The Eminence in Shadow – 05 – Going Nuclear

I thought last week’s outing would end with Cid completing the rescue of Alexia and the defeat of her evil fiancé. Instead, it ended with him simply showing up, which led me to wonder two things: would a lengthy battle ensue, and was Alexia still in danger? The answers turn out to be “yes” and “no”. Alexia just has to sit back and watch along with us as “Shadow” takes his time toying with Zenon like a cat with a mouse.

Zenon has no idea who he’s dealing with and is confident he’s the superior warrior. Meanwhile, the mad scientist’s giant monster starts wreaking havoc in the streets, it falls to Princess Iris to deal with it. But no matter how many times she slashes the beast, she ends up regenerating her severed limbs in seconds. That’s when Alpha shows up and tells the good princess, essentially, that she’s doing it wrong.

All Iris is doing is making the poor beast suffer; she doesn’t have the power to put her out of her misery. Alpha does, and the red light of Iris’ magic-infused attacks are replaced by a massive pillar of blue light that obliterates the beast, leaving behind the body of the girl that was its core, as well as a locket showing who she was. A flabbergasted Iris asks her what the hell is going on, but Alpha politely tells her to sit back and enjoy the show.

Shadow, and Shadow Garden, are many orders of magnitude more powerful than anyone else in the city; that’s abundantly clear by the ease with which ever Diabolos Cult base is eliminated, along with the fact Alpha just showed up Iris. Down in the sewers, Cid continues to impress upon Zenon just how overmatched he is, but as Alexia watches she notices that Shadow’s fencing style, powerful as it is, is simple, textbook…much like hers. It’s the product of obsessive hard work, not natural talent.

Having had his fill of being overpowered, Zenon gulps on some magic pills that enhance his strength, stamina, and physique. He lashes wildly at Cid but every strike is parried, blocked, or dodged altogether. Cid is disappointed with this “unsightly” display, and offended that Zenon dares call it the “power of the almighty”. It’s just borrowed strength. Cid, meanwhile creates a beautiful blue and purple field laced with intricate bands of light.

He tells Zenon (and Alexia) something they wouldn’t know about: nuclear bombs. In his home world, he could never hope to overcome the blast, but in this new world the sky’s the limit, and after years of training he’s managed to become nuclear himself. His attack detonates, turning the environment monochromatic before evaporating Zenon in a massive blast that emerges from underground and consumes dozens of city blocks. The members of Shadow Garden watch and revel in their leader’s truly almighty power.

Naturally, despite the destructive power, Cid took steps to ensure Alexia survived, but also never got to see her savior’s face. She stands within the depths of the crater his blast created, and whips out her sword and pulls off a few stances. Then, to her surprise, a worried-sick Iris arrives and gathers her in a hug, which Alexia accepts with sisterly grace and love. Watching Cid has changed her perspective on things. Now she understands her sister wasn’t patronizing her when she said she loved her style. Her style represents effort, heart, and determination.

Back at the academy, Alexia reminds Cid that he told her he liked her fencing style, which is the same thing her sister said years ago. With Zenon out of her hair permanently, she bashfully asks Cid if they could keep their relationship going “a little longer”, with the heavy implication that it would no longer be “pretend”. Cid gives a cheerful thumbs-down, and her initial shock turns to a blushing smile—and then a vicious slash from her sword.

Shadow Garden continues its plans to rid the world of Diabolos, Iris assembles a team to investigate both the Cult and the Garden, and a still-bloodied Cid accidentally collides with a pink-haired student carrying a towering stack of tomes. He offers her a hand up, which she happily accepts, and the atmosphere immediately gets all sparkly and soft-focus-y. It looks like Cid doesn’t intend to waste his springtime of youth!

The Eminence in Shadow – 04 – World of Shadow

When Alexia awakens to find herself chained to a bed in a cell with a failed demon experiment sulking in the corner, she doesn’t panic. When a bone-stock mad scientist character comes in to draw blood, she doesn’t panic. Hanazawa Kana nails Alexia’s detached calm and faux sympathy for this lunatic.

