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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 08 – Worst Christmas Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 21 – What About Us?

I’ve never been particularly interested in 3DK’s longstanding ticking clock on Hikari and Iroha’s relationship. It’s a two-dimensional source of drama and dread on a show that’s proven itself capable of developing nuanced solutions to conflicts that rise organically from its cast of 3D characters.

Case in point: 3DK invested so much time and loving care to bringing Ishino and Takanashi together, yet the biggest threat to Hikari and Iroha’s relationship remains frustratingly murky.

There’s nothing unclear about the statuses of their friends, however: Ishino x Takanashi is very public, while Itou confirms to Hikari that he and Ayado made love. It’s quite on point for Itou to cry tears of joy afterwards, as well as to tell Hikari that it probably has changed his world, but a lot more changes are to come as he and Ayado share more experiences.

I kinda wish we’d gotten more of Ayado’s perspective—perhaps telling Ishino or Iroha about it—but still, kudos to the show for being both unambiguous and tasteful in the portrayal of a very common milestone in young people’s lives.

As their final year in high school begins to draw to a close, Takanashi, Ishino and Itou are all thinking about their futures…while Hikari hasn’t. Why would he? The future, to him, is just a place where there’s no Iroha.

Better to make the most of the present lest he come away with regrets. For Hikari, this means blowing off career surveys, studying and even some classes to spend maximum time with Iroha.

A side-effect of all the dating is a precipitous drop in his grades, something he keeps from both Itou and Iroha until the former hears it from the teacher. Like any best friend as kind as he is, Itou is concerned about Hikari, and urges him to be mindful of finding a school/romance balance.

However, Hikari doesn’t want to tell Itou why he’s neglecting his studies. He doesn’t want to tell Itou that Iroha is moving in a month, because that will only make that move—that future without her—more real.

Instead of getting back to his studies, Hikari takes Iroha out on more and more dates, even as she gets increased pressure from Mabuchi (the doctor) to stop what she’s doing presumably due to an undisclosed medical condition…but we just don’t absolutely know for sure!

One thing’s for sure: frolicking on a frigid beach in October isn’t going to help that condition…and I’d be very surprised if one or both of them didn’t come down with a cold next week.

But fine: Hikari doesn’t know the truth, and neither do we. Iroha doesn’t know about his bad grades until Itou tells her, and when she pulls out what she thinks are his notebooks for studying, they’re filled with things he’s planned for them to do together.

Seeing this note makes Iroha cry, because Hikari is planning a future for them that may not be possible. When he comes back with warm drinks, she tells him she lied: she’s not going to transfer schools. But that still doesn’t explain if and why they’ll separated in a month’s time.

Then again, perhaps Hikari’s request to his mom to loan him a large sum of money from his mom, and both his and Iroha’s reluctance to “go home” means they’re going to run away together, finally taking charge of their future.

But if Iroha’s real circumstances are so serious she’s yet to breathe a word of them to the man she loves, out of a reluctance to hurt him, what if those circumstances worsen, and there’s no longer any way to hide them…or avoid hurting Hikari anyway?

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 03 – An Honest Girl Magnet

“Something about changing and getting so happy is scary,” Hikari tells Itou. So much so it makes him overly self-conscious and embarrassed about how intensely his heart beats whenever Iroha is near. Unfortunately Hikari still has much to learn about communicating his feelings good or bad, so he ends up ignoring Iroha and even pushing her hand away.

The only answers he can give her are “sorry” and “it’s nothing”, as if she wouldn’t understand. He’s still too stuck inside himself to trust someone else, especially with emotions he’s never had and can’t begin to explain. So it causes a rift.

Almost simultaneously, a girl slips on a banana peel and Hikari helps her up. It’s his classmate Ishino Arisa, whose first instinct upon realizing who helped her is to call him “gross” like all the others do. But later, she doesn’t run away or dismiss him when he tries to seek advice from someone who doesn’t make his heart pound.

