Chiaki leads Vrai and Cy on a look back at the first half of Abe Yoshitoshi’s third series, Haibane Renmei!
Note: This episode was recorded before Cy came out; the info and transcript will reflect their proper name.
Date Recorded: October 23, 2022
Hosts: Chiaki, Vrai, Cy
0:02:46 Production info and Abe
0:07:28 Personal histories
0:12:07 What we expected vs what we got
0:16:56 The haibane
0:24:44 The Town
0:30:27 The wing scene
0:37:35 Trans readings
0:42:30 The day of flight
0:51:27 Rakka’s reaction
CHIAKI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF: The Anime Feminist Podcast. You’re here on the first episode of a two-part watchalong of 2002’s Haibane Renmei. I’m Chiaki Hirai, one of the editors for AniFem. You can find me at @Chiaki747 or @AnimatedEmpress on Twitter. One is your angle and the other is your devril. Joining me today—
VRAI: Really setting the era.
CY: Oh my God. [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: Joining me today are my two newbies to this series, Vrai and Cy.
VRAI: Hey y’all. I’m Vrai Kaiser. I’m the managing content editor at AniFem. You can find me on Twitter, which is where I post a lot of my freelancing work, @WriterVrai.
CY: Hi, everyone. I’m Young Feather Cy, and I’ve just awakened from the cocoon, and I’m also an editor here at Anime Feminist! You can find me on Twitter @pixelatedlenses, where I am goofy as can be and am just always, always posting, always tweeting.
VRAI: That’s your first mistake: never post.
CY: [Chuckles] I can’t help it! I love the internet!
CHIAKI: So, is your Haibane name gonna be, like, Tweet?
CY: Oh my God, yeah. It’s gonna be, like, Chirp.
CHIAKI: We’ll get to names and stuff in a bit. But okay, first, let me talk a little bit about what we’re talking about today. We’re gonna be talking about the first seven episodes of Haibane Renmei. It’s a one-cour series, self-contained. But lots to talk about, so we’re going to be splitting it into two.
The reason why we’re covering it is it is considered to be a fairly popular, well-regarded series featuring a cast of predominantly strong women characters. Felt this would be a pretty good thing to talk about. Also covering issues on depression and loss and other sorts of dark, moody, introspective things. This was definitely a show that was… It spoke to a lot of 2000s-era teenagers who were brooding at Hot Topic, including myself.
VRAI: It is a Serious 2000s-Era Anime (TM).
CHIAKI: That’s a good way to put it, yeah. So, one of the first things you notice about this show is that it is directed… or, it is not directed, but the script and the series composition is by Abe Yoshitoshi, who is better known for his work from Serial Experiments Lain.
CY: That’s why…! Okay. [Chuckles]
VRAI: Uh-huh, uh-huh.
CY: Yeah, okay.
CHIAKI: Everyone recognizes Abe as the Lain artist, which is true, but the story is largely by Chiaki J. Konaka, who also made Paranoia Agent and Texhnolyze, both 2000s-era Serious Anime (TM). Konaka also made Lain, was the primary force behind Lain, and the artistic vision was by Abe. Abe’s distinct look continues today. He’s mostly known for character designs, and most recently he did the character designs for Housing Complex C this season. And another one that comes to mind is RerideD in 2018.
You might realize that he’s a very well-established character designer, but as soon as he touches a story, things get messy and his shows kinda flop. So, that is an unfortunate thing. But Haibane Renmei is considered one of his best works. It’s one of his most established works, and a lot of people still like it. So, hopefully you’ll like it, too, as you finish this out. [Chuckles]
And Abe is a character designer by trade. He says so in interviews, that he’s primarily taken work for things like Sakura Wars and Japanese commercials just so he can keep paying for his expensive inks that he uses for his paintings.
Let’s see. Anything to add to Abe? Well… This is also an early 2000s show by Abe, and you might have noticed while you were watching this show, but he was probably going through a lot during this time. Unrelated to Haibane Renmei, he released a collection of comics from 1996 through 2007, and his early 2000s comics, called Kaira, feature some very, very bright and happy stories like a world that stopped spinning and is covered in snow and is in perpetual night and a woman who is trapped in a tower, forced to climb with no idea why she’s even climbing it. So, yeah, very normal author. [Chuckles]
CY: You know what? That’s a big ol’ mood.
CHIAKI: [Chuckles] Yeah.
VRAI: I am going to step in before the corrections roll in at us. Konaka, I think, did work on Paranoia Agent but the series composer was Minakami Seishi.
CHIAKI: Right. I’m sorry. He’s the executive producer. I had that on the…
VRAI: Still, there was fully a sort of connected little snarl—I knock, but lovingly because these are all really good shows—of this connection between the Serious Early 2000s Anime (TM) of, like, Haibane Renmei and Paranoia Agent and Serial Experiments Lain and Kino’s Journey, where they shared a lot of staff and visual look together.
