Haibane Renmei (灰羽連盟 lit. Ash Feather Federation, translated by the author as Charcoal Feather Federation?) is a 13-episode anime series based on the work of Yoshitoshi ABe. It began as an original dōjinshi comic series, The Haibanes of Old Home (オールドホームの灰羽達 Ōrudo-hōmu no Haibane-tachi?), but this was quickly superseded by the anime and was never completed. The anime series was also broadcast by Animax in its respective networks around the world, including its English networks in Southeast Asia under the French title Ailes Grises (Grey Wings).
The series follows Rakka, a newly hatched Haibane (灰羽?) (a being resembling an angel), and other characters in the city of Glie (グリ guri?), a walled town with a single gate through which only a mysterious group, the Toga, are allowed to enter or exit.
The music for the series is composed by Kow Otani.
The series begins with two parallel scenes. The first scene is of a young girl falling through the sky, head downward and cradling a crow. The crow tries to stop the girl's fall by pulling on the hem of her robe, but cannot and eventually flies away. The other scene is of a group of female Haibane who find a large cocoon growing in a storage room. The Haibane clean the room to prepare for the opening of the cocoon. When the cocoon breaks open, the girl inside (the same one seen falling in the first scene) is brought to a guest room where several Haibane care for her, led by an older Haibane named Reki. When the young girl wakes up, she can remember only the part of her cocoon dream in which she was falling. As Haibane are traditionally named based on their dreams within the cocoon, she is named Rakka ("falling"). Shortly after arriving, the Haibane present Rakka with a halo which she begins to wear, and Reki cares for Rakka as she goes through the painful and bloody ordeal of having wings erupt from her back.
Reki and the other Haibane—who are all teenage girls and younger children—live in "Old Home," an abandoned school in the country near the town of Glie. As time passes, Rakka learns more about Old Home and the Haibane who live there, about Glie, in which the townspeople are friendly and generous to the Haibane, and about "Abandoned Factory," where a second co-ed group of Haibane lives. The very young children among the Haibane at both locations all live at Old Home and are in the care of Reki and a "house mother" from town. All Haibane must work at jobs in Glie and are subject to restrictive rules with sometimes harsh penalties. Foremost among these rules: Haibane may not own anything new, may not use money, and are forbidden to touch or even approach the wall that circles Glie and the surrounding countryside. These rules are strictly enforced by the Haibane Renmei ("Charcoal Feather Federation"), an organization which oversees the lives of the Haibane.
Rakka quickly bonds with the other residents of Old Home - especially Reki and Kuu - and begins searching for a job by spending a day with each of her friends at their jobs in a bakery, in the library, in the clock repair center at the clock tower, and taking care of the children at Old Home.
As the winter approaches, Kuu becomes pensive and distracted and begins to give away her possessions. One day, Kuu vanishes. Rakka is distraught when she learns that Kuu has taken her Day of Flight, has passed over the wall, and will never return. The Day of Flight is the eventual fate of all Haibane who are not "sin-bound."
Rakka reacts to Kuu's unexpected departure by becoming deeply depressed, and her charcoal grey wing feathers begin to turn black. Rakka desperately attempts to conceal the change by mutilating her feathers, but Reki discovers her condition, comforts Rakka, and shows her how to treat the black spots with an herbal solution to hide them, something Reki learned from her own mentor, Kuramori. Reki tells Rakka that she (Rakka) is "sin-bound," caught up in guilt for past deeds and unable to understand the true meaning of her cocoon dream. Reki reveals that she emerged from her own cocoon in this condition, with black wings and a cocoon dream she could not fully remember, and has been similarly hiding her own black feathers ever since. Deeply depressed and confused, Rakka later runs away from Old Home in despair, and is led by crows into the forbidden Western Woods. The crows bring Rakka to an empty well; she falls to the bottom of it and cannot climb out. Rakka sees the bones of a dead crow at the bottom of the well. She falls asleep and is able at last to remember all of her cocoon dream, including the crow which tried to help her. Rakka realizes that the crow in her dream represented a person whom she had hurt and who had loved her in her past life, whose spirit then flew over the wall as a bird to bring her a message of forgiveness. Rakka's guilt is relieved, and her wings turn gray again. She is rescued from the well by two Toga who then leave her alone in the forest. Stumbling, due to her injured ankle, she rests by the wall, touching it when she hears Kuu's voice, and is then admonished by the Communicator. Leading her home, he explains to her the Circle of Sin, which Reki is caught in and Rakka might descend into:
Communicator: "To recognize one's own sin is to have no sin. So, are you a sinner?"
