Rent-a-Girlfriend – 01 (First Impressions) – This Is How It Works

I’m not usually enthusiastic about scenarios involving “fake” boyfriends and girlfriends. They can really only go two ways: the “fake” relationship gradually becomes real, or it ends with the two as good friends. That said there’s a lot of nuance between those outcomes, and Kanojo, Okarishimasu, AKA Rent-a-Girlfriend manages to tap into it.

Kinoshita Kazuya is devastated when his adorable first-ever girlfriend unceremoniously dumps him after a month—in the first thirty seconds of the episode, when he’s about to introduce her to us! I appreciated that briskness. It allows him to wallow in despair until he finds an app called DIAMOND that allows you to rent a girlfriend for 5,000 yen per hour.

He gives it a try, and to his surprise his girlfriend-for-a-day Mizuhara Chizuru is absolutely stunning, and delivers exactly what one would expect of a girlfriend-for-a-day—no more, no less. Kazuya, despite knowing full well what he bargained for, proceeds to leave a 1-star rating after hearing identical reviews.

Due in part to still being In Despair over losing his girlfriend, Mizuhara’s act is increasingly off-putting to Kazuya and makes him feel like a fool. It just feels so forced, empty, and pointless to him, and on their second date he’s not shy about voicing those opinions even though he’s receiving precisely the service he requested and paid for!

When he becomes a little too public in his protestation of the situation, Mizuhara pulls him aside, drops the act, and lets him have a piece of her mind, revealing a bit of the Real Mizuhara (though that’s obviously not her real name). She’s super pissed by his 1-star rating (she’s only ever received 5s) and worked her ass off doing research on fish for their second date.

She has every right to be, and to his credit, Kazuya realizes he is completely in the wrong. She doesn’t owe him a damn thing. Unfortunately, the opportunity to apologize and end things there is lost when he gets a call from his parents: his grandmother has collapsed. He arrives at the hospital to learn it was nothing serious, but because his mom brought Mizuhara in with Kazuya, both his parents and grandmother believe she’s his new girlfriend!

When Kazuya freezes, Mizuhara exhibits her crack on-the-fly ad-libbing skills, and confirms that she and Kazuya are indeed dating. This may be a bad move for her and Kazuya, but she’s not about to break the heart of a nice old lady who just suffered a fall, and can’t see the harm in pretending a bit for her sake; after all, she does it for a living!

Gran, for her part, is an awesome bird, not mincing words when describing Mizuhara (a hale and hearty hottie!) asking whether they’ve had sex, and giving her their blessing to do it as often as they like! Things get still more complicated when Mizuhara learns this isn’t the firs ttime Kazuya’s gran was admitted, and she’s made some friends of the other old ladies … including Mizuhara’s grandma!

One long sweaty period under a blanket with Mizuhara (and one unintentional erection) later, Mizuhara has to tell her gran that yes, indeed, she and Kazuya are a couple. This leads the two grans to immediately start conspiring in an effort to get the two youngins married post-haste so they can graduate from friends to family.

Outside the hospital, Mizuhara proposes they tell their grans that they broke up; it’s the easiest way. Then Kazuya launches into a heartfelt monologue about how her grandmother is “like a goddess” to the family, and that it’s his wish to make her happy with a girlfriend before she dies. Mizuhara smiles at his sentiments, then slaps him for being so damn corny and self-absorbed!

That said, corny is also “perfectly fine” with her, as it’s her stock and trade in the rent-a-girlfriend business and all. She understands the lonely place Kazuya is coming from (suggesting it’s something she too suffers, but simply hides better) She can’t quit her job as a rent-a-girlfriend anytime soon, but after receiving Kazuya’s apology and thanks, she tells him he’s free to call her again anytime he’s feeling lonely.

Kazuya ends up giving her a 5-star rating (with a very corny positive review), but is committed to never contacting Mizuhara or any other rent-a-girlfriend again. He wants to turn a page and try to find a real one for himself…right up until he spots his ex laughing with another guy and can’t deal. Then encounters Mizuhara—whose real family name is Ichinose—on campus, in glasses and twin braids. Looks like they attend the same college!

As I said, making me invested and excited about a fake dating scenario is not easy, but Rent-a-Girlfriend excelled with ease. That’s thanks to punchy dialogue, clever comedy, deft voice-acting, attractive character design, lush production values, and most importantly a flawed, passionate protagonist who is rarely in the right but is nevertheless likable and redeemable.

This episode also did that thing were it got through so much and was so absorbing it felt like two episodes as I was watching it, without feeling overstuffed. Mostly it was a heckuva lot of fun, so I’m in for now.

