Rent-a-Girlfriend – 21 – Scents of Hokkaido

It’s time for the annual family birthday party Kazuya’s grandmother and parents always throw for him, and when he informs gran that her beloved Chizuru’s birthday has already passed, she hits him with an air-to-grandson cruise missile of anger and then insists that he invite Chizuru to a shared party.

Kazuya invites Chizuru to the shindig on their balconies, and while she can’t make the 5 PM time, she can come later, after she visits her ailing gran in the hospital. Shortly thereafter, Ruka calls Kazuya to wish him a happy birthday, and catches wind of the party. That afternoon she shows up all dolled up, ready to join the party.

Since Kazuya’s fam knows Ruka as “Chizuru’s friend” it’s not that strange that she shows up with him, and Ruka is quite right that however Kazuya feels for Ruka, he did agree to be her boyfriend (rather than reject her) and making her cover for him and Chizuru isn’t fair.

Thus ensues a wonderfully lively sitcom scenario where conceits like the fact Ruka’s yelling at Kazuya in the kitchen can’t be heard by the fam in the next room. Ruka sees she’s started out with a deficit, imagining a virtual Reversi game of who can be the best future daughter/granddaughter.

But Ruka has no shortage of charm, and quickly ingratiates herself with Kazuya’s fam. This sucks for him in terms of maintaining the fiction of him and Chizuru for his gran’s sake, but it also shows a nice what-if if only he had genuine romantic feelings for Ruka rather than Chizuru…things would go pretty smoothly!

Instead, Ruka comes within mere seconds of telling Kazuya’s fam that she’s his actual girlfriend when he’s saved by a text from Chizuru asking what’s up. Kazuya sucks it up and adds her as a friend, then calls her on her personal line—unthinkable in the first season, but accepted as a necessity here.

When she says she’s still at the hospital, Kazuya does what’s right and tells her she doesn’t have to come, but then a jealous Ruka rips the phone out of his hand and demonstrates to Chizuru that it really is a good idea to show herself before things get messy.

I totally get Ruka’s anger, but if her goal was to keep Chizuru away from the fam tonight, her rant to Chizuru had the opposite effect. Chizuru surprises Kazuya’s fam by showing up and immediately being her perfect professional girl self, even asking to pray at the family shrine, something Ruka didn’t even think of.

As Kazuya’s gran learns he and Chizuru live in the same area (but not that they’re next-door neighbors) she asks why they don’t just live together, Chizuru blushes and says she’d lean on him too much. Ruka spots the lipstick on Chizuru’s glass and heads to the bathroom without saying anything.

When Kazuya heads to the bathroom, Ruka, who is getting absolutely slaughtered by Chizuru out there, decides to resort to drastic (and readily available) measures, i.e. her lips. She gets on her toes, pulls Kazuya in by the goofy gaudy tie she bought him for his birthday, and gives him a long lasting smooch.

It’s given all the weight of a climactic romantic development, but lest we forget, at this moment Kazuya simply likes Chizuru more, and the fact the two of them can call and text each other whenever constitutes Reversi discs that can’t be flipped back over.

This episode featured some fun and genuinely funny girlfriends-family sitcom action, but also made me hope that at some point before this cour is out we get some kind of legitimate development towards untangling some of the romantic knots Kazuya has made. I realize I may be setting myself up for disappointment, but it’s always nice to dream.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 15 – Shadow and Flame

No sooner does Shinpei loop back to the kitchen does Ushio arrive with Mio to fill him in on what happened: the enemy got to Nezu and used his own sniper rifle to kill Shinpei. We also learn that the creepy vision Shin keeps having is a visualization of his situation.

The past is crumbling behind him, and should he loop back where there is no more solid ground, he’ll fall into nothingness. He figures he has one loop left, if that. If they’re going to make their stand against the Shadows, it’s now or never.

Shinpei’s plan involves using himself as bait, since Haine wants to kill him until he’s out of loops and no longer a threat to her plans. The part of Mio’s personality Shadow Mio copied can’t help but admire how cool her big brother is by doing this, but forgets that Ushio can transform into a watch.

Ushio transforms and runs with Shin in her arms as an angered Mio gives chase. The real Mio, Sou, and Tokiko block her path, with Tokiko using two Shadow Babies Ushio freed from Haine’s control for defense and offense. Hizuru gives herself over to Ryuunosuke, who takes on “Shiori’s” corrupted family and friends.

When Haine and Shide get involved in chasing after Ushio and Shinpei, Ryuunosuke takes a bullet for them, buying them enough time to regroup in the gymnasium. Back outside, Shadow Mio shows off just how graceful and diabolical she can be by merging her body into one of the babies, but ends up getting burnt by her original and shot with nails by Sou.

