Some of my first exposure to manga when I was in elementary school were Inuyasha and Ranma 1/2, both works by female manga creator Rumiko Takahashi. While Inuyasha was a violent historical fantasy filled with demons and flesh-ripping action, Ranma 1/2 was a modern day (well, at the time it began serializing in 1987) comedy with gender-bending and nudity. While her latest work RIN-NE (also known as Kyokai no RIN-NE, lit. Rinne of the Boundary) is one of her most tame works yet, it has all the imagination and humor that Takahashi is famous for.
RIN-NE revolves around two characters: Sakura Mamiya, a fairly normal high school girl who just happens to have the ability to see spirits, and Rinne Rokudo, her classmate who works as a “sort of” shinigami (reaper of death) despite being human. Despite being an orphan with little to no money (seriously—he lives in the abandoned school building next to the high school he attends), Rinne is forced to send spirits of the deceased to the ring of reincarnation to repay a debt left by his family.
Unfortunately, sending these spirits to be reincarnated requires tools, and those tools cost money—something Rinne doesn’t have. In order to do his job, he finds himself having to rely on Sakura not just for money, but also for her quick wit. During their time together, they encounter many colorful characters, including Rinne’s deadbeat dad Sabato, an exorcist who is in love with Sakura, and a cute black cat demon who serves as Rinne’s assistant, among many others.
The great thing about RIN-NE has to be its simplicity. While most anime have tons of twists and turns, RIN-NE follows a simple formula: Rinne gets a problem he has to solve (usually involving a spirit), Rinne thinks up a solution for the problem, the solution doesn’t go as planned, but the problem is finally solved in a comedic manner. Because each arc is normally finished up in one episode, there’s a feeling of satisfaction when the thirty-minute block is through, and anyone can watch any season and any episode without needing to watch previous episodes. It’s not rocket science, but RIN-NE has a knack for entertaining with familiar scenarios, but unique characters to push them off the ground.
First and foremost, there’s Rinne and Sakura. While most anime tend to try to make their main couple an example of “opposites attract,” Rinne and Sakura are a rarity: they both have cool, aloof personalities. While this combination is not used often, Takahashi makes it so they’re not just one-note quiet characters—Rinne has plenty of moments of silliness despite his taciturn manner, and Sakura… well, Sakura just doesn’t give a crap. But she is always there to help Rinne, and seeing her uncaring personality change little by little as she spends time with him throughout the seasons is extremely heart-warming.
With characters being such a strong driving force behind the show, it’s great to see that we’ll be getting two new major players in the show’s plot this season. First, there’s Annette—she’s Rinne’s new teacher, but is also a witch who uses her crystal ball to predict the future. She comes into conflict with Rinne because it turns out that her crystal ball is a valuable shinigami artifact, and he wants to use it himself.
The other character, Otome, is Rinne’s long-lost mother and the wife of his loser dad Sabato. There had been mentions of her before, but it was never known what became of her. Without a father or mother around, Rinne was forced to live with his grandparents. I’m personally excited to see how the relationship between Rinne’s mom and dad will play out—though I probably shouldn’t expect anything too dramatic. This is Rinne’s dad we’re talking about.
Maybe I have just a teensy bit of nostalgia for Rumiko Takahashi’s brand of comedy—but nostalgia or not, I just can’t resist some simple, easy, classic comedy with unique, whacky characters.
The first two seasons of RIN-NE are available to watch now streaming on Crunchyroll. Sentai Filmworks publishes the anime on home video in North America, and has licensed the third season for digital and home video release (although a digital streaming platform has not been announced as of this time). VIZ Media publishes the original manga in English, and they released volume 23 in North America on March 14. If you want to get the scoop on the new season, you can read our group interview with the voice actors that play Rinne, Sakura, and Sabato.