Kow Otani
Haibane-Renmei: Hanenone

Hanenone, as it seems to be titled, is the soundtrack to the 2002 anime Haibane Renmei, never a phenomenal success in America but well received upon its release and still well loved and respected among fans today. It’s sad to see that the DVDs now appear to be out of print, but hopefully a fine distributor will come along and fix that soon. I know it’s hard to market stuff like this in America, but the audience was there for it nearly a decade ago (before the recession and the Internet file-sharing explosion, that is) and still has to be out there somewhere. It’s a beautiful and touching series that more people need to see.

But this entry isn’t about the series, just the soundtrack, which is kind of an anamoly in my CD collection. I’m usually not drawn toward “traditional” instrumental music that relies on classical arrangements like this, but the pieces on this album are moody, memorable, and have a heart without being sappy or melodramatic, making this an irresistible collection. The pieces here are slow and gentle, with plenty of spaces in the music for the tracks to properly “breathe.” I know that’s a trite saying that doesn’t mean much anymore, but I really think it holds true in this case. In the world of Haibane Renmei, life in both the town of Glie and the Old Home (where most of the story is set) is simple, rarely rushed, and proceeds acording to long-held traditions. The music of the series operates in a similar vein, scoring the scenes with subdued and timeless chamber music.

There’s no single style at work here, although nearly every piece incorporates solo piano melodies or a small string ensemble. Only a few tracks, like the opening theme’s “Free Bird,” strive to make a big splash. Most take a more delicate, pastoral approach that incorporates elements of baroque, modern classical, and even jazz. Sure, there are a few moments of tension and intrigue — the gorgeous and stirring strings in “Blight” are an album highlight — but the overall mood is reflective and calm, sometimes upbeat and cheerful, but more often overtaken by a pensive melancholy, music to stare out the window to on an overcast afternoon. But the music still emits a wistful warmth that’s too inviting to hold at arm’s length, and the pair of vocal tracks in album’s the second half — a traditional-sounding Celtic folk song (“Wondering”) and a jazzy tune that sounds plucked from a smoke-filled piano bar (“Love Will Light the Way”) — are pleasant surprises that fit nicely and don’t break the mood.

Kow Otani’s score works wonders in Haibane Renmei but stands up well on its own, making for a soundtrack that’s mellow and restrained but very effective. This is a good CD to fall asleep or study to, just don’t write it off as mere background music. You can easily lose yourself in this stuff if you so choose, and it’ll take you to some special places if you let it. Inspired music for an inspired anime, for sure, but with a magic all its own that really comes out when you apply your own story to it.