So I'm going to start this off by reviewing an anime I saw very recently, Haibane Renmai (Charcoal Feather Federation) By very recently, I actually mean earlier today, when I sat down and watch the whole thing in a single sitting. (Nerdy, I know, but who are you to comment?)
Plot: A girl dreams that she is falling through darkness. In the dream a crow is attempting to help her by pulling her upwards, but she tells it not to worry and flies off. When the girl awakens we find that she is in a cocoon, inside a building populated by strange humans with small, grey wings and halos called Haibane. When the girl hatches she finds that she to is a Haibane, as she soon sprouts wings like them. She is given the name Rakka (the infinitive: To fall) as all Haibane are named after the thing they dreamed about while in a cocoon. The Haibane live in and around a town called Glie, which is surrounded on all sides by huge walls, which the Haibane are not allowed to go near. They are only allowed to own second-hand items from the normal people who live in Glie with them (note: This isn't cruelty, it appears to be a rule that the Haibane have imposed on themselves) or things that they have made themselves. The Haibane live under the guidance of a council called the Haibane Renmei, which appears to look after the walls. I won't give any more away for now.
Review: So what did I think of this anime? First off, the characters: These are a mixed bag, Rakka, the main character, and Reki, another main character, are both incredibly well developed and defined. They are both complex, flawed, believable and ultimately human characters. However, in a show only 13 episodes in length, this meant that the development of other characters was a little stunted. There the bookish one, the tomboy, the happy optimistic one, and the somewhat introspective one. They are all good characters, but they fail to develop beyond archetypes.
Next, the plot: It's a very very complex mind-fu*k. The plot is one of those in which loose ends are purposefully left loose, and while I personally like that as it gives me a chance to tie them up for myself, but some people won't like it. While the main plotline is ultimately resolved, giving some sense of closure, what exactly is happening remains a mystery that the viewer is left to puzzle out for themselves. This means that otaku will love it, as it gives us an opportunity to argue endlessly in internet forums about what was up. Casual viewers should avoid this one until they have at least some knowlegde of anime. It really is rife with symbolism and hidden meaning. It's no coincidence that it comes from the pen of Yoshitoshi ABe, who also wrote the uber-symbolistic Serial Experiments: Lain.
The visuals: These were generally very good. The characters were all well drawn and the animation was top-notch. There was some CGI which looked a little out of place, but not so much that you want to smash your screen in.
The Music: Perfect. 10/10 without a shadow of a doubt. The lyric-less opening piece is one of the most beautiful and fitting that I have ever come across. The background music never fails to set the mood of the scene. This series eschews the fast-paced music that you find in many shows for gentle orchestral pieces that are a joy to listen to. I already have the OST on order.
Overall: This series is not for everyone. It moves at a slow, leisurely pace and unfolds the story in its own time. Surprisingly little happens in 13 episodes, and it is mostly a study of the two central characters, Rakka and Reki. However, if you give it a chance this series will delight you with its intricate, clever plot, its astounding music and its central themes of redemption and forgiveness.