Cid is also captive, since he’s the prime suspect in Alexia’s abduction. Internally, he’s not concerned about the physical torture he’s enduring, but doesn’t want his two interrogators to “out-unshine” him as Background Character A, so he responds as an NPC would: begging for his life.

Five days pass, and he says nothing, and under Zenon’s suggestion, Alexia’s sister Iris has him released, but followed. His tail is soon taken out by Alpha, and we learn from Cid that members of Shadow Garden have been paying him periodic visits to indulge him in the “game” he’s playing.

…Except it’s not a game for them. I couldn’t tell you why Alpha positions herself like she’s about to make out with Cid, but she announces that the Garden is planning a major op to rid the city of Diabolos.

Cid also spent all the money Alexia paid him to deck his place out like an Eminence Boss. When Beta’s face lights up at the sight of it and the sound of Cid doing his chunibyou voice, I have to admit, I lol’d!

But it’s not that Beta isn’t taking this seriously, just that she and her comrades are so powerful that she can afford to be more nonchalant, and revel in, say, quickly recording events as they unfold, like when Cid serves as the vanguard for the op and takes out the knights who tortured him.

Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, and 110 other members of Shadow Garden are going all over the place raiding all the hideouts of the Fenrir Sect of the cult. When the Mad Scientist learns of these raids, he’s forced to accelerate his plans and inject his failed demon experiment with a prototype serum.

Alexia lazily warns him not to do that as she “has a bad feeling” about it, and sure enough, the massive berserk demon he creates kills him instantly. However, it doesn’t kill Alexia, it frees her. She grabs a sword and makes for the sewers to escape, but is stopped…by her sword instructor and betrothed, Zenon.

Like Alexia, I kinda knew there was something off about him; now we know, he’s a member of Diabolos. And while he has a little fun out-fencing her and punching her into the sewage, that fun doesn’t last long, as Cid emerges from the shadows in purest black, ready to hunt—and perhaps save his fake girlfriend as well.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 03 – Background Boyfriend

On their own initiative, Cid’s Shadow Garden one day decided they needed to leave him and spread out to fight against the Cult of Diablos, but he suspects they grew out of playing along with him and set themselves free.

Whatever the truth is (and it sure seems like the cult is real and they’ve gone out to fight them in his name until he’s old enough to join them) he’s not that bothered by being alone; such is the life of one who strives to become … The Eminence in Shadow.

It also sure looks like he threw himself into Truck-kun while trying to will magic into being, so there’s that!

Cid ends up attending Midgar Academy for Dark Knights like his far more famous and popular sister, but blending in will do just fine for him. He even finds himself two perfect best mates for Background Student A: Skel and Po, and fits right between them in terms of both height and unattractiveness.

When Cid loses a bet to his two friends, he must confess to the most sought-after-girl in school: Second Princess Alexia Midgar (Hanazawa Kana), who has become famous for her curt yet brutal rejections of the most elite male suitors. But where they failed, Cid succeeds … quite by accident!

Cid puts on an act to appear as loathsome and pathetic, but little did he know Alexia was waiting for a guy like him to come around, and accepts his offer. She also learns that he’s into fencing, and uses her royal clout to get him into the elite Section One class … where Cid learns that her fencing style is well-studied and practiced, but bland and utterly unexceptional.

Did I mention that like Cid, Alexia’s older sister is far more accomplished and revered? That doesn’t come up, but it’s clear from their chemistry that these two are used to toiling in the shadows. That may sound strange considering Alexia is the most popular girl at school, but compared to the greatest dark knight in the kingdom, she’s totally in a shadow.

She’s also betrothed to their fencing instructor, Zenon-sensei, whom she hates. Hanazawa Kana brings an interesting dimensionality to Alexia. She is at times incredibly cynical and even has a sadistic side, making Cid into her dog—something Cid’s all too willing to do in exchange for that sweet sweet Eminence seed money.

