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!

Watashi ga Motete Dousunda – 04

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Because they all have the hots for her, the guys let Kae drive the itinerary for Christmas Eve, and because Kae is not your conventional young woman, that itinerary is similarly unconventional.

It also takes place at a convention center, but even that is unconventional because it’s Tokyo Big Sight, which to many looks like a conventional convention center flipped upside-down.

The plan is to attend Comiket, split up to buy everything on Kae’s list, and get out early enough to still have the “Cris-Pa” the guys want to have with Kae.

Only they sorely underestimate the popularity of Winter Comiket, and that the lengths required to get there and back take up most of the day and night. It takes six hours from the time they wake up just to get inside.

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Once there, however, the guys find that it’s not all bad. Even though Kae feels kinda bad she’s being so selfish, no one has a gun to the lads’ heads; they want to help her out, and also to make her stay there shorter so they can spend more time with her.

Not only that, but because all four guys are hot in their own ways, they attract quite a bit of attention from the female authors and artists, many of whom imagine (as Kae does) that they are BL couples, and swooning accordingly.

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Kae also experiences something at Comiket for the first time: a pushy creepy photog, snapping every angle of her against her wishes. She is eventually castigated, shamed and forced to apologize by an exceedingly debonair young man doing butler cosplay. Just as the guys arrive, late because they were lost, they see this butler all close and personal with their Kae, and they don’t like it.

In a nice nod to Kae’s years of “training” by going to these day-consuming things, the four guys are utterly spent by the end of it, and still not quite right the next morning at school. Kae on the other hand looks like she could sing karaoke all night, and seems, if anything, energized by the Comiket visit.

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Then she, and the guys, learn that the young butler who helped her wasn’t a guy, but a girl, and a student at their school: first-year Nishima Shina, voiced by Sawashiro Miyuki. Mind you, I knew she was a girl all along, because she’s in the OP as such, but the shock isn’t meant for us, it was meant for Kae and the guys.

And they are shocked. Kae, because she and Shina hit it off so quickly; the guys, because Shina swiftly and efficiently threatens to edge them out entirely, claiming Kae to herself by inviting her to her place. The guys invite themselves, and Shina doesn’t object…but like Comiket, they don’t know the magnitude of what they’re getting into.

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Shina is perfect. She’s perfect-looking, she does everything just about perfectly, and she’s obscenely wealthy, having not just a room but an entire wing devoted to her many hobbies, many of which are also Kae’s hobbies, only on steroids.

Kae quickly falls under Shina’s “spell”, and at times, all Shina has to offer, and how earnestly complimentary she is, the guys drop their guards one by one.

Shina is also the perfect otaku; someone for Kae to look up to, even though she’s the senpai here. The “small favor” Shina requested of the guys in exchange for letting them come over turns out to be a private BL photo shoot, which is of course heaven for Kae.

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The thing is, the guys are nervous and a little confused about what’s going on, so they’re not that great at posing. So Kae, who knows far more about the subject than they do, demonstrates the proper way to do it, using Shina as her partner. She gets so into it, she doesn’t realize she’s actually turning Shina on.

That’s right: Shina isn’t just competing for Kae’s time as a friend. She’s after her heart, like they are, and she won’t stand for them not taking her seriously. When Kae presents an opportunity by play-acting, Shina can’t help but pull her in for a long kiss.

Like the guys, Kae is initially confused. But it’s quite simple: her gang of four is now five, and while the guys have their various strengths and weaknesses, Shina is poised to outshine all of them with her perfection, wrapped in a feminine package Kae is much more comfortable with.

It will be interesting to see if this competition remains diplomatic, or if another, less perfect side of Shina comes out when provoked. Until then, Shina is an interesting new wrinkle in this milieu, and Sawashiro Miyuki brings her characteristic sultry wryness to the role.

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Orange – 11

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After the sports festival ended with a kiss, the next hurdle in the battle to save Kakeru is Christmas Eve and New Year’s. Specifically, Naho wants to avoid a fight she believes may have led to Kakeru closing his heart and taking his own life not long afterwards. Suwa later comforted her that night, and also confessed to her, leading to the future where they married and had a kid.

It makes sense for Naho to want to avoid getting in a fight with Kakeru on New Year’s, but this time her letter was a lot more vague about what exactly she could do.

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After a relay race win that was a team effort for her and her friends, she’s on her own again, and Suwa is more concerned with keeping himself out of the equation all together: no shrine visit, no comforting, no confession.

Hagita wonders if changing the future to such an extent is really okay and right…but Suwa sees it another, more quantum way: the minute they got their letters from the future, they were no longer in the world that led to that future. They’ve on off on a tangeant that will result in a new future, while that old future will continue on unaffected.

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Temporal technobabble aside, nothing Suwa does or doesn’t do matters in the end. In the end, Kakeru wants to go home to his grandma, and Naho asks if he’d stay a little longer, assuring him his grandma will be just fine. That confident assertion sets Kakeru off. He rejects Naho’s notion one can simply decide things will be okay, because he thought that way about his mom before she took her life.

