Kyōkai no Rinne
by Lauren Orsini,
It's hard to say which is older: Japanese mythology or the coming of age story. This week's episode of Kyōkai no Rinne featured both. As both Sakura and the viewer continue to get acquainted with Rinne, the male lead's personality became far more nuanced than I previously gave him credit for.
“A Shinigami… kind of thing.” “A human… kind of thing.” Now the show's adorable mascot has been introduced, neither human nor shinigami, but a cat (kind of thing). More importantly, while Rinne and Sakura continue to traverse the worlds of the living and the dead, other elements of the plot that inhabit these liminal spaces become more pronounced. This episode features two demons that everyone—not just Sakura—can see. It's one visual representation of the way the world of Kyōkai no Rinne refuses to be confined to just two boxes of life and afterlife.
Take Rinne's revealed origin. We've met his grandmother, who is a shinigami, but now we know his grandfather was a human. It's not unexpected, but the way Rinne gently shares the story with Sakura makes it clear that he's being completely earnest when he adds “kind of thing” to statements about himself. It seems Rinne still has a lot of self-discovery to do and is not totally secure in his dual identity. He can do the work of a shinigami, but he needs a lot of extra tools to help him out. He can be visible like a human, but he doesn't engage in human traditions like living in a house, for example. He doesn't feel like he fits into either in this world or the next. This is where I see his potential for romance with Sakura. Unfazed by spirits she's been able to see since childhood, Sakura is distant from her superstitious friends. Rinne and Sakura alone occupy this space together.
Last week, I complained that every character can be described with one personality trait. This week, Sakura continues to be the straight man while Rinne and his grandmother Tamako grow increasingly more relatable. It turns out there's a reason why Tamako is scheming and Rinne is cheap, and we're going to hear it. Since the show declines to explain many things (why are students still so scared of the supernatural as it continues to appear so regularly? Why does Sakura's teacher always have stars in his eyes?) I would have been disappointed, but not surprised if they remained flat tropes. Sakura seems poised to remain the typical shoujo anime everygirl, but her levelheadedness and collected demeanor when faced with the uncommon make her more likable than most.
As we ease into episode three of Kyōkai no Rinne, I'm really getting a feel for the music, which features traditional Japanese instruments in an upbeat arrangement. It's just one more way the show's Buddhist tradition makes itself known. While the music works well, the translation effort could use a little work. I had no idea that “hinotama” meant a fireball spirit, though I guess Yugioh has popularized that spirit name among Westerners. Mostly, Rinne's references leave the viewers to fend for themselves. His allusion to Grandpa becoming a mackerel requires some understanding of the Buddhist belief of reincarnation. As for his mention of an anime featuring “a clumsy housewife,” I have no idea which work Rumiko Takahashi is memorializing here.
After three episodes, Kyōkai no Rinne has introduced the major players and is finding its stride as it deepens their stories. With a grand tradition of Bildungsroman stories to pick and choose from, the show could go anywhere from here.
Kyōkai no Rinne is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.
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