CHIAKI: Mm-hm. And it’s the same with the director of the series, Tokoro Tomokazu. He has worked with Abe for a long time, as well. He was also director of NieA_7, another title by Abe, which is a story about immigration in Japan. So, maybe we’ll watch that one of these days. That’s…
VRAI: No, I was just gonna say that’s a series I’ve always heard the title of and knew nothing else about.
CHIAKI: It hasn’t aged well, is the problem. I want to do a cast on it, but I feel like it’s going to be a good hour of people just going, “Wow, how did this get made?” [Chuckles]
CY: There’s a place for that criticism, though, right?
CHIAKI: I guess so, yeah. So, let’s see. Okay, so… First, let’s get into how we all came to this series.
I have some history with this, as the veteran of this cast. I actually started watching the series on episode 12, the second-to-last episode, when I arrived in Japan in the summer of 2002. And it was a 2 A.M. anime that I just caught because I was jetlagged and I couldn’t sleep. And it had this ephemeral feel that just made me think I was having a fever dream. And luckily, my cousin was also a nerd, and he introduced me to Abe’s works, NieA_7 and others, and I’ve been a fan ever since.
CHIAKI: Yeah. Before we get too into the weeds of this show, this is sort of a heavier story. It deals with character death, of course, but also (I’m just gonna put it out there for folks at home listening who haven’t watched it yet), it does delve into suicide in the second half, just as a content note.
VRAI: This first half also has self-harm as a pretty overt theme.
Yeah, I’m so excited that we’re finally watching this because this is a series that was always kind of on my radar as a thing I would probably like because Paranoia Agent and Kino are two of my top favorites of all time. I really bounced off of Lain pretty hard, but in fairness, I watched it when I was like 19 and haven’t been back to it since, so… But I have had the DVDs since I lived in Colorado and the local video store went out of business. They are so old that they are still labeled Pioneer before it became Geneon.
CHIAKI: Oh yeah.
VRAI: Yeah, yeah. And there they sat on my shelf after I bought them, thinking, “These are cheap, and I’ve always meant to watch this,” for over half a decade!
CY: I kind of have a similar story because I remember seeing this… Okay, do you all remember the store Fry’s, Fry’s Electronics?
CHIAKI: Oh yeah.
CY: Yeah, so I used to see them in Fry’s all the time. And I was always like, “Oh, one day I’ll buy it.” And then one day I woke up and Fry’s had completely gone out of business, so I was like, “Guess I won’t buy it.” But I always remember seeing the cover art. And it was quite evocative, because it doesn’t really tell you a lot of what’s going to be going on in the show. I would say that the splash art for this tells you nothing. And I kind of like that.
CHIAKI: Okay, yeah.
CY: At least the one that I’ve seen, the very simple image of a girl with wings. And so… I don’t know, it’s just never a series that I actually got my hands on. And then it came up that we should do something with it, and I was like, “Ooh, I want to finally watch it,” because I had been immensely curious.
And, I think, like both of you, Kino’s Journey is one of my favorite series. It’s been really impactful to me. It might be the first time where I was like, “Oh, you can not be girl?” [Chuckles] And I started to question gender and what it means to be human and have humanity. Right? And so, this is also giving that same vibe, and I’m really glad I got to come to it.
VRAI: Kino so gender.
CY: It’s so gender! It’s so good.
VRAI: [appreciative] Ah.
CY: Gender can be ambiguous transmasc and a talking bike, as it should be!
VRAI: [crosstalk] Hell yeah! Funnily enough… It’ll definitely be published by the time this podcast actually comes out, but one of our contributors, Iris, did just write an essay about how this series works extremely well as a trans allegory.
CY: Oh, I have some trans thoughts, so I can’t wait till we get to those! [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: Yeah, we’ll be definitely talking about the queer readings that you can have with this show, because it feels very queer.
But just before we get into it, I just want to ask: what did you think you were going to watch, and why was it nothing like that for you?
CY: So, what I thought I was gonna get was just peaceful thoughts in a town with people that had wings and a halo. What I got was, ooh, trauma, questioning the wider world, “What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to exist? What does it mean to not want the same dream as other people?” Ennui.
CY: It’s so much! It’s so much feeling and I love it! It’s nothing like what I thought. I thought it was really going to be very slice-of-life and almost giving me Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou vibes. Like, just kinda [inaudible beneath crosstalk].
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] Yeah!
CY: And then it’s like, “What if you had that but you were really sad?”
CHIAKI: Oh, no!
CY: [Chuckles] It is so good! It’s so good.
VRAI: [Laughs] See, for me, I had sort of absorbed from the general cultural milieu, before I watched this, that this is the series about dead girls in purgatory. So, I kinda had that coming in, and therefore, like when I watched Twin Peaks having watched all the things inspired by Twin Peaks first, was surprised by how relatively normal the first half is, where it’s pretending to be a slice-of-life that’s weird and sad sometimes for small minutes at a time.
CY: That’s so interesting because I really kept away from reading anything, because I was like, “I want whatever is gonna happen to hit me,” and it did. [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: Oh yeah.
CY: This anime took me by surprise! [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: Episode 6 rolls around and it just kinda starts hitting you like a truck. And it keeps hitting you.
