Rent-a-Girlfriend – 12 (Fin) – The One He Wants

We’ve finally arrived at the end of one of the most frustrating, problematic rom-coms I’ve experienced in quite some time, and it ends pretty much how I expected: by not ending. But despite how hard it was to watch at times, I could never quite look away.

On not one but two occasions this week Kazuya shows signs of not only knowing what he must do but stepping up and doing or saying it, only to abandon the effort a half-step short of the finish line. First he does this with Ruka, realizing how lucky he is to have her and how unreasonable he is for feeling like she’s not enough.

He is right in the middle of telling her he’s ready to move past the “trial” period of their relationship and declare them “official”—only to be distracted by the arrival of Mizuhara and Mami at the karaoke parlor. It’s the first of two “showdown” scenes between the two women, and in this first one Mami has all the power and relishes wielding it.

Mami tells Mizuhara she didn’t book her to rag on her profession, but now that she knows she’s a rental, she couldn’t stay quiet. She doesn’t like the fact Mizuhara and Kazuya have had a fake relationship this long, and aside from deeming it bad for Kazuya, just watching it in practice pisses her off “a teensy bit.” None of her words are that harsh or cruel, but Yuuki Aoi’s expert delivery and Mami’s odd expressions make them feel like icy daggers.

Because this is a show where Everything is About Kazuya, Kazuya feels it’s his duty to not only eavesdrop on Mizuhara and Mami’s date, but pretend to be sick and excuse himself from work to follow them. Mizuhara rewarded him last time he did this, so why wouldn’t he do it again? He has an excuse ready to go: he doesn’t want Mizuhara to bear the brunt of Mami’s hate.

Meanwhile Ruka is left holding the bag, wondering if Kazuya was serious about making them official. Kazuya finds Mizuhara and Mami on a bridge about to wrap up the date, but not before a “rematch” of sorts, only this time with Mizuhara having a slight rhetorical edge.

Mizuhara asks Mami straight up how she feels about Kazuya, as she’s sure Mami still occupies a special place in the guy’s heart. Mami doesn’t take the bait, but tosses the question back to Mizuhara, suspicious that in a year of fake-dating, she’s fallen for Kazuya for real. Mizuhara simply states “He’s my boyfriend”, not adding the “rental” part because at this point, until the end of their contract, whether it’s a rental or not is irrelevant.

Mami considers that a dodging of the question and turns to leave, but Mizuhara grabs her hand and tells her they’re not done. As scenes of Kazuya crying about Mami flash by, Mizuhara tells Mami how being a rental girlfriend helped her realize the importance and difficulty of falling in love. She asks if Mami ever faced Kazuya’s feelings head on, in good faith, seriously engaged with his love, or considered that he may be the one to make her “happy for life”.

Mami tells her to buzz off under her breath, and states that all of that is between her and Kazuya. Fair enough, but Mizuhara wins this round. She knows Mami wouldn’t have bothered with this date if she didn’t care one way or another about Kazuya. Of the three lead women, Mami is the one most unready, unwilling, and unable to reckon with her feelings, preferring her cool, aloof, gives-no-fucks, bored-with-everything…facade.

That night, Kazuya is waiting by Mizuhara’s door when she comes home, confessing he saw and heart what she said to Mami, thanking her for having his back once again, and apologizing for not being able to do those things himself. Mizuhara then shocks Kazuya by apologizing in turn, for not being able to secure him a real girlfriend (apparently Ruka doesn’t count!).

As she’s suggesting he consider asking Mami out again, for closure if nothing else, Kazuya steps up to the plate, as he did with Ruka, and says something he should have said long ago: “You’re the one I want. It’s gotta be you.” At last, some progress! Only no, he immediately recants, saying he wants her “as a rental girlfriend”, before rushing into his apartment with a curt good night.

Yet another disappointing, immensely frustrating moment of failure for Kazuya, who comes away from the incident thinking it’s a sure thing that Mizuhara isn’t into him. Meanwhile, next door, a blushing Mizuhara wonders WTF just happened. I have no doubt if Kazuya had made it clear he truly did want her as a real girlfriend, it would have been better for both of them, whether Mizuhara accepted or rejected him.

Instead, as a closing montage indicates, it’s still very much anyone’s game when it comes to winning the Kazuya Sweepstakes. Sumi’s out there doing her job with renewed confidence, Ruka smiles at the phone background of her and Kazuya, Mami is utterly bored to death by her latest rich old dude, and Mizuhara is still showing up early for dates with Kazuya.

They’re still rental dates, and she’s still a rental girlfriend. I get it; that’s the name of the show. And the point of the show wasn’t really about Kazuya to end up with one girl over the others, but to explore the different ways in which we fall in love, now made more complex and at times strange via new technologies.

Kazuya was almost always abysmally hard to watch, but that was kind of the point too. What kept me coming back were Ruka, Mizuhara, Mami and Sumi—in that order—as much care was put into their voices, character designs, clothing, and personalities. They were the stars, while Kazuya was an unfortunate but necessary variable in the equation. If RaG were to return for a sequel, they’d be the ones who’d bring me back.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 11 – Beauty and the Least

After a TV-style cold open intro to Sakurasawa Sumi and her morning routine, which is the most we ever hear her talk, Kazuya meets her for their date, and he’s equally astonished by her innocent beauty and her social awkwardness. Seiyu Takahashi Rie does a great job with all of Sumi’s various flustered peeps.

