Chiaki, Vrai, and Cy return with the second half of Haibane Renmei to discuss its thematic inspirations, depictions of suicide in anime, and the impactful finale.
Date Recorded: October 30, 2022
Hosts: Chiaki, Vrai, Cy
0:07:10 The ending first
0:10:00 What are the haibane?
0:14:20 Christian? Buddhist?
0:28:31 True name
0:33:25 Portrayal of suicide
0:43:57 Suicide in Japanese culture
0:46:15 Personal reactions
0:53:16 Final thoughts
0:56:18 Halo touching
CHIAKI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF: The Anime Feminist Podcast. You’re here on the second and final part of our watchalong of 2002 anime Haibane Renmei. I’m Chiaki Hirai, one of the editors for AniFem. You can find me @Chiaki747 or @AnimatedEmpress on Twitter. And if I debut as a VTuber, I might get a third account. Today we have Vrai and Cy back to talk about the second half of the show.
CY: Hi, everyone. My name’s Cy, and you can find me @pixelatedlenses on Twitter, where I’m talking about cool stuff, talking about editing visual novels and light novels, and just having a good time.
VRAI: Yay! Hey, I’m Vrai Kaiser. I’m the managing content editor at Anime Feminist, and you can find my freelance work and stuff on Twitter @WriterVrai.
CHIAKI: All right. So, today we’re going to talk about the second half of Haibane Renmei. As I said, content warnings continuing from last time: there is character death, a lot of mentioning of suicide ideation, trauma, and grief. Oh boy, it’s a lot. Anything else that you think I should add?
CY: I think that really covers this part, because it’s just… bad.
VRAI: Yeah, there’s… Yeah. Yeah, yeah. There’s a lot… I guess, yeah, the self-harm kind of carries over from last time.
CHIAKI: And just before we get back into the meat and potatoes of this conversation, last episode I did mention that I came into the series at episode 12…
CHIAKI: … where you will have no idea what is going on! But you can kind of understand where I was coming from when I said I was enchanted by this show, watching it at 2 A.M. in the morning, right?
CY: Yeah. Yeah. I can understand, uh-huh.
CHIAKI: What’s kind of funny, though, is that this show, mind you, aired in the summer season. Right? Er, well, no, is it spring?
VRAI: Mm. I think it started in October, the Wikipedia said, so it was like a winter anime.
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] No, it couldn’t have, because I was there in the summer and…
CY: Okay. Okay, I’ma fact-check you both. [Chuckles] October twenty— Oh wait, I almost said “October twenty-oh-two.” October 2002 to December 2002. It was a fall ’02 anime.
VRAI: Did they maybe rerun it in the summer of ’03, when you were in Japan?
CHIAKI: Maybe. I guess that’s the case because I wouldn’t have seen it in winter. I don’t go to Japan in the winter, so I definitely saw it in the summer. So, it was really weird watching in the midst of summer this anime’s finale, which is very cold.
CY: I mean, it would make sense that they would rerun it because the DVDs come out the next year. So, that’s a good promo boost.
CHIAKI: I guess so.
VRAI: Side note: some good anime came out in 2002. We got Azumanga Daioh, Standalone Complex, Princess Tutu, and, additionally, the original Tokyo Mew Mew and Naruto both started in 2002.
CY: Dattebayo, nyan! Yes! I love it!
CY: I love it.
VRAI: Which were, if nothing else, both influential and good at times!
CHIAKI: So, I think whenever you say anime used to be good or whatever, you just think back to 2002 and check if anyone was watching back then. Okay!
VRAI: I mean, in fairness, there were also some very not-good anime in 2002.
CHIAKI: We don’t remember those anymore because that was 20 years ago.
VRAI: Exactly! Exactly!
CY: Oh, that was 20 years ago. Wow! Okay! So…
CHIAKI: So, how y’all doing?
CY: Yo, Chiaki, what the fuck?
CY: Real talk. My friend. My friend, wow! This is very… This anime… whew, sad! Oh my God.
CY: So many emotions! Reki!
CY: Reki is really putting the “rek” in wrecked. Wow. That last episode would definitely have been strange to see with no context, because having the context, it hurts! It’s just like, wow! This is—
VRAI: That was the penultimate episode, the totally-not-Christmas/New-Year’s one.
CHIAKI: I watched the magical, ephemeral “We hand out—”
CY: Right, you watched episode 12!
CHIAKI: Yeah. “We hand out the magical nuts…”
CY: Yeah, the bell nuts.
CHIAKI: “… the bell nuts to everyone…”
CY: Hate that.
CHIAKI: “… as thank-yous for the end of the year.” I actually missed the finale because it was 2 A.M. So, I was curious whatever happened for the longest time, and I got the DVDs later. But yeah.
CY: What a wild episode to see, the ones where they give (look, I’m not trying to diss the town of Glie, but) these shitty nuts to other people!
VRAI: They do kinda suck.
