Review/discussion about: Kyoukai no Rinne
Specters. The supernatural. Spirits, as they are most commonly called. For some, there is a staunch belief that beings from beyond still roam the Earth. The idea is that they physically cannot manifest as their corporeal selves. However, through their ghastly ways, it is possible to feel their presence or hear their meddling.
Kyoukai no Rinne is an anime about these very spirits. Good spirits, bad spirits, spirit whisperers, spirit exorcists, and so on. The show is replete with spirits of all shapes and sizes, all backgrounds and creeds. While not necessarily spiritual, the amount of spirits is undeniable.
I cannot say for certain if I have ever seen a spirit roaming nearby. I actually do not believe that spirits exist. But there have been occasions where I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye or I felt like something was there that should not be. Those moments would pass quickly, so I would think nothing of them. Though thinking more about them now, perhaps that was people like Rokudou, Sakura, and the gang helping one more spirit pass on.
Kyoukai no Rinne is plain in its approach. Focusing mostly on spirits, comedy, and romance, the show finds variable success in each category, resulting in a mixed offering.
“Spirits” was mentioned first because that is the aspect that the anime uses first and foremost. More specifically, the anime spends a lot of time constructing parts of its world with spirits in mind. The Shinigami, the various spirit types, and the parts of the afterlife are not exactly intricate in terms of world-building but they manage to make the spirit motif a bit more tangible rather than waving them off as “spirits exist and nothing else has to be said”. Explaining all of the spirit-related content has the added benefit of demonstrating why a certain character acts the way he or she does – like Juumonji with his “Holy Ash” – or why the supernatural events are happening at all to begin with – like an evil octopus wiener arising from a cursed lunchbox. Again, the anime could have certainly just had the spirits exist as nothing more than a driving force for the arcs (they still do this) but by going into further detail on the world, the narrative builds itself a stronger foundation to stand on throughout the season.
Speaking of the narrative, Kyoukai no Rinne takes a common approach to setting it up: multiple arcs rather than an overarching plan. Arcs generally last one, sometimes two, episodes. For the anime, this is a nice direction since having many arcs allows the show to explore its spirit motif as it sees fit. One encounter might involve spirits that make a soul-stealing pen while the next deals with a possessed house that prevents its inhabitants from leaving. The anime jumps from scenario to scenario, providing ample opportunities to show a wide variety spirits, their habits, and the ways of dealing with them adequately. As for the content of the arcs, the show never gets too serious despite the implication of death at every turn. Instead Kyoukai no Rinne tends to keep its mood lighthearted. Spirits are saved rather than exorcised to make sure this happy feel is achieved. One of the better examples is the arc where an idol, still lingering at the pool where she was supposed to make a visit, is angered that nobody can (understandably) notice her. To remedy the situation, Rokudou has all of the recently stolen spirits as well as the lonely culprit greet her to make her happy enough to pass on. As Sakura puts it, everything ends up “happily-ever-after”, applicable to every spirit-filled arc the anime has.
Besides spirits, the anime also puts a lot of stock (pun intended) into the idea of money and economics. At the minimum, the show concerns itself with the notion of finance playing a large role in the life that Rokudou lives. It is nothing new to know that items have cost. Without the appropriate amount of bills or coinage, those items are impossible to get. This becomes the source of a lot of the comedy within Kyoukai no Rinne. For example, the characters at one point go to Hell where money is often scarce. Scarce to the point that there is an entire subsection entitled “Debt Hell”, where denizens slave away forever as they are unable to pay off their debts. But Rokudou, having spent most of his life poor as dirt, manages to do the job at light speed. The joke that follows – the director of the place delaying his payment a few months – also relies on the money shtick. The anime even sets time aside for the narrator to explain the cost of the spirit-useable items: “Spirit Duster”, “Separation Incense”, and more are silly, everyday devices with special, spirit-warding properties that, inconveniently and ironically, cannot be used on a regular basis. So no matter what Kyoukai no Rinne might be doing on-screen, money always underlies the festivities.
