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.