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To know your sin is to have no sin.
The series concerns a group of mysterious children and young adults named the Haibane, who live in a walled city which only has one entrance (and which none of its inhabitants are ever allowed to leave). The Haibane differ from the regular human inhabitants of the city in the way they are born (erupting fully-formed from cocoons) and in the fact that they have both halos and wings, just like angels (though the word "Haibane"—"charcoal feather"—comes from the fact their wings are charcoal gray rather than pure white).
No one in the city truly knows where the Haibane come from or what purpose their lives serve — even the Haibane themselves are largely in the dark about it (although there is much fan speculation about their true nature). Most of the Haibane seem to remember having some sort of existence before their awakening in the city, although none can remember any concrete details about their pre-birth lives. Each Haibane has a mystical and mysterious dream while cocooned; the dream has some connection to the Haibane's previous life, and is used to give the Haibane his/her name after hatching. The only people who seem to have any information about the Haibane are the Renmei, a group of mysterious masked travelers who live at the very edges of the walled city (and are the only people who can come and go as they please), and they're anything but forthcoming.
The main heroine of the story is a newly-arrived Haibane named Rakka, who spends most of the series coming to terms with her new existence. Her friends are: gloomy, snarky Reki; tomboyish Kana; Bookworm sleepyhead Nemu; Meganekko Hikari; and the childlike Kuu.
This anime is gently-paced and contains relatively little in the way of action, instead choosing to explore the compelling mystery at the heart of the story and how it affects the characters. It's a definite must-see for fans of ABe's work (as well as anyone who may be intimidated by his other work, as Haibane Renmei is easily the gentlest of them), and for anyone who may be looking for something profound and understated.
- Actor Allusion: Kana's voice actress did a crossdressing role in a live-action adaptation of a Bishounen film back in 1988.
- Anime Hair: Averted with everyone but Kana, who has green hair.
- Beautiful Void: Quite intentionally.
- Becoming the Mask: All that Reki thinks she can hope for. Crucially, Rakka shows her it's real Character Development.
- Bifauxnen: Kana
- Bird Run: Especially done by Kuu.
- Book Ends: The story begins with Reki discovering Rakka's cocoon. The story ends with Rakka finding two new cocoons the following spring.
- Break the Cutie: Rakka, to the point she hits rock bottom, literally (in a dry well) and figuratively. Then she gets better.
- Breakfast Club
- Broken Bird: Reki, and she even has wings to account for it and all.
- Clock Tower: Kana works in one.
- Cool Big Sis: Reki could qualify as a mild version of this trope.
- Cool Mask: The Renmei keep their faces covered by odd-looking masks.
- Crystal Dragon Jesus: The religion/festivals featured in the anime seem somewhat based on Christianity, and the wings and halos of the Haibane are no doubt inspired by Christian angels. However, the creators of the show emphasize that the Haibane themselves are not angels, and that their look was developed purely for aesthetic reasons. Also, there is much speculation that the city of Glie, where the anime takes place, may exist somewhere between Heaven and Hell, in a place roughly equivalent to the Roman Catholic idea of purgatory, although the meager hints to what awaits beyond the Wall seems to hint more towards Buddhist reincarnation than Christian Heaven.
- Deconstructive Homage: Many aspects of the setting are deliberately similar to that of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, but the series presents the setting very differently and is almost diametrically opposed to the novel thematically, presenting a much more communalist and generally positive outlook.
- Doujinshi: The anime was based on one.
- Epiphanic Prison
- False Camera Effects: The 'camera' goes handheld in the OP.
- Fantastic Racism: The discrimination against sinbound haibane.
- Going Commando: It's All There in the Manual that female haibane have trouble wearing bras because of the wings.
- Good Morning, Crono: The first episode starts with a dream the main character has immediately before hatching from her cocoon, and the first few episodes are devoted to her learning about Glie.
- Hand And Wing Signals: In the Renmei compound, Haibane may not speak without permission. To communicate, they respond to the Renmei by shaking bells draped on their wrists and wings. The Renmei are also seen communicating in a hand language, and ancient runes found here and there allude to this hand language.
- Hidden Eyes: Rakka, in at least two moments of distress: Growing her wings, and washing Kuu's room after her departure.