CY: I mean, you know, Smash Mouth had it right: the years start coming and they don’t stop coming!
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] Don’t stop coming!
CHIAKI: And they don’t stop coming and they don’t stop coming.
Oh, before we move on, just a real quick note on Abe’s work on the show. He admitted, himself, in notes under his art books that he had no idea what he was going to do with the show until the airing of the seventh episode.
CY: You know what? I can see that.
CHIAKI: [Chuckles] Yeah, he literally scrambled to finish the last half of the series.
VRAI: There is definitely a feel when you’re watching, not quite the first half, but definitely those first five episodes, where I think it’s a little bit leaning into what I remember not liking about Lain, where it wants you to know that it’s a very serious work but it doesn’t really know what it wants to say yet.
There’s actually a little booklet, that I’m not sure if it’s a compilation of releases from the Japanese DVDs or just a direct recreation of it. But there’s a little character book with designs. Which, funnily enough, by the way, considering these would have been released months apart, four episodes at a time, there is a huge spoiler in the first DVD box set, where they have all the character designs and then there’s a note in there that says, “Kuu does not have a winter clothes design.” It’s like, okay!
CY: Oh, no! Oh, no.
VRAI: But there’s an introductory essay in that little book about how they championed the series and got it greenlit when there were only two volumes of doujin for it.
CHIAKI: Yeah. No, I think the producer literally just looked at it and said, “Yeah, you know what? We’re making an anime out of this.”
CY: You know what? I wish we could bring back that era, because I don’t know what’s happening nowadays but quite frankly… [Chuckles]
VRAI: I do miss when… Obviously, this wasn’t universally the case with every single-cour anime, but I do miss in the ‘90s and 2000s where if you had a 13-episode anime it was more likely to mean that it was an extremely weird anime-original project where somebody was just gonna do some shit.
CY: It was weird and you had to enjoy it. It was weird and you must like it because it was just quirky. And there were definitely some misses back then. There’s some rough stuff.
CHIAKI: There were a lot of misses back then.
VRAI: Many. Many!
CY: [Chuckles] Look, I was trying to be gentle about it.
CY: Unlike this show, which just ran roughshod over my feelings. Whew!
CHIAKI: Yeah. Well, let’s talk about how you get into it. So, for those of you who are listening at home and have not watched it, let’s talk a little bit about the introduction of the world and some of the significance of it.
So, characters. All the Haibane are charcoal-feathered women with halos who work in sort of a pseudo-modern, pseudo-pastoral city.
CY: It’s giving 1930s.
CHIAKI: It feels 1930s? Yeah.
CY: Yeah. But they have some modernity.
CHIAKI: Yeah. Electricity is generated by wind. People have mopeds. They have regular headphones and stuff, but they’re also listening to those headphones through an old capacitor radio.
CY: I was gonna say, I was waiting for someone to bring out the phonograph at one point. Yeah, it’s this weird pastiche that works.
CHIAKI: Yeah. And so, all of the charcoal feathers are born from cocoons, and they have no memory of their past lives. But the other charcoal feathers take them in and give them a new name based on the dream that they had.
So, the main character of the series is Rakka, and her name is based off of her dream of falling, which feels like there’s a lot of significance there in terms of why she is falling, and so many motifs keep showing up throughout the series.
VRAI: So much. Yeah. [Chuckles] I mean, my partner did watch some of this with me and during the early episodes promptly said, “They died and they still have to labor under capitalism? This is the Bad Place.”
CY: Brutal. Brutal. But yeah, that’s one of the tenets of all of these laws that they keep: they must work and they have to do these kinds of services. There’s all this ritual and just rules, rules, rules, rules, rules, to being a Haibane.
VRAI: Yeah, they are almost a caste unto themselves, which I am not fit to comment further on, but I thought it was interesting to note.
CHIAKI: They are definitely second-class citizens. Which is weird because everyone in town kinda sees them as like, “Man, it sucks for you. But anyway, we’re gonna still have to live by these rules where we treat you like shit.”
CY: Right. There’s this interesting degree of sympathy that just never… They’re just like, “Well, but that’s just the way it is,” which feels like a commentary in and of itself.
VRAI: Yeah, there’s a lot of talk about how the townspeople love the Haibane and protect them, which the Haibane themselves have also internalized. But yeah, at the same time, they’re like, “Oh, well, obviously, you have to only have secondhand things. And we can’t give you money; you can only pay for things in scrip.”
CHIAKI: And you can’t talk to the outsiders. Well, I mean, that’s the entire city, but—
CY: I was gonna say, that’s the entire…
CHIAKI: Yeah, but you’re not even allowed to go near the wall that surrounds the city. You’re not allowed to talk in the temples. So many little rules and restrictions that they have. Even where they live. They have to live in a rundown, kind of decrepit, old school dormitory that’s been abandoned, and half the place is falling apart.
CY: Right, and it’s on the fringe of everything. It’s kind of out of sight. Which, once again, kind of feels like a commentary in and of itself.