What Kazuya soon learns (besides confirming the fact he really wants a real girlfriend) is that Sumi is working extremely hard to have as much fun doing things on their date as possible. It turns into a sports extravaganza, with Sumi giving her all (and mostly failing) at bowling, batting, soccer, rollerblading, etc.

Kazuya himself feels pretty useless and inept at helping Sumi with her problem, but he at least has the sack to rescue her from some leering punks, and she rewards him by holding hands and sharing her ice cream. When he comes back from a bathroom break, he’s shocked to find Mami sitting across from Sumi.

Mami spotted Kazuya with Sumi earlier in the date, and has been observing them ever since, much like Kazuya followed Mizuhara. He has to walk an extremely fine line with Mami since as far as she knows he’s with Mizuhara and this looks like two-timing, especially when Sumi clings to him as if defending her real boyfriend from a rival.

At least a partial truth would have probably sufficed: he’s helping Mizuhara’s friend, who is a rental girlfriend. But even that isn’t quite bulletproof, as it plants the idea that Mizuhara is also a rental, and if she were Kazuya’s real GF she wouldn’t have him going on dates with other girls, even for practice.

Kazuya’s date with Sumi ends well despite Mami’s interruption, and while Mami’s brother implies she’s messing around with another guy at college, she’s still fixated on Kazuya, and frustrated by that fact). Then it dawns on her: is he really dating Sumi? A quick search of Sumi’s name turns up her rental profile.

Just like that, the one person Kazuya wants to know about the truth the least has a pretty good idea anyway. He and Kuri are able to keep the secret about their respective GFs from Kibe, but with Mizuhara out on rental dates in the same place they’re hanging out, that too is a tenuous fiction.

Bottom line, something’s got to give, and with only one episode left after this one, something will! That night Kazuya gets another impromptu balcony meeting with Mizuhara, which I believe to be their best and most genuine interactions, because they don’t put on airs. She thanks him for helping Sumi, who was over the moon from their date, but also tells Kazuya she’s thinking about quitting the rental biz once her acting career picks up some momentum.

That said, she’s not in a hurry to quit yet, and will be honoring the promise she made to him to be his girlfriend a bit longer. She even has a date in the morning, and so turns in early, only to discover that her date, one “Maya”, is actually Mami! The jig is now well and truly up—unless Mizuhara insists to Mami that despite her rental job, she’s Kazuya’s real girlfriend, or something to that effect.

I for one am hoping that most if not all of the lies stop next week (if Mami fails to secure a second season, that is), no matter the consequences. Kazuya and Mizuhara have been shuffling their feet all this time, and it’s time to put up or shut up. And then there’s Ruka…

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 10 – Who Rents the Rented?

Ruka got a job at the same karaoke parlor as Kazuya, and the boss loves her so she’s not going anywhere. Ruka believes she can “close the gap” if she’s in close proximity to him in a “Chizuru-free zone” unlike his apartment where she’s right next door.

Having Ruka around reminds him of how he aided in the breaking of Kuri’s heart when Ruka Kuri him to date him. Whether it was right for Kuri to pretend Ruka was his real girlfriend, the fact is he really liked her, and Kazuya is worried the heartbreak will make him distrust or even hate women the rest of his life.

That’s probably selling Kuri too short, but Kuri’s creepy private Twitter account and Kibe’s worries suggest he’s in a deep slump. Flush with cash from his job (and not wanting to anger Ruka by going on a rental date with Chizuru), Kazuya decides to do something he hopes will help cheer his friend up: he pays for Chizuru to go on a rental date…with Kuri.

At first Kuri is simply confused: why would his friend’s girlfriend be going on a date with him? Then he sees how perfect and accommodating Chizuru is and gets self-conscious, to the point he considers Kazuya is playing an elaborate (and cruel) prank. But at some point he realizes he’s having so much fun, it doesn’t matter whether Chizuru is a real or rental date.

Being with someone as lovely as Chizuru restores his faith in women and makes him want a real girlfriend of his own again. That evening Kazuya pops out of the bushes, not to break up the date, but to apologize to Kuri for how things went down with Ruka. He also owns up the fact that he was lying too: Chizuru isn’t his real girlfriend.

While this puts him and Kuri on the same level, that doesn’t stop Kuri from laughing at him and mocking him all the same, which leads to some playful mutual ribbing. However, more than anything Kuri is relieved, and Kazuya’s plan worked, he’s genuinely cheered up. Such is the power of Chizuru. As fo Kuri’s parting question to her—about whether she’d fall for a rental date—Chizuru simply beams as Asakusa glows behind her and says “Who knows?”

Chizuru’s opinion of Kazuya must have improved upon being asked to help him cheer Kuri up. Not only is it proof he doesn’t only ever think of himself and his own gratification, but also that he’s willing to risk embarassing himself if it means owning up to the truth. In this regard, telling Kuri was a practice run for telling their grandmothers, which is still presumably going to happen at some point.

Finally, his request confirms to Chizuru that Kazuya is a guy she can trust to go on a different kind of practice run: Her rental girlfriend colleague Sakurasawa Sumi is just starting out in the business, but has received complaints (and likely poor ratings) for being far too shy.