Rakka: "Uh! But if I think I have no sin, then I become a sinner!"
Communicator: "Perhaps this is what it means to be bound by sin. To spin in the same circle, looking for where the sin lies, and at some point losing sight of the way out."
The Communicator then leaves Rakka at the edge of the Western Woods, where she is found by Reki. Later that night, she falls seriously ill because she touched the wall.
As the Haibane of Old Home nurse her back to health, Reki understands that Rakka is no longer sin-bound and feels some jealousy and loneliness. As time passes, the other Haibane at Old Home notice that Reki becomes more and more distant from the group. Rakka realizes that her friend only pretends to be happy; she learns from the Communicator that Reki's time as a Haibane is close to its end, and that Reki must resolve her inner conflicts and take her Day of Flight or she will lose her wings and halo, go into exile, and live alone until she dies. Rakka resolves to help her friend find her way. Rakka persuades several Haibane from Abandoned Factory to forgive Reki for a long-past transgression: Reki had influenced her friend, Hyoko, to help her try to pass over the wall, which nearly killed him and led to severe punishment for damaging the wall. However, Reki is resigned to her fate; never able to get over Kuramori's departure, she refuses to trust anyone or accept help for fear of betrayal - to the point of concealing herself, on the New Year's Day, in her studio, the walls and floor of which she turned into an enormous painting of what little she remembers from her cocoon dream. Rakka brings Reki her "true name," written on a stone tablet and detailed further in a letter, as a gift from the Haibane Renmei: "to be run over and torn asunder." Upon reading this, Reki remembers her dream, in which she died from being run over by a train; she realizes that the dream never ended for her, preventing her from finding happiness. The violence of this revelation only serves to drive Reki into a self-loathing frenzy. As Rakka tries to talk to her, Reki tells Rakka that she never really cared for Rakka, and took care of Rakka as part of a final selfish effort to earn salvation.
Rakka leaves Reki, devastated, but finds and reads Reki's diary. From it, and from the forgotten memories it reveals, Rakka realizes that Reki has spent so much of her time as a Haibane performing good deeds that goodness has become her identity, even if she cannot see it. Realizing that Reki truly did care for her and did want someone to trust and to help her in her despair, Rakka returns to Reki's room. Suddenly, she finds herself and Reki trapped inside of Reki's dream, Reki standing on the tracks and the train approaching. Rakka rushes to help - only to learn that Reki cannot be saved without asking for help. On the brink of being run over again, this time by a grey amorphous train-like shape emerging from the wall painting, Reki does ask for help; the dream shatters and Rakka rescues Reki.
Reki then receives the blessing of the Day of Flight and her departure in a column of light is seen happily by all the Haibane. In the epilogue, Rakka discovers twin cocoons beginning to grow in an abandoned room in Old Home and runs to alert her friends to the exciting development.
- Rakka (落下?, lit. "falling")
- Voiced by: Ryo Hirohashi (Japanese), Carrie Savage (English)
- A new arrival at Old Home, Rakka struggles throughout the series to "find herself," and has trouble escaping from curiosity about her past. She forms many friendships, but her closest is with Reki.
- Reki (礫?, lit. "pebble/small stone")
- Voiced by: Junko Noda (Japanese), Erika Weinstein (English)
- Reki is a mother figure to the other Haibane of Old Home. Reki cannot remember her "cocoon dream," and is troubled by her past at Old Home and by nightmares. She has been a Haibane for seven years, longer than any of the others except for Nemu.
- Kuu (空 Kū?, lit. "air")
- Voiced by: Akiko Yajima (Japanese), J-Ray Hochfield (English)
- The youngest of the "older" Haibane, and the first to take her Day of Flight. Kuu overcame initial awkwardness to achieve a sense of peace. She develops a close friendship with Rakka and has been a Haibane for two years.
