei

A young girl is awakened by the calls of a crow, only to find herself falling through the air. Oddly calm about the entire experience, she witnesses the crow trying to slow her descent, only for her to shoo it away. She continues to fall, breaking through the clouds and seeing the beautiful landscape beneath her.

Such begins Yoshitoshi ABe's Haibane Renmei, released in the states as Charcoal Feather Federation.

In Haibane Renmei, the focus lies upon the eponymous Haibane: a group of mysterious children and young adults. They live alongside humans in a massive walled city with but a single entrance, and none of the city's inhabitants save the birds that fly freely are allowed to go beyond the walls.

The Haibane are rather different from normal humans - they are born by emerging from massive cocoons, fully-formed and clothed in white robes. The only other outward difference between the mysterious Haibane and the normal residents of the city of Glie is the fact that they all have halos and wings, like angels. Though given a halo shortly after emerging from their cocoon, the wings grow out within 24 hours, painfully and graphically.

None of the people in town, or even the Haibane themselves, knows where they come from or what their purpose is. Though each Haibane remember having some sort of existence before entering Glie, they cannot remember anything that might give them a clue about their identities. The only exception is a vivid dream that each Haibane has while inside their cocoon, which determines their name.

Our protagonist wakes in a warm bed in a building complex known as Old Home, being carefully tended after by older and more experienced Haibane. She is given the name "Rakka", for her dream was that of "falling" through the sky.

Clockwise from top left: Hikari ("Light"), Nemu ("Sleep:), Kuu ("Air"), Kana ("River Fish"), with Reki ("Small Stone") in the middle.

The Haibane live odd lives, as Rakka soon learns. Every Haibane is required to find a job in the town or surrounding landscape. For instance, Hikari works at a bakery, Nemu at a library. They are forbidden from carrying money, instead making use of small notebooks in which they record their daily wages. They may only buy used clothes from a single clothes shop in town, and must modify them for their wings themselves. Despite this, they are treated well by the townspeople, and it is considered good luck to see a Haibane on any given day.

The narrative follows Rakka as she learns more about her existence as a new Haibane, and comes to terms with the things that happen occur in the interim. It explores the compelling mysteries of the Haibane, and how they affect the characters.

A twelve-episode wonder, the pacing is gentle and calm, addressing the relationships between the characters. Early episodes take things slowly, showing Rakka's daily life and she becomes more and more used to her surroundings. Eventually the plot moves into a bit of a darker direction, dealing with the pains of regret and loss, though with an overall optimistic outlook.

The soundtrack of Haibane Renmei is perhaps one of the best ever recorded for an anime, composed by Ko Otani of Shadow of the Colossus fame. Plus, there is now a perfectly valid reason for yelling "Play 'Free Bird'!" at an anime convention.

If you're looking for something that isn't full of explosive action and saucy fanservice, Haibane Renmei might be just the thing you want to see.

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