Cid is handsomely compensated in exchange for being a bit of unremarkable eye candy Alexia can use to try to make Zenon give up on marrying her, but two weeks pass and not much progress is made. That said, he and Alexia grow a bit closer in spite of their dispassionate relationship of convenience. Alexia prefers the company of people with flaws like him (or like the person he’s posing as).

At the same time, I wonder if she can somehow sense that there’s a lot more to him beneath the surface Cid is showing her. While on a train at sundown, she is vexed by the fact she can’t take her eyes off his fencing style, even though it’s just as ordinary as hers.

It’s apparent Alexia hates her style, and possibly herself, so when Cid challenges her by saying he likes her fencing style, and would be pissed if anyone dissed the things he likes, she draws a sword on him. When he doesn’t flinch or take back his words, she alights from the train with a final-sounding sayonara.

The next day, Cid and his pals are surrounded by knights who inform him that Alexia never came home last night, kidnapping is suspected, and the last person reported to be with her before she vanished was Cid. Fate seems to be pushing Background Character A into the foreground, and the mystery of what happened to Alexia is an enticing one to ponder.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Urusei Yatsura – 01 (First Impressions) – The Winner Takes It All

In this reboot of a sci-fi/rom-com anime from 1981 (41 years ago) we’re introduced to Moroboshi Ataru (Kamiya Hiroshi), an unrepentant horndog in a Waldo shirt who ogles a comely jogger mere seconds after reaffirming his love for his long-suffering girlfriend, Miyake Shinobu (Uchida Maaya). That status quo is suddenly shattered by an alien invasion of earth by a race called the Oni.

But these aliens are the sporting type, so they give humanity a chance to avoid subjugation: if a randomly selected human can catch the Oni’s leader’s daughter Lum (Uesaka Sumire) by the horns in a game of tag, the invasion will be cancelled. The human they randomly select is Ataru, of course. And Lum? She’s a total babe.

The game of tag is internationally televised and held at a soccer stadium packed to capacity. Unfortunately for Ataru (who is preternaturally unlucky having been born on Friday the 13th), Lum can fly, and proves extremely hard to catch.

He only has ten days to tag her, and those days go by utterly devoid of success. On the evening before the last day before humanity is doomed, Shinobu decides to give Ataru some extra motivation: if he succeeds, she’ll marry him. Ataru genuinely cares for Shinobu, so the next day he’s all vim and vinegar.

Upon finally catching Lum by the leg, he learns she has another power: electricity. But that doesn’t faze him. As his bride-to-be watches and he repeatedly shouts “Marriage!” he intensifies his pursuit of Lum, eventually grabbing her into an embrace and relieving her of her tiger-print bikini top.

Using the top as a lure, for the first time Ataru brings Lum to him, and uses said top as a distraction as he allows her to reclaim it while he reorients himself and grabs her by the horns, thereby winning the game of tag and saving earth from invasion.

Ataru is instantly a global hero, and he’s ready to marry Shinobu right then and there … but there’s one problem: all those times he shouted “Marriage!” while chasing Lum? Lum thought that meant he intended to marry her. And having lost the game fair and square, she agrees.

Neiher Ataru nor Shinobu (especially Shinobu) like this, but Lum is absolutely intent on being Ataru’s wife. When he declares that he only loves Shinobu, he makes Lum cry, and when she calls Shinobu on the phone (this series is very much lodged in the 80s, tech-wise) both girls accuse him of two-timing.

That said, Shinobu is on board with Ataru’s plan to simply ignore Lum when she uses her alien ship’s jamming tech to intrude on their phone calls.When Ataru and Shinobu threaten meet in person, Lum creates massive electrical storms, but the lovebirds still manage to unite, which is when she takes her ship into the atmosphere to intercept them.

Normally, saving the world would afford the saver a life of leisure and ease; not so for the ever-unlucky Ataru. While he loves Shinobu, he also cannot deny his attraction to Lum, even though she has a tendency to electrocute him when she perceives him to be cheating.

It is here where I admit that the premise and the character dynamics are very much stuck in the 20th century, and perhaps that’s for the best. Compare this to the reboot of the even older Dororo, which respected its source while also bringing it into modernity.

