by Rumiko Takahashi
published by Viz; $9.99 US
If any living person deserves the title “god of manga”, it would be Rumiko Takahashi. Over the past 30 years, she has created some of the best-known and longest-running series of the modern era, including such classics as Maison Ikkoku, Inuyasha, and Ranma Ã‚Â½.
Thus, it was newsworthy when she started a new series, Rin-Ne, and even more so when Viz announced that it would be published simultaneously: when a new chapter appears in print in Japan, the same translated chapter is put online for the U.S. audience.
Given that, you may have already read the eight chapters that make up this first volume, if you followed them as they posted — or you may have sampled the two that are still available online and decided you prefer reading in print, as I did.
Takahashi’s characters look exactly like you expect them to — that’s part of the appeal of her work, its comfort and familiarity. The same can be said of the story, about a schoolgirl who can see ghosts. She first encounters Rinne, an exorcist, when he comes into her classroom to encourage a giant ghost chihuahua to get back on the wheel of reincarnation.
At first, she’s the only one who can see him, but then we find out that his visibility depends on whether he’s wearing his kimono-like robe or not. That isn’t the only time a convenient plot device is dropped into the story with little introduction. The robe later turns out to have the ability to make ghosts visible, which makes things much easier for Rinne when he needs it.
Rinne is overly concerned with money, making sure he’s paid for his exorcisms, but the amounts he asks for are minuscule. He also frequently uses his ability to disappear to scam food. The girl often refers to how poor he is, but we seem to be asked to laugh at him as much as feel sorry for him. Similarly, instead of being frightening, the ghosts are funny or pathetic or both — such as a boy who never had a girl speak to him, a haunted cell phone, or a biker who winds up wearing a plant on his head. That’s my favorite part of the series, actually, the silly little spirits.
Unfortunately, as much time is spent on why the girl can see ghosts, her experience with spirits as a child, and Rinne’s half-human/half-spirit heritage. It feels like I’ve seen much of it before, and in more interesting context. The dialogue is pedestrian, getting the job done but without much style, and the characters don’t yet have much depth.
If this story didn’t have Takahashi’s name attached, I wouldn’t bother with it. It’s all very small-scale so far, with nothing much to hang attention on. For me, I think I’ll read it for free online; I don’t feel the need to collect the books, since I don’t expect to want to reread the series. (The publisher provided a review copy.)