CY: Suck so bad! You have to give them while staying quiet, and people just look happy because they don’t have anything else to give for Christmas! It feels like when at Halloween you get a box of raisins. It’s just bad. They get these bad nuts! [Chuckles]
VRAI: It’s more like you go around waiting for your friends to give you their mood ring.
VRAI: It’s like that combined with an astrology reading for the year, except it’s for your relationship with your loved ones.
CY: It’s got a very Magic 8 Ball vibe about it, like “Give this red one if you want to say thank you.” And it’s just so sad! And then, backset in that is Reki having a breakdown! [Chuckles] Just having a real bad time.
CHIAKI: Like “Hey, Reki! How are you feeling? Aren’t you gonna thank anyone?” No!
CY: Yeah. [Chuckles] It is a really curious ending. That’s how I feel. How did you feel, Vrai?
VRAI: I would like to propose… and obviously it’s the other way around because, you know, linear time, but events occur in the order in which I perceive them. So, I would like to propose that Haibane Renmei is an inverse of Wonder Egg Priority in that it should probably only be, like, a six-episode OVA. It really does feel like the show doesn’t start till halfway through, when it starts being about Reki. But despite starting off not even bad but a little rough and aimless, once it finds its feet, it manages to tell an emotionally satisfying and subtle story about teenage girl suicide.
CY: Yeah! You know, I did think a lot about Wonder Egg Priority, and I thought a lot about another show that oddly is not at all connected to either one of those, Another, while watching this.
VRAI: Really! Ooh, why?
CY: Yeah, yeah. So, what kept coming back to mind as we’re watching these really intense last few episodes was the concept of catastrophe and calamity as a supernatural force versus it being something that is just a thing that comes for us all. And in Another, the connection to death causes this supernatural act of God that causes these very specific events.
And here, it kind of plays out based on your proximity to impurity and purity and based on your true name. Reki’s just kind of given this act of God that almost nips at her heels throughout life, of creating the self-fulfilling prophecy that she is very unworthy and she’s just going to be abandoned, and ultimately, it is her downfall. And, I guess, downfall for us, but for Haibane it’s fulfilling your purpose, which is very fraught. And yeah, and so, Another kept popping into mind because of that.
VRAI: Thankfully, this did not change genres in the worst possible way in literally the last episode, Another.
CY: [Chuckles] Yeah. Could you imagine?
CY: No, it stays the course.
VRAI: I really liked the back half because it’s definitely an anime that… And I like Rakka. She has interiority and she has personality and drive, but her arc is essentially over by about episode 8, and I think the series really benefited from just leaning into being about Reki, the most complex character.
CY: Yeah. It also felt good to have my theory validated, that… I think last time I said I thought they were all dead. No, I thought they were all going to be reborn as babies. That didn’t happen. Spoiler alert: that’s not what happens. I just think they’re all dead.
VRAI: All dead of suicide. Which… Is that also the children?
CY: Yeah, mm, good question.
CHIAKI: Okay, so, that is a thing to debate about, because some people… I personally thought everyone died by suicide initially, but over the years I’ve thought about it and it doesn’t quite make sense, right?
VRAI: Right. Is it everyone? Is it just Rakka and Reki?
CHIAKI: Yeah, because it’s this concept of “If you have the black feathers, that is a mark of sin,” which talks about how you are born into this with a mark that your death was not only unnatural but it was something of your own device.
CY: I guess unnatural and amoral, kind of.
CHIAKI: Yeah. So, I’ve come to kind of understand the Haibane as… And they’re all children, or they’re all young, right? Especially all of those kids in the orphanage. My idea is that they are just children who died for various reasons without having lived long enough to really develop and pass on as a fully formed human being.
VRAI: To steal a line from Shadows House, they died without developing a personality…
CHIAKI: Or something like that.
VRAI: That’s just for me and the five… That’s just for me.
VRAI: But yeah, no, I see what you mean, and I think that might be what the show is going for. It might make more sense.
On the other hand, I think maybe reading it that way goes back to the whole fact that the show’s metaphor being a little bit vague is sort of fraught for it at some points, because it’s dabbling around with Christian iconography through the angels but its philosophy seems to be more Buddhist, as you note in the show notes, like letting go of attachments and self-assessing and the concept of the philosophical riddle and stuff. So, if we frame being sin-bound as an objective mark of suicide as an immoral act, then I don’t really know what we do with that, especially because they are children.
CY: Yeah. It really gets messy when you do frame it that way, right? And, granted, there are definitely still some people of the Christian faith who do feel that suicide is a fully immoral act and that in doing it you are damned to hell. But it—
VRAI: Yes, yes, I was raised Catholic.
CY: [Chuckles] Okay! Okay, it was like, I don’t know if I’m speaking to someone on this, because I was raised Methodist and that’s just… I mean, that’s close, right? And so, I kept really struggling with deciding ultimately what I felt the metaphor wa,s because there’s a lot of use of predetermination, which is a very Christian notion of “you’re born into this world, and from the moment of your first breath, from the moment that you exist, it’s determined where you’re gonna go; either you’re gonna ascend or you’re going to descend.”