Because Ishino also likes someone, their common ground on which to lay the foundation for a conversation. Part of her is worried this gloomy dude will commit suicide if she leaves him alone, but part is just as receptive to talking about the strange feelings people get for one another, and because neither of them share those feelings for each other, there’s no pressure.

Ishino decides a good step to take is for Hikari to lose the bangs as part of a larger effort to look more presentable (and less gloomy), but she can’t take a single snip of hair (with craft scissors) when Iroha arrives and declares that Hikari “belongs to her.”

Hikari thought she hated him for how he snubbed her, but her rudeness with Ishino is ample proof that’s not the case. Nor does Hikari hate her; they’re merely misunderstanding each others’ discomfort with the new and complicated emotions they’re feeling, as just about anything new makes people uncomfortable.

Speaking of comfort, on both the advice of his mom and the fact Iroha likes the same show, Hikari gets into baking as a means of both expressing his affection for Iroha and releasing pent-up stress (with which, as we all know, eating sweets can help).

Iroha is contrite towards Ishino and before long, Hikari is one of a circle of four. Iroha may claim to “not need” friends, but what else do you call four kids at school sharing each others company (and cookies) and talking to one another about themselves?

When asked, Ishino mentions things are going okay with her boy Shun, but the others soon learn he finds Ishino “convenient” in the way she lends him money and doesn’t mind the sight of other girls’ clothes in his room. He’s a cad, but Iroha doesn’t feel its quite their place to intervene, and Hikari and Itou aren’t about to disagree.

However, Iroha breaks her own rules and pummels Shun with her bookbag, not necessarily to defend a friend (she’d still say Ishino wasn’t one), but because he was pissing her off by calling Ishino stupid within earshot of Ishino. Ultimately Ishino decides to break up with Shun, but her stoic face is quickly soaked in tears; she’s not happy about it, even though she thinks it was the right thing to do.

To help dry his new friend’s tears and reduce her stress levels, Hikari suggests they head to the roof and eat the cheesecake and donuts he made. When Iroha gets some chocolate on her face he wipes it off with his hand, and Ishino declares that while she wan’t jealous of them before, she is now.

Hikari marvels at how there are only honest girls around him, but he doesn’t know how lucky he is. It’s up to him to be just as honest with them, as well as Itou. I’m not saying fake or deceptive people are lame, but I don’t think Hikari is compatible with them at all. He’s someone who needs things said to him straight, and hopefully he’ll pick up the habit.

And so, up there on the roof, trying not to worry too much about what the future might bring, Hikari is simply happy he can be a “normie”, and interact with these very exotic creatures called 3D human friends. It might feel weird, but he’ll surely get used to it.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 02 – Half a Year Won’t Be Enough

Last week I noted how 3DK succeeded because it was committed to depicting a relationship of equals from the start, and that continues early this week when Iroha immediately challenges those who whisper unkind things about her new boyfriend.

Hikari doesn’t mind—he thinks he is gloomy, at least at school—but would rather she didn’t call attention to him. But at this stage Hikari is also still weary of getting to deeply into a relationship that will probably end in half a year when she moves (let’s face it, long-distance sucks).

His inexperience in 3D girl relationships rears its ugly head when Iroha gives him a clear invitation to go on a date Sunday, but he doesn’t get the hint at the time, and sticks to his original plan of waiting in line, buying a game, and playing it. But when he sees Iroha with another man, he’s both hurt and angry (and likely calling to mind her rep at school, threatening to  fall into the classthink trap once more).

But suddenly Iroha is throwing stones at his window because she missed him, and assuming the other guy was a misunderstanding, had no reason to doubt her sincerity. Then he babbles about “not having the patience” of
those other guys” and doesn’t know how to find out whether he and she are seriously dating.

Iroha has an idea: take him to a hotel where they can sleep together. She says it’s her first time—another way they’re on the same level—but he feels like she’s “undervaluing herself” by consenting to sex when they still barely know each other.

