Kyōkai no Rinne
by Lauren Orsini,
As Kyokai no Rinne progresses, I'm increasingly amazed at how solid it remains in itself, ostensibly unswayed by any trends of currently airing anime. It's apparent that Rumiko Takahashi came up with her ideal formula back in the '90s, and she isn't budging from it. The result is a show with a specific blend of dry humor, flawed protagonists, and incompetent antagonists that is more like her previous works than anything else in anime now.
The villain of the day is Masato, a bat-winged demon with poor spelling and questionable smarts. “Nobody is as narrow-minded/petty as I am!” the demon proclaims in his first encounter with Rinne. Tsubasa was unfortunately not in this episode, but I would have liked to see how he and Masato got along due to their many similarities. Both of them have a decidedly more violent method of exorcising souls than Rinne, and both of them have a serious beef with him.
Of course, while Tsubasa is merely harsh with evil spirits, Masato's MO is to curse still-living souls to hell. His misunderstanding with Rinne started when he was in “fourth year demon school elementary,” a typical grade school against the backdrop of a fiery hellscape. Masato's summer homework was to capture the still-living soul of something on Earth, and he has the bad luck to try and capture Rinne's class rabbit. Rinne thwarts him from completing the assignment, but Masato's bad luck is due more to his own incompetence than anything Rinne ever did. Watching Masato hold a grudge against Rinne year after year while he misspells his curses reminds me of Ranma 1/2's Ryoga, boiling with fury even as his own poor sense of direction gets him lost all over Japan.
Now Masato has decided to get revenge on Rinne by exorcising the soul of a comatose high school student named Reiji. Reiji's body and spirit have separated, and now, egged on by Masato, his spirit is traumatizing those he left behind, mainly his girlfriend and his best friend. The inoffensiveness of the curses—like drawing a demonic flip-book on Yuzu's notes before getting bored halfway through—is exactly the sort of deadpan humor this show does best, paired with Sakura's unimpressed reactions. In fact, this episode is so heavy on similar dry gags that some of the best moments in this episode (like Rinne reminiscing over the popsicles he'd buy as a “rich” child and Masato's demon bank card trap), are played off as throwaways. It's clear that Takahashi hasn't lost her edge when it comes to humor.
This episode of Kyokai no Rinne is the first of two parts, but I certainly wouldn't call it a cliffhanger. Even when characters appear to be in temporary danger in this show, the threats are too innocuous to take seriously. I am looking forward to the second part not because I have any doubts that the plot will be neatly resolved, but because what we've seen so far of hell has been hilarious. From the grade school to the demon bank, it's a fire-and-brimstone version of ordinary life on Earth. Whether in heaven, hell, or somewhere in between, the characters of Kyokai no Rinne are just trying to go about their days without trouble, and that juxtaposition is what makes the show funny.
Kyōkai no Rinne is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.
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