But that also feels really too simple for what this show feels like it’s trying to say about the liminality of existing in a very contained life where you are born into a role. But I also just… Only purgatory could come up with bell nuts.
VRAI: Yeah, I did want to ask you, Chiaki, because I know you’re not a practicing Buddhist but you’re a little bit more baseline familiar with it, if you thought it was… Is the angel stuff just “We’ve put on a Christian aesthetic hat,” like anime sometimes likes to do, or is there some more Japanese folklore or something that it could also be tying into from that side?
CHIAKI: Well, the concept of Buddhism is the cycle, right? You keep cycling through rebirth until you ascend to a higher plane. So, the concept of angels doesn’t really exist per se.
Japanese Buddhism is a little weird. There is a thing where instead of being reborn as a… The concept of heaven and hell is you are reborn into a different realm. If you did bad things, you are reborn in a lower rung and get to suffer through a worse world where you have to repent, and once you figure out you’re doing better, you get to be reborn once again in the human realm and then you can do good things and be reborn into a better realm. So, the concept of angels are a little alien. I think this is definitely looking at Western, Christian iconography and saying, “Okay, that looks cool. We should use that.”
And going back to the idea of “This show really finds its feet in the latter half,” yeah, I think when Abe was considering how this world is set up, he just kind of threw things in there into a pot, hoping it’ll work, and just tried to write his way out of it. Right? So, I would understand if the iconography and the overall message kind of gets muddled because there probably wasn’t a strong foundation to this in the first place.
VRAI: It is just kind of noodling in a way that I feel like it could have benefited from a stronger sense of thoughtfulness in preproduction rather than just saying, “We like this guy’s work, and on that basis, we are going to just let him do some stuff.”
But at the same time, as much as Abe’s tendency to be vague can frustrate me (like I said last time, I think at its worst, it can sometimes feel like wanting to seem deep without having a whole lot of substance behind it), I think in the show’s back half, it really works to the show’s advantage when it is discussing suicide, because it never uses the word but it is very, very clear to the audience that is ideally going to be watching this, that is old enough to be watching this, what is happening. And that means it gets to focus in on these feelings of loss and fear and regret without really being lurid in how they died and the grotesquerie of it.
And putting aside the ambiguity around the sin-bound thing and whether that’s about personal perception or objective perception and all of that, I liked very much this concept about “Sin isn’t about waiting for God to give you absolution; it’s about communing with the people you hurt.” It’s a two-part process of: you have to recognize and understand what you’ve done, and you have to have somebody who you affected who is willing to absolve you of that. And that’s the combined thing that will free you from it.
VRAI: Whereas… Mm, go ahead.
CHIAKI: No, I was just gonna say that is a good way to lead into… I know we really want to talk about Reki because the show is ultimately about Reki. But maybe we should just touch a little bit about Rakka’s arc because it kind of grounds the series in the first place through her chasing after her bird to kinda find absolution inside that well.
I’m just curious what your thoughts are in terms of what it means for Rakka’s journey to come full circle with the bird that was in her dream and the prominence it played and how it leads her to yet another bird, this time one that’s dead.
CY: It was really interesting for me because Rakka starts off this series really charmed by Glie, really in love with it, and then has it very both abruptly and also slowly kind of ruined, like that veil of paradise falls. She kind of has her forbidden-fruit moment where she realizes, “Oh, this place I live and I love is a wall. It’s not somewhere I really want to be.” And then she chases this bird and Rakka ends up in need of Lassie because this child falls into a well…
CY: … and has this really poignant moment where she’s able to come back to a degree of acceptance and a degree of understanding that she’s going to be okay despite the fact that everything seems like it’s falling around her. And what stuck out for me is just Rakka is able to kind of find peace in this dream and in the bird imagery and in seeing this bird that Reki just never gets. And it’s kind of what actually saves her from this being her story.
I will admit, I had to rewatch the bird stuff a second time because I was like, “What is happening? So much is going on!” [Chuckles] But it was interesting because it kind of brings her full circle back to a stage of peace. And she’s kind of able to accept this weird liminality living in this place that’s only as wide as the walls allow it.
VRAI: The bird imagery is interesting because I think it’s sort of… If I were to put on my critic hat and look at the series as a whole, it’s interesting in that you can tell that they made it up as they go along because the bird imagery kind of mutates based on what the plot needs, and then once Rakka has her epiphany, it sort of goes away until it comes back in that really nice way in the finale in a different way again.
So, the image of the crows as these potentially antagonistic forces or as creatures who might… you know, they’re stand-ins for the Haibane and what might happen if they’re coddled versus the question of tough love; but they’re also these sort of guideposts for Rakka; but they’re also sort of these creatures who can go beyond and serve as messengers for what we lost; but a Haibane can also be a crow, because it’s just a bird now and…
CY: Very flexible birds.