Dokyuu Hentai HxEros – 02 – Nothing Can Stand Against Two Beating Hearts

This week we get a look into Retto’s daily life at HxEros HQ, and it’s what you’d expect of three girls with high H-Energy levels. First, the dog Runba steals Momozono Momoka’s panties and gives them to Retto, and she reacts by condemning him for not taking them himself like a man.

Then Tenkuuji Sora wakes up in Retto’s own futon, having mistaken his room for hers. Finally there Shirayuki Maihime, the “most decent” of the three, who drops kibble down her shirt compelling Runba to burrow up her shirt and lick her chest.

So we have the brash, uninhibited girl, the sleepy forgetful girl, and the maternal airhead girl. All just thin caricatures so far, but it’s enough for now. As for Kirara, one meeting with Retto’s uncle and she’s out, not ready to hear she “has what it takes” (i.e. Eros) to be a crucial part of the team.

Back at school Kirara is back to her Iron Maiden act, breaking the heart of a guy on the baseball team, and Retto lets her be, honoring his promise not to tell anyone what went down between them. Kirara can’t help but remember just how precocious and forward she used to be with Retto, even putting his hand on her chest then pulling him close so they could compare heartbeats.

When Kirara asks why Retto bothers fighting the Kiseishuu, it’s because while he can’t do anything about the fact he and Kirara’s relationship was ruined by them, he’s determined not to let it happen to anyone else. Then a bee-like Kiseishuu arrives on campus and attacks the baseball player with a crush on Kirara.

The censor bug is drawn to the kid by his lewd thoughts about Kirara, but while he’s definitely heartbroken about her brusque rejection, he still doesn’t want the bee-woman stealing all of his emotions, and Kirara isn’t about to stand by and let her.

So she goes in, confronts her, and very nearly ends up on the wrong end of her stinger. The moment Kirara thinks her goose is cooked, Retto storms in and delivers a devastating uppercut to the bee-woman, defeating her on the spot, keeping his promise never to let a bug touch Kirara ever again.

The force of his attack is such that it destroys both his and her clothes, however, so when the baseball kid comes back with a cop, they have to huddle up inside an unlocked car. Naked and sweating so close to Retto, Kirara can’t help but remember how it felt comparing heartbeats as kids…only this time it’s her heart beating faster.

Heartened by those good old days when she and Retto had fun together, Kirara reverses her decision and decides to join the HxEros after all. All she asks is that Retto refrain from using her to “recharge” his “stores” of H-Energy and/or Eros. Just as she’s about to note there’s an exception to that rule for emergencies, a stuff breeze gives Retto a full look at her lower half, and the mood curdles instantly!

Over at HxEros HQ Momoka is eager to show Kirara around, but perhaps a bit too eager to have the new quintet bonding in a mixed bath. That said, there’s an unintended positive result of dropping Retto into a pile of naked ladies and accidentally groping Kirara: she gets such a shot of H-energy that when she raises her fist in frustration it not only pokes a hole in HQ’s roof, but destroys the episode’s final boss in one shot!

“GUILTY PLEASURE” are the two words constantly flashing in my head as I watch this funny trashy lunacy. The show is keenly aware of what it is and not ashamed to go all out and flaunt it. And all the details are wonderful: everything from suggestive imagery (upturned faucets, “creative” camera angles) to beats like the bee woman protesting “First I’ve heard of it!” in response to Retto’s promise.

There’s definitely not much to other HxEros, but there’s also an underlying sweetness and depth to the central couple that makes it easier to invest in this beyond just naked bug-busting nonsense. And with above-average visuals and music, it’s a show I have no qualms watching.

P.S. The title of his review paraphrases the Klingon legend of the power of two beating hearts in love destroying the gods and burning the heavens to ashes!

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 01 (First Impressions) – Super Huge Fun

This wasn’t originally on my animedar, but the “[Name] Wants to [Action]!” formula has generally been a good source of slice-of-life comedy entertainment, and in the case of  Master Teaser Takagi-san, occasional gems.

Well peeps, I can say without reservation that Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! was well worth a look, delivering an irresistible blend of rom-com slice-of-lifeness, lightly dusted with ecchi on account of the titular Uzaki Kana having a very large bust despite being under five feet tall.

Sakurai Shinichi is a second-year college student and stubborn loner. When Uzaki, his old high school kohai, greets him, he remembers her name…then an entire dang year passes without the two of them interacting again. That’s one hell of a cold open!

Now a second-year herself, Uzaki is determined to establish a relationship with the now third-year Sakurai, and when their afternoons align she doesn’t take no for an answer. Their day together begins with a trip to the movie theater, where Uzaki mocks him for going to movies solo.