CHIAKI: It even talks about how… And the internalization is also super there because Rakka herself, when she talks about the creation myth of the world, kind of just says, “Oh, yeah, you know, us Haibane, we were a mistake from God and he just thought we were benign mistakes, so he just let us live.” [Chuckles] Oh, no!
CY: [crosstalk] What a brutal way to conceive your existence. Like, “We were God’s fuckups but he said that’s okay!” Oh! That’s so sad! It’s so sad! It’s like toys at the back of Goodwill.
CHIAKI: [Chuckles painfully]
CY: Like, Rakka, girl! It’s such a sad myth they’re born into. Yeah, they’re kind of the castoffs of… humanity? It’s yet to really be clarified if they’re human or not. I’m sure we’re gonna find that out. But it is this sad myth of “We were mistakes but we were allowed to exist.” So, almost in kind for being allowed to exist, they just live a life of service.
VRAI: I do desperately need to know if that episode was made as a deliberate reference to Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde, the painting, because that’s also the episode about pregnancy and motherhood. And I have feelings about that. But The Origin of the World is a painting of just spread legs and a vulva.
CY: Ooh! [Chuckles]
VRAI: Yeah. It’s a very—
CY: Sorry! I tried to think of a more articulate response, but that was the first thing that came out my mouth, which is like, “Oh!”
VRAI: Uh-huh. It is a very famous 1866 realist painting.
CY: And people talk about WAP these days. Christ.
VRAI: And I was left— In fairness, this is something my partner brought up, and then I couldn’t stop thinking about it because the episode where Rakka and Nemu work on that creation myth story is coupled with Nemu’s coworker at the library and how she’s asking about birth and the nobility of motherhood—and that made me roll my eyes a little bit, I’m not going to lie. But it’s doing something with life and death and the juxtaposition thereof, I assume, at some point.
CY: Yeah, that episode was really quite poignant because of that. And also, I know for me the motherhood thing also made me roll my eyes, and I do have feelings about that because something-something biologic essentialism. It’s weird.
VRAI: You know, at least it didn’t do the thing where it had one of the Haibane reminisce about how sad it is that they will never feel complete because they haven’t had children. That’s not of interest to them. Thank God. That’s not a bar—
CHIAKI: Well… I mean—
CY: Oh no. Don’t say “Well,” Chiaki! [Chuckles] Oh no.
CHIAKI: I mean, Prime Minister Abe wasn’t in office at the time, so we were [audio cuts out] from that, that message.
CY: [crosstalk] Okay. We were safe.
CY: Yeah, but it’s just this strange, closed-off world bordered in by walls, literal walls. Drawing a comparison to Kino’s Journey, it makes me think of Kino’s hometown in a lot of ways, where it’s a town where once everyone hits a certain age of maturity, you just fall into a role. And unfortunately, for some of the Haibane, they’re kind of born at an age where they fall into a very specific role, like Rakka.
VRAI: Yeah. Princess Tutu has that image of a walled, prescriptive city, too. I think it was just kind of something in the atmosphere or in the mind of creators at the time, which is interesting. I am not up enough on ‘90s Japanese current events to posit a theory.
CHIAKI: You know, that’s a question that I never really considered.
CY: My only thought could be is that… So, this comes about a decade after some change after the Berlin Wall falls, and that is the biggest physical wall we can think of in the world. And I think, as a child of the ‘90s, because I was born slightly after it, I don’t think about it a lot, but that was a really big change. It was kind of, to use a collegiate term, a paradigm shift in these physical barriers that had been held and had always been in place to some degree. I wonder if that’s an echo of that, because that’s still going to be on people’s mind.
And this comes about a year and just under a month after this big war breaks out that often was talked about like “Is it gonna lead to the Third World War?” So, I have to imagine, there’s a lot of global stuff that’s affecting this thought of walling off, which is really interesting watching this anime in 2022, when Japan has just recently opened up its borders again. That kind of wall metaphor is really interesting to consider right now.
CHIAKI: Even considering the time period in Japan, I guess what you could also think about is, through 1990 or so until the bubble bursts and then throughout the ‘90s, where we have the Lost Decade, Japan kind of could operate on its own, or they felt that they were making a recovery of their own.
The ‘90s onwards really saw them start taking center stage in globalization. Not only their products but their culture was meant to be unleashed and pushed out to help their faltering economy. So, you could maybe speak to some of the cultural anxieties of an increasingly global society that they were trying to live in, the pressures of having to leave behind what it traditionally meant to be a Japanese social identity.
VRAI: You could probably read it positively, or at least positively towards breaking out because of the Lost Decade, too, because these are all stories about people who are anxious about going beyond these walled environments but they are all led by these youthful protagonists who are travelers and challengers and seekers, which is interesting.
CY: And I think walls, too, are just… they’re kind of a universal motif that are very legible no matter what culture you come from. And there’s comfort in having stories where you talk about walls because breaking through or making the decision to keep them or get rid of them is just a very universal feeling. I think that’s kind of the appeal of this show, actually.
VRAI: Yeah. And, well, definitely this is a show about stasis and fears about stasis and pressures of having to find a role that fits you, specifically as relates to labor.
