Haibane Renmei
Volume 3 - Free Bird

Starring (voice): Ryou Hirohashi and Junko Noda
RRP: 19.99
MVD 2067
Certificate: PG
Available 08 August 2005

In the walled town of Guri, Rakka, a young woman, wakes from a dream to discover that she has grown wings and is sporting a natty halo. As such, she becomes a member of the Hailbane society, a group dedicated to the protection of the town. But why has she grown wings and just who are the Hailbane society...

Volume Three of Hailbane (2002) covers episodes eight to ten of a thirteen part series. Okay, it's a very odd anime series. The main characters are a bunch of cigarette smoking thirteen year old girls, who look like angels. It's the kind of weirdness that the Japanese do so well, or as my wife would say: "Look out. It's all gone David Lynch on me". This is a slow thoughtful story with some great animation. It's gentle in its story telling and very very weird, though the animation isn't as sumptuous as in say Ghost in the Shell. Rakka is named after her recurring dream, in Japanese it means 'a fall'.

In episode eight (The Bird) Rakka is still uncertain why she has been turned into one on the Grey Feather Alliance. Devoid of any knowledge of who she was prior to her transformation she follows a bird into the woods looking for answers. In the woods "it all goes David Lynch" on her; she's got to stop taking those mushrooms.

Episode nine (Well, Rebirth, Riddle) continues the general weirdness. Still stuck in the well, Rakka, is rescued by a backwards speaking dwarf. No, just kidding. But she is rescued but someone just as weird - some kind of ninja style Native Americans who only speak in sign language. I told you it was weird. Things don't get a whole lot better when she runs into, and is further rescued by, a man who looks like he has a hi-tech toilet seat on his face, who explains the meaning of sin to her; believe me you need to be dead sober to listen to their interchange.

Episode ten (Kuramori, Hailbanes of Abandoned Factory, Rakka's job - not even the titles are making sense now) sees a new member of the Hailbanes taken into the woods by Kuramori to see the toilet faced guy who renames her 'Reki' meaning 'small stone' - for no real reason that I could fathom. Then there is a lot of stuff about going beyond the walls and the sinful taking the flight from toilet seat guy - can't say I made any headway on making any sense of that either. Rakka is taken by toilet man into the wall (now "it's all gone Pink Floyd" on me) who continues to speak an endless stream of deep and meaningful nonsense.

The extras on this disc are a little better than some of the other recent releases. You get the promotional trailer, which basically does what is says on the box; a very short new program commercial; an art gallery - consisting of forty concept art drawings; and some short episode previews. If that wasn't enough for you then there's the trailer, stuck where trailers should be, in the extras.

Audio options are the usual Japanese and English stereo, but they do the job well and the picture remains sharp and clear. Great opening track, by the way, complements the nonsensical opening shots, but sets the gentle tone of the story well.

I'm sure that if you saw the whole series then something gentle and deep in meaning is going on, most probably about an angel's fall from grace, but taken in isolation Volume Three seems like some kind of Alice in Wonderland acid trip.

Charles Packer

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