He still blames himself for her death, which means Naho is only able to do so much; she’s no therapist, and it’s possible no words she could have come up with, up to and including a prompt apology for angering him, would have done any good. Suwa comforts her again, but skips the confession, instead urging her to go after Kakeru.

But when she calls Kakeru, he smashes his phone, clearly fed up with talking. Naho, Suwa & Co.’s best just wasn’t enough to avoid history from repeating itself. Here’s hoping there’s still a way to salvage this mess.

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Nisekoi 2 – 04

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I suppose it was predictable that Hana-san would turn out to be a better person than last week made her out to be, so I’m glad I was on the right track in hoping there was love behind her tough, intimidation, uncaring exterior.

A great symbol that Raku and Chitoge were both wrong about her is the cut to her breaking off a piece of her cigarette and eating it. It’s candy she uses for her oral fixation; she quit cold turkey when she got pregnant with Chitoge.

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Even so, Hana is not the world’s best mother, though she provides for her daughter. She said all those harsh things out of the mistaken impression Chitoge hated her, for raising her strictly, as she was raised.

She has a drawer full of personally-chosen Christmas presents for her dating back ten years, but has never found the right opportunity to give them to her, and always asks her age because she’s nervous and isn’t sure how to treat her. There’s no bitterness or apathy here; only a lack of communication.

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Enter Raku, with his most selfless and awesome heroics yet. It’s up to him to get these two very similar women in his lives who love each other deeply to overcome their misunderstandings about each other, while getting Hana to stop hiding behind her job and face her daughter properly.

It’s unfortunate Raku and Chitoge’s entire class, including the rest of his harem, is present when Raku whisks her off to a five-star hotel room, but there’s simply no time to explain. :3

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Not knowing initially what his gesture’s all about, Chitoge is also flustered and overwhelmed, but when Raku explains on the way and asks her to simply “trust in him”, she does so without a fuss, nestling her head into Raku’s back as he pedals with all his might for her and Hana’s sakes.

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Hana almost gets away on her private jet, but Raku manages to catch her on the phone, and puts Chitoge on the line to basically beg Hana to come back. Like any momma, the distressed cries of her young create a powerful urge for her to return to her offsprings’ side.

The resulting reunion on the runway goes from hilarious (Raku and Chitoge have to avoid being run down by the landing jet) to so heartwarming one forgets it’s Christmas and snowing out. Nice work, Raku!

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Raku gives the hotel room to Hana to spend some quality time with her daughter after they go out to eat, and Chitoge finally learns why she treasures her red ribbon so much: it was the same as a character in a book she loved as a child, and ten years ago during the summer they spent together, Raku told her she’d look good in it.

All this time she’s treasured it because it was a connection to her distant mom, but it also connects her to Raku, which combined with her current feelings for him, lends Chitoge an extra layer of destiny to their reunion ten years later.

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With that, Hana tells Chitoge to be a good girlfriend and go to the one who made their wonderful evening of reconciliation possible. Raku really worked his ass of this week like none other, so Chitoge doesn’t wake him up, but puts his head in her lap and enjoys the warmed of the guy she loves.

As for Raku himself, Hana doesn’t offer any revelations about his locket, but does figure out they’re pretend-dating, and wonders out loud if his feelings are really a sham. We know they’re not, and Chitoge’s certainly aren’t, but it’s more complicated than just that, especially in a post-credits scene with Kosaki expressing her relief to Ruri that Raku and Chitoge didn’t really spend the night in a hotel. Kosaki isn’t the best girl right now, but Raku likes her a lot too, so the battle is far from over.

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Nisekoi 2 – 03

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After a brief detour with Tsugumi last week we’re back to Chitoge. Specifically, Christmas is coming around, and she’s not particularly worried about how to spend it with Raku or the rest of her friends or anything else. Rather, her mind is preoccupied with the impending arrival of her mother, Kirisaki Hana, who is so busy Chitoge only sees her about once a year. Still, from Raku’s perspective, the fact she makes it a point to come ever Christmas Eve means her mom can’t be all bad.

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His ridiculously easy defense of Hana would soon be thrown in his face, as Hana is, for all her corporations and billions of dollars and imposing aura, is an emotional deadbeat. Her first question to her daughter is “how old are you”, and while Raku knows Chitoge is wearing the red ribbon her mom gave her years ago, all Hana tells her to replace the ratty thing.

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When her umpteenth secretary keels over from over-work (clearly she isn’t even the best manager of people, if she expects everyone to go at her literally peerless pace) Hana conscripts Raku as a kind of test to see if he’s worthy (with the promise of a five-star hotel suite for him and Chitoge to spend Christmas Eve if he succeeds).

Raku is a capable fellow, so he manages to get by by the skin of his teeth. When he finally gets a break he calls Chitoge up, worried she may be feeling down. After spending the day with Hana, he feels she should try being upfront about wanting to see her, not Raku, on Christmas Eve.

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There’s no inner monologue mention of Chitoge’s present feelings for Raku, and at least on the outside this week she tries to keep a distance from him in the affection department, but it’s nice to see that even in an episode where her love life is on hold due to family issues, Chitoge still can’t help open up to her real/fake boyfriend, and is clearly heartened and grateful by his advice.