On their adjacent balconies the next night, she asks him to go on a date with Sumi, trusting he’ll be both kind and impartial. In addition her request, which Kazuya accepts, Chizuru asks about how things are going in his love life completely unbidden, which takes him aback.

All this time she’s been keeping him at arms length, but their talk about his (lack of) progress with Mami looks and awful lot like a legitimate friendship between two people, romance aside. And while it’s late in the game to introduce a fourth girl, I’m looking forward to Takahashi Rie’s take on Sumi.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 09 – Fuel to the Fire

Last week Kazuya acted like a heinous criminal but suffered zero consequences and was actually rewarded with a phone case because Chizuru conveniently ceased to remotely resemble the character we’d known up to that point, while Ruka fell of the face of the earth. How do you come back from such a fiasco?

First, by bursting Kazuya’s bubble: he didn’t get a gift from Chizuru because he’s special, but because it’s a common rental girlfriend practice. And Chizuru still considers their relationship strictly business. When she straight-up asks if Kaz has fallen for her, he lies and denies it. But you can’t help but think she’s lying too.

Second, by welcoming Ruka back to the show, and with a vengeance! Devastated that he blew her off to go on a date with his rental, Ruka demands to immediately go on another date with him that same day, and it’s well within her rights as his GF to do so. When it’s clear to her his mind is elsewhere, she blindfolds him and spirits him away to a love hotel room.

There, she removes her socks (to get comfy) and Kazuya tells her about the situation with his and Chizuru’s grans. Ruka tells him straight up there’s no future for him and Chizuru, who can only ever be platonic, while his gran is very likely looking at the future in the form of a great-grandchild, which Ruka is ready and willing to provide when the time comes.

That time isn’t now, however. Kazuya is overwhelmed and retreats to the bathroom, which gives Ruka the opportunity to slow things down a bit. Her heart rate has never been faster but she knows she shouldn’t rush into sex.

When he fled to the toilet, however, Kazuya left his phone with Ruka, who sees a notification on his lock screen that tells her where and when he’s attending a New Year’s shrine visit with his family and Chizuru. She then decides to crash said visit…and good for her!

I for one have had enough of Kazuya and Chizuru comfortably maintaining a charade when the bottom line is they’re lying to their families. So I was elated to see Ruka invite herself and make them squirm. Kazuya agreed to be her boyfriend, after all; by rights, she should be there, and Chizuru should be off on some other rental date or acting shoot.

Ruka even comes right out and states the truth to Kazuya’s family that she’s his girlfriend, leading Kazuya to tell his grandmother that she’s a pathological liar. Kazuya, you absolute scumbag. Lowest of the low. Die in the garbage fire to which you and Chizuru keep adding fuel!

Ruka then confronts Chizuru in private, telling her Kazuya told him what the score is, and that she’s grossly overstepping her rental GF bounds. When Chizuru pleads “it’s complicated”, Ruka rightly responds that’s because they’re making it complicated.

Ruka suspects that’s intentional, perceiving that Chizuru has fallen for Kazuya and wants to stay on as his “girlfriend” indefinitely. She gives Chizuru an ultimatum: if she doesn’t love Kazuya, then walk away. It’s the right, fair thing to do. Shit or get off the pot, Chizu-chan!

At the shrine, Ruka takes Chizuru’s gran aside, and learns that it’s not just a great-grandchild she’s after. All Gran wants to do is ask Ruka—who in addition to being a “pathological liar” is also Chizuru’s “nearest, dearest friend”—all about her future granddaughter-in-law. It’s clear to Ruka that Gran loves Chizuru and wants her to be family. So it really is more complicated.

That doesn’t change the fact that as long as Chizuru and Kazuya only see themselves as a rental arrangement, it is wrong to keep leading Gran on. So after Kazuya earnestly apologizes to Ruka for the terrible things he told his fam, she makes it clear to him that she’s not giving up on winning both him and his Gran over, no matter how long it takes.

To that end, she gets a job at the same karaoke parlor where he’s working. He has to learn that further ghosting and two-timing of his real girlfriend will not be tolerated. Kazuya doesn’t deserve Ruka—honestly, Kazuya doesn’t deserve a quick death—but he’s got her.

The question is, will he be won over by her, or will she be the catalyst that forces him and Chizuru to abandon their ridiculous current arrangement for something—anything—real? My guess is the latter. Hopefully we’ll know the answer in three weeks’ time.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 08 – Worst Christmas Ever

I had high hopes for Kazuya’s trial dating of Ruka, as it could help him and Mizuhara complete their post-rental separation. It could also have been a means of seeing more Ruka, someone actually honest about her feelings for Kazuya and thus a naturally more tolerable character than Mizuhara. Alas, the best episode of the series is immediately followed by the worst.

We never get to see Kazuya and Ruka’s “honeymoon” period, we just skip to him loathing his existence anew and desperate to cancel his Faustian deal with Ruka. And that’s despite him knowing full well Mizuhara may not think anything of him other than as a client.

The bottom line is he’s not happy with Ruka because he doesn’t like Ruka the way he likes Mizuhara. Which is fair! Meanwhile, Mizuhara looks unhappy too as she spots Ruka with Kazuya, suggesting she is also having second thoughts about going along with Ruka’s deal.