CY: Yeah, because, speaking of labor, being a Haibane kinda sucks! It kinda sucks. You get born into the world. Sometimes your halo works; sometimes it doesn’t.
VRAI: Aw, bud.
CY: And if it doesn’t, you have to wear the saddest contraption to ever… It’s like… It’s like… [Chuckles] To pull from the early 20th century, it’s like a dunce cap but for your halo. And it’s just sad. And then, oh, let’s not forget: your wings have to puncture your skin. And they do show it, in full.
VRAI: That is some good, good body horror!
CY: Oh, it was like, “Wow! Christ, there is so much barbecue sauce all over this wing.”
CHIAKI: Oh yeah, just to mention real quick about that sequence and everything, if you watched the Japanese trailer for this show, it feels like it’s supposed to be this dark drama full of blood and gore, because they use that to play up the fact that this is going to be this very gory and heartfelt drama that’s going to have you at the edge of your seat most of the time.
VRAI: Ha. And that—
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] And then you get the first—
CY: [Chuckles] Gosh, that’s the biggest… No, it’s not. [Chuckles] That scene actually feels like… It just feels painful but in a mundane way. It just feels like someone’s worst day of being sick, but with wings.
CHIAKI: And I think it plays to emphasizing who Reki is as a character, for that scene especially. She is a caretaker. She is supposed to be this big sister of the group, the dependable big sister, because the Haibane have nobody to rely on but themselves, essentially.
They have their temple, their order, but it’s essentially headed by an old man who’s full of these restrictive rules and traditions that all the other Haibane are kind of rolling their eyes at, going like, “We hate going there.” Rakka is really just kinda dropped in, and she would probably not survive if she was the only Haibane.
CY: Oh, yeah. Rakka would be dead.
CHIAKI: Yeah. It’s only because there are other Haibane that she really is able to find her footing in the show.
CY: Yeah, Rakka absolutely would be dead without the others, because her development happens so quickly in that first episode. She goes from her dream of falling, she emerges from the cocoon… Which, it is later noted that there has not been a cocoon in a while, so she is the first in what seems to be a decent amount of time. But she emerges from this huge cocoon and pretty quickly gets really sick. And thank goodness Reki is there, because otherwise it just would have been bad times for Rakka. [Chuckles]
VRAI: I like Reki. She’s definitely the character I enjoy watching the most so far.
CY: I love it that in the dub she says “Damn” constantly.
CY: That is the one word. She’ll smoke and then give us a good “Damn!” And I’m just like, “Ah! I love my bad bird daughter. I love her.” She’s so bad.
VRAI: We do have to pull over for a second to note that you did watch the dub for this very 2003 Pioneer release.
CY: I sure did! [Chuckles] I sure did. Featuring the talents of Carrie Savage, Erika Weinstein, J-Ray Hochfield, Karen Strassman, Stephanie Sheh, [chuckles] Wendee Lee! It’s so 2000s!
CHIAKI: Should I be playing the Saturday Night Live jazz track behind you or something?
CY: I feel like you should’ve. Give me a little saxophone for this one.
CY: It’s a who’s-who of 2000s “before the economy went really bad and anime just got… there was a dark period that we don’t think about” anime. It’s amazing! And they are giving “someone who didn’t really know how to do the ADR” vibes. Because there are some flat performances. I’m not trying to diss anyone. But everyone sounds a little bit like they’re just vaguely disinterested, until the action kinda kicks in and then you’re like, “Oh, no!” [Chuckles] Oh, no. Yeah, it’s a very 2000s dub. And I love it.
CY: Despite my criticisms, I love it.
VRAI: Karen Strassman, who you may remember from the very good, definitely, Higurashi dub by the same company.
CY: Oh, no! [Chuckles]
CY: Oh, no.
CHIAKI: Yeah, sorry, I was—
VRAI: That’s mean of me. That’s really mean of me. That’s not fair to this actor.
CY: It’s not fair to the actor, but it is fair to that dub.
VRAI: It’s not— Pioneer put out Some Dubs (TM). [Inhales] Yeah…
CHIAKI: Their Tenchi Muyo! dub was all right.
CY: Okay, okay. I’ll give them that one. I’ll give them that one. No, but I did indeed watch the dub. And also, the quality on Amazon was standard quality, so it really felt like I was back in 2002.
VRAI: [fond] Ah.
CHIAKI: Just so we’re clear here, it is only standard quality. This was before digital anime.
CY: Oh, right!
CHIAKI: So, I have the fancy-shmancy Blu-ray and everything, right? It’s still, like, 480p.
VRAI: I was going to ask you that because, like you said, I have the original 2002 DVDs and there are some scenes where I am legitimately uncertain of “Is this meant to look kind of fuzzy or is it because the cels that they’re using have degraded?” So I wondered if they’d uprezzed for the Blu-ray. But no, huh?
CHIAKI: No! No, this… Yeah, fair warning. If you plan to watch this, maybe watch it on a small screen and sit like ten feet away from the screen.