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But the pace of this episode just didn’t indicate to me this was going to be resolved with a nice happy lovey-dovey ending with Chitoge and her mom. Chitoge tries to grab hold of the swirling tornado that is Kirisaki Hana, but ends up recoiling her hand, burnt by the sheer winds. Chitoge could maybe be clearer and more emphatic, but her mother cuts her off and hangs up, leaving her feeling like just another of her thousands of twenty-second calls with underlings.

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Raku is there in Hana’s office when she rejects her daughter, and gosh bless him, he braves her wrath to call her out. Hana’s noblesse oblige self-defense is thin, and a little pathetic. Sure, there’s no one else who can do what she does quite the way she does it, and she’s needed everywhere all the time, but she’s also the only mother Chitoge has, and Chitoge needs her most of all.

If Hana’s corporate empire is so delicate that a month or a week or even a full day in which she’s not intricately involved in every facet of it will cause it to collapse, then it’s not much of an empire, is it? I get it; she had Chitoge when she was very young; maybe a part of her sees her as a mistake; a living breathing symbol of the failure she narrowly avoided. But I want to think somewhere in that cold, micromanaging heart of hers there’s some genuine love mixed in with that bitterness.

Still, Hana doesn’t deserve a daughter like Chitoge. She deserves Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees. Well, Xan’s “bad-girl” persona, anyway.

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Sword Art Online II – 18

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We start in a warm and familiar log cabin in the forest on a cold and snowy night…

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Perhaps well aware its audience would only tolerate so many recaps, SAO II wisely avoided a re-telling of what was a brief, self-contained Excaliber arc. What we got instead was still lightweight enough to make Colin Chapman blush, but rather than a random, partially-baked, pulled-out-of-its-ass Norse-loaf, both distinct halves of this episode were steeped in the SAO we’ve lived through and emotionally resonates the most for us. It was a warm, cozy episode.

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Full-size Human Yui > Tinkerbell Yui. There, I said it.

God, I almost forgot Yui was once normal-sized! Yes, we go all the way back to the halcyon time of almost perfect contentment on Aincrad’s 22nd Floor, a log cabin in the forest where Kirito and Asuna fell in love and built a home and family. Unlike Kirito, Asuna didn’t really like her home and family in the real world, so when they lost their cabin, it was like losing the only home where she’d ever been happy.

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So when Egil notifies Kirito and Asuna that the 21st through 30th floors of New Aincrad are open for exploration and clearing in ALO, they jump at the chance to find and reclaim that home. Their friends and family help out, and unlike the Jotenheimr arc, there’s an actual important purpose to their fighting that I care about. The boss on Floor 21 puts up a fight (on Christmas Eve!), but with their usual excellent teamwork the party brings it down and advance to the next level.

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Asuna’s well-earned jubilation at returning to Floor 22 to find their cabin just as they left it, and Yui returning to her normal size after they press they “Buy” button together…I’m not gonna lie, I got a little glassy-eyed myself. It’s a beautiful little moment; filled with joy. And now we know why in the episode’s cold open the gang was in that cabin!

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The timing couldn’t have been better for Asuna, either. As the daughter of a super -rich aristocratic family in Kyoto, her family subjects her to meet-and-greets and omiais with sketchy rich douchebags. There isn’t any indication she’s being forced into anything, but it’s clear ALO isn’t just an idle escape; it’s where she finds strength and control over her life. There, she has a family in Kirito and Yui and the rest of the gang. But still, you’d think her folks would let her choose for herself after she came so close to being freaking coma-raped last season.

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It’s at her home in the cabin in the woods where she’s having a study sleepover session with Kirito, Yui, Sugu, Liz, and Silica, where she learns of Zekken, a mysterious but singularly powerful dueler offering a unique eleven-hit combo sword skill that matches her preferred setup to the one who beats him (or her; they’re continually referred to without gender).

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Liz, Sugu, and even Kirito have already gone up against Zekken and lost, so it would seem to fall to Asuna to get the job done and win that skill for herself. That’s a good thing, as it would be nice to have Asuna front and center kicking ass again, as we’ve only seen the slightest tastes of her in action thus far this season.

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When Asuna is shocked Kirito couldn’t beat Zekken, Liz has a very good theory for why he lost. Sugu remarks that Kirito wasn’t slacking off, but nor did he dual-wield. As Liz puts it, Kirito will probably only ever fight with everything he’s got if the game is no longer a game, such as it was in the days of SAO and when he was fighting to free Asuna. It’s a nice bit of analysis from Liz, another one we hear far too little from.

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No green-bobbed Slylph Asuna? BOOOO!

Just kidding, Blue Asuna will do just fine for the upcoming fight. A new ending sequence prominently shows a girl who somewhat resembles Asuna but isn’t Yui or anyone we’ve met before, and furthermore matches Zekken’s general color scheme. Combined with the way the gang talked about Zekken without specific gender articles, this girl is probably Zekken herself. I for one am excited to see where this new Asuna-centric arc takes us.

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And now, your SAO II Moment of Zen:saoii18mz