I get how Kazuya feels, but the despicable things he does throughout the episode threaten to make him irredeemable, not to mention excruciating to watch. For one thing, he doesn’t dump Ruka even though it’s clear it’s not working. Instead, he’s content to string her along, lies about having family Christmas plans, and Ruka is never seen again in the episode. WTF?

After thinking about why Mizuhara decided to work as a rental girlfriend for all of ten seconds, he hears her showering through the wall and jerks off. The next day, instead of enjoying a date with Ruka—something he’d consider torture for some reason—he spots Mizuhara with what appears to be a date…and proceeds to stalk her. ALL DAY. ON CHRISTMAS EVE.

That’s not just torturing himself, but the audience as well. This shit is hard to watch. Lest we forget, Kazuya is not a high schooler but an college student and full-grown-ass adult. At any point during his stalking he could—he should—get arrested and tossed in jail. Of all the boundaries of decency and privacy he’s broken, this is probably the worst instance, especially considering his goal to become a better person. All that progress went down the shitter this week.

When he starts to believe Umi-kun is Mizuhara’s real, perfect boyfriend, he feels solidarity with a brotherhood of her clients he doesn’t even know in opposition to a her personal life he also doesn’t know. By sumply watching them creepily from afar during their date (which might not be a date) and eavesdropping on Umi’s call, he has no context with which to jump to conclusions.

Umi could be a client, or an old childhood friend, or a brother or cousin, or a manager, or a gay friend, or a scout. With an incomplete picture gleaned from stalking them, Kazuya decides they’re boyfriend and girlfriend, and Umi is planning to sell Mizuhara into sexual slavery (or something to that effect).

For his hours of disgusting criminal conduct, culminating in him jumping out before Mizuhara and Umi can “kiss”, Kazuya is rewarded. Turns out they weren’t going to kiss, Umi was fixing her earrring, and they’re not dating, Umi is a fellow actor. That’s right, Mizuhara is starting out as an actress. She’s working as a rental girlfriend and living in the same dump as Kazuya to pay for acting school.

One after another, Kazuya presents up his incorrect assumptions and Mizuhara knocks em down, until it’s clear he’s been stalking her for hours, and listened in on Umi’s phone call. Yes aside from momentarily turning cold, calling what he did “simply stalking” and asking if he has “anything better to do in life”, he’s completely let off the hook!

This is Mizuhara, who in the past has legitimately threatened legal action against him if he doesn’t back off her life. But it’s also the Mizuhara who slowly seems to be falling for Kazuya, despite him being an absolute ghoulish cretin of an incel. Love has certainly made and idiot (and criminal) out of him, and so it’s made an idiot of Mizuhara as well.

She presents him with the gift of a new phone case (which she picked out with Umi) and he breaks down crying, which is good, because it means he is at least aware of how much pure trash he is, even if he seems incapable of changing. Among Mizuhara’s excuses for the gift is that she feels bad leaving him to deal with Ruka alone.

The mention of Ruka underscores how frustrating this entire episode was. It seems to be portending Mizuhara and Kazuya becoming a couple, but poor frail-hearted Ruka ends up being a placeholder and pawn while the inevitable is delayed. Ruka herself felt like gift to us for our endurance, only for her to be immediately ripped away so we can watch Kaz do crimes. Sorry, I wasn’t havin’ it!

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 07 – Matters of the Heart

Kazuya’s half-assed attempts to “shut Ruka up” go rather badly, as he accidentally cops a feel and also holds her tightly when she falls down a flight of stairs. After saving her, Kazuya cops to Chizuru only being a rental, and in turn begs Ruka to promise via voice recording not to divulge what she knows about them to Kuri or anyone else, for his gran’s sake.

Kazuya assures her this isn’t for him. Even though Chizuru is a rental, she’s “the best girlfriend anyone could ask for” and he doesn’t want her to get hurt. For her part, Ruka is surprised Kazuya isn’t the shallow superficial type she’d expect would normally go for rental girlfriends (ahem…like Kuri). Moved by his honesty and selflessness, Ruka admits she’s a rental too.

Kazuya meets with Chizuru to discuss the emergency. Chizuru finds Ruka on the rental agency website and considers taking action against someone who would “put a fellow pro at risk.” Besides that she recommends they feign ignorance for now and hope she won’t spill the beans.

Without realizing it, Chizuru is at a restaurant lending her ear to Kazuya without it being a formal rental transaction, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. So of course, she immediately cuts their interaction short once Kazuya points that out! Talk about being caught off guard…

The next day while waiting to meet up with Kuri, Ruka intercepts Kazuya instead, asks for a hug of all things, and the two must flee when Kuri arrives, eventually hiding in a lab. Once there, Ruka wraps Kazuya’s arm around her and activates the heartbeat monitor on her phone, which reads 90 bpm.

When Kuri discovers them, Ruka outs herself as a rental, ending the charade and sending Kuri packing looking gray and defeated. Kazuya chases after his friend, leaving up in the air the ramifications of Ruka’s “pursuit” of 90, which has now been achieved thanks to him.

While reporting recent events to Chizuru through her intercom, Ruka tracks him down, takes out her phone and presses “record”, and promises not to tell anyone about him renting Chizuru or about Chizuru’s job…but only if he goes out with her, because she likes him!

