There’s a sort of ruthlessness to Kyoukai no Rinne that I find really appealing, and I don’t think there’s any doubt it does wonders for the humor, too. When you step back and think about it, some of the characters here are really, really bad people. I mean serious scumbags – and I’m not even referring to Tsubasa, as much as I dumped on him last week. Rumiko artfully defuses some of the jaw-dropping nastiness with comedy, but there are still moments where it hits you like a slap in the face.
That said, this episode made me laugh as much as any in the entire series while at the same time being one of the darkest. I think just based on that one beautiful “Wa… wa” (“It’s… a hoop”) pun I’d give this ep full points – no one loves bad puns more than the Japanese (and me), and it’s the simple ones that are the best. But it’s really striking just what a bastard Kain is. As bad as Sabato is (probably the worst anime dad since Gendo Ikari) Kain isn’t far behind. He blames Rinne for the sins of his father, which is bad enough. But then he steals his life flame right out of his body, and then reneges on the blackmail agreement he made? What a fucking prince.
This is the fundamental truth of Kyoukai no Rinne – Rinne is capable, resourceful and always does the right thing, and life always shits on him. And somehow, Rumiko makes us laugh at that. I suppose the saving grace for Rinne – apart from Mamiya Sakura – is that his grandmother really does seem to have his interests at heart. She remotely saves Rinne’s bacon this time, having left behind a gift – it comes in a box with writing only he can see, and he manages to get it open just before being sucked into the Rinne no Wa.
“There was a palpable disappointment in the air” the Narrator tells us when Rinne chants the magic words “Elementary school entrance gift”, but eventually the value of her present makes itself clear. This is the “Hoop of Judgement“, which includes free of the charge the “Ring of Justice”. Considering how Rinne pretty much never gets any justice the latter is especially welcome, and it does save Rinne from Kain’s evil machinations. But lo, evil dad Sabato and his floozy show up to make things even worse. And Kain’s mom is so big an idiot that she believes Sabato when he tells her Bijin is his little sister. Scumbags and idiots in all their glory.
There’s all sorts of good comedy in the ridiculous third act, like Bijin openly putting drops in her eyes in order to sell her story by crying and a fake life flame with a switch on the bottom. We also get to see Tsubasa play baseball with life flames looking for Rinne’s (didn’t those actually belong to someone once?), Rokumon-chan being used as a pillow and Rinne’s corpse having a serious bad hair day in the world of the living. But Rumiko never quite lets us forget that this is a black comedy – and thank heaven for that…