CY: Yeah, don’t watch it on, like, a 24-inch monitor up close because it’s shades of brown. [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: It’s gonna look crunchy, and not in the Crunchyroll way.
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah, so it didn’t get the Discotek treatment. That’s too bad.
CHIAKI: You know, they should.
VRAI: They should, though. Discotek is just The Criterion Collection for anime nerds.
CY: I was gonna say: Discotek, you’ve heard it here. Do a rescue!
VRAI: They can’t: it’s still in print!
CHIAKI: Yeah, it’s still in print. Funimation has it.
CY: Dang it! I guess Funimation said “You Should Be Watching from ten feet away.”
VRAI: [Laughs] Now that I’ve derailed us…
CHIAKI: Well, let’s just bring it back real quick to this found-family narrative and also (we touched upon this earlier, but) the sort of queerness behind the show, because… You know, I joked with my girlfriend when we watched it earlier this weekend that Old Home is kind of the idyllic queer pastoral lesbian polycule life.
CY: It is, though! It is, though!
VRAI: It’s got that vibe.
CY: It’s just you and a bunch of AFAB folks or… Because I do believe that we could read space into this world for trans Haibane, but…
VRAI: I mean, I think you could read a lot of these girls as transfem.
CY: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, absolutely, right? And it’s just a bunch of winged people and you get to have dinner together each night and nobody’s ever alone. And it’s just really… If I were queer and had to go to a world… Yeah, this one? I’m eyeing it. I could be the first transmasc Haibane. Though I’m pretty sure we see some of them!
VRAI: [Chuckles] Oh… Oh, yeah.
CHIAKI: I mean, we got skateboard boy.
VRAI: He exists. We put a dude in here.
CHIAKI: That’s true.
VRAI: There is An Dude (TM).
VRAI: That’s how we know that Reki was rebellious: she’s the one bisexual in this lesbian polycule.
CY: I’ll fully admit, that scene where I saw a man, I literally… I paused and I was like, “A guy?!”
CHIAKI: Because when Rakka is born, they gender the Haibane, and I was like, “Okay, well, I’ve seen only people who are femme. So, okay, it’s like a lot of AFAB people and trans women and maybe a nonbinary she/her.” And then we saw a man! And I was just like, “Oh!” [Chuckles]
VRAI: He had to leave because he had that T-boy swag. So, he had to go to the Abandoned Factory commune!
CY: I’m glad that they let him keep the wings, though. That was very nice of them.
But it is just this wonderful, kind of pastoral little queer family!
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah, I really like that scene where Rakka gets her dress, because she goes out in that hideous brown bag that they put on her because “Well, it’s a dress we have and it fits you.” And then she gets to pick out something that makes her look and feel cute. I feel like that’s a really nice little euphoric moment.
CY: Yeah. And he even alters it for her at the shop. It’s really sweet. Because I think he saw that ugly brown dress and was like, “Sweetie, no. No.” It’s bad! But she gets to feel cute and that’s great. And it’s with her family!
VRAI: It’s nice.
CHIAKI: Also, just Rakka in general being the new Haibane on the block… Everyone is nice to her.
CY: So nice.
CHIAKI: And that kinda is what a trans woman might want after they finish transitioning or if they start transitioning, just that acceptance of everyone saying, “You know what? You’re going through it. Let’s just get you set up with what you need. Are you doing all right? Are you getting everything you need? Is everything okay?” That kind of assurance from people, even outside the other Haibane, that’s really nice to feel and have.
CY: It’s very sweet and it’s very tender in the way they treat her, and they never make Rakka feel bad for being new. They understand that she is going through something that all of them experienced in different ways, and it’s just a really nice little, like, queer trans polycule of people making a family.
VRAI: I do really like that this anime has a literal blank slate that exists to be exposited to but it does it in a way that feels natural, in a way that isn’t grating. And I think that’s a pretty sizable accomplishment.
CY: Mm, mm-hm, mm-hm.
VRAI: And I… Yeah… It’s nice. I had another thought but it’s gone. Ha!
CY: I mean, you know, it’s nice like Rakka, who’s very nice and, boy howdy, gets some trauma! [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: So, let’s talk about the Day of Flight.
CY: [daunted] Oh!
VRAI: I still don’t know how I feel about that episode.
CY: Yeah, I’m just gonna reiterate that (content warning) it is very much so adjacent to death by suicide, and it deals with a lot of ideation. I’m just gonna re-throw that out there for people because… Yeah, the Day of Flight! [Chuckles]
VRAI: Yeah, to keep things vague in case you have not watched Dear Brother or listened to our watchalong about it, but that episode with Kuu sort of reminded me of a character death in Dear Brother, where their actual death is a little bit vague but there’s heavy implications of suicide, the overtness of which may or may not be tied to broadcast standards. And I was left wondering, “how much are we supposed to read this character giving things away and seeming at peace as nebulous suicide ideation—suicidality?”
