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Choices & Individuality in Haibane Renmei

September 18, 2009


I should preface this by saying that I’m really not the philosophical type. This isn’t one of those self-proclaimed “intellectual” Anime blogs where I extrapolate a hidden meaning and make generalizations about the human condition. And I especially detest how it has become fashionable for pseudo-scholars to tout themselves as “nihilists” when they probably don’t understand the deeper implications that come with such a doctrine, or any other doctrine for that matter.

Think of this as an analysis of Reki from Haibane Renmei – possibly one of my favorite shows of all time, animated or otherwise – with ties to my half-baked interpretation of existentialism.

Major last episode spoilers.

I’ve always thought of beliefs of any kind as either an enabler or an inhibitor, something that was actually intangible that allowed for automated responses when need be. If you’re a Buddhist, you limit wanting and desire, believing it to be the crux of human suffering. If you’re a vegan and animal rights advocate, you refrain from eating meat, eggs and dairy products because you’re sympathetic to animals. If you’re an extreme Republican, you think President Obama is the Antichrist and that all liberals are doomed to the hottest pits of hell. All of this is pretty obvious, I realize. But these choices ultimately make up who we are – what we choose to do and not do shapes us as individuals. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that to be a powerful sentiment.

I believe that measuring self-worth isn’t so much about making a checklist of all of our relative virtues and vices in hopes that the former outweighs the latter. It’s more about what the person symbolizes in regards to the other people within his/her life, like a role model or icon or what have you. My skewed snapshot judgment of existentialism tells me that it’s a philosophy about the despair behind the choices we make. With choices come responsibility, and with responsibility comes fear of failure. In the long run, we’re tempted to just give in to how immaterial everything seems and how we lead fruitless lives.

But what most people fail to see is that there’s a real triumph that comes with upending that notion. As mawkish as it sounds, I’ll be so bold as to say that the choices we make do matter in the grand scheme of things. Not a single action or spoken word is wasted because everything you do sets an example for others. We should never dismiss ourselves so easily.

This idea is probably why I was so moved by the ending of Haibane Renmei. Bereft of any hope of salvation due to her Sin-bound nature, Reki thanklessly nurtures Rakka in hopes that she’ll be granted redemption. While her final hour draws near, Reki reveals to Rakka that she acted only out of her personal desire to attain her Day of Flight. Nevertheless, Rakka loves Reki too much to give up on her, believing her to be the good person she was through it all. She eventually reciprocates by “saving” Reki from being consumed by her cocoon dream.

Reki was the perpetually maternal figure within the series. The other Haibane knew she was someone they could rely on to help shoulder their own burdens. They naturally loved her as part of the family for everything she’d done for Old Home. By living vicariously through Reki’s example, they became better people. Reki herself admitted to acting out of want for her Day of Flight, but even she came out of the experience a better person. She chose to do the right thing in the presence of her peers, and Rakka followed her lead by saving her in the penultimate scene.

I should probably do a more comprehensive review on Haibane Renmei in a forthcoming post because I just love it so much. It’s just a real treat to see a show that doesn’t beat you over the head with exposition. It’s like an endless jigsaw puzzle with a few missing pieces.


In other news, I’ve been away from this blog because of a bout with the flu. It was probably a mild case of the H1N1 virus, or Pig AIDS as my friend likes to call it.
But it doesn’t matter now since I’ve made a full recovery. Hell, I felt so great this morning when I got out of bed that I let out a war cry and struck this pose:

Fuck yeah!

Fuck yeah!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 2DT permalink
    September 18, 2009 8:12 am

    Ah, shit, I totally spoiled myself. I haven’t seen Haibane Renmei. But you hadn’t written in days, and I was just so CURIOUS… I’m quite glad to hear you didn’t drown in your own vomit during a fever dream, though. And that was an interesting read regardless.

    • saturnity permalink*
      September 18, 2009 9:15 pm

      It’s trite, but the journey is really much better than the destination, especially in the case of Haibane Renmei. There are just so many unanswered questions.

      Also, thanks!

  2. Anonymous permalink
    September 18, 2009 1:29 pm

    Well, I’m kinda glad I didn’t read this. Glad you’re feeling great now~

  3. September 19, 2009 3:30 am

    I love Haibane Renmei. It’s one of my favorite anime ever as well. Also, good analysis. ^ ^

  4. soranomukou permalink
    November 15, 2009 11:50 am

    Haha, Haibane Renmei. My favourite was always Kana, then Hikari, then Nemu. Reki was fourth. The series itself is probably one of my ultimate favourites even if it’s just because it was my first favourite show with my first favourite character… But I enjoyed the freedom to analyse and interpret on your own.

    This was fun to read, though. Even if I don’t know you. ♥ :’>

  5. DanielHeartland permalink
    May 27, 2010 4:58 pm

    Existentialism runs through HR for most of the series, beginning at first with Rakka’s attempt to understand her world, then with her inability to grasp Kuu’s Day of Flight and finally, as you said, Reki’s own struggle for salvation.
    The series focuses more on efforts to draw away from this sort of ideal. Both characters needed help to find their way in that universe. More importantly, both had to except a fate made for them, their beginning, Rakka’s interpretation of God and the creation of the world, and the end, the Day of Flight.
    Reki herself, seems like a surefooted stronghold and tower for Rakka to find strength in, but the deeper the series goes, the more we find a past littered with tragedy, filled with stories that had few conclusions. Thus, Rakka is fated with the hand of going through a lesser sort of trial, near existential meltdown or depression, to understand the much deeper and terrible prison that Reki has put herself in.
    However, while Rakka’s sin was committed in the past, a memory she faintly remembers (which is why she is able to forgive herself), Reki’s own sin has bound her in this very universe.
    Acknowledgment of sin = no sin. An interesting concept of grasping our imperfections, which in turn leads to an enlightened understanding of all mankind.
    HR is incredible in the sense of taking out everything unnecessary while making the characters and the townsfolk feel vibrant and alive. The town itself becomes a character. Every conflict is resolved while the major questions are not even addressed, but its alright, because as much as we’d like to know, we all don’t.
    It’s the same as the video games Shadow of the Colossus and ICO. A kind of less is more. This approach is ground breaking because of its risk. HR looks to have little plotline in the beginning with our understanding of this world but we’re given glimpses of how the other Haibane’s go about their lives.

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