Money as a crutch (technically no money) unfortunately lacks any thematic purpose. While this motif is a common thread throughout the entire season, because the anime does not do anything more than poke fun at Rokudou’s living conditions or showing yet another greedy move by his father, the show quickly devolves into repetition. The setting and the players involved might change slightly but the same jokes, the same outcomes, and the same ideas happen regardless. Money is not the only instance of repetition. Rokudou calling his grandmother “Grandma”, while correct, earns him a beating every single time, and Sakura’s two closest friends never stick around for too long since each spooky event scares them away. However these are a bit more understandable since they are deliberate, running gags. They exist either as a way to get a quick laugh (the former) or as a way to isolate the events (the latter). The same stream of jokes about money do not have these same luxuries, the end result being induced boredom caused by repetition.
Crossing the spirit quality and the money quality gets at the third quality, romance. “Quality” is a bit of a stretch, however, since Kyoukai no Rinne barely brushes the surface of the genre. Romantic undertones are present between Rokudou and Sakura, but the louder characters – Juumonji and Ageha – are the most vocal about that special feeling. There are passing glances or minor monologues about how one character feels (or in Sakura’s case, might feel) towards another but the show never goes out of its way to put the romance on a pedestal. When romance finally emerges from its suppressed state, it either is ignored or misunderstood, meaning said “romance” is essentially worthless. To be fair, the romance is more akin to a dash of seasoning rather than the main course: it exists to add flavor to the spirits, comedy, and money motifs that run rampant. But given that the anime does little beyond mentioning potential romantic feelings now and again, the taste of the extra seasoning is lost. Other problems exist, such as the show forgetting about the first true antagonist Masato, the grudge-having demon. The presence of Sabato and, for a time, Kain makes him a moot point after his original entry. Other positives exist, too, such as the plot sometimes referencing the past to explain the motivations of the characters and therefore the specific set of events. Altogether Kyoukai no Rinne’s narrative is as average as they come.
Kyoukai no Rinne adopts an older artistic look for its characters when compared to works of the modern age. Faces are wide, outfits are normal, hair-dos are not extravagant, and colors are bland, making the designs appear as if they come an earlier period of the medium. This is not a negative. In fact, the older appearances fit the spirit and magic setting that the anime so often uses.
Investigating the characters more closely, some have nearly identical designs – specifically Rokudou, Juumonji, and Kain – that one could easily make the mistake that they are somehow related to one another. Looking specifically at Sakura’s design, her hair is a greenish-yellow, her eyes are a dull blue, and her attire consists mainly of a plain school outfit and the occasional casual look. Contrasted with today’s crazy hair-dos, intricate dresses, and detailed faces, she has an extremely boring design. Yet her boringness creates an aura of simplicity that fits with the mellowness of her character and indeed the artistic direction of the anime.
This art does not have the same aged aspect as the character designs but that is worse because the anime’s backgrounds are as forgettable as possible. Rokudou’s apartment is literally filled with just a mattress. Their school is like any other. And the city, while traversed occasionally, has no notable locations. The art is more or less boring but that is sort of the point. Kyoukai no Rinne does not aim for lavish art because it has its spirit foundation in mind. By keeping everything very plain, the show inherently hits that calm, mellow target. Kyoukai, the quasi-world that the characters find themselves in regularly, is rainbow in color and bright in light, creating an atmosphere that contrasts nicely with the normal artistic direction. To put it differently, Kyoukai stands out a bit more than usual because of the plainness of its counterpart, cloaking the locale in a distinct, otherworldly mood.
Still, can one consider the character designs and the art appealing despite how plain they both are? It is difficult to say. Rokudou’s fiery hair symbolizes his passion for spirit saving, as does his flame-embossed white shawl, but his design is otherwise so drab that it seems as if the bare minimum of effort was put into the design. The backgrounds are the same. They lack oomph. They lack impact. And when boring designs are placed on top of boring art, the visuals are tolerated not touted.