Then…he runs out, just leaving her there, presumably to pay for the room. Sorry, but that’s just bad form. I understand not being ready for sex and This All Happening So Fast and not seeming as “special” as you thought, but you could, you know, stay and talk with her. Maybe he still had that other guy in his head…or maybe he just panicked.

The next day, Hikari encounters that other guy, who tells them he’s not dating Iroha, and Hikari takes that to mean there’s some other kind of relationship in play, and that Iroha would be better off with a normie than the gloomy likes of him.

The doc, for his part, is a wonderful neutral observer of Hikari, and takes note of Hikari’s lack of backbone. Even if he’s not really involved with Iroha, he would hope someone who is would fight for her rather than scurry off.

The situation is resolved when Hikari calls Iroha to the school roof and tells her about the other guy. Iroha in turn spits out a sequence of lies about the doc being her boyfriend and having a serious illness. But she cops to the lies almost immediately.

There’s a wonderful disarming vulnerability to those short-lived lies of hers, like she’s putting out feelers to test Hikari’s reactions. Eventually, the air is fully cleared (she only visits the doc for her asthma), after Hikari is inspired by his favorite magical girl anime and vows to protect her, which Iroha rightly points out is a bit narcissistic.

Still, she’s happy Hikari is thinking of her (in his own way). She also invites herself to his house, nearly causing his mom and little brother to lose their shit with vicarious excitement. Having a girl who likes you and who like in your room seems to simple in concept, but it’s momentous in practice.

In the process, Iroha has the same reaction to his anime as he had when he first watched it, and he realizes her open-mindedness has always been a reliable constant since they started interacting. That helps put him further at ease, and the two almost kiss, but are interrupted.

In any case, Hikari learns from the doc that Iroha’s birthday is imminent, and his mom rustles up some amusement park tickets, because she knows damn well how useless her son is with cultivating romance. With help from Hikari’s trusty friend Itou, he creates a clay figurine of Iroha-as-magical girl to give her after a fun-filled day at the park.

This could have easily been weird and a little creepy, so I’m glad it turned out to be a very sweet and heartfelt gesture. He worked long nights during which he’d otherwise have been gaming to craft something of sufficient quality, then offered it at precisely the perfect time as a surprise, complete with a pretty good line if you’re in high school: “You also use magic. When I’m with you, amazing things constantly happen.” For that, he gets a kiss, and since they’re in a Ferris Wheel, there are no interruptions.

Hikari and Iroha made a lot of progress this week towards learning more about and understanding one another. But the fact remains she’ll be out of his life again in less than half a year, and it’s already tearing him apart inside. But if it’s truly love between these two, I’m sure a way can be found to avoid permanent separation.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 01 – Sudden Romantic Adventures in the Third Dimension! (First Impressions)

Having watched my fare share of anime romances (and being in a couple of actual ones), if I’ve learned one thing it’s that balance appeals to me. One-sided relationships can evolve over time into mutual enthusiasm, but more often than not simply fizzle out, so it’s best when both parties—girl-guy, guy-guy, girl-girl, whatever—have an equal stake a prospective relationship.

That’s what we get with 3D Kanojo: two people who on the surface couldn’t be more different (gal and otaku) but who are both fundamentally good people, yet also lonely due to their personalities and mannerisms falling outside the social mainstream. This is the story of them coming together due to a realization that there’s more alike than different about them, especially in the places where it really matters.

Tsutsui Hikari is an otaku, and a middle school of being ostracized and mocked for it has hardened his heart, particularly against real girls. He brings that baggage and buys into the classthink about Igarashi Iroha being bad news, “gaudy, sleazy, and disliked by girls” as she is.

Already, a similarity: both are disliked by “normal” girls. He also latches onto a perceived insult from Iroha when the two have to clean the pool: she uses the word “gross”, which is clearly a trigger for the long-suffering Hikari. Nothing else about their early interactions suggests Iroha harbors any particular malice towards Hikari. In fact, she tells him she should “fall in love” or something.

