Nobody knows what the haibane are (if they are human or not). The haibane are not allowed to leave town, it is their most sacred law. Even if their family were somewhere in the world, neither would recognize the other. Just as the haibane cannot remember where they came from, no one remembers them. It is the world they live in.
In this world, a young girl awakens from a dream of falling from the sky into a new life she neither recognizes nor understands. She is named Rakka, which stands for 'Falling' and begins to explore her new world, and forging bonds with her new family. But this world has its dark corners and Rakka is not only forced to encounter them and the mysteries they present, but also to accept that these mysteries may very well never be solved.
- Haibane may not pass beyond the Walls of Glie.
- Haibane are not allowed to touch the walls.
- Haibane may only live in places that have been abandoned after prolonged use.
- Haibane are obligated to work in the town that hosts them.
- Haibane are forbidden from handling actual money; only their notebooks.
- Haibane may only wear used clothing.
Haibane Life Stages
See: Main Article
A cocoon materializes within a haibane nest, the size of a dandelion puff at first, growing to accommodate whomever is inside. When the cocoon is mature, the haibane inside begins to dream. The walls of the cocoon turn gray, and the haibane awakens within and forces their way out.
The other members of a nest care for and teach the newborn haibane of their new existence. New feathers are given a name based on their cocoon dream, provided with a halo, and allowed to rest. Shortly after hatching, a high fever will set in and wings (which have been developing sub-dermally) violently break through the skin. During this time, the haibane must be watched carefully, as they are subject to the fever and trauma, and may inadvertently injure themselves or pass out. After the wings breach the skin, they must be cleaned of blood or their light charcoal feathers may become stained. After this time, the Haibane Renmei will provide them with a name plaque and notebook.
Citizen of Glie
The new Haibane is expected to become familiar with the town of Glie (pronounced Gu-ree) and settle into their new existence. Once they're fully settled, they're then expected to seek out employment within the town. However, the places where the Haibane are allowed to work are very limited. Employment must factor in with their concrete rules, meaning that only older establishments will be acceptable. Such examples may include the clocktower, the library, employment within the Haibane Renmei itself, potentially the thrift shop, or working within the nest, such as caring for the Young Feathers who cannot work. And as stated, Haibane are not permitted to handle or receive money. Their earnings are written within their notebooks and the sum of any purchases are jotted down on the pages, which are torn out and given to the merchants in place of money. The merchants are then compensated by the Haibane Renmei.
Sin-bound Haibane (罪憑き, tsumi-zuki)
The first step to becoming a failed Haibane, the sin-bound Haibane are different than normal Haibane. This brings up another Haibane origin theory; this theory encompasses that Haibane come from the souls of those who died outside the walls, or else in another world, depending on what the town of Glie is in and of itself. Normal Haibane, such as Kana or Hikari, are born with no defects and are able to completely remember their dreams within the cocoon. The theory suggests that such normal Haibane died unexpectedly or prematurely of possibly unusual circumstances, allowing them an effective "second chance" to grow and develop as they would have in Glie, fulfilling whatever purpose they were intended to prior to their deaths.
Unlike normal Haibane, a sin-bound individual has several noticeable differences that set them apart. For instance, their normally charcoal colored feathers are either spotted black, or else the wings are black entirely. Sin-bound Haibane aren't always noticeable from the get-go. They can either be born Sin-bound from the start, or else the symptoms of their condition may crop up at a later date as unsettled thoughts begin to take over their minds. Sin-bound Haibane appear to be burdened with lingering emotions beyond what normal Haibane experience as typical scattered memories of their past lives; regret, sadness, depression, fear and anxiety are only some of what a sin-bound Haibane may experience, perhaps leftover from trauma of their previous lives. A sin-bound individual may experience a desperate desire to escape the walls of the town, possibly even a sense of claustrophobic panic at being restrained within the town's borders. Sin-bound Haibane are not beyond hope, however, and help for them does exist. The Haibane Renmei makes every effort to assist sin-bound Haibane in breaking free of their curses. However, breaking out of the curse is extremely difficult and cannot be done alone. Therefore, the individual must accept the help of another in some shape or form if they wish to be freed.
If a Haibane cannot break free of the sin-bound curse, then they will never experience the Day of Flight, the event where a Haibane finally crosses over the walls and leaves the town for good. Instead, the sin-bound Haibane loses their wings and halo and can no longer live among humans and other Haibane. Their lives are destined to end when they die, forever shuttered behind the walls of Glie. Their existences are peaceful and quiet, but crushingly solitary. It's very strongly implied that failed Haibane are destined to either join the ranks of the Haibane Renmei, or else become one of the silent Toga, the mysterious merchant caravan that brings supplies and other items to the town of Glie.
Reki and Rakka are the only two known sin-bound Haibane in Glie. How a Haibane becomes sin-bound isn't completely sound. Rakka was born normal and became sin-bound after Kuu took her Day of Flight. However Reki was sin-bound from the very beginning. It implies that the sin-bound curse may not be so much preordained as it is a condition that certain Haibane may be more susceptible to developing at any point in their life spans, much like a physical or mental illness.