Urusei Yatsura isn’t just retro in look (albeit with a 21st century glow-up), but also retro in sensibility. The show is loud, boisterous, and a a bit backwater. But it’s also fantastic-looking, brimming with infectious energy and charm, and is mostly just a big ol’ heap of fun!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 22 – More than a Lie

Kazuya probably feels like Ruka’s kiss, complete with tongue and the requisite saliva strings, lasted the entire week between the last episode and this one. But Ruka felt threatened by Chizuru and didn’t want to lose, so she marked her man. She also hastens to notify Kazuya that it was her first kiss, and despite the saying that the first taste like strawberries or lemons, hers just tasted like booze.

A frankly obscene amount of Kazuya inner dialogue ensues as he tries to deal with having been wall-slammed and made out with by Ruka only to have to return to the table with his mom, grandma, and Chizuru, who can all tell something’s off about both of them. Gran then produces her gift to Chizuru: her heirloom engagement ring. Chizuru says she couldn’t possibly accept it, as one does, but Gran and Kazuya’s mom insist.

Having seen how backed in a corner and desperate Ruka is and seeing Chizuru struggle, Kazuya decides he’s going to come clean, right then and there, or at least say what needs to be said to shatter the charade. Both Ruka and Chizuru can tell he’s about to say something to the effect of “Chizuru and I broke up”, but before he can get the works out, Chizuru gets a call…from the hospital.

Her gran is unconscious, so she, Kazuya, and Kazuya’s gran take a taxi to the hospital, where they find Chizuru’s gran not unconscious, and her usual tough, cheerful self. The grans have fun talking about their young grandkids, and when the doctor asks Chizuru to come with him to talk, she leaves them in Kazuya’s care in a very relationship-y way.

After torturing Kazuya a bit, the grans send him to a konbini for snacks, and he meets Chizuru in the dark corridor, where she tells him that things aren’t great, and despite her smiles and laughs she doesn’t have much time left. Kazuya asks if she’s okay, and she puts on a brave front. When he heads to the hospital room to finish coming clean and making things right, Chizuru grabs his sleeve and tells him not to.

She knows her gran is worried about her being along when she’s gone, so telling her she and Kazuya broke up on her deathbed simply isn’t something she’s willing to do.  I don’t think she’s using this as a pretense to remain in…whatever it is she and Kazuya have.

But when she says that whatever is now “more than a lie”, it feels like she’s saying that more for just her gran’s sake. She and Kazuya head home and go their separate ways, and Kazuya curses himself for not being able to do more for her, while also finding himself in a spot where revealing the truth will cause more harm than good.

That said, the lie is still doing harm to Ruka, but when she and Kazuya go on a grammable pancake date, she shows genuine empathy when she asks about Chizuru and her gran. She also decides to call a truce, as with Chizuru’s family situation it’s just not an appropriate time to continue her “offensive”.

That said, she’s now convinced that now that they’ve had their first kiss, they can now kiss whenever. Kazuya’s not so sure about that. He’s also even more flummoxed that not only Chizuru but also Ruka have decided that the status quo should be maintained until further notice. And that’s even before he’s aware of whatever it is best girl Sumi is planning to celebrate his birthday…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 20 – The Best Day Ever, Every Time

This episode begins, amazingly, with Kazuya talking on the phone with his actual ostensible girlfriend, Ruka, who is clearly loving every minute of their convo and would happily chat with him for hours. She also shows a bit of maturity by apologizing for her outburst towards Mami, whom we see is still trying to tweetstalk his gran.

When a day Chizuru is free for a date arrives, Kazuya decides to mix things up a bit and fulfill an adolescent dream of his: going on a date with a girl in their high school uniforms. Chizuru doesn’t know about this dream and so wonders why he’s wearing a uniform, but like so much with Kazuya, she rolls with it.

Since he insisted she act like herself for their dates, the ensuing date at TDC (Tokyo Dome City) feels considerably less forced and artificial. This is doubly true to to the fact it’s quite clear Chizuru enjoys being on a date with Kazuya under the guise of a professional transaction. It gives her cover from feelings she clearly harbors but isn’t ready to parse.

