Friday, December 19, 2008

Life, Death and purification in Haibane Renmei

In the world of Haibane, there are two beings, Human and Haibane. They live in a walled city which they are practically prisoners of. The Haibane are forbidden from using money and new clothes and live in a pseudo-communist environment in which one is handed roles such as jobs. The traditional concept of family is not applicable in Haibane. These creatures come into this world in cocoons.

A Haibane's name depends on his/her experiences inside the cocoon. The protagonist, Rakka, got her name due to her dream in which she was falling. Reki, on the other hand has issues of her own.

The closest thing to our death in the Haibane world is the "Day of flight". In this special day, a Haibane flies away from the walled city without telling anyone. The individual Haibane himself/herself is not aware of this day until the last minute. In a way, it is the same as our own deaths. We don't know when it will happen and if it does, our loved ones usually aren't pre-informed.

It is common for the Haibane to hope to see each other outside the walled city. Because of this, a Haibane's day of flight is greeted not with mourning, as is in humans, but with a deep but subtle form of happiness for the newly departed Haibane. This desire to see each other again is similar to our own desire to see our departed loved ones in the Afterlife. You see, the outside world is the representation of Haibane Afterlife, while the wall represents the separation between the two levels of existence. We also have a barrier, and it's called Death. In the anime, it is shown that an individual Haibane is forbidden to touch the wall in any way, which I think represents the human aversion with death. To experiment with one's mortality, they say, is just plain bad.

However, there are special cases in which the Haibane is unable to take his/her "Day of flight". These Haibane are called "sin-bound" and they can be recognized by black wings instead of the usual grey. Reki is the prime example of this type of Haibane. They are called sin- bound because in one way or another, they have hangups that prevent them from "flying". In Reki's case, it is her inability to remember her dream inside the cocoon.

Reki thought that by being a good Haibane(insert your altruistic good here), she would be cleansed of her sin, Thus, when Rakka came, she doted on the "newborn" Haibane. Aside from that, she also took care of the children at the Old Home. Unfortunately, this did not erase the sin in her. She continued to have black wings and remained unable to take her day of flight. It is only when Rakka saved her from her downward spiral that she was liberated from her past.

I would compare this sin bound state to both the Buddhist concept of Nirvana and the Catholic concept of purgatory. In the former, the sin bound state to the neverending rebirths that an unclean soul must endure. In this example, I will consider the "Day of flight" as the final, definite last stage of existence. The Haibane's inability to take flight and his/her imprisonment in the walled city is similar to the unclean soul's imprisonment within the neverending cycle of birth and rebirth. The way to liberate oneself from both states requires a certain form of purification. Purification for the Haibane, to be able to take flight, and purification for the human, to be able to achieve Nirvana.

A similar form of purification is required in the concept of purgatory. However, in purgatory, one does not seek to purify oneself for liberation. One purifies oneself to progress to another form of existence, which is the paradise stage. Once again, I will change the meaning of the "Day of flight" from a liberating process into a preparatory one. In this case, we can look at the 'Day of flight" as the representation of a Haibane's purification to pass on to another form of existence, as is in the supposed, so-called role of Purgatory. In this example, both processes imply transition to a purer state of being, unlike in the first one, which is basically spiritual liberation through cleansing, two fundamentally different but very similar things.


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