When he sees the genuine enthusiasm in her face and offers to pay for her ticket with his points, she then mocks him for having collected so many points by going to see so many movies alone. Throughout their interactions, which consist of her yelling a lot and him getting angry, they are mistaken for being boyfriend and girlfriend many times.

Aside from close-ups and the “SUGOI DEKAI” (“Super Huge”) label across her chest, Uzaki’s chest is never explicitly mentioned in dialogue, making it a strict ecchi sight gag. However, when she’s in a massage chair, it feels so good on her overburdened shoulders she can’t help but let out a series of thoroughly indecent sounds. She also puts on an inadvertently amorous show when she stands on a vibrating workout platform.

When she tries out the VR, Sakurai has a gas watching her frenzied, fearful reactions…until she absolutely obliterates him with a blow to the face; he was standing too close to her. The tables are turned when he tries out the VR in an underwater scenario, and one of his grasping hands mimicking swimming accidentally grabs and squeezes one of her boobs, marveling at the tech that apparently replicates feeling.

After a batting cage session that consists of Uzaki heartily and mercilessly laughing at Sakurai’s feeble attempts to make contact and Uzaki injuring her back out by swinging to hard, the two have dinner, where Sakurai learns that any unattended food he orders will be instantly hoovered up by the voracious Uzaki (clearly we know where all that food goes).

Sadly, we don’t get to see the two part ways or say good night, but the next morning Uzaki suggests they go right back to the cages so he can give her some pointers. What for Sakurai had been extraordinary infrequent situation of actually hanging out with someone, she’s determined to make a regular occurrence. Not that she wants Sakurai to get used to her—she’s  always going to keep him on his terms and be on his nerves.

But as he said earlier in their first afternoon of hanging out, “she has her moments,” and I have no doubt he’ll steadily warm to her sunny charm and brazen boisterousness, even as he ponders how Uzaki changed so much from that taciturn high school student by the pool.

Uzaki-chan is a zany superstar, thanks to adorable character design and the immensely talented comic voice of Oozora Naomi (who also voice Chio in Chio’s School Road). Her character strikes the right balance of abrasive and endearing, while Sakurai walks the line between annoyed and game. This show is a definite keeper!

P.S. There’s a stalker cat with a very creepy face. Huh!

Oregairu 3 – 01 – Robot Tears

In the park, in the gentle snow, Yukino submits her request to Hachiman and Yui, a request non-readers have been waiting to hear for five years. When Haruno once asked her if she even has a “self”, Yukino pondered an answer and found the results disheartening. She wants to find that self, a self that isn’t following in the footsteps of Haruno or her mother.

While she’s enjoyed faux independence to this point, now she seeks the real thing, even when it means moving back home. Her request, then, is for Hachiman and Yui to support her in her efforts. They accept, walk with Yukino back home, and encounter a tipsy Haruno. Yukino wastes no time getting things moving, telling her big sis they need to talk.

The next morning, Hachiman stows Yui’s much-improved cookies in his desk and greets Komachi, who has already made him breakfast and is preparing for a strenuous day of interviews for entering high school. Their semi-antagonistic banter may feel a tad performative to an outsider new to their interactions, but that’s mitigated by the fact the banter flows so organically and is studded with moments of genuine sibling affection.

While waiting for Komachi to meet up with him for some shopping, Hachiman runs into Kawasaki Saki and her own imouto, Keika, who’s a lot younger than Komachi. Saki remarks how Hachiman is so used to spoiling his little sister, he’s totally unaware he’s doing the same to hers. Then again, at a time when Komachi is growing up fast—entering high school, ye gods!Hachiman is happy to pamper a little sister without pushback.

Hachiman brings up Saki’s brother Komachi shows up, elated and hyper, then when Komachi arrives, Saki observes more of their brother-sister banter. Considering her extreme reaction to Hachiman’s offhand “I love you” during the cultural festival, and her reactions to Hachiman here, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s developed a teensy little thing for him.

From there, Hachiman and Komachi go on a multi-vector shopping trip, though Komachi earlier remarked that any attempt by her bro to call it a date was “creepy”. Still, the two clearly have a ton of fun flitting from one place to another, culminating in buying groceries for dinner, which Komachi prepares after doing all of the house chores without Hachiman’s help.

These are all efforts by Komachi to make up for slipping in her chore duties during her high school entrance prep. Hachiman never made a big deal out of any of it, but the fact Komachi wants to make it up to him, and he doesn’t resist, says a lot about how much their relationship has improved even as the two go through such major changes in their lives. She then kneels, bows, and formally thanks her brother for taking care of her to this point; she’s to a large degree the person she is thanks to his care and love.

Like Yukino, Komachi doesn’t want to be pampered and spoiled forever as she ends up following a pre-determined path. The two women seek to strike out and prove to themselves they’re capable enough stand on their own and choose their own road to travel, while still accepting moral and practical support from their family and friends.

