Kyōkai no Rinne
by Lauren Orsini,
If this episode of Kyokai no Rinne were a person, it'd be no older than thirteen. Featuring a triple date between self-absorbed characters who are densely ignorant of their feelings for one another, it captures a middle school mindset that's far from all-ages friendly. Today's plot hits close to home for young viewers—and is more frustrating than nostalgic for everyone else—as the characters struggle with feelings of love for the first time.
Rumiko Takahashi has always shined at creating and introducing an engaging supporting cast, and this episode is no different as it welcomes a new transfer student, the trigger-happy exorcist Tsubasa Jumonji. But don't let his effeminate style of dress fool you—Tsubasa has a ridiculous crush on Sakura, interrupting homeroom to have a verbal duel with Rinne over her. Sakura, as usual, remains completely unperturbed by these antics. Sakura's ability to stay calm and unruffled in any spiritual situation is her greatest strength as a protagonist, but when she retains this same mindset during the romantic subplot, she just appears immature. It's not that she isn't bothered, only ignorant of her own feelings. When Tsubasa asks her to walk home with him, she asks Rinne what he's doing first, as she'd clearly rather be with him. This fact is obvious to everyone except Rinne himself. When he gives her the cold shoulder, she's confused but not overly upset, and it's hard to tell if this is Sakura's down-to-earth personality or her ignorance talking.
Indeed, that teenage angst and drama continues as the characters transition to the major event of today's story, a triple date with Rinne, Tsubasa, Sakura, Sakura's two friends and a spirit who has a crush on one of Sakura's friends. The six go to the amusement park, where Rinne and Tsubasa transparently battle for Sakura's affections. "What is this sickening sensation, like I just stepped on a caterpillar in Hell?” Rinne says to himself when Sakura seems to be having a good time with Tsubasa. This is precisely the reaction to first heartbreak that so many of us remember having as young teenagers.
Meanwhile, Tsubasa, who seems to be mature enough in his understanding of romance to actually ask Sakura on a date instead of ignoring her, appears woefully immature in many ways that Rinne is not. Rinne wants to exorcise the spirit by showing him a good time and allowing him to let go of his regrets; Tsubasa wants to violently dissipate him in front of everybody. “You're too soft. What if he turns evil?” Tsubasa asks Rinne, even though any reasonable viewer can see that Rinne's is the more logical plan. Over the course of the episode, Tsubasa learns an elementary lesson in relating to the spirit, humanizing him, and maybe caring about somebody outside of himself for once.
This week's Kyokai no Rinne won't appear deep to most viewers. However, being a Takahashi story, there's a hint of nostalgia for fans of her previous work, through familiar character tropes we can remember. For even more overt references, pause your screen at 17:05, 17:34, and 17:37 to catch Ranma, Akane, Genma, P-Chan, and Lum! Just don't expect to learn anything new from this basic Love 101 story.
Kyōkai no Rinne is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.
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