- Nemu (眠?, lit. "sleep")
- Voiced by: Kazusa Murai (Japanese), Kirsty Pape (English)
- The Haibane who has lived longest at Old Home. Her friends tease Nemu because she is always sleeping. She is a friend of Reki, works at the library, and has been a Haibane for nine years.
- Kana (河魚?, lit. "river fish")
- Voiced by: Eri Miyajima (Japanese), Zarah Little (English)
- A mechanically inclined tomboy, Kana works at the clock tower in the center of town. Kana has been a Haibane for four years.
- Hikari (光?, lit. "light")
- Voiced by: Fumiko Orikasa (Japanese), Hunter Mackenzie Austin (English)
- A serious, but occasionally mischievous and funny, Haibane. She works in a bakery in town and has been a Haibane for three years.
- Hyohko (氷湖 Hyōko?, lit. "ice lake")
- Voiced by: Chihiro Suzuki (Japanese), Josh Phillips (English)
- Prominent member of the second, co-ed group of Haibane in Glie (who live at the Abandoned Factory "nest" on the opposite side of town from Old Home). Was a friend of Reki in the past.
- Midori (緑?, lit. "green")
- Voiced by: Manabi Mizuno (Japanese), Jennifer Sekiguchi (English)
- A Haibane from Abandoned Factory, and a close friend of Hyōko. Has an ongoing grudge against Reki for her past endangerment of Hyōko, but is willing to talk with Rakka and others.
- The Communicator (話師 Washi?)
- Voiced by: Tamio Ōki (Japanese), Michael McConnohie (English)
- A presiding official of the Haibane Renmei who gives spiritual advice and worldly assistance and, occasionally, imposes punishments on Haibane who break the rules.
- Kuramori (暗森?, lit. "dark forest")
- Voiced by: Aya Hisakawa (Japanese), Wendee Lee (English)
- A Haibane who cared for the young Nemu and Reki. Despite her delicate health, she was kind and helpful to them, especially to Reki in dealing with her black wings. Kuramori took her "Day of Flight" but remains vivid in the memories of Reki and Nemu.
- Toga (トーガ Tōga?)
- The Toga are the only people who can enter and leave the city of Glie at will. The Toga never speak, save for communicating in sign language to the Communicator (who represents the link between the citizens of Glie and the Haibane Renmei), and they never reveal their faces. Human and Haibane alike are told to keep their distance from the Toga.
Upon emerging from the cocoons in which they first appear in the world, Haibane appear to be normal human beings. Shortly afterwards, Haibane painfully grow feathered wings from their backs, and are given halos specially-forged for them by the Haibane Renmei, which may take a few days to float properly over their heads. They always have a sense that they used to live in another place and were someone else, but they cannot remember where or who they were. Haibane are generally young children or teenagers when they come into the world; no adult Haibane are shown or mentioned in the series, except for Kuramori.
Healthy Haibane wings are charcoal grey rather than white, and are too small to be functional. Although with wings and halos Haibane resemble the angels of traditional Christianity, creator Yoshitoshi ABe has said that this resemblance is not significant but is purely an aesthetic choice.
Haibane cocoons grow from small seeds like dandelion tufts that fall from the sky and land in places such as Old Home, usually depicted in the spring and always in indoor, uninhabited rooms. Once landed, these seeds dig into the floor and grow quickly to a very large size, bigger than a person, but somewhat dependent on the size of the person inside. Roots grow out of the cocoon into the surrounding surfaces to support it.
Inside, each new Haibane experiences a vivid dream, and then wakes up suspended within the cocoon. They are dressed in a plain white robe, surrounded by some sort of breathable liquid, and able to hear sound from outside. The walls are easily pulled apart, and each Haibane must dig his or her own way out. According to Reki, tradition holds that if hatchlings cannot break free themselves, they will not grow strong—much like chicks or butterflies.
Once awake in their new world known as the little town of Glie (they may sleep for some time after hatching), each Haibane is given a new name according to the dream they had while in the cocoon. They are all sure that they had a name and life prior to this one, but none are ever able to remember any details, and it is thought that even if they met their families, they would not recognize one another. Certain traces of emotion remain, however, and they remember practical things like how to talk or ride a bicycle. Some Haibane, born as young children, choose their own names based on dreams for the future, presumably ignoring the ones given to them at hatching.
