Haibane Renmei: What are Haibane?

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Anime

If there’s one question which I felt was central to the anime Haibane Renmei, it was “What are Haibane?”

This is also a question that the anime doesn’t seem to answer for us, and has been discussed elsewhere. In reading over some peoples’ thoughts on this anime, the predominant theory seems to be that all Haibane are people who have committed suicide in their past life. This seems like a pretty sensible theory taken from the two main characters of the anime.

Rakka’s dream inside of her coccoon is one of falling accompanied by a bird who makes an attempt to save her, but can’t. This serves as a significant plot point throughout the anime series, as Rakka’s guilt over Kuu’s flight leaves her sin-bound until she finds a resolution by burying the body of the bird that attempted to save her in her past life. Reki’s dream of an oncoming train and her reluctance in seeking help from anyone near her also seems to indicate that she was a suicide.

I’m pretty reluctant to accept that this theory is true, though, and there are several reasons. First is that, although I feel like it’s strongly implied that Reki died by throwing herself in front of a train, it seems unlikely that Rakka’s dream can be so literally interpreted. If we were to look at Rakka’s dream literally what conclusion could we have: That Rakka threw herself out of a plane while skydiving? Doesn’t seem plausible. Althought I don’t know enough about Japanese to make an etymological argument, and I don’t know enough about the other characters’ dreams to make a story-based argument, I believe it’s rather unlikely we can look at a character’s name as a literal element of their suicide. Did Kuu kill himself by “air”? Did Midori kill herself by “green”?

I think probably the strongest point against looking at Haibane as suicides is simply to … look at the Haibane. Rakka is maybe twelve or thirteen, perhaps up to fifteen if we assume that art style subtracts a few years from each character’s appearance? Kuu looks like she (what’s up with turning a male character into a female one anyway?) is about ten. Then we’ve got even younger Haibane which Reki oversees. I have a hard time wrapping my head around six year olds committing “suicide” — Although perhaps that’s because I would rule any death a person that young accidental, rather than with the emotional and cognitive associations of suicide.

Here’s a rather lengthy post that looks a little further at the idea of Haibane as suicides, or even more generally, as Haibane as the souls of the living accounting for their sins before achieving Heaven. Not sure how much I agree with it, but I’m convinced that Haibane aren’t suicides, and despite the connotations of having angelic wings, shouldn’t necessarily be thought of as dead people on their way to becoming full-fledged angels.

2 Responses

  1. Hi! I know this is an old post but, i feel like you missed some things… Their dreams are symbolic, more or less, so are the names. Reki isnt called train crash for example. Rakka could have thrown herself out of the window. My theory is that haibane, all of them are the ones who died prematurely, before their time has come to pass, now sin-bound haibane are the ones who actually commited suicide. Think about it. kuu’s dream was floating in the air. That couldve well symbolized plane crash. Midori could have died in a forest and the last things she remembers is color green. Kana didn’t turn into a fish, but she was swimming like one, which probably means she drowned. Hikari was in sparkling light, that almost entirely indicates electrocution. Nemu died from overdosing on sleeping pills and so on and so on. Sorry for the rant, just had to put it up there :)

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