Over the past few day I watched a very peculiar anime. There was no action, nor wacky hijinks. The cast was comprised of the residents of a female dorm, but none of them wore exploitative clothes or looked particularly innocent or cute. In fact, I thought a few of them were boys, and it took a while to realize that these women had breasts at all. Everyone had very mild and very believable personalities, nobody sported any kind of crazy, bombastic traits. The drama never spirals into "are these people goddamn INSANE?!" or cheap "worst possible ending because life is CRUEL." It just follows and examines a batch of Haibane, angels born from cocoons, as they go about an ordinary life in a demi-mystical walled off society.
If this sounds like the most boring anime in the whole world, well, I dont blame you for thinking so. There are so many opportunities where the show could have gone hog wild, wallowing in all the insipid tropes that typically make up anime. I mean, just from the description alone! All-girl angel dorm having to live alongside humans in a walled-off world? With so many pitfalls, its amazing how many are carefully avoided. This is a finely tuned and crafted show, whimsical and light, and it demands you treat it with respect. It's not here to put up with your ideas of what an anime should be. It says "You sit your butt down and watch something reasonable, dangit! Fine, you can have exactly ONE sailorish costume, but its a dress that goes past the chick's shins, but thats all the anime you're getting mister!!" And I respect it all the more for that. It wasnt the most interesting show I had every watched, but the characters were likable and believable, and everything that makes up their world is the same.
On the other hand, theres a reason entertainment usually hunts down and languishes the extremes, why anime is well... animesque. Its what's interesting and facinating to us. We see enough ordinary life every day, and when we want to be entertained, we want to see crazy things. Even shows based firmly in real life, firmly in the world of the viewer, like high school or the office, still show people and events that are fantastic, beyond normal. And even though this is a show about angels, there really isnt much thats fantastic about it. Its like a toned down version of freaking Aria, which is boring and mundane fantasy while actually falling into anime pitfalls.
I found Haibane Renmei fascinating, and at least worth watching. Mostly because I like a good exploration of character and lifestyle. But I dont blame anyone for falling asleep and dumping the DVD in the trash can.