Basic Symbolism:

This isn't an in-depth coverage of the symbolism being used, at least, not yet. That's spread out over the episode and character pages. This is just a brief introduction to the main pieces of symbolism used in the show. I'm also rather an amateur at this, so feel free to offer corrections and additions. I do plan to put in a lot more work on this page when I get a chance to research it properly.

Angels - Birds - Cocoons - Directions - Halos - Walls - Wells - Wings

Angels - Okay, if you're coming from a Western religion, forget what you know about angels. This is anime. Most of the people making it know less about angels than I do. They have become rather increasingly popular in anime and manga over the past few years. They're here because wings are cute, and cute is good.
Now that that's out of the way, keep in mind that these aren't angels. These are haibane. The form was chosen probably at least in part for religious overtones, but again, probably mostly for the cuteness. It's not the particular form that's important for the show, what's important is simply that the haibane are not quite human.
Still, the form is fitting. Angels in part symbolize the journey from earth to heaven.
I do also want to add that ABe is making a much more substantial use of Judeo-Christian themes than I've seen in an anime before. The eastern flavor is still there, but his use of the symbolism is much substantial and accurate than, say, Neon Genesis Evangleion, where it's mostly used as a foreign gloss.


Birds - Birds are a very common symbol seen in anime. They're associated with flight (of course) and freedom.
Crows in particular were a good choice. Although they appear in all of ABe's animation work so far, they are quite appropriate for the story.
They are usually associated with magic or the fantastic, which is fitting for the setting and story. Eastern religions in particular seem to view crows as a symbol of love and creation. Both eastern and some western religions seem them also as messengers, a theme highlighted throughout the show. In Celtic, Greek and African religions (among others) the crow is also seen as a guide or a prophet (see definitions for psychopomp). Also, as carrion eaters they are associated with death and dying, and in some mythologies are the only creatures easily able to cross between the worlds of life and death
In heraldry, crows symbolize a settled habitation and a quiet life.


Cocoons - A symbol of death and rebirth. This is more commonly seen in other forms, or at least less explicitly so, in anime.
Although the basics are readily apparent, the connection is quite appropriate. Butterflies and cocoons have long been associated with souls, both in Celtic mythology and in early Christian symbolism. The Greek word 'psyche' can be translated both as soul and butterfly.
Note also the flight associations.


Directions - The directions play an important part in the symbolism as well. They break down as follows:
The direction west has represented the new and undiscovered. It also represents the uncivilized (the word wasteland is derived from "west land"). The west also represents such topics as old age, autumn (yes, this again), outward or upward movement, and freedom, and is the direction of sunset. In China it symbolizes sorrow, and in Egyptian mythology the western lands are where souls of the dead make a pilgrimage. West is also associated with the element of water, tying things in with one of the more common symbols of the series.
The south is the direction associated with power, strength and vitality. It's the direction where the sun is the strongest, and so is also associated with light, summer and the element of fire. In the Bible, the south was the side of the "spirits made just" and angels.
The east is the direction of sunrise and beginnings. It's associated with the season of spring and the element of air. In both the Old and New Testament, it's associated with God and Jesus. It's also associated with the traditional and the civilized.
The north is associated with death and darkness, as was often the area of a graveyard that the criminals would have been buried in. The Japanese associate north with winter, and a common superstition is that sleeping with your head pointing north is bad luck.


Halos - Okay, this one has me stumped. The main connection is the importation of the whole angel image. They do play an important role in the series, but that may have just been seizing on something available.
However, there is one part of the halo symbolism that fits very well with the show, which is its shape, that of a circle. This is associated with eternity, a never ending existence. This also fits with the eastern concepts of reincarnation. This is an extremely old symbol associated with divinity, which is probably why it was used for angels in the first place.
Note that when a haibane leaves the nest they leave their halo behind and that the material for the halos comes from the wall.


Walls - Another one of the basics, it stands (quite literally) for separation and protections. The way it is used in the show is largely as an expansion of the cocoon symbolism.

Wells - This is an unusual choice for anime. Wells are a representation of birth (more specifically, the womb) and of fertility, which ties in with the cocoon symbolism. In all, it reinforces yet again the generative/regenerative symbolism ripe throughout the series.
Thanks to the water they contain, they are also associated with wisdom. They are also associated with healing (although I'm not positive of this, the Japanese concept of onsen likely fits very well with this) and purification. Water is also deeply linked with the concept of gateways, specifically gateways between worlds.

Wings - This ties in with the freedom associations of flight tied to birds. They are also associated with the immortality of the soul.
Note also the color of the wings. Neither black nor white, but grey. This ties in with the concept of yin and yang. The balance, the concept of constant change, all are reflected in the haibane's wings.

Copyright 2003 -
Images Copyright Pioneer and/or yoshitoshi ABe unless otherwise noted