CHIAKI: I mean, the show even goes as far as saying, “The crows just deliver what you need.”
VRAI: Yeah, it’s very loose and flexible. But I say that just to say that. I don’t actually hold it against the show all that much, because I think that the moments that work, really work.
I was really struck by that image of this regret, after the fact, that somebody did care. I feel like that’s really poignant, especially because so much of the audience this show really stuck with, it seems like, are people who struggled with suicidal ideation. And not everybody is lucky enough to have a support network, but I feel like for a lot of teenagers especially, a lot of times there is at least that one person who is there and loves you and wants to help you.
CY: Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting. a lot of what’s carried alongside with this specific motif of the crows and Rakka is… she has some really severe dissociation about actually being quite calm about death, and it’s calm in the numb way that I think happens when you deal with ideation.
And it’s calm in a way that is enticing in its dangerousness, because there is that kind of willingness, because Rakka at one point… I can’t remember her exact words, but it struck me that Rakka doesn’t necessarily want to die but she was in a state where if she had fallen asleep and not woken up, that alluring concept wouldn’t have been far, and it’s only by the fact that she does kind of get grace through the realization of support in being able to get out the well that she doesn’t go the way that other characters might have. It’s quite [stumbles over word] haunting—haunt—haunting. Oh, that’s a hard word. It’s quite haunting.
VRAI: I also like to think that if she were alive and if this show’s fashion sense were a little bolder, Rakka would totally be a goth. Not just because the whole image of crows as guides and signposts did make me think of The Crow (rest in peace, Brandon Lee), but I like that Rakka’s job eventually becomes: working to gather materials for the halos.
I think a lot of people who survive suicidal ideation do find healing in death positivity and working with this fascination that they’ve had but turning it into something healthy and positive, rather than… I think sometimes the conventional wisdom can be “Well, you won’t want to kill yourself if you just stop thinking about death.”
CY: Right. As if it’s that easy, right?
CHIAKI: Right. It’s her own way of working through everything and accepting it. I really like how… And it just also allows you the viewer to get acquainted with the larger concept of the order of the Haibane, as well, through Rakka being quote-unquote “punished” with her new job, which seems to be more something that is going to help her than anything. And she also seems to be somebody who has become an insider in all of this to really be able to perform the work to help other people like Reki.
CY: Yeah! I love this sweet child. Seeing her down there and seeing her in between the wall is really interesting, because getting that peek into how halos are made and then learning about the concept of dual names was really interesting. Shoutout to my girl for not losing the raft.
CY: She’s doing her duty so well and she’s just trying to heal, and then she forgets to tether the raft! [Chuckles] And she just goes dashing after it. But isn’t that how life is when you are dealing with the recovery process of ideation? Just foibles abound, because that is the wonderful part of being human, is you can go through something that always leaves a mark on you (and this might be personal) like feelings of ideation, but you can go through something so tough that leaves this kind of memory on you and you can still come through and still just be very human. And that’s lovely.
VRAI: Yeah, the inside of the wall has that neat river of Lethe [pronounced “LAY-thee”]… Lethe [pronounced “LEE-thee”], Lethe [pronounced “leth”]? You know, the Greek river in the underworld [unintelligible due to crosstalk] you’d forget…
CHIAKI: You mean Styx?
VRAI: Uh, yeah. But also it goes around and around, so it’s got that cycle imagery. It’s some nice… The visuals in this are nice in an understated way, even if I sometimes wish they were a little bit less brown.
CHIAKI: And also, I’m not sure if you folks know about it, but there’s the concept of true names that we touched upon very briefly. But that is a Buddhist thing where after you die, you get a new name, to sit next to the Buddha in the afterlife. The whole thing is, the more money you pay, the better name you get and the closer you get to sit. But…
VRAI: I didn’t realize there were indulgences in Buddhism.
CHIAKI: Oh yeah.
CY: I was just about to say, wait a second, that feels very counterintuitive!
CY: I did not realize that.
CHIAKI: Welcome to Japanese Buddhism, by the way. My sect is weird. But anyway, yeah, you get a post-death name in Buddhism, in Japan, usually. And I think it plays to that theme of once you have passed on, once your Day of Flight is here, you assume your new true being in the true afterlife instead of this purgatory.
CY: Because I did find it interesting that their name doesn’t change; the characters used to write it change. So, Rakka is still Rakka; it’s just that the meaning changes.
CHIAKI: Little Nut.
CY: Yeah. And I was like, “Oh, Little Nut. Love that.” That really kind of encases… it felt like a very natural meaning for her. And then you have Reki, who…
CY: Y’all, Reki’s in the English dub was rough! They straight-up said [Chuckles] (I’m trying to find it in my notes) “the one who was run over and torn asunder.” And I was like, oh.
VRAI: That is what the subtitles say!
CHIAKI: No, that is what they say in Japanese. “Reki” means to be, like, rent asunder.
