Haibane Renmei Anime Manga Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Ben Leary
Review Date: Thursday, June 21, 2007
Release Date: Sunday, April 30, 2006

Creative Talent
Translated by:Rika Kolka
Adapted by:Taliesin Jaffe and Jonathan Klein

What They Say
In a long-forgotten walled town, humans coexist with the Haibane, angelic beings of unknown origin. Rakka becomes the newest Haibane after she awakens from a strange dream and finds herself hatching from a massive cocoon. With no memories of her previous life, Rakka struggles to adjust to her new surrounding, however burning questions remain in the back of her mind. What are Haibane and what is their purpose? What lies beyond the town walls? Thus Rakka begins her wistful journey of self-discovery and wonderment. The Haibane Renmei anime manga is a full-color adaptation of Yoshitoshi Abe's fantastic anime series, presented in the "non-westernized" manga format for a fun, Japanese-style reading experience!

The Review
Fans of the show get...the show, in book form.

On the front cover we get the picture of Rakka from the first DVD cover, slightly modified by semi-transparent wings at the top and new lettering (English text on top of Japanese) across the middle. All in all a nice cover, but what mars it is a brown area the size and shape of a masking tape stain in the lower right. Very strange inclusion. The back is a simple, tasteful blue-green with a write-up on the book's premise. At the top is the genre listing, which reads: Manga/Science Fiction/Action. Since manga isn't a genre, and the book isn't really science fiction, and there's no action at all, this is a second one to file in the "What were they thinking?" category. The book is printed entirely in color, down to the promos in the back, on glossy paper. Sandwiched between each the chapters is a page that looks like a background design: it's just white wings and a halo on a cloudy backdrop. There is no chapter information of any kind on it. For that you have to go to the beginning of the book, but if you do that, you'll have a hard time trying to find your place again, because there are no page numbers anywhere. Since the layout is designed from scratch here, and page numbers would have been easy to include, this is an omission that's hard to overlook.

If you liked the show's art, you'll like the art here, because it's exactly the same. I loved the art of the show, myself, and I was really looking forward to being able to linger over it a bit more and take in all the fine details. The problem is that a large majority of the pictures are blurry. Sometimes it's just enough to notice, sometimes it looks like you're looking through someone else's glasses, but overall it's a distraction--to say nothing of the irritation it gives me to see the elegant artwork of the original treated like this. Every now and again you see a good clear picture; but it looks to me like Dark Horse used screen captures instead of actual stills. That's not something I care to see. What makes it even worse is that seven or eight panels are crammed into every page, since larger pictures would be even blurrier, and that gives the whole manga a cluttered look. Very disappointing.

Text is done in a very plain style with practically no variation, even in basic things like using bold print for emphasis. (Though to be fair, this isn't a story with a lot of people yelling.) It has no trouble filling the text balloons since those are custom-made. Sound effects are rarely used, I think mainly because they (obviously) don't exist in the original. When they do crop up they're superimposed over the image in a way that stands out a little too much.

The translation is readable enough. The main thing that stands out to me is that the characters say damn a lot more than I remember. But then I watched the subtitle version and this is based on the dub, so that may account for the difference. I didn't pull out the DVD to check, but the dialogue seemed to be pretty close to what I remember being there.

Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
"The center of every man's existence is a dream."
--G.K. Chesterton

A girl falls through the air toward the distant earth. A lone crow flies to her and tries, unsuccessfully, to hold her up. As she plunges to the ground, she cries out, and wakes.

Such is the dream that begins Haibane Renmei. If you've ever encountered Yoshitoshi ABe's work before, such as in Lain or NieA_7, you would now prepare yourself for another journey into the surreal. But the really strange thing about Haibane Renmei is how ordinary it feels. Sure, there are people with wings sprouting out of their backs and halos hovering over their heads, and a mysterious town where none are allowed to venture beyond the walls. But we become accustomed to all this very quickly. The Haibane are not angels, even if they do look a bit like them. They work very simple jobs--baking, organizing books at the library, looking after children--and lead very simple lives. But never tedious lives. A great part of the magic of this story is in the benevolence with which the characters relate to one another. Most stories in any medium revolve around characters who are in some way impressive, who call attention to themselves. But Haibane Renmei has a way of reminding me of the honest, cheerful, decent, caring souls who are the people I'm most glad to know. It resembles a George MacDonald novel more than anything else I can think of: the successful portrayal of goodness--not a kind of goodness that some people happen to like at a particular time, but goodness itself--is one of the rarest acheivements in any kind of storytelling.

So to see the "new feather" adjust to life in this new town (or is it a new world?) is never anything short of enchanting. I won't bother trying to describe what she goes through. They aren't the kind of events that keep their value in summary. But the value is there. It is only in retrospect that their full significance is seen, and you can begin to appreciate the skill with which the whole scenario and the characters have been set in place and given a life of their own, and have drawn us in unresisting; just in time for an irrevocable event to occur that will set the larger story in motion. What that event is, wild horses shall not persuade me to reveal. I shall only say that it is with this event that the book ends.

It may sound strange to hear that I have difficulty recommending a book that I have rated A for content and given such praise to. But whenever I try, the same question comes back to me: Recommend to whom? This question always bugs me about any film/comic hybrid. Fans of the show (among which I number myself) presumably have the show. People who dislike the show won't want it, since the content is exactly the same. Those who haven't seen the show, won't be interested--especially since Dark Horse didn't release a second volume, and doesn't plan to as far as I can tell. Which means they'll have to buy three out of four DVDs to continue the story, and if you're going to do that, you might as well put your 15 bucks towards buying all four and watch the show instead. As much as I'd like to see more people introduced to this series, I can't help but think there are much better ways to go about it. I know the story isn't for everyone; but for those who have ears to hear, it's something beyond price.

The bottom line: Leave this alone and buy the DVDs.

Mania Grade: A
Art Rating: C-
Packaging Rating: B
Text/Translatin Rating: B
Age Rating: All
Released By: Dark Horse
MSRP: 14.95
Pages: 160
ISBN: 1-5930-7520-0
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Haibane Renmei Anime Manga