For many of us, I suspect Kyoukai no Rinne is a series we’ll only truly appreciate once we start to miss it. It’s such a part of my weekend ritual now – the first show I watch on Saturday mornings, always getting the weekend off to a good start. In many ways Rinne is quintessentially the series that’s easy to take for granted – low-demand, high-reward, smart without pretentiousness, culturally specific yet universal. As I’ve said a few times over the years, making it look so easy is a really hard thing to do.
This was the consummate Kyoukai no Rinne episode really – two chapters that were superficially much ado about nothing, but hit all the right comic notes. In Rinne as in life, it’s often the little things that really seem important. First off is “Hot Pot Conductor”, a slightly surrealistic take on the mystical world of the Japanese nabe, or hot pot. Until you’ve experienced it you can’t quite understand the reverence the Japanese attach to this ritualistic experience (which is something I find true of many elements of Japanese culture, in fact). Oden, specifically, is a type of nabe associated with cold weather and is ubiquitous in Japan during the winter (especially at konbini).
I never quite got the allure of oden, myself – it’s full of ingredients I find rather odd and even unpleasant, but then I didn’t grow up on it. For the Japanese it’s literally the ultimate comfort food, so when Ageha shows up at Rinne’s hovel (no power, no heat) with the accoutrements for a complete oden feast, he and Rokumon are her slaves. She quite cruelly (and literally) kicks Rokumon out, intending this to be alone time with Rinne-kun, but Rokumon knows how to get her back – he returns with Mamiya Sakura and Tsubasa to share the bounty.
The wrinkle here is that Ageha’s old nabe pot comes with a tiny samurai magistrate fellow Tsubasa immediately identifies as a “hot pot conductor” (he’s a 2nd-dan himself), whose role is to orchestrate every aspect of the hot pot experience. It turns out he’s just a greedy little evil spirit possessing the pot, but this is actually a fiendishly brilliant satirical turn by Rumiko, mocking the Japanese obsessiveness over being in control, not to mention devising ranking systems for anything and everything. The spirit’s theft of the radishes and eggs (the “wind and sun” of the oden pot) leads to some hilarious agonizing over who’s going to get to eat what (and how).
The shorter B-part is a kind of dessert, an amusing farce about demon and shinigami influenza. Masato gets the former, and fittingly enough his doctor advises him to infect as many others as possible in order to cure himself. That leads him to Rinne, of course, but he’s already laid up with Shinigami type-B influenza (which is much scarier). Both demon and shinigami flu attack in visible form, which Kyoukai no Rinne has a good deal of fun with, and it’s Tsubasa who ends up with the short end of the stick (though Masato does discover why it is that demons shouldn’t steal shinigami flu medication).