CY: I was like, oh, what a rough fate to be given!
CHIAKI: I mean, that is how she entered this purgatory, literally throwing herself into a train.
VRAI: And that is the most overt the series gets about its imagery, and even then, it feels extremely stressful but I wasn’t grossed out by it. I didn’t feel exploited. —Not me, but you know what I mean.
CHIAKI: When was that manga about the girls who commit suicide by train in groups?
VRAI: Are you thinking of Suicide Club?
CHIAKI: Suicide Club! Yes. When was that?
VRAI: That was in the ‘90s. I know because Discotek just announced the film. They licensed it. I didn’t realize…
CY: [crosstalk] I did not either.
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] So, this would be coming in as the post–Suicide Club world, where… And Japanese suicides are very often done by train. That’s like the easiest way to do it, although it is highly, highly discouraged for various reasons. But yeah, in Japan it’s definitely iconic as “Oh, yeah, absolutely, suicide,” compared to other things.
VRAI: It is interesting that Rakka’s death basically just repeats Lain’s.
CY: Oh! Does Lain die?
VRAI: Yeah, that’s how the series opens, is she does plunge headfirst off a roof. [Editor’s Correction: It’s actually a different girl who dies in the opening scene, not Lain]
CY: Oh, Jesus! [Chuckles] Oh my God. Woof! Okay, I did not know that. I think I’ve seen a little bit of Serial Experiments Lain, but I don’t remember that for some reason.
VRAI: Well, good news: we’re doing that sometime.
VRAI: We’ll see if I still dislike it!
CY: [Chuckles] That’s… Okay, that’s interesting.
CHIAKI: I mean, given the fact that it’s the same character designer, right…?
VRAI: Yeah, no, I’m sure it is on purpose.
CHIAKI: Yeah. Abe definitely probably thought like, “What would Lain’s life be like in the afterlife?” … I guess is his take on what Lain ultimately diverged from. Who knows.
VRAI: Yeah, yeah, it’s “What about finding closure?” as opposed to “What about becoming god of the internet?”
CHIAKI: Can be both.
VRAI: Can be both! Yeah, but I do really like that the climax of the series is that concept, that very powerful thing that is a hell of a thing to pull off without feeling victim-blamey: that, at a certain point, being depressed and suicidal is scary and it’s hard and it drags you down but you have to take the step to reach out to the people around you. You have to ask for help.
CY: Yeah. It really is that kind of double-edged sword o:f there is a degree of help needing to be offered, but it is that thing, also, of you do have to reach out. And that’s such a powerful moment.
Like you said, it doesn’t feel weird and gazey the way that I think a lot of times narratives about suicide and suicidality often feel. I often find for myself that narratives of suicide and suicidality feel like they are made for people who have not felt that feeling [so they can] feel good about not feeling that feeling and about what they could possibly do if they spotted it in the wild, if a family member or a loved one or someone they saw… rather than humanizing those very intense feelings that are very real.
VRAI: Yeah, and I think one part of it is that the person who saves her is Rakka, somebody else who died by suicide. And I think part of it is also that we spend so much time with Reki beforehand really living in her head, and that one line… because it doesn’t treat Rakka as just “too gosh-darn stupid and selfish to realize that people care about her, darn it.” She says, “I’m scared that what if I, from the bottom of my heart, ask for help and nobody says anything?”
CHIAKI: And that’s a real mood. That is a real, real mood.
VRAI: It’s that thing of “I’m just going to not try very hard because what if I try my hardest and still fail?” but at a much more dire level. I think it’s something that people can really connect with even if they’ve never been to a place that dark.
CY: And it’s a real mood, but also, she kinda has evidence because everyone perceives Reki as being the strong, responsible one. Who’s to say that she wasn’t right, maybe, that had Rakka not been there… Who knows? And that’s what stuck out to me. I was like, yeah, sometimes for some people, unfortunately, that does happen: they call out and there is no response. And it’s just kind of fortunate—fortunate in this very bittersweet way—that Rakka was there to answer that call.
VRAI: Yeah, because there are characters like Nemu, for example, who love Reki, and Hyouko and Midori, and they all very much care about her, but they don’t perceive the way that she is hurting in the way Rakka can as somebody who has also suffered in a similar way. And that sense of community that it really evokes is very touching.
CHIAKI: And just to talk about that, there’s this collection of characters in this show of people who seem to understand that. And it’s not just Rakka and Reki, but also the elder from the order. It also feels like the elder is, himself, kind of what would happen if Reki never resolved her traumas and her issues to not have a Day of Flight that… Eventually, I think it’s assumed that she would assume the role of serving in the order as a faceless, wordless Communicator/priest.
VRAI: Yeah, that… I am of two minds about that whole entire element of the mythos because it’s really nice to have that— First of all, it’s a real bugbear if you’re reading this for trans vibes because it’s got the whole “You didn’t transition in time. Fail! Your opportunity is lost.”
CHIAKI: Mm. Mm-hm, mm-hm.