Back in the gym, Ushio narrowly avoids getting shot to shreds by Shide and his trusty revolver, taking the stage as Tetsu switches on the stage lights to keep Haine and Shide’s attention on her. Haine and Shide, always convinced they have the advantage, are sorely mistaken in this case.

Still floating just over them are Ushio’s hairs, which are transformed into six masses of gasoline that then fall and soak the two. Then Shinpei, who was lurking on he balcony above them, tosses a match that starts a conflagration, then brandishes a revolver of his own. It’s a very cool action movie scene.

Hell, everything in this episode is incredibly cool and cinematic. A great deal of time and effort went into the animation; clearly STR was holding a large chunk of its budget for this episode (and probably a couple of future ones). While some suspension of disbelief normal “civvies” in Shin’s group survive as long as they do, great care is taken to ensure the weaker (Shinpei, Tetsu, Sou, and Mio) are protected by the stronger (Ushio, Tokiko, Nezu and Hizuru).

Thanks to their preparation, coordination, and vast amounts of misdirection, along with exploiting the arrogance of the enemy, Ushio is on the cusp of deleting Haine…only for Haine to use Shiori’s face, voice, and tears as a psychological weapon that cause Ushio to hesitate for just a moment. In that moment, Shide, who was playing dead in the fire, shoots Shinpei in the chest several times, then grabs Ushio and pulls her into the flames.

Shide intentionally missed Shin’s vitals so that Ushio would die before he did, and all the information on the previous loops will die with her. But once again Ushio pulls a fast one on him, as the body he grabbed was just a dummy. The real Ushio, in shell pendant form, reforms into a human and stabs Shide through the heart, promising to delete him.

Shide is only saved by Haine pulling off the most impressive Shadow stunt to date: deleting all of the air in the gym, killing the fire, causing Shinpei and Tetsu to nearly asphyxiate, and blowing out all of the gym’s windows from the air outside, allowing Haine and Shide to escape.

When Ushio collapses, a distraught Shinpei rushes to her side, but she’s fine; she’s only exhausted from all the copying she did. Like Haine and Shide, Ushio laments that Shinpei has been mortally wounded by the gunshots and doesn’t have much time left, but he reveals that a homemade bulletproof vest under his shirt protected him.

At the sight of the vest and upon realizing her Shin is okay, Ushio pulls him into what must surely be a very painful (due to the bullet impacts) but also very welcome hug. It’s an incredibly sweet and moving hug, the reward for going through a literal trial-by-fire.

While Haine and Shide are still out there and sure to regain their strength soon, it’s about as good an outcome as you could ask for. None of Shinpei’s friends or family were killed, and they’ve even captured Mio, whom the real Mio says Ushio should hack so she can become one of them.

Along with Toki’s Shadow Babies, Ushio’s hacking looks to be the potentially decisive key to victory: being able to turn enough of Haine’s minions to their side so they can fight on more even terms. The only problem is time.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 16 – Turtle Curry

Kazuya is convinced Mami is going to let him have it now that she knows Chizuru was a rental girlfriend, but to his shock she’s nice. She’s worried she “pushed him” to this, something he denies, and says instead it was a kind of “social experiment”.

Mami leaves him saying he shouldn’t waste his time and money on fake girlfriends, but doesn’t believe a word he says otherwise. She knows something’s up, and while she calls him a loser, she wouldn’t be bothering with him at all if she didn’t still care about the lug.

From there, it’s a Ruka episode, which is always a delight because how there’s a simplicity to her dynamic with Kazuya. He fully appreciates what a stunningly cute young woman she is, but doesn’t have feelings for her the way he does for Chizuru, so even though she’s willing to be his real and actual girlfriend, it just doesn’t quite feel right for Kazuya.

That said, Ruka has the time of her life shopping and cooking curry wth expensive soft-shell turtle (a known aphrodisiac) for the one she loves. She clearly prepared for this, and the show doesn’t cop out by making her a terrible cook. The curry is damned good, and also works downstairs, if you catch my drift.

Kazuya knows he should be perfectly content eating, watching TV, and eventually getting down to some hanky-panky Ruka has already made clear she’s ready for whenever he is. She even sends a text saying she’s staying at a friend’s so she can spend the night, which she sees as only fair.

After all, she let Kazuya go on rental dates with Chizuru. If Kazuya is going to allow her to frame their relationship as near-as-makes-no-difference legitimate, that means he owes her. Mother Nature tends to agree, sending a dousing typhoon to cancel all the trains and keep Ruka right where she is.

After she takes a shower and changes into his baggy shirt (and not the pants he offered), Kazuya can already barely take it, so when he’s in the shower he rubs one out for some “clarity” on the situation. Not helping matters is how loud Ruka tends to be with Chizuru right next door. Also not helping matters is when Ruka digs through her purse and a condom pops out…”just in case.”

