Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Anime Haibane Renmei (Charcoal Feather Federation): An Enclave for the Hurt, Alienated Souls

Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Anime Haibane Renmei (Charcoal Feather Federation): An Enclave for the Hurt, Alienated Souls

Article excerpt

Anime is an audiovisual, symphonic narrative form characterised by diversity, fluidity, hybridity and intertexuality. The abundant borrowing of images is a common practice in both manga and anime, and is considered as homage to the pretext and/or the establishing of a provocative dialogue between texts. This paper will discuss some of its distinctive characteristics, mainly intertexuality, using Yoshitoshi ABe's enigmatic Haibane Renmei series (2002) and Haruki Murakami's novel, Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (hereafter HBW/EOW) (1985).

The creation of Haibane, as ABe acknowledges, deeply involves two works as the pretexts and source of inspiration. The first is his doujinshi (private publication) work, Old Home no Haibane-tachi (literally 'Haibane in Old Home'). This story is rather fragmentary and evolved as an experimental exploration of his own sub-consciousness. It consists of 40 chapters, alternately narrating two stories of the two worlds, from the perspectives of two adult male protagonists, Watashi (a formal, male pronoun for 'I') in a hyper-active, futuristic Tokyo in HBW and Boku (an informal, male pronoun for 'I') in EOW--which is in fact Watashi's core unconsciousness. These paralleled worlds link like a Mobius strip and interact at several moments.

The world of Haibane is constructed on the key images of the walled town in EOW. However, by isolating it from Murakami's 'Mobius strip' and integrating the Haibane (and focusing especially on the female teenage Haibane), the thematic significance of the derived materials undergo a critical change and the walled town becomes, not an eternal cage, but a temporal enclave for staging their rebirth. Unlike the detailed, potentially unreliable first-person narrations in HBW/EOW, Haibane unfolds through multiple character focalisations, which constitute the audience's subject position as empathetic alignment, through what Stephens calls, 'a dialectic between textual discourse and a reader's pre-existing subjectivity' (1992, pp.80-1). By offering viewing positions whereby the audience both shares the uncertain and confused perceptions of Rakka, for example, and also has an observer perception of the fragility and vulnerability of the Haibane, the film text establishes a complex and subtle relationship between character experience in the text and audience experience of the text.

Haibane is the story of angel-like beings, the Haibane (lit. ash-coloured feathers), who live in a mysterious, walled town, under the supervision of the seemingly patriarchal Haibane Renmei. The story evolves around a newborn Haibane, Rakka (literally, 'falling'), and her mentor-like Haibane, Reki (literally, 'pebbles; to be run over') and their respective quests for their true identities. The opening sequence depicting a figure falling through indeterminate space, a falling which transmutes into a surfacing, establishes a sense of disorientation common to both character and viewer (what is happening here? What does it signify?). The narrative then continues to work through mysteries and questions: why does a girl (Rakka) fall from the sky, to be reborn from a cocoon with no knowledge of her former life? Are they doing some kind of penance, since their everyday life is governed by peculiar rules (they cannot use cash, or own anything new)? What does the Day of Flight signify, when Kuu (literally 'sky') one of their group disappears?

Haibane mingles incongruent religious and mythical images, and thereby produces a rich mix of pretexts and metanarratives. It invites diverse interpretations, a characteristic of anime narratives. It is unusually introspective for anime, however, achieving this effect through use of unusually subdued colours and sounds (including voices) and through slowly paced narration. The strategies offer the audience a subject position from which flows a strong empathy with the experiences, perspectives, and feelings of the Haibane. …

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