VRAI: Mm-hm, mm-hm. I also… Obviously it’s mostly because we need this character who has lived through this and can be around to give Rakka advice, but it’s interesting and a little fraught to put a very adolescence-based time limit on this sense of overcoming and getting to know who you are.
CHIAKI: Mm-hm. For sure. People don’t recover from this easily, and some people work on it well into their adulthood.
CY: Well, and I think the scare-quotes “uglier” side is that some people never… some people, until the day they draw their last breath, that is the struggle they have. And so, there is something very fraught about saying, “You have until this age that marks the end of adolescence, that end of innocence and youth, to get it together. Otherwise, there’s another role for you,” because yeah, some people struggle with this there. You know, the concept of treading water is something that extends for many people far into adulthood.
VRAI: It’s the double-edged sword of doing your story as an allegory, right? Because it means you can cover more stuff and reach an audience that’s a little broader, because you can take a slightly lighter touch than if you were dealing with the issues directly. And I think some of Rakka’s conversations with the Communicator are really nice and helpful. I really liked that conversation where he gives her the riddle, for example. I thought that was quite nice.
But while I was watching this, I ended up thinking a lot about another series that came out recently. So, I ended up thinking about Midnight Club, which is this year’s Mike Flanagan series (we are a big Mike Flanagan household), because it is a series that is explicitly about a hospice center for dying teenagers. So, it covers some of the same ground that Haibane Renmei does, but it is able to, I think, be a little bit more clear-cut about it because it is just directly engaging with the thing that Haibane Renmei is doing more abstractly. And so, I was thinking about the pros and cons thereabout.
CY: And I guess it needs to be said that I do think, when it comes to thinking about suicide and how this is used and the allegory of the show, it does feel like how I feel like things were talked about at this time, because I think that’s some of the dissonance that came up in my mind that I had to just kind of quietly shoosh—not that it’s not okay to look at the disparity in how we speak about suicidality, but more so that this feels, very much so, how it was talked about in the early 2000s.
And granted, in 2002, I was 10. You know, I consider myself very fortunate that suicide, at that age, was not something that I have memory of dealing with. I am 100% sure I can’t say that for every single 10-year-old on this planet at all. But it does feel, very much so, how the narrative was at the time. And I have to imagine at the time, if I had been this age, this would have been incredibly poignant, given how we discussed and thought about suicide and the conversation being had around it.
And while I can’t speak to that in Japan, I feel like in the US, it was a much more kid-gloves conversation and a lot of allegory was used around it. But I think that also doesn’t dismiss the fact that the allegory used here is really… I think there’s a reason why it resonates in 2022.
VRAI: Yeah, I mean, listen, I want to give Haibane Renmei all the recognition for how sensitively it handles this subject matter on a television broadcast, because not only is this 2002… Again, I opened this podcast by comparing it to Wonder Egg Priority, a show that is deeply offensive in its handling of teenage girl suicide! And, you know…
CY: Just not good.
VRAI: And that show was in 2020! And US side, 2017, we had 13 Reasons Why, a show that came out on Netflix, and every expert in mental health care and suicidality said, “This is exactly the opposite of how you should portray suicide in media in order to not romanticize it!”
So, yeah, again, many kudos for this 2002 series that manages to both be about “Don’t do suicide” and also “Mentally ill folks are some of the strongest in being able to recognize and help one another” and also “This is an understandable mood and you’re not alone if you’ve struggled with these feelings.” That’s a lot! And that alone, I think, is worth this show being remembered as strongly as it is, even with some of the wibblier aspects of it.
CHIAKI: Just to set the stage a bit about this show, or at least in Japanese media culture, suicide is a major social topic in Japan, especially since the ‘90s. Since the economic bubble burst, suicide rates skyrocketed due to financial instability, children also copying what they see adults do… There was a lot of threat to even children as young as elementary school-aged committing suicide because of bullying. This was a thing.
So, when you see suicide in mass media, you know, dramas and everything, during that time a lot of it was just romanticized. It was just this thing of “Oh, wow, shocking.” It was done for the shock value rather than any kind of real analysis of what it means to feel this low, hit that point in your life. And so, I think this show really, taking what happened from Lain, even, during the first episode, kind of delves into what should be done on the subject. And I think it was progressive for the time, and it continues to even be progressive today.
CY: Because I was—
VRAI: Yeah, as you— Oh. As you said that, I had the brief thought of “Is this entire series Abe’s apology for the first episode of Lain?”
CHIAKI: [Laughs] I mean, given the fact that… And when I said it last episode, it’s the same thing. Abe was probably going through some shit when he wrote this. He was absolutely going through some shit. So, I don’t know, maybe this is penance. I can’t speak for him. I have his phone number. Maybe I’ll call him, but…
CHIAKI: I shouldn’t. [Laughs]
CY: This show is going to sit with me for a while because it made me feel… and this is like, “Hi, it’s Cy’s Personal Corner.” It made me feel… and I’m so sorry, I’m starting to tear up, also. It made me feel very human in a way that a lot of the narrative, still, around suicide and suicidality often doesn’t. It is a fictional show, right? I regret to inform listeners I don’t have a halo or angel wings. [Chuckles] But—
CHIAKI: We all wish.
