The official English translation of “Haibane Renmei” is “Charcoal Feather Federation,” which has never made much sense to me. All the charcoal I’ve ever seen was pure black, but a haibane’s wings are typically light grey. It turns out that the Japanese make a sort of white charcoal, which does have a pale grey surface.
Soundtrack: Bach (or maybe not)/Busoni: Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
Feathers and halos
Here’s a nice article on Haibane Renmei that hints at why ABe’s story so fascinates me:
After C.S. Lewis wrote his famous Biblical allegorical science fiction novel Out of the Silent Planet, he wrote to a friend saying, “I am convinced that any amount of theology can be smuggled into people’s minds under the cover of science fiction.” Expand “science fiction” to include all the fantasy worlds of anime and that is exactly what has happened here. In many anime series we come to care about the characters and what finally happens to their lives. But in Haibane-Renmei we have the first anime where, in the end, we care deeply about the fate of the characters’ immortal souls.
Soundtrack: Seinaru Doukei, “Wasureru Mizu” (Kana’s song)
Lain light and dark
I’m inclined to divide all anime into three categories: Miyazaki, most everything else, and Serial Experiments Lain. Miyazaki I shouldn’t have to tell you about; if you haven’t seen Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke yet, rent them next time you visit the video shop. Most other anime ranges from very good (e.g., Millennium Actress, Ghost in the Shell) to ghastly.
Lain, however, is in a class of its own. I wrote about it last year; in brief, it’s to anime what Philip K. Dick’s novels are to science fiction. Amy Welborn recently invited her readers to mention movies with unexpected religious depths. Lain. strictly speaking, isn’t a movie, but it might be worth including on the list. Stephen Den Beste, formerly of USS Clueless and a self-described “mechanistic atheist,” interprets Serial Experiments Lain as Christian allegory:
One particular part of the original Christian dogma they do adapt surprisingly closely is the temptation which appears in gospels of Matthew and Luke. Matthew 4:1-10:
1: Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
2: And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry.
3: And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
4: But he answered, “It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”
5: Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple,
6: and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, `He will give his angels charge of you,’ and `On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”
7: Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, `You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'”
8: Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them;
9: and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
10: Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written, `You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'”
All three of those temptations appear in modified form in Serial Experiments Lain. The temptation of the loaves isn’t about physical hunger, it’s about spiritual hunger. Lain is tempted not to use her power to make food, but to use her power to make friends.
The temptation of jumping from the temple also appears in modified form. Eiri tempts Lain to commit suicide, as Yomada Chisa did at the beginning of the first episode. It’s not that angels will save her, as that she won’t need to be saved, since Eiri tries to convince her that she doesn’t need a body. Eiri also tries to convince Lain to worship him.
There’s quite a bit more, and Den Beste acknowledges that not all elements “map into Christian dogma.” I need to review the series before I can assess how plausible den Beste’s interpretation is. Unfortunately, I’ve loaned my copy out and it hasn’t yet returned. If there is in fact a significant Christian element to the story, it’s noteworthy; so far, what animes I’ve seen indicate that the makers have only the most superficial understanding of Christianity. (Catholicism’s most important role in anime is supplying Crucifixes and holy water for vampire stories.)
Before reading den Beste’s thoughts, be aware that his essay is loaded with spoilers.
Note for NetFlix members: Serial Experiments Lain is listed as “Lain.”
The real problem with rock ‘n’ roll …
… is that you need to rehearse to sound good, and the rehearsals are cruel to your neighbors. I was deeply into Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami. Then, a few minutes ago, while I was on page 267, the mediocre band around the corner turned on their amplifiers. So much for an afternoon of reading.
Those who find Haibane Renmei as fascinating as I do will want to read Hard-Boiled Wonderland. There are two narratives that presumably converge later in the book. The odd-numbered chapters comprise a science-fiction noir involving modifications to the brain, exotic data manipulation and methodical violence; the even-numbered ones concern a walled, isolated town that is unmistakably a model for ABe’s Guri (or Glie).
Practice souls for apprentice angels
J. Greely recently watched Haibane Renmei and posted some speculations about ABe’s universe. Some of his notions are intriguing. If you’ve seen this most interesting series, his notes are worth perusing — but only if you’ve already watched it.