Maybe I need to re-read Kyoukai no Rinne. Because the anime is pretty awesome, and I just don’t remember the manga being this good. Is Rumiko responsible for it, or are Brain’s Base and director Sugawara Seiki just doing that great a job in the adaptation? I suspect it’s a mixture of both (and having the excellent Yoktote Michiko on-board for series composition doesn’t hurt), but one thing’s for sure – Rinne is a real blast in anime form. And it’s great to see Brains Base back in the game after losing so much key talent.
Every episode of this show has been built more or less along the same blueprints – solidly entertaining in its own right, tangentially building on the main storyline, consistently nailing the deadpan humor. There’s a wonderfully laid-back quality to Rinne that’s characteristic of Rumiko’s less serious work, and reflects the demeanor of Mamiya Sakura. It doesn’t take anything it does too seriously, and is liable to inject humor into any given moment – yet it does respect that moment enough so that there’s an emotional engagement with what’s happening, and with the one-off characters. Rinne may not be Rumiko’s best work, but in her hands – and Yokote’s – it’s easy to see the sheer ease and dexterity of the writing.
The MacGuffin this week is bakeneko – but it’s considerably less tense than in Nakamura Kenji’s hands (though ironically it was Yokote Michiko who wrote “Bakeneko” for Nakamura’s Ayakashi series). A strange woman in a kimono (Komatsu Yuka) is telling kids takes of a roadside shrine that’s supposedly haunted. Turns out she’s a Damashigami trying to lure souls in to be harvested to the afterlife, and it’s worked on a group of 5th-grade boys, one of whose older brother hires Rinne to try and figure out why his otouto is acting so strange and catlike. The reason? The Bakeneko sealed inside the shrine since the Edo Period, Akamaru (Sakaguchi Koichi) and Toramaru (Tanaka Kan), escaped when the boys opened it, and took their place (parents of 5th-grade boys may well find this scenario explains quite a lot).
As for the main cast, this episode is most important to Tsubasa-kun, who’s hopelessly mired in Rinne’s shadow as far as Mamiya Sakura is concerned and desperate to try and break out of it. But he’s also reluctantly starting to see why the “kind Shinigami” thing has such appeal for her, and that not every exorcism calls for brute spiritual force. Not only are the boys victims here, but so are the bakeneko really – they’re being used just as much as the kids are. But so is the Damashigami, as it turns out – she’s working at the behest of a mysterious red-haired boss played by the great Yamaguchi Kappei. It’s great to hear Yamaguchi pretty much anytime, but in this sort of series he fits as comfortably as a custom-built pair of shoes.
This ep is full of the clever little comic touches that really make Rinne click. Rokumon’s interactions with the much-scarier Aka and Tora are hilarious, as is his careful plating of the leftover o-toro Tsubasa uses to soothe their spirits (it works, trust me). Also, I loved how keys to fighting the bakeneko were Rinne’s fire wheel and broken scythe, which they found irresistible, and Rinne’s reaction when the rescued boy Hiroshi (Tamura Mutsumi) offers him ¥1000 (about $9) as thanks for helping to free him from the shrine. And the voice-over narration by the ageless Genda Tesshou is something I really should have called out before now – it’s used very wisely and judiciously, and always manages to illicit a smile with its wry earnestness.