And that’s fine! After all, the guy she often finds herself blushing about is still in a state of denial himself. Such is his self-esteem, he is constantly holding Chizuru up on a pedestal she never asked for. Yes, she’s lovely, but his adoration goes way too far. Forget high school, he’s acting like a middle schooler most of the time.

Kazuya’s date plan of holding hands, sharing food, photo booth, and Ferris wheel all goes swimmingly. But he’s so worried about doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, he barely takes the time to simply exist and enjoy the time he’s actually having with this other human being.

As I said, besides the school uniforms, what makes this otherwise fairly rote date episode refreshing is how Chizuru isn’t being overly lovey-dovey or flowery. She knows she doesn’t need to be; that just being herself is fine with Kazuya, both as a rental customer…and as a friend. Indeed, he’s one of very few people in her life she can be herself with, and as such, his presence is comforting, even when he’s being a complete spazz.

Just as Kazuya and Ruka have some genuine conversation on the phone earlier in the episode, it’s also nice to see him and Chizuru just shooting the breeze about her job, and how she’s come to love the job she’s so good at. Since he knows about her dream of becoming an actor, she also tells him how she’s got a role in another play.

She’s clearly as happy to have someone to tell this as Kazuya is to hear it. He’s so happy for her and how her hard work is paying off, he briefly holds her hand a bit too tight. When booking the date, he discovered that Chizuru ranked up from Rookie to Regular, which not only cost more, but only increased his adoration of her.

But for as unattainable as he continues to believe her to be, and as loathsome as he considers himself to be, if I had to guess what Chizuru wanted, it isn’t someone who will worship the ground she walks on, but walks on that ground beside her as an equal. Heck, it’s pretty much what he already has with Sumi.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 19 – Thing of the Past

Kazuya wakes up with the mother of all hangovers, but also an odd fuzzy memory of Chizuru having taken care of him last night. He’s not sure if it’s just a fantasy, but what is real is that he was invited to a chat group that includes Chizuru’s private contact (not the Rental GF one he has and cannot use when not renting her).

He stops himself from adding her as a friend as it would send her a notification, but fantasy and reality once again collide in his booze-addled brain when he finds an energy drink in his fridge with a hand-written note from Chizuru (reading “Drunkard!”) that proves she was indeed there. We also cut to Chizuru also contemplating hitting the “add a friend” button for Kazuya.

To me, all this means that Kazuya and Chizuru want to and probably should start acting like the neighbors and good friends they so clearly are, only their personal hangups and the fact Kazuya is always renting her services keep things cloudy and complicated. This week also reminds us that Ruka is technically his actual girlfriend, and at work she checks in with him on whether he’s ready to make them “official.”

Kazuya is saved by a customer arriving at the otherwise-deserted parlor, but that customer turns out to be Mami, who heard from Kibe that he was working here and decided to stop by and mess with him (she says she’s kidding, but she isn’t). Her plans are utterly stymied by the presence of Ruka.

After Kazuya tries to sidestep Mami’s and Ruka’s curiosity towards one another, Mami is simply too friendly to Kazuya for Ruka to remain silent and professional. She grabs Kazuya and makes it clear that they’re dating, then embellishes things by claiming they’ve gone all the way, and basically condemns Mami as his ex for coming by his work at all.

Mami has her knowledge of Chizuru as a rental girlfriend loaded, and decides to use it, but it misfires, as Ruka is not only aware but seemingly okay with it? Mami retreats for now, if not defeated, utterly bewildered by what the heck is going on with her ex. Ruka ends up in tears over the ordeal, and Kazuya can only sit and wait for her to cry it out.

Note, Kazuya is not to be sympathized with here—all of this is his doing, and if he were honest to Ruka about not having feelings for her, they wouldn’t be in this unsustainable “half-relationship” that is so easily threatened by a passing ex. If anything, I sympathize with Mami, who on one occasion asks herself why she’s wasting her time even thinking about Kazuya and his palace of lies.