All of this says nothing of the other nuances, like the camera and the lighting. Camera-wise the anime, once again, does the bare minimum. No extravagant shots, no unique perspectives, and no interesting takes. The camera is par for the course at best and completely underwhelming at worst. Lighting is often the same. Other than Kyoukai, the anime does not toy with lighting in any capacity except for a random sunset or a simple shadow. There is a nice moment where Ageha is clearly lighter than the rest of the gang on a dreary day to signify her position as a Damashigami (during episode eighteen, when Rokudou’s “Life Flame” is forcibly seized), but such a moment is the exception, not the rule. Thus, when both are taken together with the character designs and the art, the result is nothing short of dullness.
As for the actual animation, Kyoukai no Rinne takes the same path. Surprisingly there is a lot of action in the show. Rokudou squaring off against multiple dolls, Rokumon slamming into a giant rat, and so on. However a lot of the action hides behind still frames and quick cuts that give the illusion of movement when none is being portrayed. When the action does die down, characters see mouth, hair, and limb movements to a moderate degree, though per usual nothing excessive is shown.
The best (or at least the most fun) way to dissect the cast of Kyoukai no Rinne is to use an extended metaphor centered on money (and using U.S. denominations where appropriate).
Starting with Rokudou, he is the almighty penny. Rokudou is poor, and in terms of worth the penny is the lowest on the scale. Rokudou is also the main (male) protagonist; he is the number one guy in the anime. Similarly pennies are denoted as one cent. Rokudou is necessary to the plot and to the other characters. Likewise the penny is necessary in the field of money exchange because pennies allow for numbers not divisible by five or ten to be distributed. Rokudou is known for saving, or contextually freeing, the spirits he encounters as opposed to handling them harshly. Coincidentally the penny features the (nonnegotiable) greatest President of all-time, Abraham Lincoln, who is known for, among many other things, emancipating or freeing the slaves. Rokudou goes invisible a lot. Similarly pennies tend to get lost in couches, the bottom of change jars, and out on the street, turning “invisible”. “Pick a penny, pick it up. Then all day you’ll have good luck” is a common phrase when the minute coinage is found, which coincides with Rokudou’s own luck at always finding success no matter how grim the odds. And as it were, Rokudou emphasizes the color red, as do pennies with their copper, reddish hue. Rokudou is a penny through and through.
Negative quantities of money are technically less than the value of a penny, which is where Sabato, Rokudou’s father, comes in. Sabato represents the lack of money, otherwise known as debt. He is always spending, he is always asking for more, and he is always doing anything to get any kind of return. Sabato’s relationship to his son Rokudou is similar in that Rokudou’s poorness derives from his father’s existence; Sabato’s debt is Rokudou’s debt. For Sabato, Bijin, Ageha’s older sister, is his interest rate. She assists him in his money-stealing endeavors, acting as the secretary and the accomplice, allowing him to haul in bigger returns than he ever had by himself. For both Rokudou and Sabato, Kain, the Shirushigami, is (literally, not just figuratively) the debt collector, his job entailing the seizing of property and the handling of money. Kain later on becomes at the minimum acquaintances with Rokudou, and that makes logical sense since it is difficult becoming full-fledged friends with the person who is seeking the money he is due.
Moving away from the lower end of the money spectrum, Ageha manages to mirror Rokudou in a variety of ways. Both are Shinigami; Rokudou and Ageha both deal with spirits daily. Both have a unique financial state, Rokudou being poor and Ageha being wealthy. Both have someone they love, for Rokudou that is Sakura and for Ageha that is Rokudou. But the most striking difference – perhaps the most obvious difference – is that Rokudou is a boy and Ageha is a girl. Collectively, Ageha is similar to Rokudou but not exactly the same. Given these traits, Ageha is the gold, one dollar coin featuring Sacagawea on its front. Gold is fought for, gold symbolizes wealth, and gold is loved by everyone. And of course, Sacagawea is female, all of which contrast the copper, Abraham Lincoln penny. Other aspects to Ageha make this interpretation even more logical such as Ageha and Sacagawea being natives of their respective lands and the penny and the gold coin representing one of their given unit.