After a Haibane has received a name, he or she is given a halo which floats over his or her head, "to be a guide for the future." The connection may be tenuous at first, but once the halo "sticks", it is almost like a part of the Haibane's body and can be used to drag him or her about or to support the weight of other objects. These halos glow brightly, and in the dōjinshi they spin rapidly as well. It is later revealed that they are forged from metallic flakes, called "light leaves" (光箔 kōhaku?, lit. "light foil/gilt"), which can be found in tunnels located within the wall that surrounds the city.
Wings are formed within the Haibane's body, first appearing as uncomfortable lumps on the back. Within a day or two of the hatching, these grow rapidly and put the Haibane into a state of fever, finally bursting through the skin in a painful and bloody manner. The pain and fever last for about a day before rapidly and completely subsiding. Meanwhile, the feathers of the wings must be cleaned, or else the blood and other fluids will stain them. Thorough cleaning can be a long procedure, and must be done by someone else, as the newly born Haibane is too weak and in too much pain. Once Haibane recover their health after this ordeal, they start to be able to move the wings, although it takes some time to gain complete control over them. After a week or more of involuntary twitching and quick exhaustion, each Haibane finally learns to control the wings like any other part of their body.
The Haibane in general are bound by certain rules set forth by the Haibane Renmei. They are only allowed possessions they make themselves, or which the townsfolk have cast aside, and thus must wear used clothing and live in abandoned buildings. They are also only allowed to work in the oldest buildings, and they are not allowed to handle money. Instead, they are each given a notebook by the Haibane Renmei, the pages of which they use as scrip to pay for food and used goods. They are also not allowed to linger near or touch the city walls.
Haibane's lives are eventually drawn toward their "Day of Leaving the Nest" (巣立ちの日 sudachi no hi?), or in the English-language versions, "Day of Flight". This day approaches when the Haibane in question has overcome certain internal trials and is ready to move on. Their halo begins to flicker and dim, and finally they depart, alone and unannounced, for the Western Woods, where they pass over the city walls in a beam of light. Their halo is left behind on the ground and no longer glows. The other characters experience this much as they would an ordinary death—no one knows when it will happen, or what lies beyond the wall, and those left behind feel the loss of separation. Nevertheless, Leaving the Nest has a positive connotation, and most of the Haibane believe that life beyond the walls is somehow higher or better than life in Glie and friends can reunite there.
Some Haibane do not remember their cocoon dream (繭の夢 mayu no yume?) properly and are called sin-bound (罪憑き tsumi-zuki?). These Haibane can be recognized by the black stains that appear on their wings. Fans conjecture that these Haibane committed suicide in their past lives; this would definitely appear to be the case with Reki, as her cocoon dream seems to indicate this. Also supporting this theory is the observation that Rakka, whose name means falling, had a fear of heights. ABe encourages fans to reach their own conclusions. Signs of being sin-bound do not always appear from birth. For example, Rakka's wings became discolored only after the crow that had followed her from the start of the series had died, although this is speculative given the timeline of events. It is later hinted that the crow is a reincarnate of someone close to Rakka in her former life.
Sin-bound Haibane cannot achieve their "Day of Flight" until they are no longer sin-bound. If they remain sin-bound, after a certain amount of time they cease to be Haibane. The Communicator tells Rakka that these Haibane lose their wings and halos, and are required to live apart from humans and Haibane. (The viewpoint at this moment shifts to the false wings that are a part of the Communicator's uniform and the emblem on his hood resembling a halo, perhaps as a hint that the members of the Haibane Renmei are these "fallen Haibane". It's also possible that the Toga, the only people who can enter and leave the city of Glie, originate as fallen Haibane.) Despite this, Reki believed that when her time as a Haibane was over, she would simply vanish if she were still sin-bound.