That Sunday we witness the banality of malice Hikari and his only friend and fellow otaku Itou Yuuto endured when his former middle school classmate Mika recognizes him and continues treating him like a big gross joke. When he stands up for himself, Mika doubles down.

Then Iroha appears, in her Sunday Most Glamorous, acts as if she and Hikari are a couple, then shoos off  the “fugly” girls who were needlessly going after Iroha. She even clarifies “gross” remark she made was merely about how he might feel about his bangs in his eyes, not directed at him, while admitting that with Itou, Hikari has one more friend than she does.

Both Hikari and Itou have no choice but to consider that perhaps Iroha—someone they did not know—is actually a good person, now that they know a little more about her.

Back at school, Iroha finds herself in the middle of an unwanted love triangle, and the boy who believes she belongs to him yells at her and slaps her. After momentarily standing aside and allowing her to “get what she deserves”, Hikari thankfully and quickly corrects his assessment, and puts himself between Iroha and further physical danger.

The values of standing up for what’s right and not backing down are among the advantages of his anime fandom, if not his self-preservation. He may be far weaker than this karate captain guy, but it doesn’t matter, he’s in the right.

Boy or girl, preying on the weak is wrong, at least in human society. It may still go on all the damn time, but Hikari found himself in a position to stop an instance of it, so he did…even if people thinks he’s being “gross” for trying to be a hero.

Iroha doesn’t think it’s gross. She stays with the injured Hikari until he insists she let him be, giving him a kiss as thanks for his help. But when she approaches him in class and very publicly asks him out, Hikari panics and rejects her out of hand.

In doing so he again lets himself get taken in by the classthink, despite having a better, more nuanced idea of who Iroha is. Despite being saved by her, and despite saving her, Hikari’s lack of trust in girls remains a powerful, almost reflexive force in his psyche.

It’s a good thing Hikari has the one friend, because it’s Itou who repeats the words of their favorite magical girl, Ezomichi: “You call yourself a man? You Coward!” in assessing Hikari’s reluctance to trust or respond to Iroha’s feelings. But forget masculine conventions: any relationship means bearing a part of yourself.

Hikari will have to fight against the shell of distrust he’s created to do so. To his credit, he attempts to do so, first by gathering more information about Iroha. His method for doing so—doing a terrible job stalking her—isn’t ideal, but we’re dealing with someone not well-versed in social skills.

Iroha can be a bit of a trouble magnet, such as when she’s suddenly wrongfully accused of shoplifting at a bookstore. But Hikari steps between Iroha and her accuser before Iroha strips to prove her innocence, intricately detailing Iroha’s activities since he left the hospital.

When it’s time to part, and it’s raining, Hikari lends Iroha his umbrella, and she tells him she didn’t ask him out as a whim, or out of pity: but because of how he made her feel after he stopped the karate boy. She felt it again when he saved her from injustice.

Predictably, Hikari catches cold, but refuses to break his perfect attendance record, and is soon back at school with a mask. He’s late, and has to clean the pool again…but Iroha is late too…on purpose. The cleaning duty, as well as his cold, is partially her fault (she’s willing to share the blame with him), so she removes his mask and kisses him, before going to clean the pool herself

By now, Hikari knows how he feels for this real girl, but remains apprehensive to the point of inaction. Itou reminds him of the “unconquerable resilience” they’ve both developed after years of people being cruel to them.

It’s time to re-purpose that resilience by going out on a limb and trusting somebody. Being played with or manipulated; losing his pride or dignity…that may well happen anyway. There will always be some who deem him gross out of hand. He can’t worry about that, and in any case, he’s prepared to weather it.

So he runs to the pool, asks Iroha out, and they embrace, with the caveat that she’ll be transferring schools in half a year. Hikari’s first romance may well be short, but there’s every possibility in the world it can be a sweet and rewarding one…as long as it’s a relationship of equals.

