For those not familiar with Rumiko Takahashi, she's one of the most successful modern manga artists. When I say successful, I don't just refer to the longevity of titles like "Ranma 1/2" or "InuYasha" but also that her comics are so well-read that she's one of the wealthiest people in Japan. (Think of her as the Japanese J.K. Rowling or Stephen King.) So a new Rumiko Takahashi comic? That's a big deal. Making it all the more impressive is that Viz is simultaneously publishing the title with its releases in Japan; new weekly chapters show up at TheRumicWorld.com for free, and the collected editions in Japan and North America hit shelves at the same time.
So maybe you're thinking that this is a chance to get in on the ground floor of a new Takahashi comic. And if so? You're in luck. "Rin-ne" is a fun, charming series. It stars Sakura Mamiya, a teenager who is blessed (or cursed?) with the power to see ghosts. It always has seemed like nothing more than a bother to Sakura, but when a new classmate Rinne Rukudo appears one day, she quickly learns it's much more than that. Now Sakura and Rinne are helping spirits move on from their attachments and travel to the Wheel of Reincarnation, despite the malicious spirits that do their best to wreak havoc on the world of the living.
What I like a lot about "Rin-ne" is how Takahashi blends sweetness and horror into a unified whole. There are some real creepy moments in "Rin-ne," like the shinigami (death gods) luring the living into the realm of the dead to hit their quota of captured souls, or when Sakura accidentally gets drawn towards the Wheel of Reincarnation and is unable to break free of its call. At the same time, though, there's Rinne stealing snacks and scrounging for every last yen he can get his hands on (thanks to his grandmother saddling him with debt), or his black cat familiar Rokumon that often looks like a five-year old boy in a cat suit. Having read the chapters that come after "Rin-ne" Vol. 1 already, I know that the stories get meatier and tougher as time goes by, but even here there's already a lot to attract. It certainly helps that Takahashi's art is as sweet as always. Who knew that a rabbit holding balloons and wearing a t-shirt could simultaneously be adorable and creepy? And while Takahashi's art hasn't changed much over the years, she's still drawing delicate, spot-on perfect characters.
If I had one complaint, it would be that a lot of "Rin-ne" feels a little familiar. There are certainly aspects of Takahashi's earlier works here; the spirits evoke thoughts of "InuYasha," and Sakura and Rinne's love/hate relationship definitely brings "Ranma 1/2" to mind. Still, if you've never read a Takahashi comic before, this is a good introduction. (That said, if you like it? Make sure to check out her older series "Maison Ikkoku," which is the perfect romantic comedy but in comic book form.) And of course, with new chapters online for free, it's easy to catch up. Viz's online comic reader is the best I've seen a company roll out, so give it a try.