The Haibane Renmei, however, may in time give the Haibane a new name (with the same onji) that is symbolic of their spiritual fate or the obstacles they have overcome. In Rakka's case, the Communicator notes that she had shed the feelings of abandonment and isolation of her previous life and bonded gregariously with others; he thus gives her the name Rakka (絡果?, connected nut). With Reki, the Communicator foresees a tragic fate and gives her the name Reki (轢?, to be run over), should she fail to escape it. If she overcomes her failures, she can remain Reki (礫?, pebble) and be a stepping stone in a path for others to follow.
Sin-bound Haibane usually feel guilty about something they have done in their previous life, and until they can overcome this they cannot become a normal Haibane. The theory that Haibane, in general, are reincarnations of humans in a previous life is supported by clues in Reki's dream—in her dream, Reki steps in front of a moving train and presumably kills herself. Also, Rakka is helped by a bird whom she believes to represent someone she knew in her previous life.
The very first version of Haibane Renmei was a short dōjinshi of the same title by Yoshitoshi ABe. Released in 1998, it bore little resemblance to the final anime aside from being about people with halos and grey wings.
ABe later reworked his idea into The Haibane of Old Home, with completely new characters and a different plot. The first issue, released in late 2001, was some 24 pages long and ends roughly two-thirds of the way through the story covered by the first anime episode. The second issue covers the end of the first episode and about a third of the second episode.
ABe next released two special dōjinshi: the "Lifestyle Diary" and the "Extra Edition". The former explains that the story has been licensed as an anime to be released later that year, and so he will not be continuing the dōjinshi. The book's contents cover the specifics of character design, from personality to shoe-style, and lay out maps of the town and some of its buildings. It also features several four-panel comics depicting the lives and behaviors of the specific Haibane, and the protagonist Rakka's curiosity about her halo and wings. The Extra Edition is a flashback story to the character Reki's experiences as a young girl shortly after her mentor, Kuramori, left their home. This part of the story is covered in the anime, but the dōjinshi adds some additional detail. It was released after the completion of the anime series.
The anime series aired in Japan in late 2002 and was released on DVD the following year. It was subsequently aired by Animax in its respective networks around the world, also translating, dubbing and subtitling the series into English for broadcast across its English language networks in Southeast Asia under the French title Ailes Grises (Grey Wings), where the series received its English-language television premiere. It was licensed in North America by Geneon Entertainment, which published dubbed and subtitled releases from mid-2003 to early 2004. In 2010 Funimation rescued the show, along with a handful of other Geneon properties. It has also been released in Australia by Madman Entertainment and in Europe by MVM Films.
Yoshitoshi ABe has acknowledged that Haruki Murakami's novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was an influence on his stories around the haibane. In essence, the "End of the World" narrative contains many of the same ingredients and settings, such as a city people aren't allowed to leave, a wall, a river, a library and a clock tower.
Some reviewers have suggested that Jun Maeda borrowed from the novel when writing the visual novel One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e, Air, or Clannad. His stories often include a surreal parallel world experienced by the protagonist where the character is trapped and finds it difficult to leave. 
- ABe, Yoshitoshi (2002). Haibane Lifestyle Diary.
- "Sekai no Hajimari - FAQ". Retrieved 2007-03-26.
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- "I believe that I created the story with enough information about the Touga, Washi, etc., that the audience can enjoy thinking about the story using their own imaginations, during or after watching the series." "Old Home Bulletin Board". Fan translation. Retrieved 2007-12-01.
- "SEA (Daily) Nov 06 revised" (PDF). Animax. Retrieved 2007-06-13.[dead link]
- "Funi Adds Live Action Moyashimon". Anime News Network. 2010-07-02. Retrieved 2010-07-03.
- "One review" (in Japanese). Retrieved May 25, 2008.
- Hairston, Marc (2007), Lunning, Frenchy, ed., "Fly Away Old Home: Memory and Salvation in Haibane-Renmei", Mechademia (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press) 2, ISBN 978-0-8166-5266-2, ISSN 1934-2489, OCLC 72523390
- Napier, Susan J. (2005), Anime from Akira to Howl's Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 1-4039-7052-1
- (Japanese) Official website for the anime series
- Haibane Renmei soundtrack review by Jonathan Mays
- Haibane Renmei (anime) at Anime News Network's Encyclopedia
- Haibane Renmei at the Internet Movie Database