Between Tada-kun and 3D Kanojo, week one is a clear win for 3D. It was more than a collection of happy coincidences and provided far more detail and nuance in its leads, making me more emotionally invested and excited for what comes next. Also, Hikari’s timid sidekick is a lot more tolerable than Mitsuyoshi’s brash one.

Just Because! – 12 (Fin)

Setting the final episode on the seniors’ final day of high school is an obvious touch, but a very effective one here on Just Because!. We can share that sense of accomplishment, relief, and anxiety the new grads are going through. There’s also the sense that everyone feels a bit out of place, from little details like flowers and parents to a completely different schedule of events from the usual routine.

Unfortunately, we have to wait quite a long time for the inevitable payoff of Izumi and Natsume meeting in college. That’s because they don’t see each other the entire episode. This seems at once a wry nod to viewers that such an inevitable payoff, while desired, isn’t something that can sustain an entire episode.

Rather than pad it out, JB! does a curtain roll of everything and everyone else, starting with the news that Izumi didn’t get into the fancy college he thinks Natsume is going to. She only texts him that she got in “her first choice”, without indicating that she changed it to his.

That profound misunderstanding threatened to mar all of the events in the episode that weren’t dedicated to resolving it, but it turned out to be an episode that rewarded patience. We also get an arguably superior scene to the episode’s final moments in Izumi and Komiya’s last scene together.

She won and lost the competition: lost because her photo of him didn’t win, but won because her fellow club member’s photo of her taking a picture of Izumi did win, which means the club, and her place of belonging survives. It’s little consolation for Izumi’s formal rejection, however, and both animators and seiyu LYNN really knock it out of the park with Komiya’s understandable reaction.

Speaking of dingers, we get a nice symmetry to the series when Izumi and Souma play ball in the yard again, only this time with their positions reversed. When Souma hands him the bat and says “hit a home run”, Izumi knows what he’s talking about, because of what hitting one meant for Souma.

That being said, Souma’s fiert first pitch immediately lets Izumi know he’s not lobbing a batting practice toss…Izumi has to earn his homer—and he does, making crisp contact that sends the ball flying, just as a jetliner screams overhead, the vapor trail imitating the ball’s path, making the homer seem that much more epic. Izumi runs off to Natsume.

Unfortunately, Natsume doesn’t wait on the hill long, as she assumes that Izumi won’t come, and a phone call from Yuriko and her celebrating friends lures her away before Izumi can get to the rendezvous point.

So that’s kinda that…and an entire month passes, without them speaking or even texting each other. To this, all I can say is, WTF, show? A month? Seriously? A longer period of time apart than the two have ever suffered, at so crucial a time in their lives? I’m not a fan of the choice, or the persistent lack of communication that caused it.

That being said, their encounter at college, in which both un-bottle that month of longing with quick confessions to one another, was very well done. Not as nice as Komiya’s scene, but still nice.

Some shows are about what happens after two people who really had to labor to end up with each other enter a romantic relationship, but this was just about how it happened. I’m always for at least a taste of seeing the new couple fall into a new rhythm together, but we didn’t get that here.

Oh well, what we did get was most enjoyable regardless. Just Because! is no Tsuki ga Kirei, but there were certainly moments when it came close.

Just Because! – 11

Everyone in Just Because, it seems, requires certain seemingly unrelated conditions be met before taking action.

Souma wouldn’t ask Morikawa out unless he hit a home run. Natsume won’t “lay her feelings bare” unless she gets into Joei. Izumi won’t tell Natsume how he feels unless he gets into Suizan. Morikawa won’t go out with Souma until they settle into their respective futures at college and work.

Only Komiya confessed to Izumi before meeting her stated condition (winning the photo competition), but she’ll still wait for Izumi’s answer until after the exam, which she expects him to pass.