CY: Right? It felt very humanizing in a way. And I’m not sure necessarily what to do with that, because there’s a fraughtness with feeling humanized while also being a person who lives with ideation. But it made me feel normal, to use a word that… “Normal” is a very subjective word, but it made me feel like a person whose emotionality and humanity mattered even though I’m someone who also actively lives with having a very tenuous relationship with life. It felt really… I don’t know. Just felt… it’s a really good show! It’s very memorable, very powerful.
VRAI: Yeah, I am not somebody who has struggled with ideation in that active sort of way. Intrusive thoughts that felt very separate from myself are always more my deal. But I definitely teared up during that last episode, which was so unexpected because a lot of my appreciation of this show has been very intellectual, because I spent a lot of time going, “Well, I’m not a teenager, so I can appreciate the ways in which this hits but I may be past this point in my life where I would have really needed this.” And then that definitely got me good!
CY: It really did!
CY: It really did.
CHIAKI: And just to touch on Reki and her whole deal… I am somebody who struggles with ideation constantly. Even today, I am essentially passively suicidal, as some people call it. And for the longest time, I just kind of appreciated Reki, too, as a philosophical point, something that I got on a philosophical level but not something that I can really understand with my own being.
And that kind of processing, even when I watched it back in the 2000s, really didn’t register, so it definitely was something that took a while for me to appreciate. And having this opportunity to rewatch the series today, I can kind of reflect and really see that better, which I appreciate.
CY: Yeah. The biggest thing I think this series has left me with is this desire to see a place for anime that allow… not necessarily… I don’t want to use “depth” because I think there’s a lot of anime that are very simple plots that are quite deep, but I really wish there was space for anime that challenge you like this, that really provoke this really deep reflection, because I’m going to be thinking about this show probably until the end of the year. It would not shock me if I don’t write something about it because it really has given me a lot of food for thought in a way that I did not expect to find from a 2002 series.
But I really wish in modern day… and it’s impossible, I think, because of the amount of anime just being churned out every season. But I wish there was a place for series like this where there’s this really beautiful allegory and really deep introspection that adds a lot, and it’s just done over 13 episodes. It’s not going to get a part two. It’s not…
CHIAKI: And it doesn’t need a part two.
CY: Right. It is what it is, and what it is is it’s really good. It’s not perfect, but I don’t think anything is. But it’s good. And similarly to you, Chiaki, I am someone who is not actively suicidal but I’m very passively… but I deal with ideation everyday by proxy of my OCD, and so, something like this that lets me process that felt really good, and I wish we could have more modern cours of anime do things like this and get to play with that and get to engage with that, and I just don’t know if that’s ever something we’re going to be able to return to—not that there’s not shows that don’t do that. [Chuckles] Don’t come for me.
CHIAKI: And I’m just going to harp a little bit, but noitaminA, the offbeat, very deep anime block that was developed… That started in 2005. If only we could go back to having that kind of work. I wish we could have another Haibane show up on noitaminA block rather than…
CY: Because I really thought Wonder Egg Priority was going to be it, and 2021’s biggest flop was that series!
VRAI: The last one I can think of that has this very similar vibe and was a noitaminA show was House of Five Leaves. And it didn’t go as hard as Haibane Renmei, but it had that similar sort of very quiet, restrained character drama about some very damaged people.
CHIAKI: How about Sarazanmai, though?
VRAI: I love Sarazanmai. It has never heard of subtlety, and bless it for that.
CHIAKI: That’s fair. [Chuckles]
VRAI: I love it. Sarazanmai is doing so much and doing it really well, I think. “Restrained” is never a word that I would use for it, ever.
CHIAKI: Mm, okay.
CY: [crosstalk] Is that the one with butts?
VRAI: Yes, it is! Kappas and butts.
CHIAKI: And otters.
VRAI: And musical numbers and otters.
VRAI: And I love it so much. And my gay son.
VRAI: … -s. [Pluralizing “son” in the previous sentence]
CHIAKI: All right, well, we are starting to edge towards the hour, so I just wanted to get any final thoughts, any things that any of y’all wanted to discuss before we close out?
VRAI: This isn’t really something that we need to talk about in depth, but I do want to throw in an acknowledgement that even if it’s partly an offshoot of this being A Serious Drama That’s Serious from the early 2000s, I like the variety in levels of feminine presentation for the characters while also being closer on the sliding scale towards realism. You know, this is not quite the moe boom yet but it will encroach upon the anime industry soon, and so, it’s just nice to look back and have a show that looks like this.
CHIAKI: As I call it, the progenitor of the “sad girl in snow” show.