The other characters continue to follow this money metaphor. Rokumon is, given his small size and small importance, a dime. Juumonji is a nickel, his gray holy ash and his morally gray obsession with Sakura matching the grayness of the nickel itself. Plus, nobody really likes nickels, and given that Juumonji is a character that is around but not too appreciated, this description fits even more. Masato is a counterfeit check, deceptive and dastardly in his actions and motives, which in turn causes even more problems for the broke Rokudou. Rokudou’s Grandmother is a cash bond: she is there and could most certainly help but one has to wait a while before the bond can be turned in for monetary gain. But when that gain is gotten, there is no doubting how much help it brings.
Everyone is related to money. But the most interesting and arguably the strongest character of the bunch has yet to be investigated. Sakura is a strange bird. She does not worry about money like Rokudou or Sabato. Sakura does not worry herself with romantic feelings like Ageha or Juumonji. She is especially prone to this kind of behavior; whenever Sakura is asked about who she is to Rokudou or when Juumonji is blatant in his advances, she is apparently oblivious to even the most obvious of social cues. Sakura does not worry about the afterlife or the quarreling of sisters or the past. In fact, Sakura hardly worries about anything. She is an immensely apathetic person. She sometimes raises her voice and occasionally has concern for another person. But for the most part her personality remains as flat as a five dollar bill (though that is not her metaphor).
Sakura is content with who she is, where she is going, and why she finds herself thrown into her situation. Therefore, Sakura is a 401(k) plan. A 401(k) nets money for the future, bringing a feeling of security for the person who has such a plan. In other words, a 401(k) removes worries later on in life because extra reserves are present. Furthermore, Sakura is not a very impressive character. She breaks common stereotypes of main (female) protagonists by having absolutely no outstanding characteristics. She is a boring, dull, and wholly uninteresting person. 401(k) plans are similarly boring. Not much is done with them: they are created, money is put in them, and they are not accessed for years and years and years. Going forward one more step, Sakura does not get mad at others, and she is quite the respectful lady. Sakura is mature. 401(k) plans are similarly mature in the sense that having one signifies maturity, not just in age but also in wisdom.
No matter how logical or insane this extended metaphor is, this does not say much about the development of these characters. In short, there is none. Rokudou, Sakura, and everyone else remains the same from their individual introductions until the end of the season. Juumonji does the same two actions throughout: throw holy ash and declare his love for Sakura. That is it. Like inflation does to economic values, he is consistent throughout the entire season. He does not change, and the same can be applied to everyone else. And for Kyoukai no Rinne, that is perfectly fine. The show does not want complex characters or unique relationships that are thematically special. Instead, the anime wants to have its quirky cast of characters mingle with one another, deal with spirits, and simply have a fun time. This might seem worthless – and for many it very well is – but as they say, “A penny saved is a penny earned”.
The first opening theme in Kyouakai no Rinne is, initially, not the best piece. The track is mostly a pronounced guitar, with a vocalist using a nice singing voice but without demonstration of range. But the track grows on the listener. The clapping in the middle as well as the beat have a catchiness to them that is not immediate and only noted as the song is heard with each subsequent episode. The same can be said for the first ending theme. The instruments and singing are cute and quick, though not entirely inviting. The second half of the first ED, however, takes advantage of the build-up in the middle to bring about a catchy track that is as simple and as fun as the actual anime is.
The same cannot be said for both the second opening and ending themes. Starting with the second OP, catchiness is hard to achieve mostly because of the grating instruments and the high-pitched vocalist. The vocalist for the first ED is the same one for this second OP, but here her voice is not as soft, leading to the disharmony the second OP provides. As for the second ED, the piece is almost too simple. It is devoid of any complexity, both the singer and the instruments going through the motions rather than trying to create a memorable piece. For both, the anime also strangely refuses to change the majority of their visuals for the OP and ED, making the second ones appear out of sync with what is shown as the songs are played.