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This was a very practical, functional episode in which all of the members of the Natsume-Izumi-Komiya triangle meet their conditions, which in a way was the easy part. The toughest trials for the three come now that they no longer have those artificial boundaries in place. In the final episode, they’ll have no choice but to follow through on what they promised they’d do.

Between Natsume and Izumi’s simultaneous balcony sessions to their morning routines to their lengthy commutes to the colleges to their time at their desks taking the exams, there’s a great deal of thematic heft given to those exams, as befits the fact that passing them means far more than simply getting into those colleges. Both of them have assigned a lot more importance to them than that, but neither shrinks from the task at hand.

As they furiously put pens to paper, Morikawa and Souma enjoy each other’s company at school, too restless to be home, each worried about their friends. It’s here where Morikawa and Souma first pool their knowledge of both Izumi and Natsume both switching schools…but it’s “too late” to stop them.

Is this meant to suggest the would-be lovers are doomed to attend different schools? I hope that’s not the case and that with some paperwork wrangling they can align where they wish to go…if that’s what they both want.

While the buildup and the presentation of those exams was very deliberately paced, the results come in in the relative blink of an eye. Natsume’s letter definitely says she’s been accepted to Joei. Komiya’s smile most likely means her photo won. Izumi’s grin means he got into Suizan, meaning the conditions have been met. With all that paperwork out of the way, I’m looking forward to seeing these three proceed to sort things out.

Masamune-kun no Revenge – 03

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It should come as no surprise that despite this show having “revenge” in its title, it’s looking less likely all the time that Masamune will actually want to dump Adagaki once they become a going concern. He’s had an idea of her in his head all these years as an object of rueful loathing, but actually getting to know her is gradually rewriting that idea.

Despite gaining the tacit support of Koiwai in his revenge efforts, Masamune comes up with something all on his own: a wager with Masamune concerning test scores. Koiwai seemingly abstains from assisting, and Masamune even thinks she double-crossed him by slipping him laxatives during a test, but it turns out he ate bad eggs.

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When the results of the test wager are inconclusive, Koiwai redeems Masamune’s confidence by arranging for Adagaki to go on a date with him out of concern that he’s an emotional wreck. Koiwai is well aware of the immense trust Adagaki has in her obedient maid, but stops short of telling Masamune exactly why she’s helping him out.

Koiwai’s motives aside, Adagaki is very game for the date, and reveals her inexperience with the practice of courtship by arriving in a costume to “break the ice.” She puts up smug airs, but also hides behind Masamune’s broad back when a creep tries to snap a picture of her, and gets all freaked out by a horror movie.

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Adagaki isn’t just inexperienced in dating, but in interacting with people on equal terms. With a maid and an army of servants at school, she’s used to being waited on hand and foot. But as he watches her argue with a small child about why she’s dressed so weird, it dawns on him he’s been letting her get away with the cosplay thing all day, sparing her the embarrasment. He’s going soft!

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Back when Masamune was a little fat kid, Adagaki called him pathetic and urged him to get stronger…which is exactly what he did. After accidentally walking in on her changing and hitting his head, he wakes up to find his head is in her lap and she’s asleep. After tasting her venom, back then and more recently, the date showed her some of her other facets, including vulnerability and kindness.

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Koiwai knows Masamune is “Pig’s Foot”, which means she knows how much Masamune worked to improve himself physically and academically to become the chick magnet he is today. Now she intends to use him to improve Adagaki, and in true tough love fashion, believes getting dumped might do the trick. The only issue is, will Masamune actually do it? I have my doubts.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 02

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Two stories are told in this episode of 3G, which have thesis statements of their own, but tie into the central idea that Rei and the Kawamoto sisters aren’t in a one-sided deal. He’s not the only one getting something out of this. And he’s well aware he’s getting something out of this.

The first begins with the not-surprising realization that Rei has shoji buddies with far more forceful personalities, which he’s nonetheless able to coexist with on his own terms. Nishioka has made Rei his personal rival, and Matsumoto wants to beat him so he can appear on TV for his ill grandpa who taught him.