CY: Yeah, I found it very impossible not to read that into that entire scene, because first of all, I did not expect it to be the character that it was! I don’t know who I thought was going to end up experiencing this just really human moment, this really tragically human instance of Kuu being at peace and just giving away stuff and cleaning up that morning and then suddenly just gone.
VRAI: But it’s weird, right? Because those suicidality signs are also coupled with this sense of transcendence, almost enlightenment-type things where Kuu’s accepted her body and accepted who she is and her place in society and things that that gave her anxiety don’t anymore. So it ends up being… I don’t know if it’s even quite muddled, but it’s like it’s doing a lot of things at the same time.
And I get that what the show wants to do is [that] the characters are confused, and also it doesn’t matter if Kuu has gone somewhere else and still exists or is just dead and gone, because the functional impact is that she’s gone and these characters can’t see her again and they have to deal with that loss. But I was left kind of troubled by the ambiguity of the suicide-versus-transcendence message-mixing in a way that I’m not sure if that was intentional or them kind of fumbling putting together some signals.
CY: It kind of feels like how we talked about suicide in the 2000s, actually, how we talked about it in the 2000s into, like, 2010, the way that sometimes it is glorified and in really dangerous ways. And I would say, you don’t see as much of that online now, but there are certainly still times of “the glorification of the release,” which is a really dangerous message.
And the ambiguity bothered me a lot because, for anyone that deals with or has dealt with ideation, there’s no tint around it of acceptance. There’s a kind of acceptance— And now I’m speaking on a very personal level. There’s a kind of acceptance of “This is all I feel I can do,” but there’s no transcendence of a higher-power feeling, right?
And it’s interesting having that in this narrative of: she’s going on to do what some Haibane do— what it seems like most will eventually do?
VRAI: Yeah, it is treated as just like death for these creatures, death and the next stage. It is something that everyone is going to do, is eventually get this calling, which, depending on how you decide to read that, is dark!
CY: I mean, it’s real dark, right? Because there’s no untangling it from the fact of, yeah, one day you will wake up in this world and you will know it’s your time. And you’ll start that process, and then you’ll just be gone. Whew!
VRAI: Yeah, it leaves me wondering, like, “I hope depressed kids who were watching this came out of it feeling seen and like they could keep going on and not like it was okay to let go.” You know?
CY: Yeah. Yeah. If I had to pick up on anything that is very of the era, it is the Day of Flight, that messaging. I’m like, wow, we really do talk about suicidality and death by suicide very differently 20 years later. Which, there’s something really good about that, right? I’m glad that the message has evolved. But when it came to this, I was like, “Oh, my God.” [Chuckles] I can’t imagine having watched this at that time, how I might have felt.
VRAI: Yeah. I mean, Chiaki, you were younger when you saw this for the first time, weren’t you?
CHIAKI: I watched it maybe… Well, so, as I said, I watched the second-to-last episode when I was 14. And then I bought the DVDs maybe when I was 17 or so and watched the full series then.
CY: I’m curious to know what you felt back then.
CHIAKI: I felt like this was kinda a very emotional… But also Kuu going away wasn’t necessarily too surprising for me, right? Because everyone else seemed grounded and they were working through living in Glie, whereas Kuu felt like this ephemeral… I even call her a Manic Pixie Girl in a sense, an entity that’s just kinda there as almost supernatural to drive this drama in the series.
So, when she goes away, her death, essentially, seems to be more of a catalyst to resurface Rakka’s own traumas and self-doubts, as well as Reki’s. And I didn’t really see her as her own character and that her Day of Flight had any real meaning to her personally.
VRAI: Yeah, I see what you mean, that Kuu’s role in the story is mainly to be sort of cute and kind of loopy in that Ed way and just a little ray of sunshine that everybody likes, but without necessarily a lot of interiority—outside of the stuff with the crows, which I think will be interesting to touch on. So, it’s less brutal than it would have been if Reki had died because Reki is clearly wrestling with so much. So much! Hug her!
CY: And I suppose it’s kind of interesting because Kuu’s name…? Isn’t it written with…? I think it’s using the kanji for sky.
CY: So, in a weird twist, it kind of makes sense that the girl who has sky in her name returns back to the sky via this kind of flight. It did pull one tear from me because I was like, “What?” [Chuckles]
I didn’t really… I don’t know, there was just something so somber in the fact that it was just another day. And I think that’s the tragedy: the day is going to continue on, and the only one who’s really kind of deeply affected is Rakka. And it starts off like this physical manifestation chain of events on her wings.
VRAI: Yeah. Maybe the fact that Kuu’s death is so… not perfunctory, but mechanically calculated is why that episode left me a little bit cold. It’s the episode that has to happen so that everything else that happens after can happen. And the first set of these episodes that I really feel like I felt was Rakka struggling with self-harm.
CHIAKI: Mm-hm. So, I just wanted to pose this question, then. You know, the crow plays a huge role in Rakka’s dream. And throughout the series, you also see Kuu and Rakka kinda sympathizing with the crows while Kana, named after a river fish who might happen to hate birds, hates birds. But when Rakka’s wings start to grow black, do you feel there is that kind of connection to the crows, that maybe Rakka is a crow, somebody who might one day fly away over the wall, as well?