CY: My little last thing is that, y’all, this is $4.99 on Amazon. [Chuckles] And I’m just gonna say if you want this in your library… Look, I don’t like Big River Company either. Jeff Bezos, eat my butt. That said, I think this is worth like $5.50. It’s worth a lot more than that, but buy it, go watch it. Watch it with all these content warnings, but it’s worth it!
VRAI: Oh, many content warnings.
CY: It’s worth it! Yeah.
CHIAKI: And as much as I don’t support Funimation at this point or anything, but hey, the Blu-ray is out there. It is 480p, so it’s kind of wasted on a Blu-ray! They need to remaster it. But…
VRAI: I’m so sad that this didn’t get a remaster. That’s so unfair.
CHIAKI: But if you want it for your physical media collection, it’s there. It comes with an interview with Yoshitoshi Abe and the producer of the series, which is kind of interesting to watch if you’re really into that kind of stuff. And it has all of the extra trailers and bells and whistles of a regular 2000s anime DVD ported over into Blu-ray. So, I don’t know, if you want it, go check it out. I personally am happy that I have this. I was happy with my DVDs, which have been misplaced somewhere.
VRAI: I am currently looking at the Blu-ray on Rightstuf. It is $30.
CY: Not bad.
VRAI: Not bad, although a little bit insulting for Funimation not bothering to try to clean it up at all. But we touched on that last time.
CHIAKI: Yeah. One final thought that I wanted to just put in here, and it has almost nothing to do with the rest of this conversation that we’ve had, but just want to talk about the halo-touching in episode 8.
CY: Ooh, as a Black person, I felt very strongly about that! [Chuckles] Oh, God!
CHIAKI: I figured it would be a good thing to just quickly bring up and just get your reactions.
VRAI: Yeah, my reaction doesn’t matter. It’s all you, Cy!
CY: Yeah, okay, so, as a Black person… I now have… My hair is about an inch-and-a-half long now. But at its longest, my hair was about down to mid-back, and when I first went natural, my hair was pretty long. And there’s this fascination in North America, and I experienced this in Japan as well, of just a lack of bodily autonomy when you have different-textured hair.
And when I saw this woman go up to Rakka and be like, “Oh, you’re a Haibane! I hear they bring good luck! Oh, what a neat object!” I had a very visceral reaction, much like Rakka, because it’s just this concept of never being able to react negatively but having your body become fascinatingly grotesque in the interest of others. It made me think a lot of how historic freak shows often positioned people’s bodies as fascinatingly grotesque performance art, and the intriguing part of it was not that they were people but they were different. And it’s this really visceral reaction.
I think all Black people in the diaspora are united by, by just “[Startles] Don’t do that. That’s gross. That’s somebody’s body.” It happens to pregnant people, as well, with the fascination of touching their body because “Ooh, baby.” And it just was gross. I just didn’t like it. And good on Rakka for being like, “Don’t touch me!” We love a queen!
CY: Stand up for your body. Yeah, that’s just my feelings.
CHIAKI: I just wanted to mention this with Yoshitoshi Abe, as well. This is his second personal work that he authored and really pushed ahead on. His first one was NieA_7, which deals with people—
CY: That’s immigration, right?
CHIAKI: Yeah, that deals with immigration. And so, I think in his mind he’s really sensitive or at least understands the concept of others living in what Japanese people consider a homogenous society. And so, it was very much a deliberate portrayal, I think, even if it’s just a one-off thing that really gets lost because everything after that becomes much more in the show, so you kind of forget about it, but…
VRAI: And then she dissociates and has to go away for a while.
CY: You know what? Mood!
VRAI: [crosstalk] Baby.
CY: When someone touches my fat Black body or my hair, I feel like dissociating and going into a well for a while, too! [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: Don’t break your leg, though.
CY: No, I won’t.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Please.
CY: I won’t. [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: Alrighty. Well, shall I close us off, then?
VRAI: Yeah, I think we can all agree: good show? Different levels of emphatic goodness, but all good.
CY: Yeah, good show. As always, thankful to watch it with you two.
CHIAKI: I’m so glad that you both enjoyed this. This is definitely one of my most favorite shows that has stuck with me for so long. So, it was nice to share it with you.
CY: Thank you! Thank you for sharing.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah, I’m so glad you shared it with us.
CHIAKI: All right.
VRAI: Yay. All right, now we can go.
CHIAKI: Okay, so, with that, thank you for joining us today on Chatty AF. If you like what you’re hearing, you can find more at AnimeFeminist.com, where you can listen to more Chatty AF or check out some of our writing!
If you want to support our content, you could chip us a few bucks over Patreon or Ko-fi, which pays for our staff and contributors. And we are trying to increase how much we pay folks, so your contributions will be really sincerely appreciated. And that is animefeminist on Patreon and Ko-fi.
You can also check us out on our store, where we have new embroidered patches, bandanas, and your selection of shirts and all that, with more to come soon, hopefully.
And thank you all for joining us. Till next time, AniFam.