The answer the show implies is that as much as she doesn’t want to admit it, she’s not over the guy. I prefer the interpretation that she’s infected by the same brain worms as Chizuru and Ruka, which beyond all logic and reason render Kazuya a halfway tolerable presence. (Sumi, the best girl, is either immune or not infected due to how rarely she and Kazuya interact.)

Speaking of Chizuru, she returns at the end of the episode boarding the same train as Mami, and a deeply awkward train ride ensues, with Mami being not subtle at all about the concept of obtaining items while they’re as new as possible lest they fall out of fashion. On the surface, she’s talking about Chizuru’s bag, which Mami identifies as having been in Kazuya’s apartment that one night.

Because Mami cannot for whatever reason stop thinking about Kazuya, the gears in her brain continue to churn late into the night, as she attempts, like a private eye, to piece together Kazuya’s intricate galaxy of stupidity. While Ruka’s account is locked, Mami finds Kazuya’s grandma, and decides to follow her in hopes of gathering more intel.

From Yuuki Aoi’s half-bored, half-threatening, alway mocking sing-song lilt to the design of her disheveled hair and dead eyes, Mami is always portrayed as a potential chaos-spreading force, and the show seems more often than not to side with Kazuya and the others over her, as if she were reaping what she sowed by dumping Kazuya before fully realizing how she felt about him.

But I don’t see Mami as a villain. What Kazuya is doing is far more villainous. Mami may be looking to score points or exact some kind of vengeance, but she’s also trying to get at the truth of matters, and the truth is Kazuya’s relationships with Chizuru and Ruka are fundamentally flawed and require serious work.

Kazuya should have dumped Ruka, confessed to Chizuru and been rejected, get over it, then asked out Sumi, with whom he is the best version of himself, long ago. The excuse of not wanting to disappoint his grandma has long since ceased holding water. If he insists on maintaining the status quo, stringing Ruka along while he and Chizuru push and pull towards and away from one another, I welcome Mami’s efforts to break that status quo.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 17 – Sumi Can Communicate

Three days after Ruka spent the night, Kazuya shows some genuine personal growth by taking out the goddamn trashChizuru had the same idea, and their timing is so synced up he almost wallops her when he opens his door. When she brings up Ruka, he assures her nothing happened, but the fact is she did spend the night. Later, when Chizuru is reading lines, she can’t focus thanks to Ruka’s words that morning.

On top of wanting to clear up the misunderstanding, Kazuya learns from the app that Chizuru’s birthday is coming up. He wants to give her a gift that means something, and also to thank her for getting him his phone case—which as we know played a key factor in him declining Ruka’s advances. He knows he can’t ask Ruka or Mami for ideas, so on Chizuru’s birthday he books Sumi, the forgotten Rent-a-Girlfriend.

Sumi, as we know, overheard Kazuya yelling out his feelings to Chizuru in episode 1, but other than that and being at Chizuru’s performance, she’s been a ghost, which is a shame, because every time she gets the spotlight, I find myself wishing Kazuya would just open his eyes and make her his girlfriend. It’s painfully clear (to everyone but him) throughout their date that she likes him!

Not only that, while she’s quiet and shy (though very verbose via text), she’s also perhaps the most thoughtful, kind, and caring of the four girls. Despite having so much less screen time than the others (or maybe because of that) she just constantly gives off Best Girl vibes. And Kazuya notes that she’s really making progress as a rental girlfriend, which she no doubt attributes to his help.

Kazuya procrastinates to the very end of the date to ask Sumi what she thinks would make a good gift for Chizuru. And while Sumi momentarily seems gloomy being asked about another girl, she quickly gets over that and helps the boy who has helped her. In her distinctive, adorable style of communication of gestures, little noises, texts, and the occasional spoken word, she suggests various gift ideas, all of which Kazuya considers but feels none of them are quite the right fit.