That night he sleeps on the floor of the kitchen, worried that he’s caused Ruka to act this aggressive to compensate for the stress his stuff with Chizuru is causing, but he’s focused on simply getting through the night. That becomes incredibly more difficult when Ruka snuggles up behind him, giving him the chance to do whatever he wants, which is what she wants too.

It’s the sight of the phone case Chizuru gave him that stops him from turning over. But when Ruka starts going on about how he must not think she’s attractive enough, or that she’s being too clingy or a pain or a bother, he gets up and sets her straight: he’d never cal her bother, she’s so cute he can’t take it, and hearing her say he likes her makes him want to jump for joy.

He just doesn’t want to make a “terrible mistake”. Ruka, understanding, retreats to her bed, but falls asleep happy thanks to all the nice things Kazuya said. The next morning, before kissing him goodbye, Ruka says those works made her feel like she could stay by his side, so she will. She also makes sure Chizuru overhears her yelling about their amazing night together, which Chizuru definitely overhears from the other side of her door.

I know Chizuru is the girl Kazuya is supposed to end up with, and he clearly has strong feelings for her, every time Ruka gets her chance (which is rare) to offer a viable alternative route, she sure doesn’t squander it. The production also doesn’t skimp on the detail needed to up the intimacy levels of their scenes, and Touyama Nao’s warm, singsongy, expressive voice fits Ruka’s energy perfectly.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 15 – Hello Neighbor

Chizuru lost her key at some point during the evening, and the landlord is out, so she invites herself into Kazuya’s apartment. To do exactly what Kazuya is not sure, but as you’d expect of our horny jackass protagonist, he has a lot of thoughts on the matter, culminating in him almost asking if she wants to spend the night at his place.

He fails to realize that might not even be a last resort for Chizuru, and that there are other resorts to explore, like whether she left her back screen door open. That said, getting around to her side to look is awkward at best and dangerous at worst. Luckily Kazuya is there to keep her from falling; unluckily he grabs her bum, then they both lose their balance and he ends up on top of her again, just as Mami rings his doorbell.

This is when the potential of the classic sitcom “hide one person from the other person” scenario nearly reaches full flower, especially as Kazuya failed to lock the door after Chizuru came in. The two of them hide in the kitchen helplessly as Mami rings again, opens the door, looks in, assumes Kaz has gone shopping…and leaves.

After both Kazuya and Chizuru breath a sigh of relief, the recriminations begin: Why, Chizuru wants to know, is Mami popping by his place at 11 PM? He doesn’t know, but it may have something to do with her talk with Chizuru on that bridge, which she’s unaware he overheard. Regardless, Mami is well on her way home when she realizes she saw a fancy girl’s purse in Kazuya’s apartment, and her eyes go dead. So this isn’t over!

Kazuya and Chizuru return to where they were before Mami arrived, which is exactly how to deal with the situation of Chizuru being locked out. But then she sees the light in the landlord’s is on, so she heads down there. That’s when Kazuya remembers her gran’s words and tells her straight-up that she can always come to him, her neighbor, if she needs help and can’t ask family or friends.

That’s when Chizuru partially drops her armor and tells him that other than her hospitalized gran, she has no other family. She promised her late gramps that she’d become and actress, and so she’s following that dream with everything she can, including working as a rental girlfriend to pay for that dream. She tells Kazuya she’s “not that special”, just a normal girl chasing a childish dream.

Clearly moved by her opening up, Kazuya proceeds to let her know a little more about his family situation, and how he doesn’t really have a dream like hers, but nevertheless has a future lined up taking over the family shop. He doesn’t mean to brag, only to acknowledge that he’s lucky, and to reiterate that no matter how she might value or de-value herself, he wants to be by her side.

Adding “forever” at the end of his statement was probably not the best idea! Still, Chizuru says if he wants to stay by her side, she can’t very well refuse…amending that at the end by saying that’s a “rental girlfriend’s job.”

While pure luck brought Chizuru into his home, and their initial interactions were awkward, their evening ends having grown just a little closer to each other. Kazuya saw a little bit of the Chizuru her grandmother described, as well as the Chizuru that is receptive to being cared for. Kazuya hasn’t experienced the pain and loss she has or worked remotely as hard as she has for his future, but he can empathize. She’s not just a hottie; she’s a person he wants to support, labels be damned.

The next day at college, Kazuya crosses paths with Chizuru and is fully prepared to pretend they don’t know each other, per their agreement. But Chizuru, clutching her books, loosens one hand into subtle good morning wave, and acknowledgment that they do in fact know each other. That little gesture makes his entire day, and as he’s making copies and he imagines the copies are photos of her, it’s clear to him and us he’s “down bad” like never before.

So naturally, Mami sidles up to him from behind asking him what’s up, and his outsize reaction to her sudden appearance would automatically make anyone suspicious. Looks like we’re in for a bit of Mami and Ruka cooking time next week.

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