Haibane Renmei (video)
Publisher: Radix, 2002.
Length: 13 episodes (x 25 minutes) on 4 DVDs
Languages: Japanese (subtitled), English dub
In a small town in a mid-20th century Eastern European country is the "Old
Home," an orphanage whose residents are known as Haibane, or "gray wings."
The children are born from cocoons with no memories of their previous lives.
They sprout flightless wings on their backs and wear glowing halos over
their heads. They never venture beyond the city walls, and after an
indeterminate span of time, vanish as mysteriously as they arrived.
The story begins with the "birth" of the newest member of the orphanage,
Rakka, and follows her life at the orphanage as she tries to remember who
she is and what she is doing there. Couched as a modern fable--never
digressing to explain itself--Haibane Renmei slowly evolves through the
study of character and personality into a thoughtful exegesis on the
Catholic concept of purgatory and the inextinguishable possibilities of
The Catholic Encyclopedia defines purgatory as "place or condition of
temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God's grace are
not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the
satisfaction due to their transgressions". The definition does not differ
widely from the Mormon concept of "spirit prison," and echoes a similar
belief in the post-mortal efficacy of "penitential works."
Of course, I'm sliding down a slippery deconstructionist slope here, and
profess no interest in confirming original authorial intent. If the metaphor
fits, I say, use it. Nevertheless, I found it especially telling that the
burden carried by one of the main characters turns out to be suicide. By
carefully documenting her unconscious desire for absolution, Haibane Renmei
tells a powerful and moving story of personal forgiveness.
© 2006 Eugene Woodbury