Anime Secret Santa Review: Serial Experiments Lain, Kino’s Journey, and Haibane Renmei

Once upon a time, there was an aniblogger by the name of approrpaint. He passed his merry days watching anime and having thoughts about them to please the thankless masses on the internet.

On this particular day when the commenters were out, appropriant wandered the depths of the internet searching for something to do with his free time. Pretty soon, he came upon a peculiar notification in his inbox.  And with a singular click of the mouse, he read the message that was sent and so it was read:

Your picks are: Serial Experiments: Lain, Kino no Tabi TV, Haibane Renmei

-My Secret Santa

appropriant was delighted to read this. He had been meaning to watch all three of these shows when he got the time, and the Anime Secret Santa Project was the perfect opportunity to try out these three anime and, of course, have thoughts on them. For what is an experience with watching a Chinese Pornographic Cartoon without having thoughts about it in this day and age? appropriant decided that the order he received these recommendations would be the best way to look at his selection as a whole.

He started with the first anime: Serial Experiments Lain. And my, oh my, did he enjoy what he saw. But he couldn’t put a finger on exactly what he saw.

That’s not to say that he didn’t have the basic idea down. He understood what the main character, Lain, was supposed to be, and the show’s views on media and the internet were apparent enough to understand at surface level, as well as the motivations and character developments that happened in order for the ending to make sense. There was even a slight satisfaction for appropriant to know that Lain was Digital Jesus before it became the cool and hip thing to do with anime protagonists nowadays. One thing he even liked about the show was that despite the dated technology present in the anime, its core themes are very much still relevant today. What becomes a problem with the anime is that the narrative disjoints itself with its philosophical ideas about technology, omnipotence, and the nature of human interaction. Often times appropriant is given the “who” and the “what” of a particular scene or development, but not necessarily the “why” and the “how”. He feels, though, that this is to the anime’s strength. Lain’s video editing and sound direction, while obviously not well produced, are instead disorienting on purpose, as a constant reminder of how messed up Lain and her surroundings actually are. appropriant recognizes that Lain’s lack of coherency is merely a byproduct of the style it chooses to present itself, and feels as though he is meant to put the pieces together on his own rather than have the anime spell it out for him. He recognizes that it would take a few rewatches before he can come to terms with most of what the show had to say. However, there are times when what’s happening onscreen is just so “out there” from what’s actually happening with the story that appropriant just kind of tunes out for a couple minutes until something makes sense again. This is, also, a byproduct of the Lain’s animation style: it is certainly a good watch and it has important things to say about modern society, but it comes at the expense of actually enjoying the anime. In other words…

“This anime is too obtuse!” he exclaimed. So, he went on to watch the second anime on his list: Kino’s Journey. He liked this anime as well, but he also had his issues with it.

Obvious Mushishi comparisons aside, Kino’s Journey sets out on a more fable-oriented adventure between worlds that mirrors the likes of Gulliver’s Travels. What’s interesting for appropriant as he watched this anime was that its themes and messages seemed to be, at least on the surface, much clearer cut and therefore much easier to watch than Serial Experiments Lain. Every world Kino journeys to (do ho ho) has a particular concept that’s integral to their continued prosperity. You may have a country where the lower class have to fight each other to the death in order to join the elites. Another episode may feature a nation known for its books, yet those books are systematically judged as either harmful or unharmful. appropriant enjoys these kinds of short stories for their brevity and their ease of access in terms of themes and such. But he has to wonder if these stories were actually too short. The short airtime for each country Kino visits is ample to develop/characterize Kino, there’s a distinct lack of ambiguity when it comes to actually having something to say about human society. See, while it’s not Kino’s purpose in the story to judge whether a particular nation’s practices are right or wrong, the narrative doesn’t seem quite interested in showing anything other than Kino’s perspective of things, and that’s reflected in how the rest of humanity behaves in the anime. Aside from a handful of people, humanity is cast as simpletons who can’t think for themselves, a textbook symptom of a writer who has no faith in humanity. Kino’s Journey is chock-full of stories about the sheep who fall prey to their own base desires or unquestioningly obey the orders of their superiors. Yet the prevalence of this behavior and the episodic formula of this anime seems to imply that it is each society’s fault that people have fallen to such lows. And while appropriant feels that this is integral to understanding how Kino views the world, it does make him disappointed that these countries had to be presented in such a needlessly insensitive and overt manner. He thought there were interesting things to talk about with these separate settings other than saying “humanity sucks” all the time. In other words…

“This anime is too blatant!” he exclaimed. So, he watched the last anime on the list: Haibane Renmei. appropriant was under the impression that this anime was meant to be watched in small bursts, maybe two to three episodes per sitting, but he found himself speeding through the entire thing in just two sittings.

