By Rumiko Takahashi
200 pages, black and white
Published by Viz
I’ve been having fun reading brand-new chapters of Rumiko Takahashi’s series Rin-ne on the Shonen Sunday website each week; for those who like something a little more permanent, though, the book is also being published in a series of collections. (Doubly so since once the collections are released, the individual chapters come off of the official site.) Picking up the latest volume, it strikes me that while I’m enjoying the series overall, in some ways this feels like a slight step backwards for Takahashi.
The vast bulk of Rin-ne is "spirit of the week" stories, where Rinne and Sakura discover a new ghost haunting the vicinity around their high school, and try to help the spirit resolve its issues and move on to the wheel of reincarnation. Occasionally Takahashi brings back a familiar villain in the form of Rinne’s father, who continually racks up debt in Rinne’s name and tries to lure people off the path of resurrection. And while that’s the closest the series has to an actual ongoing plot, it’s also my least favorite aspect of Rin-ne.
Unfortunately, the first half of Rin-ne Vol. 5 deals with just that, as a young shinigami named Ageha gets pulled into Rinne’s father’s schemes. In what to readers of Ranma 1/2 must be familiar, Ageha romantically falls for Rinne, who of course shows no interest while still pining after Sakura. (Not to be confused, of course, with exorcist Tsubasa who has fallen for Sakura.) Takahashi is fond of her love triangles, and while I understand Takahashi feels the need to put some sort of obstacle in the path of Rinne and Sakura ending up together, this feels a little too tired on Takahashi’s part. It’s the same sort of character set-up that she’s used over and over again, and coupled with a general lack of an ongoing plot (something that her last series Inuyasha actually had) it feels like Takahashi’s back on autopilot.
The good news? Even Takahashi on autopilot isn’t bad, especially when she goes back to the "spirit of the week" stories. Perhaps because it’s a new mystery each time, it feels fresher and more creative than another appearance of Rinne’s father and his evil corporation. Haunted athletic tracks and library shelves are much more entertaining, and it lets the book end on an upbeat note. It helps matters that unlike going up against Rinne’s father, the "spirit of the week" stories actually let Sakura and Rinne accomplish something instead of throwing themselves against a brick wall. Protagonists need to be able to succeed every now and then to keep the readers from giving up, and Takahashi’s mixture of wistfulness, regret, and slapstick comedy in these shorter stories is entertaining. Something as simple as a dog-shaped spirit haunting the library looks cute and fun, and her art feels much more inventive. (Although even in the Rinne’s father stories, it’s the art that ultimately saves the day; the images of Ageha getting swindled every other panel look remarkably funny, if nothing else.)
Rin-ne is a slightly variable series, but having read online into what would be the middle of Volume 8, it’s good to know that Takahashi is playing much more to her strengths the further the series progresses, and there’s even a good story involving Rinne’s father and a noodle shop before too long. It’s a shame that Takahashi’s new series is a little more fluffy than Inuyasha or even Maison Ikkoku, but it’s still fun to read. Rin-ne isn’t a series for the ages, but as a series for now it’s a nice diversion every week. As long as Takahashi keeps writing and drawing the book, I’ll keep reading.