In addition to Kazuya being the first man to get her heart rate to rise 90bpm, having heard all of the things Kazuya did for his rental girlfriend’s sake was evidence to her that he’d treat a real girlfriend with even more love and care. With Kazuya facing a decision that will effect her, Chizuru decides to come out of her apartment to discuss things properly.

Ruka takes pride in knowing she’s “gone further” with Kazuya since he never grabbed Chizuru’s boobs, but is flustered and disheartened when she watches Chizuru enter an apparent mere “client’s” apartment so easily, like she’s been in there many times before. Ruka glomms onto Kazuya and refuses to let go, but when he tells her if he an Chizuru can have 5 minutes, she doesn’t refuse.

Here, Chizuru and Kazuya talk things out like the mature adults they are, and exhibit that while they’re not real girlfriend and boyfriend, Ruka is right that they’ve developed a meaningful relationship beyond the transactional. Kazuya is obviously flattered to hear a girl say she likes him, but couldn’t “betray” Kuri by dating her. I put that in quotes because let’s be honest, Kuri was the one lying about having a real girlfriend!

Chizuru’s response isn’t what Kazuya expected: while her end goal will be for him to find a new girlfriend, and this would seem to be a perfect opportunity, she both agrees with his reasoning vis-a-vis Kuri and likely admires him for putting considering the feelings of others before himself. But when he prepares to leap out the window to talk to Kuri in person, Ruka catches him and assumes he’s running from her.

Kazuya falls out of a tree and hurts his back, making it all too easy for Ruka to chase him down and reiterate her desire for them to date. When Kazuya tells her he can’t trample Kuri’s feelings, he ends up trampling on hers instead, and she breaks out into legitimate tears of anguish and desperation. She even correctly points out that Kazuya likes Chizuru…which to which Chizuru (who caught up to them both) reacts pretty predictably.

It’s here where Chizuru, not bad at reading people herself, realizes Ruka’s feelings for Kazuya are most likely legitimate, and so she tells Kazuya to date her after all. Her reasoning is somewhat cynical; while he’s technically giving in to Ruka’s blackmail, dating her is the best way to keep their secrets secret, and they can spare Kuri’s feelings by keeping him in the dark.

 Chizuru also makes sure to repeat what Ruka said about it only having to be a “trial period” of dating if Kazuya doesn’t immediately like her the way she likes him. With that, Kazuya asks Ruka to stop crying so he can ask her own and she can accept…and Kazuya suddenly has a real girlfriend. Well, sorta!

As for the root of Ruka’s very real and powerful feelings, we learn about her history of having a weak heartbeat and how it affected her social development and perspective on love. She became a rental girlfriend in hopes that someone somewhere would be able to make her heart beat faster, but it never got anywhere near as high as Kazuya when they first met (79 bpm) or when they were hugging in the lab (90 bpm).

This is actually pretty clever on the show’s part. You cant really say Ruka fell for someone she barely knew, because she doesn’t judge love as a product of familiarity or knowledge, but simply attaining a measurable biological threshold. The question “does an elevated heart rate always mean love” is irrelevant; it means love to her.

This all results in Rent-a-Girlfriend’s best and most complete episode yet, and with Ruka rising to “Best Girl finalist” status. It took what could have been a thoroughly trashy or tacky love triangle scenario, cutting through lies that were getting in the way, and imbuing it with, well, genuine heart. And of course Ruka’s seiyu Touyama Nao is wonderful throughout.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 06 – Doubling Down

Despite her strict warning that any attempt at hanky-panky and Chizuru will see him in court, Kazuya can’t sleep in the same room as her. Not sure whether she’s still awake, he starts talking about how while he’s ready to tell the truth to their grans, he likes the person he’s becoming with her, and doesn’t want to stop renting quite yet. To his surprise, she agrees but “ending the lies” must remain a top priority. If he doesn’t want to hurt his gran, he’ll need to find a real girlfriend.

Unfortunately, since Kibe is close to his gran, Kazuya and Chizuru have to maintain the lie for now. That means his friend Kuri also believes Chizuru is for real, and invites the two to a double date with his new girlfriend. While walking by himself, wondering how Kuri could score a girlfriend, he bumps into a girl who I was sure from the start was that girlfriend. Of course Kazuya accidentally gets a peek at her underwear, so her first impression of him is that he’s a perv.

The next day it’s confirmed: Kuri’s girlfriend is Sarashina Ruka. Kuri’s date involves a rock-climbing session that enables him to show off his skills—he believes manliness is key to winning a woman’s heart). The climbing also has the side-effect of having the girls in unconventional positions while wearing tight pants, something Kazuya doesn’t think was accidental on Kuri’s part.

At one point Ruka asks for Chizuru to go with her, and she comes right out and accuses Chizuru of being a rental girlfriend. Chizuru dismisses the idea, and later even demonstrates they’re a real couple by “kissing” in front of Ruka (in reality her hand kept their lips apart). But Ruka ain’t buying it, and when Kazuya later tails her in an attempt to explain matters, she’s buying it even less.

And then of course, there’s the suspicion I harbored since learning Ruka and Kuri were dating: that she is also a rental girlfriend. The question is, if she is indeed a fellow rental, why is she so determined to ascertain the truth about Chizuru and Kazuya? Does she not want Chizuru on her terf…or is she vexed by the sense the two are something more than a rental and a client?