Sumi seems to have a Eureka moment and takes Kazuya by the hand, out of the department store where their date took place, and onto the roof of another department store where a “Rent-a-Fighters” power rangers-style show is going on. When Kazuya hears the pink fighter talking he realizes it’s Chizuru, working her ass off at yet another job in order to make her dream to perform in front of her Gran come true.

Watching Chizuru in action and delivering rent-a-kicks and punches inspires Kazuya to a degree, as he decides to stop wallowing and power through his indecision. Before parting ways, Sumi also tells him that sentiment matters most when it comes to gifts; as long as it’s from the heart, any gift from him would make him happy. Sumi isn’t only speaking rhetorically, mind you, but Kazuya doesn’t pick up on the nuance of her text.

Even so, when Kazuya starts walking away, Sumi looks at the photos they took together, her eyes start to get glassy, and before Kazuya knows it Sumi has him by the sleeve. Having not thought this through, Sumi remains silent and blushing profusely for a good long time, but eventually asks Kazuya for his birthday. They part ways again, and Sumi immediately puts the date in her calendar—an opportunity for her to give him something from the heart. Her satisfied smile melted my already melted heart.

Chizuru comes home well after dark, on the phone with her Gran declining an offer of dinner as she’s just too wiped. She takes a shower, gets a text from her idol frenemy Chi, then goes out on her balcony and finds a bag with a “Happy Birthday” note from Kazuya, who slipped it there from his side.

It’s a heartfelt note, explaining why he’s giving her a gift and that it can alleviate fatigue, which is especially timely sentiment considering how tired Chizuru is in that moment. When she opens the box within the box and finds pickled plums, her first reaction is “…Why?” She then notices Kazuya’s postscript insisting nothing happened with Ruka, and she remembers how passionately he spoke to her about not giving up, and pops a plum in her mouth.

Now, if you’ve ever had a pickled plum (I highly recommend them) you know how powerful the flavor is. They’re sweet, salty, and above all oh so sour. It’s a flavor that brings a smile to Chizuru’s face, and it’s a good flavor to represent the complicated nature of her and Kazuya’s relationship. It’s not necessarily comfort food, but slight discomfort food, giving you the kick you need when you need it.

Poor adorable Sumi doesn’t stand a chance, does she? T_T

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 14 – The Usual Is Ideal

Kazuya isn’t quite sure what he’s doing, but he wants to support Chizuru in her pursuit of acting, and he’s also pretty sure he loves her. Booking her every week will certainly support her financially, but when she tells him it’s a bit much and there’s “nothing in it for him”, it reminds him that their rental girlfriend-client relationship is purely transactional as far as she’s concerned.

Nevertheless, Kazuya is serious about supporting her, so much that he bows before Ruka and basically asks her to let him keep going on rental dates with Chizuru. Ruka, who is saintly in her patience of this dude, agrees as long as she gets to accompany him to Chizuru’s play to see if she’s really that great an actor. As for their rental date, Kazuya asks Chizuru to drop the act, as his “ideal” of her is the real Chizuru he knows.

I don’t know if hearing that makes Chizuru happy or what, but I do know that after their date is over and they part ways, she walks right back up to him, not as his rental date, but as Chizuru, and they continue hanging out. But when they go to the batting cages, it’s because Chizuru wants to blow off steam without being hit on by other guys. Kazuya is her shield, but his reward is getting to see her athletic side, along with her home run smile and full force of her high-five.

We then learn that the batting cages were also to kill time before going to visit her grandma, who is back in the hospital. Chizuru knows her gran likes Kazuya (not to mention still believes they’re actually dating), and while she takes a good long time replacing the water in the flowers, it affords Kazuya and her gran another chance to talk about stuff.

When Kazuya says he saw Chizuru’s play and thought she was amazing, and goes on to say she’s incredible and strong while he’s just a burden, Chizuru’s gran can’t help but laugh. She’s known Chizuru a lot longer, so she knows the real real Chizuru is, at the end of the day, a somewhat lonely, needy girl who loves acting and praise, and covers up those weaknesses with an “armor of ice.”