Hachiman can’t help but tear up over Komachi’s mature display. Rewarding days, months and years lie ahead as Komachi will continue to make him proud…but his days of wiping chocolate from her face are over.

Great Pretender – 10 – Throwing Off Gravity’s Chains

When Abby asks Luis about his role in the bombings that killed her folks, he’s really in the mood to come away from the conversation with his life intact, so he says what he thinks will provoke her into killing him the fastest: “taking a dump” on Baghdad was doing his duty, and he couldn’t give two shits about whoever died because of it.

That does the trick; both he and were fully ready to let things end bloody. Then Makoto tackles Abby before she can do the dead. It’s his first step in, well, I can’t call it a “con” per se, but it’s definitely a scheme to create a different kind of end: One that could mean redemption for both tortured souls.

Taking advice from Cynthia, Makoto doesn’t pry into what happened with Abby and Luis, but is simply there for her as she looks out onto the city, wrestling with her grief, rage and helplessness, assuring her she’s not the only one suffering. Interestingly, he already had a bit of an effect on Abby when she spots a capsule toy dispenser and decides to buy one as a fortune good luck charm.

Abby thinks Makoto is full of shit, but she also doesn’t know what else to do. Fortunately, the figurine she acquires has special significance to her situation: historical “bad guy” Akechi Mitsuhide, who betrayed his lord like Brutus did to Caesar—presumably because they didn’t share the same values.

As Isabelle shares with Makoto (with Abby listening close by), Luis suffered PTSD after his tour of duty, and took up stunt piloting in order to satisfy his need to continue putting his miserable life on the line, a pattern virtually identical to the similarly-scarred Abby’s.

When they grudgingly meet with Makoto as a go-between, Luis points out that he and Abby won’t agree on much as long as they’re still alive, as if their beating hearts are anomalies in the universe that must be snuffed out in order to restore balance.

But again, Makoto thinks he has an equitable solution which will break both parties out of their respective funks. It starts with putting Luis back in the cockpit, in Abby’s place. When she pulled a knife on him he stood up from his wheelchair, leading Makoto to deduce that his physical injuries weren’t sufficient to keep him out of a plane. Instead, he needed an emotional reason to get back in: a chance to settle a score with his protege Clark.

When he’s back in the cockpit, it’s as if a switch is flipped. Having calmed down from their earlier scuffle, Luis brings Abby in close before he takes off, and says something she had no idea how much she needed to hear. It was only two words—I’m sorry—but they mean everything, because he means them.

Laurent put Makoto in Clark’s hanger so he could sabotage the engine when the time came to pit Abby against Clark, but he doesn’t sabotage it. In order for this race between Clark and Luis to matter, it has to be real, and make no mistake: Clark prefers it that way just as much as Luis having taken no pleasure in his role in the fixed results.

What results is the best race sequence the show has yet delivered. Photoshoppy color banding aside, the dogfighting planes against the vivid Singapore skyline have never looked better, and there’s a nice bittersweet symmetry to their air ballet being set to the same music as Abby’s last recital years ago.

In the end, Clark manages to eke out a win over his master, who after all hadn’t been in a cockpit in years. Still, it was close and thrilling. We know who wins because the color of the fireworks matches the victor’s plane color. Sam may have bet everything on Clark, but since Laurent arranged for a special doctored video feed and installed color-changing cellophane on the casino’s windows, Sam believes that Abby won, and that he lost everything…

Of course, he does lose—just not due to betting on the wrong pilot! In this regard, Laurent & Co. relied on quite a bit of luck in their win, as the winner of a no-holds-barred race between Clark and Luis was not altogether known. By the time Sam realizes he was swindled, Laurent, Kim and Kudou have already fled with the cash to a yacht.

In a way, just as Clark was able to learn through Luis how to be a better pilot (and let’s be honest, he’s definitely the more honorable of the two brothers), by watching Luis essentially regain his desire to live up in the sky serves a similar experience for Abby.

If that old fart can put the past behind him and take back his life, maybe she can to. His genuine apology also goes a long way towards her ultimately forgiving the guy, since that’s the first step in her moving on to whatever’s next.

When Abby and Makoto visit the abandoned casino, they are trapped and shot at by Sam and his men. Thankfully, Abby is still in her flight suit, so Makoto embraces her and leaps out the window to “give dying together a go”. The chute works and they land safely in the water for Laurent to fish them out.

It’s without doubt the scariest thing Makoto has ever done, and his face says as such, but damn it all if it’s not worth it to finally see Abigail Jones’ genuine, radiant smile! That makes for one hell of a strong ending to the Singapore Sky arc.