This post addresses something caught my attention—an appropriate time for “気になります” if ever there was one—when I saw the preview for episode 4 of Kyoukai no Rinne. Now that we are finally getting a portion of the anime that solidly follows the manga (full disclosure: said manga is quite possibly my favorite thing in the world), at least for a few episodes, I feel comfortable discussing the changes made to the content order for the anime adaptation thus far before any more crop up.
The Rinne manga never follows any particular plot trajectory for more than a few chapters in a row, and is generally episodic in nature—it’s most similar in structure to Ranma 1/2 among Takahashi’s other works. That’s not to say that there’s no ongoing conflict; Rinne’s poverty is the major theme of the series, and as much as it’s played for laughs, recurring “villains” (even the bad guys are so likable it’s hard to characterize them as villains, but that is their purpose) like Masato and Sabato show up frequently enough to cause conflict over money that readers can’t forget that it’s a serious problem. The distribution of different types of content is unusual, but works incredibly well: the story skips among chapters about ghost problems, the shinigami world, Rinne’s rivals, new characters, and the relationships between the protagonists frequently, so the series never feels repetitive or formulaic, despite its simple premise.
The anime begins in the same way as the manga, with the introduction of Mamiya Sakura and Rokudou Rinne (and accompanying chihuahua shenanigans), followed by the signing of Rokumon’s contract. After that, though, it diverges quite a bit. In the manga, Rokumon’s introduction is followed by two short ghost stories: “Afraid to Fall Asleep” and “Diva of the Pool”. Then comes Masato’s introduction and the story of Reiji’s living spirit, followed immediately by the first appearance of Juumonji Tsubasa and the trip to the amusement park. Next is the chapter about Hanako-san, then the story of the pumpkin-headed damashigami. There’s then one more ghost story (“Draw Me”) before we’re introduced to Rokudou Sabato and the Damashigami Company. The chapters about the bakaneko duo and the drama club’s wig are one-offs that don’t appear until rather later. The anime, on the other hand, uses the order: Tsubasa/amusement park, Hanako-san, bakeneko, Masato, pumpkin-head, Sabato and the Damashigami Company. While I assume the changes to the content order aren’t arbitrary, they nevertheless seem more to the detriment than benefit of the anime.
Episode 4 is definitely too soon to include the trip to the amusement park. This is when it becomes clear that Rinne and Sakura maybe-sorta like each other (in the fashion of all Takahashi protagonists), but in the anime timeline, they haven’t known each other all that long. Rinne and Sakura’s relationship is based on familiarity and trust (again: Takahashi protagonists), so implying feeelings between the two before those things are established seems forced. In the manga, they have 12 extra chapters (about 3-4 episodes’ worth of content) in which to work together and get to know each other—most significantly, the chapter where Sakura follows Rinne to hell to help him defeat Masato. In that context, Rinne’s crush on Sakura and jealousy of Tsubasa is much more natural.
Delaying Masato’s introduction has other consequences as well. As mentioned above, it is the first hint of ongoing conflict in the series. This adds an amount of substance that rewards the audience for paying attention and gives viewers something to look forward to—and it seems like Brain’s Base knows this, as they’ve gone to all the trouble of adding recurring characters to the ending animation one by one. This is not to say that anime without cohesive subplots can’t or shouldn’t succeed; they just require a specific type of viewer. But waiting until halfway through the first cour to really show what kind of series Rinne is does it a disservice, and the early episodes are where the anime should be trying to grab the viewers that will want to follow the anime throughout its—hopefully lengthy—run.
I take issue with episodes 5 and 6 for the same reason: they’re not bad excerpts, but neither are they sufficiently representative of the bulk of the series’s content. Though Takahashi adds her usual cleverly funny twists to each, the fact remains that Toire no Hanako-san and bakeneko are some of the most well-known and commonly depicted Japanese spirits; they’re pretty much guaranteed to appear in any given piece of supernatural-oriented Japanese media. Most of the supernatural phenomena depicted in Rinne are much weirder, and typically completely unexpected. The manga basis for this anime has a guitarist possessed by a poorly singing cicada, teeny weeny kitty ghosts, the spirit of a pet alligator wandering around wearing a trenchcoat…it would have been nice to have seen something more unique animated to give newcomers a sense of what makes Rinne special.
I appreciate that Hanako-san was the obvious choice for episode 5, given that her story comes after the amusement park chapter in the manga and adds some character development for Tsubasa, but the pacing is painfully slow and awkward. This is partially because the Hanako chapter doesn’t really have enough content to support a full episode, but it’s not helped by choices necessitated by the rearranged episode order. Stopping at several points, including in the middle of the action of the battle with Toichi, to explain what a shinigami scythe is and where it’s come from all of the sudden doesn’t make for a particularly engaging flow. Episode 6 has slightly better pacing, but really should have been built around a different chapter. I see no reason that “Afraid to Fall Asleep” or “Diva of the Pool” couldn’t have been slotted in instead.
When I consider why these changes were made, I can’t help feel that in some way, Brain’s Base is trying to give the audience what it assumes we’re expecting to see. The specific expectations built up around Takahashi’s series clearly played a part: romantic rivals are the cornerstone of Takahashi’s romantic comedy, and episode 4 screams “look, we have what you came for!” in a lot of ways.
Also, for better or worse, anime in the fantasy genre tend to begin with episodic stories and then build up to longer arcs. Personally, I don’t care for that structure, particularly now that it’s been done to death, but there is something to be said for keeping the early episodes non-vital for viewers who don’t start watching immediately and only hear about the show through word-of-mouth (though that’s much less applicable to overseas viewers who are watching anime online and can access any episode anytime). Brain’s Base does seem to be trying to ease viewers into the show by putting the most innocuously conventional spirits first, and by adding the damashigami into the bakeneko episode so no one could possibly forget who they are before Sabato has the chance to show up.
I question the necessity of this. Rinne is weird, sure, and it has an unusual structure, but those are both key parts of its charm, and viewers who would find the original hard to follow probably won’t stick with the anime either. An anime will never be exactly like its manga; it shouldn’t be, that would defeat the purpose of adapting a series into a different medium to begin with. But an adaptation should do its utmost to maintain the spirit of the original for a new audience, and I think the first cour of Rinne isn’t living up to its potential in that regard.
Thankfully, none of this will matter much to those of us who continue watching Rinne; the content order matters less as the series goes on, so it’s really only an issue in terms of introducing new viewers. And not all of the changes have been bad: combining the wig and pumpkin-head stories into episode 9 did wonders for the pacing, so hopefully we’ll see more such combinations in the future. Despite my qualms detailed above, I can’t imagine the anime version of Rinne ever being actually bad; rather, it’s overflowing with voice actors that make the characters even more charming than they are on the page, quirky in a way reminiscent of classic anime, and most importantly, a lot of fun.