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
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.
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
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.
- 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.
- 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"
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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