 

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 05 – Grandma Gambit

Kazuya dives in and rescues Chizuru from drowning, which is a big deal, even if the two weren’t in a complicated relationship that has long since blown past professional detachment. They wash up on an islet, and Chizuru wakes up first and realizes what Kazuya did for her…then notices Kazuya isn’t breathing.

Chizuru administers CPR—and mouth-to-mouth—and Kazuya comes to, none the worse for wear. Both Chizuru and Kazuya appear to have difficulty separating the romantic from the practical (in the case, from a kiss of life). On the way to hospital Chizuru later recalls Kazuya’s heroism and can’t help but turn beet red.

Things are relatively simple on at least one front: Mami’s. She doesn’t take kindly to being stood up (especially after hearing how Kazuya was indisposed) and rolls up her window without speaking to him. That’s probably not all, but it suffices for now.

In a masturbation scene that goes on way too long, raunchy images of him with Mami are gradually replaced in his head by much purer images of Chizuru. He concludes that he’s fallen for her beyond the point of no return, which means their imminent “breakup” will hurt him more than he’d hoped.

Leave it to Kazuya and Chizuru’s grandmas to make sure things don’t get any easier for the kids. Kazuya joins his gran at a hot springs hotel in Gunma to celebrate her discharge from the hospital, and the moment Chizuru’s grandmother appears, it’s clear the two set things up so their grandkids would have a room all to themselves, to enjoy their youth and have sex—both old ladies lament how reserved the kids are.

After simmering in anger and frustration, Chizuru decides to let go, at least for the duration of the trip, and enjoy herself to the fullest. That means availing herself of the baths (where she and Kazuya’s gran have a nice heart-to-heart), and lowering her guard so she and Kazuya can have a pleasant meal together.

This is a new Chizuru who is neither pretending to act like his girlfriend nor the “off-duty” version of herself who openly loathes him. As a result, Kazuya gets to see and hear a genuine laugh from Chizuru. When bedtime arrives, Kazuya proactively starts to make himself scares before she asks him “what the big deal” would be if they slept in the same room.

This episode much clinches it, if it wasn’t already pretty obvious: Chizuru doesn’t dislike Kazuya, nor is she indifferent towards him. I’d go so far as to say she likes the guy, and realizes that Kibe is right that he’s not a bad guy. That may all be true, but it doesn’t mean she wants to be his real girlfriend, nor does it mean she should feel obligated to do so, grandma angle or not.

This isn’t a matter of her not being honest with her feelings or stubborn in giving into them, but a matter of her having a good thing going with her rental business and not wanting any boyfriend at the moment.

I initially assumed she had the job so she wouldn’t be a financial burden on her family. But the fact she mentions she’s a low on funds suggests she’s paying for something expensive and important to her (either that, or maintaining her girlfriend persona is an expensive business, which it most likely is).

For all the sides of Chizuru we’ve seen, there are still things we don’t know. As a new character is introduced next week, I hope we don’t lose sight of her.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 04 – Don’t Let Reality Win

As Mami and Kazuya kiss, all of his time with Mami flashes before his eyes, from the moment they meet to their first kiss. As Mami’s “lost” bracelet lies in a very intentional spot for her to pick up at will, she asks Kazuya to forgive her, as she just “couldn’t control herself anymore.”

This keeps the possibility alive in Kazuya’s head that a reunion with Mami isn’t just possible, but also what Mami wants. Even if this encounter is 100% a calculated move by Mami as part of her breakup scheme, a part of me couldn’t help but wonder if a part of Mami really does want him back.

When Kazuya gets a call from his gran telling him she’ll be out of the hospital soon, it gives him another opportunity to properly end things with Chizuru. His friends also give him an opening when they pepper Chizuru with questions about where she lives and plans to hang out.

But when he sorta-half comes clean and tells them they’ve been planning to break up, his best friend Kibe won’t let it slide. He starts beating Kazuya up, accusing him of fawning over Mami and generally being a wishy-washy, self-centered dirt bag. He tosses out this exquisite line: “Yes, your brain’s a dumpster fire, but at least make it burn for your current flame!”

Kibe also puts some of the blame at the feet of Mami, accusing her of leading on a guy she dumped despite knowing full well he’s a fool who will fall for it every time. Mami’s eyes narrow without going “empty” as they’ve done in the past, and half-heartedly pleads ignorance, but Kibe seems to have her pegged despite her attempts at subterfuge.

The issue is, Kibe doesn’t know the whole story, which is that Chizuru didn’t choose Kazuya, but the other way around. Chizuru knows this, which is why she regrets the beating Kazuya took but is proud of him for taking the first step to separating the two of them.

She calls what he did a bold move, and that he can be a man when he tries. When he apologizes for all the trouble he caused her, she rebuts that being a rental girlfriend is her job, and she had fun. When he walks off, ready to cut ties with her, there’s an unmistakable look of doubt in her face. She’s not doubting whether Kazuya will really go through with it, but whether that’s she truly wants.

Things get more complicated—again (don’t they always?) when Kibe takes Chizuru aside for a chat. He explains how he’s known Kazuya since they were little kids, and so knows full well what a dumbass he can be. He describes his friend to an absolute T that Chizuru can’t help but recognize. Then Kibe tells a story about a supposed weed that grew in Kazuya’s school planter.