Haibane Renmei is, to not mince words, appropriant’s favorite anime of the three. Aside from being personally invested in a story so heavily about personal guilt and redemption, the anime manages to do a slife-of-life setting without a single instance of me feeling bored. Taking such sensitive measures to ease appropriant (and Rakka) into the pastoral lifestyle of the Haibane was neither too blatant nor too obtuse for me and I ended up enjoying the little things that came along in the early episodes. But what appropriant feels is most exciting about watching Haibane Renmei is that its ambiguity was by far the easiest to deal with out of all three anime he had to watch. What’s outside of the walls? Where exactly do the Haibane go when they experience their Day of Flight? Did the anime just imply that several characters had killed themselves to end up here? Well, it doesn’t really matter, does it? As long as the Haibane recognize their own sin, they will eventually experience their Day of Flight. What’s ultimately so relieving about these questions is that, in the long run, it’s not important to know. It’s not in the story’s interest to know any of those things but it exists for people like appropriant to think about further. appropriant chooses to look at this anime through his Christian background. Even though appropriant isn’t actually Christian anymore, he understands the core tenet of Christianity that is so present in Haibane Renmei, namely how you can absolve yourself through confession, and how the act of forgiveness has the power to absolve another of their sin when done correctly. Thus, appropriant is very responsive towards what the show has to say about sin, redemption, faith, and the salvation it brings. It reminds him of what Sentaro had to go through in Sakamichi no Apollon. To be honest, appropriant kind of wanted to get off Rakka and Reki’s wild ride once it started without warning at episode 6, because there was just so much potential to screw up the drama after that happened, but Haibane Renmei took him by surprise by being tasteful and slice-of-life’y about it rather than going Mari Okada up in this bitch. That’s… really the only thing appropriant has that’s even remotely close to a complaint when it comes to this anime. He’s really glad that he watched it. In other words…

“Ahhh, this anime is juuuuust right!” And he ate up every single aspect of it.

As appropriant gushed and gushed some more about Haibane Renmei, the commenters came back.

“Someone’s been talking shit about my favorite anime,” typed one commentoer.

“Someone’s been talking sHIT ABOUT MY FAVORITE ANIME, TOO.” typed another commenter as they became infected with a severe case of Tumblrcaps midway through.

“Someone’s been talking shit about my favorite anime, but it doesn’t matter because dat shit’s good.” said the last commenter. And all was well at the end of the day.

Addendum

  1. Please don’t ask what I smoked in order to come up with this.
  2. If it wasn’t clear enough in my writing, I really liked all three of my Secret Santa Anime, all of them for vastly different reasons. But it is Haibane Renmei that seems to avoid the issues I had with Serial Experiments Lain and Kino’s Journey without having to sacrifice anything of value in return.
  3. THANKS, ANIME SANTA. GAWD.
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3 comments

  1. […] Appropriant reviewed Serial Experiments Lain, Kino’s Journey, and Haibane Renmei as recommended by Gendomike […]

  2. Glad you enjoyed most of my recommendations :) all of them are the sorts of shows that make me love anime as a medium. Though I agree that Kino no Tabi has been surpassed by Mushi-shi, which at its best is nothing less than sublime.

    I’m a Christian and I read both Lain and Haibane Renmei in very Christian ways though the latter seems to be one of the few that really *gets* it both theologically and also in its feeling. I think of it as a parable.

    Anyways glad you had a good time! –gendomike

  3. I’m glad to see you enjoyed (to varying degrees) all three picks.

    I think the important thing to remember about Serial Experiments Lain is when it hit the English-speaking anime fandom. It was in the sweet spot when anime was just available enough that you could regularly find anime but not a huge number of titles. At the same time it was not popular enough that most fans could get everything they wanted when they wanted. So titles that you could repeatedly watch and analyse while you waited for something new had a special appeal. The ability to just chew on a show like Lain won it a special place in fandom’s heart that I’m not sure it would have gotten if it were released today.

    I’m not saying “NOW YOU MUST ACCEPT ALL THE FLAWS (which there a several major ones) OF LAIN!” but that knowing the context of the show and when it was released should explain it a bit better. 

    I think that the most interesting part of Kino’s Journey is that Kino keeps wandering around find all these strange and/or terrible places and still finds the world a beautiful place. In a way the lesson I took away from the show is that humanity is deeply flawed but that does not mean it is not a wonderful thing. Also part of me always think that Kino must wander into towns that are boring and tranquil but we never see those. You usually talk about the day at work that was either great or miserable. Those are the days that provide the best stories if told well. Only a poor conversationalist dwells (and on rare occasion a brilliant one) on all the details of an unremarkable day. 

    The funniest thing about your reaction to Haibane Renmei is I have heard people criticize the show in exactly in the ways you criticized the other two works. If anything that really just shows how much the too obtuse/too blatant spectrum is so very subjective. 

    I think it is interesting to note that Yoshitoshi ABe refuses to explain things like the Sin-bound Haibane and really wants everyone to come to their own conclusions about what things mean in the series. I think it is clear he wants that layer of ambiguity to exsit in the series. 

    – Alain

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