Too Much Like an Angel

Dearest Rachel –

Late last week, I received a rather large envelope in the mail from a location that didn’t register with me. To be sure, most mail that arrives comes from such locations; even the bills that I process regularly come from addresses that I forget from month to month – the only reason I recognize them is because of the company logos in the upper left-hand corner.

It also came bundled alongside an absurd number of political ads, which were each nearly as large as this particular envelope. However, the ads were generally single-page flyers of sturdy paper stock, so the recipient could see everything without bothering to open an envelope and flip through pages of documentation arguing why the advertised candidate is so much better than the other alternatives. So, while for a moment, I was tempted to dismiss this delivery, I determined that something was different about this piece of mail, and decided to open the envelope to see what exactly it was.

And it was a good thing I did, because it was something I had purchased a little more than a month ago, finally completed and submitted to me; another depiction of you as a Haibane.

I’m not willing to say I’m disappointed, exactly – the execution is beautiful, and in particular, I’m sure you would have only wished to have had your hair turn out like this after a dye job – but I have to confess that this isn’t quite what I had pictured. Perhaps I couldn’t express my conception of you accurately to her.

The problem is that I described you as being like the focal character, Rakka, who is initially depicted in a robe, if only for the fact that, when a Haibane breaks out of their cocoon, they don’t arrive clothed, and something has to serve to cover them at first.

But between the wings, the halo and the robe, she looks more like an angel than she ought to (although the character does tend to be more spiritually-minded than most of the others at Old Home). The fact is, she (and the others) are ordinary young people – well, aside from the wings and halos.

From left to right: Kuu, Rakka, Hikari (with Hana), Kana, Nemu, Reki and a boy I can’t recall

It’s likely that, by describing you as having Rakka’s character – especially if you considered Ellen to be very much like Reki – both the artists I commissioned to depict you interpreted that to mean that you would be dressed like her as well. It makes you come off looking a bit too much like an angel – and the Haibane look too much like that as it is. So that may well be on me for that.

To be honest, in terms of actual physical appearance, I probably should have had them reference Hikari instead – although I don’t think your personality matched much with hers, save for the fact that she would interact with the little ones from the Abandoned Factory, like your work in the nursery. And, now that I consider the overarching storyline, coupled with the fact that the relationship dynamic here in real life has changed, it may be that you would be more like Kuu to me, or Kuramori to Ellen (which, appropriately keeps her in the role of Reki)

Only, your painting would have a purple theme, rather than red and orange, and be set in winter rather than autumn.

Now, you and I are aware of who and what the Haibane are – or rather, are supposed to be. The specifics aren’t explicitly spelled out in the series itself, but there are enough fan theories (and we actually got a chance to discuss this with Yoshitoshi Abe when he attended an Anime Central a few years before the pandemic – I forget the actual year, however – and he generally acknowledges the ideas that fans of the series come up with as reasonable without confirming or denying anything). For the benefit of those who choose to look over my shoulder, I might as well explain a little further, however.

To be sure, Abe is an animator – and an artistically gifted one at that, with a tendency for writing some thought-provoking and trippy storylines, like Serial Experiments Lain and NieA_7 – but he is not a theologian.

And of course, you remember Lain, in particular, as well.

Still, his depiction of an otherworld that might just be compared to Limbo (not that that’s a real thing, either) is a fascinating one, and we both related to the redemption arcs involved in the brief storyline (only 13 episodes long), particularly since you recognized a bit of yourself and Ellen in the Rakka-Raki dynamic.

There are – or rather, were – other similarities, such as the fact that virtually everything the Haibane own is either handmade or second-hand, and the once-abandoned dormitory that the main ensemble call ‘Old Home’ is cluttered with all manner of stuff, not unlike our own house until your own Day of Flight. The fact that each Haibane arrives with a cocoon dream suggests that they may well be considered the souls of children who died prematurely, before what we in our denomination might call the ‘age of accountability,’ when one is old enough to understand and make a decision for (or, unfortunately, against) Christ’s saving power on our behalf. There is an amazing short fanfiction that describes the process on what might be considered ‘our’ side that, despite its brevity, neither of us could read to the other without breaking down, and I’m going to leave it to others to check out rather than go into detail. Suffice to say, I believe that you would have a cocoon dream of snow, and would accordingly be given the name of ‘Yuki’ were you to end up there for a relatively brief stay before truly beginning your venture into eternity.

But of course, you wouldn’t end up there at all. For all your efforts to remain as childlike as possible throughout your fifty years (sometimes it’s hard to believe it was that many), you were no child in real life. You could be every inch the grown-up you needed to be, when the situation called upon it. There would be no need for you to make a stopover in the limbo that the town of Glie served as for the Haibane.

Still, it’s a pleasant visual for my mind’s eye, even if it did see you in a more pensive light than the artists I commissioned at Anime Central. They saw you in an angelic light, even going so far as to illustrate you flying over snow-capped mountains, when I pictured you as more down-to-earth, wondering at your sudden new surroundings, maybe along the lines of the ‘sad girls in snow’ that megatoyko‘s creator Fred Gallagher is so fond of drawing:

Again, a bit more purple than blue, but the idea is there.
He’s been known to dabble in Haibane fanart himself, from time to time, too, with his own characters.

But maybe that’s just a case of me not explaining myself properly. It’s a beautiful picture nevertheless, and it will most likely grace the one bare wall left where the oven used to be, when everything is said and done. But I’ll probably continue to search for just the right image of you for now; who knows, maybe I’ll find someone next month at AnimeIowa this year, now that I’m not quite so distraught as I was last year.

At any rate, honey, I hope you like it, and if you can wish me luck for a better attempt, I’d appreciate it. Take care, and you have my love and longing.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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