He kept lovingly tending to until it bloomed into a different and more beautiful flower than everyone else’s morning glories. It was a combination of dumb luck and Kazuya’s refusal to stop dreaming and give in to reality. It’s also a touching enough story to make Chizuru a little glassy-eyed. Kibe certainly has a way with words!

Kibe basically gives Chizuru the extra opportunity her previous moments of doubt seemed to be searching for, in the form of ferry tickets. That said, she decides to use one ticket and five Kazuya the other simply because she can’t not after Kibe’s speech. The rest of their plan holds: they’re going to separate and not interact anymore.

Kazuya seems increasingly enthusiastic about putting all the fakeness aside, even as Chizuru is experiencing not second thoughts, but apparent seasickness combined with the fever that had been brewing throughout the episode. She asks Kazuya to let her be, despite that not being the best thing for her in her current state, on a boat.

Kazuya gets a call from Mami, who tells him she’ll wait as long as she has to for him to join her at the pool on the fourth floor of the hotel. She’s blushing heavily during the call despite not having to put on a physical performance for him. Is this a means of cynically ensuring he breaks up with Chizuru, a case of her genuinely desiring more romantic contact…or both? I see ambiguity, but that doesn’t mean it’s there.

What isn’t ambiguous at all is that Chizuru is not well. She stumbles to the railing for some fresh air when the ferry hits a wave, she loses her balance, and then dramatically falls overboard. Thankfully Kazuya is in the vicinity when it happens, and he dives off the boat to save her. Risking his life to save hers…so much for a clean break!

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 03 – The Lies Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Mami goes back on her offer to take Kazuya to her place, as she claims her brother is home (her text relays no such thing), but that offer leads Kazuya to ask if she wants to go to his place instead. Mami blames that offer on the alcohol, then continues to rag on Mizuhara as someone prone to flying off the handle.

Despite his intense desire for Mami’s continued approval, Kazuya finally challenges Mami’s barbs and defends Chizuru, throwing her off balance, then runs off. He eventually encounters Chizuru on the balcony, and the two mostly make up, but a blubbering Kazuya once again blows past the client-rental girlfriend boundaries.

Kazuya ends up going on a beach trip to Shimoda, Izu with his friends, including Mami, who said it was okay for Kazuya to come with his girlfriend. Of course, it’s not okay at all, but since as far as she knows they’re a legit couple, Mami has made it her mission to break the two up.

Judging from what we’ve seen of her and her “dark side” when she pounds toxic vitriol into her private Twitter identity “Numa”, Mami is only still interested in Kazuya because he’s acquired a hot girlfriend. If he were still single, she probably wouldn’t acknowledge his existence. It’s not about her getting him back, it’s about taking him from an opponent.

And darn it all if Mami is not an absolute master at using the tools at her disposal, what she knows of Kazuya, and how she knows he felt about her to keep him in a constant state of imbalance. He can’t take his eyes of her adorable stars-and-stripes bikini, and she even brings up the good times they had together, going so far as to lament the unborn “Maya”, the name they said they’d give their firstborn child.

Just then, Mizuhara appears in the form of the braided, glasses-wearing Ichinose, and since this is that kind of show it seems even Mami knows she and Mizuhara are one and the same. Still, the fact one of their friends knows one of her friends makes the rental girlfriend and college classmate identities way too close for comfort.

The universe would seem to be having fun continually bringing Kazuya and Chizuru together, because they not only end up in the same supermarket, but the same bathroom within that supermarket. Kazuya informs her he and Mami are getting along, but tells her he feels bad even though she’s not his real girlfriend; after all, there were moments when Chizuru has stuck her neck out not out of her professional obligation, but because she’s a good person.

Of course, there’s nothing more humiliating or cringe-inducing to Chizuru than hearing Kazuya doing something resembling having pity on her for pursuing his ex, so they end up in a shouting match…which gains the unwanted attention of Mami, who came to help Kazuya with shopping.

When Chizuru is trapped and Mami isn’t buying Kazuya’s half-baked lies, Chizuru comes out in her bikini so as to at least take Ichinose off the board. Of course, the result of this surprises everyone, as they thought she couldn’t make it to the trip with Kazuya.

After “stealthily” zipping up her jacket after catching a sight of Chizuru’s swimsuit, Mami switches to conciliatory mode, apologizing for her words the other day. But then she’s off alone by herself, unleashing another twitter-storm of pure disgust, and the expression on her face scares away a random guy who tries to hit on her. It seems the account is a release valve for her true emotions, so Kazuya isn’t the only one hiding things.

Chizuru tells Kazuya she’s leaving and tells him to make an excuse for her, and they bring up the fact that this could all have been avoided if Kazuya told everyone they broke up. Of course, it’s too late for that. Mami is close by, but seemingly doesn’t hear the specifics of their chat.

After some awkward conversation on the beach, Kazuya goes off on his own, leaving Chizuru with his friends, but Mami lures him to a rock outcropping where she apparently lost her expensive bracelet. While he looks with her, she slips on a stone, falls into his arms, and Mami makes her move, pulling close and kissing him. He doesn’t recoil. This, just as Chizuru is being asked how she can let her boyfriend go on a trip with other girls, and her responding that she “trusts” Kazuya.

