Movie: To some people, anime is nothing more than childish cartoons, intended for children and of little artistic merit. To those who have opened their eyes however, anime is far more than that, addressing themes far more adult than simply sexual in nature, running the gamut of life and death, growing up, persevering against all odds, and a host of others. Interestingly enough, anime often addresses these themes far better than more mainstream movies, a fact celebrated in Japanese culture where the genre is more respected (keeping in mind that their culture is far older and more mature than that of the West, perhaps it's safe to assume they know something about the above themes). While much of anime is indeed targeted at a more youthful, and vibrant, audience, some of it is artistic in nature. Such is the case with a series released by Geneon, Haibane Renmei:Free Bird.
Not having seen the first two volumes in this series, I had to pay close attention to the littlest of details, hoping to gleam a bit more information than usual in order to make sense of what was going on. Without a basis to compare notes, I'm going to have to make some leaps of faith and tell you that I will be looking for the earlier volumes myself, based solely on what I saw here. The story was set in a small town that appears to have undergone a crisis of sorts. The technology is limited, although there are motorized vehicles in scant numbers and power lines around the village, and people seem to scrape by using old-fashioned mechanical devices more than anything else.
The town is populated by three kinds of people. One group is the humans themselves. They are much like people everywhere and go about their business in the typical fashion, not really wanting to get involved with outsiders. Another group is the Haibane, who look like people but have tiny angelic wings and halos. The angel analogy is apt since they appear to be people who have died and were reborn but they don't seem to possess any supernatural powers of note. There is a third group, the Toga, also look like humans but wear concealing masks and appear to have special privileges in terms of coming and going to the town. They keep to themselves but obviously know more about the situation of the world than the other two groups.
The story focused on a small Haibane girl known as Rakka. She is fairly new to her resurrected form and seems to live a sad life, having lost a friend in a previous episode. In the course of the three episodes here, she finds that she has a mission of sorts and can communicate with birds on some level. She is also in line to take on more responsibilities; a fact that means another Haibane is about to give them up. Exactly how humans move to this next level and why are mysteries not uncovered in the course of this DVD but it seemed interesting to watch the show unfold. The episodes included here were:
Episode 8: The Bird
Episode 9: Well: Rebirth: Riddle
Episode 10: Kuramori: Haibane Of Abandoned Factory: Rakka's Job
Now typically, a series is best watched from beginning to end, not piecemeal like I seem to be doing these days so I'd advise you to watch the first volume of this one if the review sounds interesting. The story was slow moving and the animation itself seemed very artistic in nature. Given that the creator for this one has a history of making similar shows (like Serial Experiments Lain), you can bet that most people will either love it or hate it, with little middle ground. I found the stylish look to be impressive to the point where I'd hang a cel up on my wall as art if I had one and it was another to hook me into the series as a whole. The basic themes addressed here, as best I can tell at least, revolve around growth and the age-old life and death story but there seemed to be a bit of an undercurrent too. As such, I'm going to rate this one as Recommended, but only if you watch it after seeing the previous episodes.
Picture: The picture was presented in anamorphic widescreen with a ratio of 1.85:1. The anime style itself looked to include more traditionally drawn anime as well as the currently popular CGI to flesh out the backgrounds. I saw no problems with the picture as it looked crisp and clear although I expected to see some since so much of the show was set in dark settings. There were no compression artifacts either.
Sound: The sound was presented with a choice of the original Japanese or the English dub, both in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, with a choice of optional English subtitles as well as optional screen text (that translates the signs and such on the screen). The audio was another facet of the show that appealed to me. While it was also crisp and clear, it had some depth and a solid mix between the vocals and splendid soundtrack.
Extras: The extras were somewhat minimal here, adding a bit of value but not a whole lot. They included previews for the next set of episodes, trailers, an art gallery, and teaser commercial, a paper insert, a double-sided DVD cover, and a plastic card with the front cover (sans writing) that appeared suitable for hanging.
Final Thoughts: I think this is going to be one of those series that invokes internet fights among the traditionalists who enjoy the beat them up types of anime and the newer fans who enjoy a multi-layered anime with plenty of room for interpretation. Much of this is supposition of course but I think the combination of visual and audio quality combined with the slowly unfolding story will appeal to the thinkers out there and maybe even some of the snobs that think anime is for kids only.