Looking at Rin-Ne purely as a manga, the story seems promising. As a high-profile experiment in digital manga distribution, the experience needs more polish.
Writer/Artist: Rumiko Takahashi
What They Say
When she was a child Sakura Mamiya mysteriously disappeared in the woods behind her home. She returned whole and healthy, but since then she has had the power to see ghosts. Now a teenager, she just wishes the ghosts would leave her alone! At school, the desk next to Sakura's has been empty since the start of the school year, but one day her always-absent classmate shows up, and he’s far more than what he seems!
So the bad news first: while I commend Viz for putting Rin-Ne out day-and-date with its Japanese serialization, the reading experience isn't 100% there. Viz has taken some nice, high-resolution images of the manga and trapped them behind a proprietary Flash reader interface, effectively locking out most portable reader devices like the Kindle and the iPhone. Viz's comic reader UI isn't without its own quirks; as of this writing, there's no zoom feature (something which is sorely missed on my relatively low-res laptop screen), and a non-removable navigation bar at the bottom of the screen wastes valuable screen real estate. While asking Viz to just offer up raw .JPG downloads that I can use with a viewer of my choice is probably way out of the question, something as simple as adding zoom-in and zoom-out buttons to their proprietary interface would go a long way toward making reading more comfortable.
As for the manga itself, it's definitely readable, though at just one chapter in I'm not completely sure what to make of it yet. Still, for being just one opening chapter, there's a decent amount of story development worked in here. We're introduced to the protagonist Sakura Mamiya in a flashback to her childhood, where we're told that she was spirited away inside a giant red floating wheel during a trip to her grandmother's house. While Sakura doesn't remember the experience at all, her inner monologue reveals that she's somehow gained the ability to see ghosts which are invisible to other people.
And as the story returns to the present day, that's how we're introduced to the manga's title character -- during roll call one day at Sakura's new high school, she sees a boy named Rin-Ne Rokudo sit down next to her in class who no one else seems to notice. She catches on quickly that the reason she can see him and no one else can is that he's a ghost; he more or less confirms her suspicions by exiting the scene through a surreal sequence of events. (I'll leave the details of how he leaves as a surprise to the reader; it's bizarre enough that I don't want to spoil it.) His exit from the story is just temporary, of course, and as Sakura's walking home from school she notices that she's being trailed by Rikudo again. Rikudo is accompanied by another lost soul, who Rikudo offers to liberate in exchange for a nominal fee from Sakura. This leads to a standard chase sequence before the manga just sort of abruptly ends (this is just the first chapter, after all) with Sakura seeing some familiar sights from her past.
Despite the reading experience needing improvement and the lack of context to see where Takahashi's going with this story, I do recommend that readers try this one out. Takahashi's artwork is attractive as usual (particularly the color panels, which look great on my LCD displays) and the story seems promising enough from what little we're getting of it here. At the very least, it's a good way to get a sampling for whether you're going to want to invest in the inevitable printed release.