|Created by||Haibane Renmei|
|Years on Air||2002|
Japanese Title: 灰羽連盟
English Title: Charcoal Feather Federation
The series begins with two parallel scenes. The first scene is of a young girl falling through the sky, head downward and cradling a crow. The crow tries to stop the girl's fall by pulling on the hem of her robe, but cannot and eventually flies away. The other scene is of a group of female Haibane who find a large cocoon growing in a storage room. The Haibane clean the room to prepare for the opening of the cocoon. When the cocoon breaks open, the girl inside (the same one seen falling in the first scene) is brought to a guest room where several Haibane care for her, led by an older Haibane named Reki. When the young girl wakes up, she can remember only the part of her cocoon dream in which she was falling. As Haibane are traditionally named based on their dreams within the cocoon, she is named Rakka ("falling"). Shortly after arriving, the Haibane present Rakka with a halo which she begins to wear, and Reki cares for Rakka as she goes through the painful and bloody ordeal of having wings erupt from her back.
Reki and the other Haibane—who are all teenage girls and younger children—live in "Old Home," an abandoned school in the country near the town of Glie. As time passes, Rakka learns more about Old Home and the Haibane who live there, about Glie, in which the townspeople are friendly and generous to the Haibane, and about "Abandoned Factory," where a second co-ed group of Haibane lives. The very young children among the Haibane at both locations all live at Old Home and are in the care of Reki and a "house mother" from town. All Haibane must work at jobs in Glie and are subject to restrictive rules with sometimes harsh penalties. Foremost among these rules: Haibane may not own anything new, may not use money, and are forbidden to touch or even approach the wall that circles Glie and the surrounding countryside. These rules are strictly enforced by the Haibane Renmei ("Charcoal Feather Federation"), an organization which oversees the lives of the Haibane.
Rakka quickly bonds with the other residents of Old Home - especially Reki and Kuu - and begins searching for a job by spending a day with each of her friends at their jobs in a bakery, in the library, in the clock repair center at the clock tower, and taking care of the children at Old Home.
As the winter approaches, Kuu becomes pensive and distracted and begins to give away her possessions. One day, Kuu vanishes. Rakka is distraught when she learns that Kuu has taken her Day of Flight, has passed over the wall, and will never return. The Day of Flight is the eventual fate of all Haibane who are not "sin-bound."
Rakka reacts to Kuu's unexpected departure by becoming deeply depressed, and her charcoal grey wing feathers begin to turn black. Rakka desperately attempts to conceal the change by cutting off her affected feathers, but Reki discovers her condition, comforts Rakka, and shows her how to treat the black spots with an herbal solution to hide them, something Reki learned from her own mentor, Kuramori. Reki tells Rakka that she (Rakka) is "sin-bound," caught up in guilt for past deeds and unable to understand the true meaning of her cocoon dream. Reki reveals that she emerged from her own cocoon in this condition, with black wings and a cocoon dream she could not fully remember, and has been similarly hiding her own black feathers ever since. Deeply depressed and confused, Rakka later runs away from Old Home in despair, and is led by crows into the dangerous Western Woods. The crows bring Rakka to an empty well; she falls to the bottom of it and cannot climb out. Rakka sees the bones of a dead crow at the bottom of the well. She falls asleep and is able at last to remember all of her cocoon dream, including the crow which tried to help her. Rakka realizes that the crow in her dream represented a person whom she had hurt and who had loved her in her past life, whose spirit then flew over the wall as a bird to bring her a message of forgiveness. Rakka's guilt is relieved, and her wings turn gray again. She is rescued from the well by two Toga who then leave her alone in the forest. Stumbling, due to her injured ankle, she rests by the wall, touching it when she hears Kuu's voice, and is then admonished by the Communicator. Leading her home, he explains to her the Circle of Sin, which Reki is caught in and Rakka might descend into:
Communicator: "To recognize one's own sin is to have no sin. So, are you a sinner?" Rakka: "Uh! But if I think I have no sin, then I become a sinner!" Communicator: "Perhaps this is what it means to be bound by sin. To spin in the same circle, looking for where the sin lies, and at some point losing sight of the way out." The Communicator then leaves Rakka at the edge of the Western Woods, where she is found by Reki. Later that night, she falls seriously ill because she touched the wall.
As the Haibane of Old Home nurse her back to health, Reki understands that Rakka is no longer sin-bound and feels some jealousy and loneliness. As time passes, the other Haibane at Old Home notice that Reki becomes more and more distant from the group. Rakka realizes that her friend only pretends to be happy. She is summoned to the Temple and is given a job to atone for breaking the taboo of touching the wall; she will go within the wall, clean the metal tags inside, and harvest glowing leaves which are used to forge the Haibane's halos. As she works, the curious things inside make her wonder more about the mysteries of the Haibane. The Communicator notices this and decides to confide in her. He tells her that Reki's time as a Haibane is close to its end, and that Reki must resolve her inner conflicts and take her Day of Flight or she will lose her wings and halo, go into exile, and live alone until she dies. Rakka resolves to help her friend find her way. Rakka persuades several Haibane from Abandoned Factory to forgive Reki for a long-past transgression: Reki had influenced her friend, Hyoko, to help her try to pass over the wall, which nearly killed him and led to severe punishment for damaging the wall. However, Reki is resigned to her fate; never able to get over Kuramori's departure, she refuses to trust anyone or accept help for fear of betrayal - to the point of concealing herself, on the New Year's Day, in her studio, the walls and floor of which she turned into an enormous painting of what little she remembers from her cocoon dream. Rakka brings Reki her "true name," written on a stone tablet and detailed further in a letter, as a gift from the Haibane Renmei: "to be run over and torn asunder." Upon reading this, Reki remembers her dream, in which she died from being run over by a train; she realizes that the dream never ended for her, preventing her from finding happiness. The violence of this revelation only serves to drive Reki into a self-loathing frenzy. As Rakka tries to talk to her, Reki tells Rakka that she never really cared for Rakka, and took care of Rakka as part of a final selfish effort to earn salvation.
Rakka leaves Reki, devastated, but finds and reads Reki's diary. From it, and from the forgotten memories it reveals, Rakka realizes that Reki has spent so much of her time as a Haibane performing good deeds that goodness has become her identity, even if she cannot see it. Realizing that Reki truly did care for her and did want someone to trust and to help her in her despair, Rakka returns to Reki's room. Suddenly, she finds herself and Reki trapped inside of Reki's dream, Reki standing on the tracks and the train approaching. Rakka rushes to help - only to learn that Reki cannot be saved without asking for help. On the brink of being run over again, this time by a grey amorphous train-like shape emerging from the wall painting, Reki does ask for help; Rakka rescues Reki just before the shape passes. Reki breaks free from the Circle of Sin, and her wings are restored.
Reki then receives the blessing of the Day of Flight and her departure in a column of light is seen happily by all the Haibane, both in Old Home and in Abandoned Factory. In the epilogue, Rakka discovers twin cocoons beginning to grow in an abandoned room in Old Home and runs to alert her friends to the exciting development, and the epilogue ends with Rakka saying "Reki, I will never forget you."