Of course the only thing he can be trusted to do is maintain this increasingly complicated, ultimately untenable limbo! He knows Mami would laugh him into the stone age if she learned Chizuru was a rental girlfriend. And yet, he just can’t resist Mami’s flirting and advances, despite her thinking Chizuru is his legit GF, thus making anything he does with Mami cheating.

It remains to be seen if Chizuru simply doesn’t want to hurt Kazuya’s gran, or if she actually developing feelings for the guy. I’m pretty confident that if Kazuya “dumps” Chizuru for Mami one afternoon, Mami will dump him later that evening, her objective achieved. Then again, I’m starting to think Kazuya and Mami deserve each other. It’s all kinds of wonderfully, horribly messy, and I am freaking here for it.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 02 – A Beautiful Nightmare

Rent-a-Girlfriend is an absolute shitshow, and I mean that in the best way. Two episodes in a row, Kazuya and Chizuru dig themselves into deep holes and then, rather than climb out when it’s possible, decide at the last second to just keep digging.

This isn’t 100% their fault; part of it is the universe’s. Not only do the two attend the same college, they’re effing next-door neighbors! Do I buy that Kazuya never once saw Chizuru enter or exit her apartment? I do not, but who cares—it ups the absurdity wonderfully!

I will never tire of these crazy kids’ primary motivation for engaging in these ridiculous rom-com roleplaying scenarios (rather than digging themselves out of the holes they’ve dug) is…the desire not to hurt their grandmothers’ feelings. That tells you right there that both Kazuya and Chizuru are fundamentally good people. Stupid, stupid good people! XD

That’s also why despite putting up a hard line against further unsanctioned interactions with Kazuya, in violation of the terms and conditions of their Diamond contract, Chizuru still stops by his place to say hi to his gran, even bringing food she made to wow her even more. And this is after Gran already assumed Chizuru dumped Kazuya!

Had she just stayed in her apartment for ten more seconds it would have been over; she’d have been in the clear. And yet, for all the inconvenience and irritation it causes her, Chizuru isn’t the kind of person to hurt an old woman’s feelings. Even if that’s no fault of her own, she has the power to prevent it and uses it, to the tune of agreeing to visiting Kazuya’s gran with him for an hour every Wednesday.

Once again, I thought 24 minutes had passed and we’d come to the end—such is the amount of detail Rent-a-Girlfriend packs into its A-part. B-part brings Kazuya’s ex Nanami Mami into the picture with a vengeance, as he bumps into her on campus and has a not entirely torturous interaction with her. Just like that he has Mami on the brain, and is about to go for the tissues when his doorbell rings.

It’s Chizuru, ready for their trip to see his Gran. The moment money is exchanged, a switch flips and she’s in Girlfriend Mode. After the visit, they’re walking home when Kazuya’s two buddies spot him. They hilariously assume someone as attractive as Chizuru is a cult member trying to recruit or scame Kazuya, and beg her to release them.

Kazuya, digging the hole deeper, tells them she’s his girlfriend, and Chizuru has no choice but to play along. Then the two get pulled into group drinks, something they definitely could have politely refused and called it a day. What Kazuya couldn’t do is say he was merely renting Chizuru, since his best friend is close to his Gran, who is close to Chizuru’s Gran, and Chizuru wants to keep her job secret.

So they’re stuck! And as luck would have it, Mami is among the others in the group at the group drinks, and even though she masks it well, it’s clear she has feelings about Kazuya suddenly dating someone. For a minute I thought Mami might be another rent-a-girlfriend with Diamond and recognize Chizuru that way.

Instead, things go south in a hurry, as Mami switches seats so she’s across from Chizuru and proceeds to loudly run Kazuya down, describing him as pathetically horny. Seiyu Yuuki Aoi can pull off bitchy and manipulative as well as she can pull off sweet and innocent (i.e. Madoka), and puts on a tonal clinic here.

Kazuya simply sits and simmers as Mami goes off, so when he won’t defend himself, Chizuru does, and Mami is ready to counter, shrugging off her words as “part of the group dynamic” a stranger wouldn’t understand before finally turning to Kazuya himself with a cutesy-voice and asking him to stand up to her, which he does, leading a rightfully disgusted Chizuru to leave.

It’s an instance where Mami, who almost seems to revel in stirring up shit like this (or possibly punish Kazuya for having the audacity to date someone else) has way too much leverage on Kazuya. Nothing of what she says is actually strictly untrue, so Kazuya hesitates to dispute it. But he’s already sitting on a throne of lies with his fake girlfriend, so suddenly hewing to the truth here is counterproductive.

When it’s time to head home, Mami flags Kazuya down, telling him her “awkward side” got the best of her and she’s happy he “stood up” for her. She even tells him her place is close by, if he’s interested. Again Yuuki Aoi shines, portraying Mami as a cat with a mouse in its jaws, content to play around with him before making the kill.

Kazuya comes to think maybe this is okay; Chizuru was only a rental, after all. Not only did he and Mami really date, but from his perspective Mami seems interested in possibly maybe rekindling something, like she’d made a mistake in dumping him. As long as he has a girlfriend, his gran won’t be sad.

All of that is almost certainly not the case, but regardless Kazuya is overlooking one important thing: Chizuru is an unassailably good, kind person, while the jury’s very much still out on Mami. I forsee more wonderful cringeiness in the near future!

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.