- Holy Halo: Subverted. The Haibanes' halos accent their angelic appearance, but are actually artificial, created from materials gathered in the interior of the wall around Glie. They also don't appear to have any purpose except to indicate when a Haibane's Day of Flight is approaching, when they begin to fade and flicker.
- They are also used as a symbolic bond between the Haibane, and some fans believe that there are hints to the effect that they somehow anchor the Haibane to their new home, whether psychologically or metaphysically.
- It's All Junk
- Also subverted. One of the ways old "junk" is gotten rid of is by handing it off to those who can make better use of it. Haibane are not allowed to use money, so they take secondhand items.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: Any information any Haibane has as to who they were before appearing in Glie is limited to each individual's cocoon dream. Lampshaded when Rakka mentions how she knows how to ride a bicycle and feels she would normally have been singing as she rode, yet doesn't know any songs to sing.
- Limited Wardrobe: Justified by the Haibane being required to own only previously used objects, and there's only one thrift store in town allowed to do business with them.
- Lying on a Hillside
- Masquerade Maintenance: Reki and Rakka use a special dye to hide (and possibly slow) the fact that their wings' charcoal grey feathers are turning black. This is more than cosmetic, since it indicates that they are becoming sin-bound.
- Meaningful Name: Each Haibane receives his/her name based on the dream each had while in the cocoon, but their "real" names are written with different kanji representing some aspect of why each Haibane was born a Haibane, while being read the same way as the original name. For example, Rakka's original name means "falling," but her real name uses completely different kanji read the same way.
- Messy Hair: Tufts of Rakka's hair stick to her halo like static cling.
- Mundane Afterlife: The series may well take place in one.
- Mundane Utility: Hikari uses the halo mold to...make bagels. Rakka is less than pleased to find that out. Even if Hikari used the mold after removing Rakka's halo from it, Rakka still felt unclean from the whole business and spent part of the evening washing her halo.
- Then, in the following episode, Kana wakes up Rakka by yanking on Rakka's halo, which by this point has enough attraction to pull her head along with it.
- Naive Newcomer: Rakka
- Names to Know In Anime:
- No Antagonist
- No Hugging, No Kissing: The Haibane all seem to be chaste; it is only even remotely hinted at that any of them experience romantic feelings at all.
- Ontological Mystery
- Painful Transformation: The Haibane are born without wings. They get a sharp fever before the wings sprout; said sprouting is a bloody mess, and it hurts.
- Perpetual Molt: Piles of feathers are everywhere, but unlike most examples, this is treated as a problem if someone notices.
- Pillar of Light: The Day of Flight
- Posthumous Character: Kuramori, although her Day of Flight is the reason for her absence rather than death. She nevertheless served as a surrogate mother to Reki and Nemu as shown in a flashback. Her sudden departure was also the cause of a rift between them.
- Railroad Tracks of Doom: They're only painted onto the floor of Reki's room, but end up no less dangerous than real tracks.
- Ravens and Crows: A theme that starts in Rakka's cocoon dream.
- Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: Rakka and Reki?
- Room Full of Crazy: Reki's bedroom increasingly becomes this as her despair builds.
- Scenery Porn
- When picking out used clothes in episode 2, Nemu picks out a coat identical to one Mayuko wears in episode 7 of Nie A_7.
- The restaurant where Kuu works is named Cafe Karuchie, which is also the name of one of the places where Mayuko works.
- In the booklet included in the American DVD packaging, it describes the well as being called "Sadako's well", referencing The Ring.
- Slice of Life
- Smoking Is Cool: Reki is rarely seen without an angst-ful cigarette.
- Stepford Smiler: What Reki believes herself to be, helping everyone simply to cleanse herself of sin.
- Tall, Dark and Bishoujo: Reki.
- Thirteen Episode Anime
- The Corruption: Being sinbound.
- The Wall Around the World: The wall that surrounds Glie.
- Wind Turbine Power
- Winged Humanoid: The Haibane.
- Wings Do Nothing: Lampshaded.
- Wrench Wench: Kana.
- You Are Not Alone: Reki convinces herself there's no way she could ask for help. Fortunately, she's proven wrong.
- Your Days Are Numbered: Granted, a Day of Flight isn't death, but it's close enough for this trope to count.
- Intentional capitalization