Review: Rin-Ne Complete Season 2 (DVD)

Another day, another batch of spirits to put to rest and a slew of monetary related problems. At least, that’s the case for half-shinigami Rinne Rokudo in Rin-Ne season 2. Alongside his friend Sakura Mamiya (who can see spirits despite being human), and black cat helper Rokumon, Rinne must guide spirits to the afterlife on a shoestring budget while living in an abandoned building on school property. It’s not all monetary woes however, as a surplus of black cat assistants make trouble for Rinne and his friends, and unrequited and unacknowledged love results in problems for all involved.

Rin-Ne season 2, like the season before it, feels like a quintessential anime in many respects. Although its story arcs are heavily character oriented and depend on emotional beats for progression, it contains many common anime tropes. However, these tropes don’t damage the premise of the show, instead emphasising its fun personality as it explores these common episode setups through a paranormal lens with a variety of characters. Some of the many delightful stock episode setups included in this season of Rin-Ne are the festival celebration, the school reunion, a scenario where two people pretend to be a couple, and of course, the classic Beach Episode™. These episodes work without feeling tiresome because the cast of Rin-Ne, while not particularly revolutionary, are endearing and fun to watch. Rinne’s money woes are often a source of laughs, several recurring jokes are his tendency to cry blood after any loss of money, and the show will introduce shinigami products used for fighting spirits by describing both their function and price. Sakura often acts as an audience surrogate when exposition is required, but she’s also charming (if reserved) in the face of danger, and gutsy in her own quiet way.

Rin-Ne season 2 functions a lot like an ensemble comedy, or a paranormal sitcom. Its episodes have trope-like premises that derive comedy from previously established characters instead of massive narrative arcs. Of course, character arcs exist such as the ‘will-they won’t-they’ relationship between Rinne and Sakura, but this progression is based on characters and their relationships rather than large external threats. This focus on characters is for the best in this kind of anime, as the cast in the second season grows a great deal from the previous season. For example, characters from the previous season of Rin-Ne now get their own black cats – Ageha is hunted down by her old black cat Oboro, and Kain turns out to have his own hyperactive helper named Suzu. Several other characters introduced this season also get their own assistants, and it pays off in a later episode during a black cat exam where all the characters compete in a set of challenges, including a battle royale. In addition to the black cats, other newcomers to the regular cast are Renge the damashigami, the young shinigami Shoma who meets Rinne on home-stay, and an old friend from Rinne’s elementary school called Matsugo. Interestingly none of these characters come across as one note, they either join the main cast or appear intermittently throughout the rest of the series.

A negative aspect that goes hand-in-hand with the ensemble comedy element of Rin-Ne and its large cast is that while the episodes are situational and derive comedy from their characters being in different environments, this leads to some static personalities. There is not a lot of character progression or change, and while this style of storytelling works for comedic setups, those wanting something meatier in characterisation aside from the progression of Rinne and Sakura’s relationship, may experience some frustration. Despite continuous negative consequences for her actions, Ageha continues to try and force Rinne into being her boyfriend. Jumonji’s interest in Sakura is always mentioned but never acted upon in any meaningful way. Rinne’s old elementary school friend Matsugo probably changes the most, forgiving Rinne for a past slight, growing possessive of Rinne and his friendship, and then learning to relax a little about their relationship. However, if comedy is your main priority in seeking out this series, such characterisation may not be a problem. But this means that you have to enjoy these characters from square one, because they don’t change much from their initial introductions.

That being said, Rin-Ne season 2 has some fun and entertaining episodes that illustrate its purpose as a fun exploration of situations with a core cast of characters, rather than a show with a grand narrative. This is emphasised by how the episodes are often broken into two parts, dealing with smaller and more contained stories that play characters off one another for comedy rather than advancing any kind of plot. The oden party and influenza episodes are exemplary of this, as they are short stories paired together into one episode – in one half Rinne, Sakura and friends try to enjoy a large meal of oden, facing challenges such as how to portion and divvy up the food while a troublesome spirit gets in the way. In the second half of the episode, Rinne and the demon Masato find themselves sick with different types of ‘spirit’ influenza which they attempt to infect each other with. These types of episodes are sprinkled among larger episodes that deal with character introductions and higher stakes, and all-in-all, Rin-Ne strikes a good balance between these two types of episodes.

Rin-Ne season 2 is a comedy with a slow-burn romance, telling its story with animation that is nostalgic in style and polished in execution. It’s an entertaining show with a lot of tongue-in-cheek fun, with relationships and humour tying its large cast of characters together. The paranormal element keeps it feeling interesting while the show experiments with different tropes, and elevates an otherwise sometimes static cast of characters. While Rin-Ne does succeed in balancing its ensemble cast quite effectively, my hope for season 3 is that it can strike a slightly better balance for the progression of its supporting cast.

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A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.

© 2015 Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan / NHK, NEP, ShoPro