I remember when, back in the day, if you got a foreign comic or television show within six months of its release elsewhere, you were doing pretty good. Now all sorts of media are getting legitimate releases on different continents closer and closer together, and I couldn’t be more pleased about that. One title to add to the list of simultaneous releases is Rin-ne, the new manga from powerhouse and superstar Rumiko Takahashi, which has new chapters go live online in English the same day they hit the stands in Japan—and for free. Who said you can’t get something for nothing these days?
Sakura Mamiya is a high-school aged girl who has a secret: she can see spirits. It’s a horrible gift in her eyes, forever seeing the deceased even while everyone else is oblivious. Then she meets Rinne Rokudo, a strange red-headed classmate who in his off-hours helps spirits still bound to Earth move on towards the wheel of reincarnation. But as Sakura quickly learns, not only can both of them see spirits, but both of them share another connection that explains why Sakura has her mysterious abilities.
After five chapters of Rin-ne, I’m enjoying Takahashi’s new comic. At first I’ll admit that it reminded me a bit too much of Inuyasha, with the young high school girl being connected to some sort of mystic force. The more I read of Rin-ne, though, the more I’ve seen it trying to become its own unique voice. Even after the initial confusion and misunderstandings between Sakura and Rinne, I like the slight adversarial, frenemy relationship between the two of them. It keeps there being a bit of an edge to the series, and from letting the characters get too comfortable. And while the idea of freeing bound spirits might be an old one—after all in manga alone you can get it in recent and ongoing books like xxxHolic, Bleach, and The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service these days—there’s a level of fun and lightness that’s present in Rin-ne that helps set it apart from those other titles. Sakura’s soul being in grave danger in the fifth chapter, for instance, has such an innocent and almost sweet nature throughout the narration that it keeps the book from being creepy, even though the situation itself would be grim under most other writers. It’s that lightness that makes me want to read more, and makes me feel like Takahashi’s doing her best to try and keep Rin-ne different. There still are some similarities to old Takahashi works, mind you. Rinne’s scrambling for food reminds me of several of the characters of Maison Ikkoku, and the gentle slapstick bickering between Sakura and Rinne brings to mind both Ranma 1/2 and Inuyasha.
Rin-ne‘s art looks as sharp as any other modern Takahashi comic. Sakura and Rinne are both drawn sweet and soft on the page; they’re simple and stylized, but Takahashi does her job as well as always. Her art’s cute nature sometimes works out really well, like when an evil damashigami takes the form of a t-shirt wearing rabbit to lure children into the world of the dead. It’s so adorable that it’s easy to see why someone would trust such a strange and out of place creature. On the other hand, Sakura’s expressions seem to be getting stuck in a rut between surprise and awe, with very little else showing up. (Rinne at least gets to have grim and determined as his two main defaults, which are a little meatier.) With the 18 pages a week, also, some pages aren’t as fleshed out as others. Like many comics, some pages are almost entirely free of backgrounds, occasionally relying on speed lines to provide any sort of texture or visual distraction from what would otherwise be a large blank void. The end result is that there can be a bit of a sameness to Rin-ne pages, but at least it’s a visually pleasing and predictably good sameness.
Last but not least, I have to commend Viz on their excellent online comic viewer. Powered with Flash, it’s easily the best piece of software on a company’s website that I’ve come across so far. The art looks crisp and clear, it flows very smoothly, and it makes me want to come back every week and read a new chapter on The Rumic World. (If only there was an RSS feed reminding me about updates, I’d be in heaven.) With a weak comic, I can see a case being made that giving the work away for free online might steer people away. With Rin-Ne, I think Viz knows that it’s just going to help drive sales of eventual Rin-ne collections. This is a fun series, and it’s great to be up to date on it too. Considering it’s for free, there’s no reason to not give it a try.