by Carlo Santos,


GN 5

Rinne Rokudo is a shinigami trying to repay his debts by guiding wayward spirits on Earth back to the afterlife. But after meeting the spiritually inclined Sakura Mamiya, Rinne is now trying to balance supernatural business with emotional teenage problems! Things only get crazier when Ageha, another shinigami, develops a crush on Rinne and asks him to help her rid the world of damashigami (evil shinigami) and rescue her lost older sister. Will Ageha's feelings change when she learns that Rinne is the son of the damashigami leader? Well, it seems she still likes him enough make him lunch ... Meanwhile, Sakura's schoolmates are facing ghostly problems of their own: a cursed library bookshelf, a track athlete whose performance is hampered by supernatural circumstances, and an upset former classmate from Sakura's childhood are just some of the problems that Rinne must help exorcise.

Seasoned anime viewers are pretty familiar with the concept of filler—throwaway episodes used to pad out a storyline when the source material wears thin. But filler can happen in manga too, as the lackluster fifth volume of Rin-ne proves. Rinne and Sakura's adventures, usually so full of wild twists and supernatural derring-do, have suddenly taken a nosedive on the degree-of-difficulty scale: they've gone from battling creatures of the underworld to running errands and solving the problems of high schoolers. After seeing (and conquering) the wonders of the spirit realm, why would anyone want to go back to this? Surely Rinne Rokudo has better things to do than alleviate teenage lovesickness and mend strained friendships.

The first few chapters are a brief reminder of this series at its best, with dramatic shinigami fight scenes, inventive (and often humorous) special attacks, and the complex interwoven relationships that are Rumiko Takahashi's trademark. The lines connecting Ageha, her sister, Rinne, and Rinne's dad are all filled in at last, although this satisfying revelation does require familiarity with the events of Volume 4. Action-packed scenes and character-driven plot points eventually give way to far less ambitious situations, however, beginning with Ageha's plot to win Rinne's heart by giving him an enchanted bento lunchbox at school. The plan, of course, goes predictably awry, but the bigger issue is seeing a school-romance cliché join forces with a supernatural cliché ... in the hands of a manga-making legend. Surely Takahashi ought to hold herself to a higher standard?

That higher standard never emerges, though, as this volume continues to drift on autopilot all the way to the last page. Meaningless one-and-done situations are all that await Rinne and Sakura as they continue to investigate spiritual matters: the curse of the library is nothing more than an immature unrequited love waiting to be resolved, and the track athlete's dilemma relies on the classic writer's crutch of making characters inexplicably stupid and uncommunicative. Surely all their problems would be fixed if they would just speak to each other honestly. At least the last scenario is interesting in the way it sheds some light on Sakura's childhood, as well as shifitng the chemistry by temporarily pairing her up with Rinne's rival Tsubasa. In the end, though, the character that Sakura encounters is just another throwaway figure, while the plotlines that really matter—like Rinne and Sakura's developing relationship, or the feud with Rinne's father—have essentially gone nowhere.

At least Rumiko Takahashi gives us some pleasant art to look at while all this mindless churning is going on. There is no creative shortage in the types of monsters that Rinne and Sakura must fend off—great hulking demons, guard dogs from spiritual folklore, and sometimes the most insidious of all, spirits of other humans. There's even a sense of humor to certain creature designs, as proven in the bento box story. However, not every aspect of the artwork is so imaginative—when it comes to human characters, the boys and girls all kind of have the same delicate features, and it becomes a bit of a challenge keeping up with secondary characters like Ageha as well as all the students in need of spiritual help. The backgrounds, too, suffer from being built out of typical high school corridors and courtyards; the only time interesting landscapes show up is when this volume shifts briefly to the underworld (and even then they are marred by too many computer-generated gradient tones). But in spite of these faults, Takahashi maintains clean, fluid layouts throughout—action, dialogue, and scene transitions all flow with ease from a visual standpoint.

The other thing that flows with ease throughout the series is the repartee between the characters, with Sakura always having a witty comeback for Rinne's screw-ups, Rinne never missing a chance to snipe at his father, and everyone gleefully picking on Tsubasa. Even in the heat of battle or exorcism, this series is always poised to make a surprise wisecrack—even if some of the gags are a bit corny—as a reminder that spiritual matters need not be taken too seriously. The translation captures this wit so well that some scenes are even worth reading out loud, just to get the feel of the characters really mouthing off at each other. However, the conversion of sound effects into English is not nearly as deft; many of the font choices look amateurish and clash loudly with the artwork. There's nothing quite like a big, intrusive "WHOOSH" to detract from the action.

Although some aspects of Rin-ne are still satisfying—the creatively designed monsters, the goofball humor, the twisting character relationships—the overall content of Volume 5 is a resounding disappointment. This is exactly the definition of manga filler, where storylines that matter are pushed aside in favor of quick, easy romps that leave the protagonists unaffected. It's a form of plotwise procrastination, like puttering around the house doing chores because you're too intimidated to start on the big assignment that's due for school or work. Similarly, Rumiko Takahashi seems content to putter around with these inconsequential adventures because she isn't sure where to head next with Rinne's daddy issues or Sakura and Rinne's relationship. Hopefully she decides soon—not just for the good of the story, but for the good of all the readers who had to sit through this.

Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : B

+ Fluid artwork, unusual creatures and nonstop wit make each of Rinne's exploits a fun, imaginative ride.
Digs into shameless filler after the first few chapters, with each of these "fun rides" ultimately having no bearing on the overall plot.

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Story & Art: Rumiko Takahashi

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