CY: I do, but for different reasons. Her flight is going to be a flight to something else, it feels like, versus where Kuu’s flight feels very ritual. This is just staying the course of being a Haibane. Rakka feels much more like she’s about to become something that’s not a Haibane. And I don’t know how her world’s going to deal with that, right? Because the town she lives in, called Glie, literally kinda…
CY: I mean, the only one who’s not truly… And she even says… in the English dub, she’s like, “I thought this was a paradise. But now I’m not so sure.” And that’s kind of in the wake of the events with Kuu. And so, paradise isn’t paradise if you’re not happy with it. So, yeah, I think she’s going to become something else. I’m really curious about that.
VRAI: Yeah, there’s definitely planting for Rakka as this sort of bridge figure. You know, she has this affinity with crows. She talks to Kana about feeling sympathy with her tough-love philosophy, but also with the fact that, you know, crows gotta eat. Crows gotta eat. And then you’ve got her black feathers, which she’s internalized a lot of fears about.
But then, because of that, she becomes this catalyst for Reki to be able to talk about her internalized shame at bleaching her feathers. Boy, you could do a lot of reading into that. [Chuckles]
CY: Mm-hm, mm-hm! You sure could! [Chuckles] Had that same thought!
VRAI: Just thinking about all the stories in Japan specifically about kids who’ve had hair fall out because of school standards and stuff, because it was a non-normative color, and bullying and harassment.
Anyway… But yeah, so, she’s clearly somebody who… I don’t think anybody’s going to take down this system. It doesn’t feel like that kind of anime that is interrogating it on that level, but I think that she personally will find a way to step outside of it to something different.
VRAI: Oh, heck, we’re at an hour almost! We had a talk!
CY: This show is just so good to talk about.
CHIAKI: Yeah. And this kinda goes into some of the closing questions that we did want to talk about, which is what do you think is going to happen next? And I guess what you said, Vrai… You don’t feel that this is going to necessarily take down the system; it’s not going to burn everything down. But any other thoughts there?
VRAI: Yeah, I suspect this will end with Rakka going on to parts unknown, and then we’ll fade away and we won’t know where she’s gone either, but the important thing is that she goes… kind of thing. I assume we’ll kill at least one more character on the way out.
CY: I am going to posit a buckwild theory.
CY: I think this is all an allegory about being born again. I’m talking like… oh, what’s that manga, After School Something?
VRAI: After School Nightmare, my eternal nemesis, that manga.
CY: I think this is going that route. I think if you don’t fly away… Flying away maybe is your second chance at life, some sort of thing like that, which also could be a very dangerous message in tandem with this show’s conversation about suicidality.
But I think Rakka is either gonna find… She’s gonna get an answer to if she’s human or not. We’re gonna find that out, because maybe if your Day of Flight comes but you reject it, you—I don’t know, lose your wings. I don’t know. But I’m positive this is about life. That’s what this is getting at.
CHIAKI: I, of course, know what happens fully, so I am going to refrain from opining on that.
VRAI: You are recused from commenting.
CHIAKI: Yes. Let’s see. Just to make sure we didn’t miss anything… Oh yeah. Do you have any theories about who the Haibane are or what the city of Glie is?
VRAI: They’re dead and it’s purgatory.
CY: I was gonna say they are absolutely not alive. [Chuckles] They are absolutely not alive.
CHIAKI: Okay! [Laughs]
CY: Maybe it’s the collective consciousness of all these spirits dreaming a world where they could be happy. But yeah, it’s purgatory, still.
CHIAKI: Okay. So, we in a good direction right now?
VRAI: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to watching the rest of it.
CY: I love these one-cour shows that just do something weird. It’s great. It’s really interesting.
VRAI: Very annoyingly, as we record this, it is streamable but only… it’s like the last thing that you still have to have a specifically Funimation sub for, which is annoying. But, you know, it’s the show’s 20th anniversary.
CY: [crosstalk] Wait. Excuse me. I didn’t have to buy this on Amazon? [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: Wait, no, I tried to look it up on Funimation and it refused to show for me.
CY: Okay. Vindication. [Chuckles] Because the only way I found it was buying it on Amazon for $4.99.
CHIAKI: I mean, that’s a steal. I think I paid like 16 bucks.
CY: It’s a steal, y’all.
CHIAKI: For a Blu-ray that doesn’t even upscale.
VRAI: No, it’s on there. It’s just that it is video for subscribers only, so it is locked behind their paywall.
CHIAKI: Oh, God. Okay, that’s what it was.
CY: Oh, I could’ve watched it. Dang!
CHIAKI: [Sighs] Sorry about that.
VRAI: Streaming monopolies are bad.
CY: They are.
CHIAKI: Mm-hm. Alrighty, well, we’ll close this out since we are at the hour. So, we’ll see how the second half of the show plays out. But before we close out this episode, for those watching along at home, again, remember that this show does delve into loss and suicide, and more so on the second half. So, content warning: if this first half was a little heavy, it will get a lot more heavier.
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