Gran knows that someday that armor won’t be enough for her granddaughter, and she’ll need someone who “sees her for who she is,” and solemnly asks Kazuya to be that someone. Kazuya, for all his issues, at least prefers the genuine Chizuru to her distant, performative rental persona, and now knows that even that version of Chizuru he believes to be so strong is just like him; always beset by and trying to hide her weakness.

Kazuya is also serious about not letting Gran down about being there for Chizuru, even if not as a real boyfriend. I can’t help but question his credibility to do so when he can’t even manage to toss his used tissues in the dustbin. But that also means there’s plenty of room for growth.

As Chizuru appears at his door to declare she’s lost her key and a preview involving Mami at his door too, next week looks to be a sitcommy scenario, but I hope the more serious matters explored this week aren’t left by the wayside.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 13 (S1 E01) – The Play’s the Thing

After an efficient recap of where the four girls currently stand in the story, we return to Kazuya’s filthy flat (seriously dude, clean it the fuck up!), lamenting the “countdown to ruin”—Chizuru’s big acting break that will lead to her being discovered by a big-deal director and quitting her rental girlfriend gig.

He decides to buy a ticket to Chizuru’s play as “moral support”, but also wonders if he simply wants to watch the beginning of the end of his relationship with her. Sumi spots him, but before she can say anything the lights go down, the curtain comes up, and Kazuya gets a lot more than he bargained for.

Watching Chizuru perform as a completely different person—in this case a puckish kunoichi—is a revelation for Kazuya. He’s taken on an emotional roller coaster as Chizuru grabs the entire audience in her hand and doesn’t let go. She’s magnetic, clearly the “MVP” of the play. He’s so stunned by the end he doesn’t move from his seat for a while. Sumi, who can probably tell why, leaves him be.

But while he, Sumi, and indeed I truly thought Chizuru stole the show in which she wasn’t even the lead, her performance doesn’t lead to the opportunity she’d planned. Turns out the famous director is basically the lead actress’ damn uncle, and gives her the role. Even though she was a victim of nepotism, Chizuru thinks she wasn’t good enough.

Kazuya leaving the theater in no particular hurry combined with an upset Chizuru skipping the wrap party means the two inevitably bump into each other on the streets. Kazuya quickly owns up to coming to see her perform, and is extremely effluent in his praise. He also accepts the fact that this probably means the end of their rental dating.

When Chizuru explains that things didn’t work out and then puts on a brave happy face, Kazuya at least realizes that she’s trying to keep her frustration bottled up. But he’s not going to let her say she’s “just like him” in getting “too worked up” about acting, because her rental girlfriend gig is proof she does have talent, and plenty of it.

Chizuru’s attitude suggests she’s ready to throw in the towel and face reality, but Kazuya suspect she doesn’t want to, and also doesn’t think she should. If she needs to keep funding her dream of acting, then he’s going to keep hiring her to be his rental girlfriend, getting a job to pay the fees.

Chizuru is recalling Kazuya’s words when she comes home and sits in the dark, and then she gets a call from the lead actress who got the role thanking her for “warming up the crowd”, twisting the dagger and sending the cork on the bottle of her tears shooting across the room.

That said, her tear-filled eyes are suddenly reflecting the light of her phone, which just alerted her to a whole slew of new bookings from Kazuya, putting his money where his mouth is and adding financial support to his moral support. While she calls him a dumbass as usual for going to such lengths for her sake, the gesture doesn’t fail to bring a smile to her face and color to her cheeks.

I said in my review of the first season finale that if a sequel of RaG was made, it would be the girls who’d bring me back, since Kazuya was mostly an infuriating pest of an MC. Well, that sequel has now arrived two years later, and while Kazuya continues to keep a pigsty of a place and harbor a lot of misunderstandings, he’s…not that bad in this episode!

Ruka would probably disagree, seeing as how he continues to utterly ignore her, but that’s for another episode. Here Chizuru clearly stole the show, and Kazuya did what he could to make her feel better and encouraged her not to stop dreaming after one setback. He was a pretty good fake boyfriend! Now, keep it up!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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