Out of all of the different parts that make up the sound-work for Kyoukai no Rinne, the original soundtrack is easily the best. And while Kyoukai no Rinne once again does not go out of its way to design tracks that are groundbreaking, what the OST does give is a large quantity of tracks influenced by its spirit motif. “Ningen…Mi Tai Na-Rin Ne no Theme” is Asian in origin, the wind instruments and dainty piano coinciding with the spiritual feel of Kyoukai, the spirit realm. One of the more iconic pieces is “Hyakuyoubako no Irai”, with its ambient effects and everyday yet spooky feel, the latter feeling once more matching the spirit motif. “Anoyo no Uta” cranks up this spookiness even further, the choir and chilling instruments creating a ghostly composition. “Uwasa Hanashi no Chi” goes for curiosity for those equally inquisitive moments whereas “Lay Michi Kaikou” goes completely otherworldly. And “Kakugo!” is one of the many flurry-filled tracks with lots of noise and triumph. Again, the OST is nothing too impressive, but at the minimum the OST is fitting and thematically relevant.
Last but certainly not least is the voice acting. Performances are generally average in execution, the characters’ voices fitting nicely enough. Marina Inoue as Sakura delivers a monotone voice that captures the girl’s personality. Hitomi Nabatame as Rokumon uses a childish, boyish voice that is unfortunately hard to listen to for long periods of time. Kaito Ishikawa as Rokudou sounds slightly too old for his age, but Rie Murakawa as Ageha provides yet another wonderful performance, giving the love-struck Shinigami a girly and commanding way of speaking.
There was a stretch in this anime where I could not stand what was happening. When the new character Ageha was introduced, for about five or so episodes the plot decided to constantly have Sakura misunderstand what Rokudou did or what Rokudou was really feeling. This aggravated me. This aggravated me so much that it forced me to continue watching more in one sitting than I normally do because I had to see when the situation would clear up. But episode after episode, more misunderstandings piled up which in turn piled up my own anger. Eventually the misunderstandings stopped (and I was therefore able to cool down) but the damage was done.
I also hated Sabato, Rokudou’s dad. I get it. He is a stingy, horrible, and evil father. But seeing him always get away with everything and him always mistreating the people around him grated my nerves. The show does at least make him suffer near the end with the ramen-making episode but that was not nearly enough for the amount of annoyance he caused me let alone Rokudou and the rest. And, his presence combined with the previous misunderstandings, only made my blood boil further.
Infuriation was not the sole emotion I felt throughout the season. I also felt bored. The show dragged a bit since the repetitive jokes about Rokudou being poor were not the best from the get-go. The characters are likewise boring. Nothing about them is remotely worth remembering, a substantial problem for any anime. Sakura might have a case because her plainness is what makes her different from many other protagonists, but since she goes with the flow rather than actively participating in the events, even this weird inversion fails to stick.
Still, I cannot say I hated watching the show. What little romance was given was enough to make me smile. Ageha getting embarrassed when she “holds hands” with Rokudou – and especially the narrator’s dialogue afterwards – was funny. I also strangely liked how Rokudou always called Sakura “Mamiya Sakura”. There is something innocent about doing so that was endearing to hear whenever Rokudou called for her. Also, for whatever reason, everyone does the rock-n-roll symbol with their hands – only the forefinger, pinky, and thumb extended – when they got hit. Seeing that was amusing if only because of how silly such a response was to being abused. And to its credit, I liked the Christmas episode. I love Christmas, but I also liked seeing the main four characters – Rokudou, Sakura, Juumonji, and Ageha – grow closer as friends. Interestingly, this episode had the least to do with spirits, though that probably says more about me than the anime.
Kyoukai no Rinne loves spirits, loves money, and loves misunderstandings. Its narrative, while focused, is plain. Its characters, while symbolic, are uninteresting. And the art, while reminiscent, is dull. The OST might have something going for it but that something is difficult to see when the anime can be as frustrating as it is. Using some word play, this one is filled with spirits yet not exactly filled with spirit.
Story: Fine, spirits and money galore, with repetition and halfhearted romantic subplots souring the experience
Animation: Fine, plain character designs, dull artistic direction, and about average actual animation
Characters: Fine, pennies, debt, and 401(k) plans
Sound: Fine, okay first OP, bad second OP, okay first ED, bad second ED, okay OST, and about average VA performances
Enjoyment: Bad, cute and amusing but the misunderstandings irked me to the nth degree
Final Score: 4/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3