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Matsumoto and his longtime friend Smith are also nice guys, so when they go out to celebrate at the hostess club where Akari works, they’re nothing but respectful (and appropriately in awe) of the stunning Akari, and don’t make their 17-year-old Kohei drink liquor. Akari confides to Rei that these are the kind of guys to hang out with.

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It hearkens to the first time Akari and Rei met: when some not-so-nice guys did make Rei drink himself into a stupor (which probably didn’t take much, considering his size and complete lack of tolerance). It was Rei at his most vulnerable, and he had no way to hide it.

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That didn’t matter at all to Akari, who took him into her home and took care of him. It’s a pretty good chance he got alcohol poisoning that night, so when he couldn’t force himself to vomit some of it up to ease his pain, she showed him how. Concerned, gentle, caring: both the Akari at home and Akari the Hostess are equally amazing and beautiful to Rei.

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Before he met Akari, Rina, and Momo, Rei saw the new town he lived in in monochrome, as if walking through a dream. But from the moment Akari welcomed him in their lives and told him he could come by anytime (and meaning it), color returned to his life, and with it, a measure of joy.

The second half, “the other side of the bridge”, marks the difference between the cold industrial/commercial side where he lives (akin to Ayanami Rei’s memorable digs) and the warm, homey, comfortable side where all the Kawamoto sisters are, as well as the food.

Rei can never refuse Akari, and he doesn’t when she invites him to join them for Obon. Because he knows, the Kawamotos have suffered profound loss just as he did. He helps fill the void in their lives so it doesn’t fill with grief, and they restore color to his. It’s a nice arrangement, and watching it play out is enough to melt the hardest heart.

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Orange – 09

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Now that it’s confirmed everyone in Naho’s circle has letters from their future selves guiding them support Naho and Kakeru, we see the first instance of someone other than Naho and Suwa reading their letter and acting on it. In this case, it’s Azusa, whose letters are a lot more fancy and flowery than Naho’s austere correspondence.

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The letter instructs her, during her birthday, to make sure everyone refuses to let Kakeru borrow their umbrella, so that he and Naho can share one and walk home together. It works like a charm, and just like that, Orange has arrived in episode 9 where Momokuri got in it’s second half-episode.

Naho even holds out her hand for him to take, insisting once isn’t enough. But the two still maintain they’re fine with things they way they are, rather than officially going out.

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That’s a not entirely honest position that is put to the test during the sports festival, when the group of friends are to participate in a relay. There are a number of events preceding that race, during which we get a look at everyone’s parents.

Suwa makes sure Kakeru’s grandma comes so he’s not too lonely…but he still feels lonely, because he’s not sure how long it will be before he has to move, before he “disappears.”

Suwa elects to rattle his cage, asking him if it’s really okay to not be going out with Naho, and if it’s really okay with him if he went out with Naho. Kakeru, gloomy and dejected, says that would be fine; not even a bad idea. He’s still speaking from a place of self-hatred and resignation to an uncertain, lonely life in the wake of his mother’s suicide.

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Things take a turn for the worse between Naho and Kakeru when the former dresses Suwa’s wound with the same care she bandaged Kakeru a ways back. The timing sucks, and when Naho offers to dress his wounds too, Kakeru recoils, even slapping her hand away. Immediately ashamed, he scurries off, and Naho wonders what she did wrong (nothing, really).

But Suwa is still optimistic that he’s put Kakeru on the right track to more forcefully and confidently stake a claim and pursue that which he wants – Naho. I’m…less optimistic. Even with the whole circle of friends working toward a single goal, it isn’t going to be easy to bring Kakeru and Naho closer together.

Not when they’re so cripplingly inept at courtship, and possess so little self-worth, thinking the other person too good for them. I don’t envy their friends: this isn’t going to be a smooth ride, and a future where Kakeru is with them is far from assured when he’s still speaking with dark permenance about the certainty of ‘disappearing’.

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