The Communicator explains that sin-bound Haibane will never reach their Day of Flight, as they continue to spin in the same circle of doubt, trying to find where their original sin lies and eventually getting lost in the process. The idea is for the sin-bound Haibane to try to find closure or security with whatever the sin was, even though they can't remember it. Unfortunately, if sin-bound Haibane can't find their way out, they become Failed Haibane.
Day of Flight (巣立ちの日, 'sudachi no hi')
Under no specific time constraints, a Haibane who has been living happily within the town of Glie may suddenly begin to change. They may grow distant and somewhat thoughtful and quiet. They may begin doing nice things for those around them or even giving away their possessions. No one knows what it feels like to receive the call of the Day of Flight, since a Haibane on the verge of leaving never speaks of it to those around them. Once they've effectively set their affairs in order, the Haibane just vanishes from the nest, supposedly guided by a mysterious force into the Western Woods. Those fortunate enough to be facing west at the right time will bear witness to a spectacular ray of light rising from near the walls within the Western Woods, disappearing into the sky after a minute or so. Venturing into the Western Woods, anyone choosing to try to follow the Haibane will find a collection of strange ruins and an old, crumbling stone staircase leading to a small pedestal. There will be no sign of the Haibane, and the only trace of their presence will be a dull, deadened halo and a few scattered feathers. No one knows what happens to Haibane on the Day of Flight or where they go. But the Haibane believe that they've simply gone somewhere outside the walls and that one day, they'll all be able to meet again there, wherever they may be. There's no way to know how long a Haibane will have to wait for their Day of Flight, or whether or not certain conditions must be met beforehand. It can take as few as two years or as many as seven or longer.
Just what it sounds like, Haibane who, for whatever reason, just couldn't receive the blessings from the town and couldn't be happy. These Haibane never receive the Day of Flight. There are a few theories floating around about these Haibane, mostly concerning what they ultimately become. The Communicator describes these failed Haibane as those who lose their wings and halos and must live far apart from both humans and Haibane. They will eventually grow old and die. As he says this, close up shots of the wing decorations he wears are seen, as well as a wide-eyed shot from Rakka. This could suggest that the Haibane Renmei were once Haibane themselves, but failed and became a part of the organization in order to prevent others from following their lonely path.
Another speculation concerning the failed Haibane has to do with the enigmatic Toga, the traders from outside the walls. Prohibited from speaking or interacting with anyone other than the Communicator, the Toga's story will never be revealed. However some people believe that the failed Haibane leave the safety of the walled city unblessed and join the wandering band of Toga. They live far from Haibane and humans and are never allowed to speak to either. With these facts in mind, it's a plausible theory that failed Haibane join the Toga in the end.
Symbolism, Interpretation, and Theories
- The whole series is really nothing but symbolism, as the original author left more questions than he did answers. As such, the actual truths of this series may never be known. It's left to the audience to decide what's real or symbolic.
- One theory exists that the Haibane are humans who once lived outside the town of Glie. It's believed that they either died before their times or died without accomplishing anything worthwhile, as seems to be the case with Kana. The whole premise bears strong resemblance to another more recent show, Angel Beats, which allowed deceased young people to enjoy a fun, fulfilling life in a form of afterlife before passing on. Perhaps the town of Glie is a crossroads between life and afterlife in which people are reborn as Haibane in order to accomplish what they failed to finish previously or else to find closure in lives that ended without true fulfillment.
- The walls surrounding Glie seem to represent protection and safety for the Haibane, since the town of Glie appears to be a paradise to live in. The people are friendly, the atmosphere is peaceful, and the setting is almost surreally relaxing. The fact that the Haibane are not allowed to leave it makes it almost seem like one big nest in and of itself; they are forbidden to leave until their Day of Flight comes, after which they never return. This is very similar to how baby birds grow and leave their own nests. And unlike the Haibane, humans within the town are in fact allowed to leave the boundaries of the walls. The only condition is that once outside, they're never allowed to return, suggesting that outside the walls exists either an impurity from which the Haibane must be protected, or else truths that they simply aren't ready for or prepared to handle yet.
- The one thing we can be certain of is that Glie is at least located somewhere in our world. A shot of Rakka in the library shows her standing near a Roman soldier's helmet. A bust of what may be Emperor Nero is being used as a hat block in Kuu's room. The thrift shop owner is listening to rock music through headphones on an antique radio, which suggests possibly censored radio stations coming in from outside. Also, the clocks all have Roman Numerals on them, suggesting the town is located somewhere in eastern Europe. Kana's clothes are typical garb worn by a Chinese boy, and Hikari wears prescription glasses, which wouldn't exist easily without the technology used in the outside world to create them. The town also has a steady supply of gasoline for motor vehicles, and the existence of Abandoned Factory suggests a past of mass production of some kind, though the building is too decrepit and shown too infrequently to tell what was being produced there. Finally, Hyohko rides a skateboard, placing the timeline of the town as somewhere in the mid 80's to mid 90's.
- A haibane's existence is similar to that of a monk; they must remain in one place and work yet live in poverty.