Rent-a-Girlfriend – 24 (S2 Fin) – Dream On

All of Chizuru’s aspiring acting peers marvel at how hardworking and dedicated she is, but the truth is she’s a surging ball of doubt and anxiety. If she doesn’t pass auditions and get this next role, her dream of having her grandmother Sayuri see her performing on screen before she dies is in serious jeopardy of never coming true.

One night, she gets one more friendly rejection text, cries in her dark apartment, and asks the picture of her late grandfather Katsuhito to stop smirking and tell her what she should do. We then go seven years into the past, to when Chizuru was a surly seventh grader with no real driving force except “men are idiots”.

Chizuru’s gran was once an up-and-coming actor, and when Chizuru watches a rented DVD of her performance, that’s it: the dreamless kid suddenly has a dream: she wants to be an actor too. Her gran starts warning her just how goddamn difficult that will be, but her gramps is all optimism and gumption…remind you of someone in her present day life?

Chizuru spends her years of middle school and high school learning how to act, and seems well on her way, until Truck-kun claims her gramps’ life. Remembering how her grandparents told her the name “Chizuru” comes from a thousand paper cranes and that she was meant to be a talisman of good luck, she runs up and down the local shrine one hundred times to pray for Katsuhiro’s recovery.

He doesn’t make it, but he is conscious long enough to say his last words to her: dreams always come true. He knew this would be the worst moments of her life, and wanted her to know that she couldn’t give up no matter what; no matter how much frustration and tragedy and pain got in the way. But now, faced with yet another rejection for a role and her gran growing frailer by the day, Chizuru is wavering once more.

Enter Kazuya, who blessedly had no screen time or lines for over half of this episode, the better to make this all about Chizuru and not him (for once). He comes to her door with a proposal: crowdfunding a movie for them to make and for her to perform in. It technically would fulfill her dream, and there’s actually a better chance of pulling it off than of her getting a role in the same two-month time frame.

Chizuru retreats to her dark apartment to mull it over while Kazuya returns to his and wonders if he just made a huge blunder once again. Naturally, Chizuru sees in Kazuya the same idiotic optimism as her grandfather, but also realizes that his gramps happened to be right: dreams only truly die if you give up on them, and now life is offering her a chance to revive it just when she thought it was all but dead.

Kazuya hears Chizuru’s door open and close, her footsteps in the fancy shoes of her rental girlfriend outfit she has yet to change out of, and then a ring on his doorbell. She has one question: Can you really do it? And after thinking about it and saying that he, that they can, Chizuru has to cover her face to hide the flow of emotion. Her dream, now so cracked and fragile by the rigors of reality, is suddenly mended into something she can carry once more.

Kazuya, who took a suggestion of Sumi’s and rode with it, fully understands the hard work he’ll have to put in. When her gramps was injured, Chizuru knew she could do more for him than sitting around and crying in the hospital, so she ascended the shrine stairs one hundred times until her feet were scratched and black with dirt.

And in the end, the result of that effort was only fleeting—her gramps woke up for only a moment before expiring. Whether she’s conscious of it or not, the same qualities in her gramps are apparent in Kazuya seems like big part of why she’s falling for him as a romantic partner. But it could also be why she’s so hesitant to go down that road: what if she gave her heart to Kazuya, only to lose him? Truck-kun is still out there…

Getting a movie funded and actually making it is sure to make that running up and down the steps barefoot seem like a gentle walk in the park. Kazuya knows it. Chizuru knows it. It could end in failure too, but failure is all but assured if they give up. Kazuya (via Sumi) gave Chizuru the “loophole” she needed to scale down her dream into something more manageable than becoming a movie star before her gran dies.

Will that cause the already nascent feelings she’s developed for him to grow? Will they merely maintain the increasingly sturdy friendship they’ve forged this season? Whither Ruka, Sumi, and above all Mami, the last glimpse of whom is her smirking and asking herself if she has a life (she doesn’t)?

Will Kazuya get them involved in this “let’s make a movie” venture? Finally, who is that fifth girl, apparently moving into the same building as Kazuya and Chizuru? (At first I thought it was Ruka, but this person has an ahoge, and the blue in her hair is color, not a bow.)

We’ll have to wait for a season 3 to find all this out. Until then, I’m glad the focus was on Chizuru for this final episode, learning the full story of her dream, and that the Kazuya we get is a man who proposes strong and achievable action, not moping or fumbling about with his myriad romantic prospects in his head.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 23 – Super Sakurasawa Practice Partner Part III

All Hail Sumi, High Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar Rental Girlfriends. She has Chizuru ask Kazuya if he’ll spend another day with her under the pretense of a “practice date”. In truth, we know Sumi has big birthday plans for Kazuya, and this is a part of that. Also, she’s clearly crushing on the guy. She even wears a school uniform because she thinks he’s into that!

At first the date has an almost breathless pace to it, such that Kazuya and Sumi both are short on breath, but perhaps that’s Sumi’s way of making sure she stays ahead of her jackhammering heart. Unfortunately, watching Kazuya totally geek out over marine life is all too endearing for her.

When she miscalculates the distance to sit for the dolphin show and they get soaked, she feels down for failing as the guide on their date, but Kazuya sweetly lifts that burden by telling her he’s having fun and getting wet is part of the fun of a dolphin show. He also offers her his shirt, as her blouse has gone see-through.

Sumi simply brings out the best in everyone she’s around, Kazuya included. It’s easy to label her a cutie pie, but that label belies an iron strength of will that allows her to cut through her shyness and taciturnity and present her crush with a birthday gift: a hand-knit hat. That same willpower has her grasping Kazuya’s hand when she knows something’s troubling him and tells him he can tell her.

He does, and unloads about Chizuru (without using her name) and how he’s distraught that he can’t do anything about the pain she’s clearly in. It turns out to be a major cathartic moment for Kazuya, as both he and Sumi simply hold hands and cry it out at a spot in Odaiba with a view of Rainbow Bridge.

That extended cry is something he’s never shared with the other girls, and leads to him having a eureka moment at episode’s end about what to do for Chizuru. Naturally, I feel awful that Sumi’s feelings will ultimately be unrequited, and AS next week’s episode is the last, we might not see her at all. But like all good things, it’s best to just enjoy a Sumi date while it lasts. And hopefully it’s spurred Kazuya to finally take some decisive action.

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 – 18 – Ride That Wave

The morning after Chizuru’s birthday Kazuya checks under the wall separating their balconies to confirm she took the gift. The neighbors exchange good mornings, and while Kazuya is stressed about how she felt about the gift, she comes right out and says the plums were good. She’ll also believe him when he says nothing happened with Ruka.

He wants to rent her Wednesday night, but her college friends are taking her out for drinks. Kazuya’s mates (who always wear thin) happen to drag him along for drinks as well. Kazuya didn’t know they’d be meeting girls and Chizuru didn’t know they’d be meeting guys, so naturally the two end up at the same bar together by pure coincidence (or purified luck).

An increasingly rowdy college bacchanalian ensues, with both Chizuru’s and Kazuya’s friends going with the good vibes and getting right trashed, all while Chizuru sips her tasteful newbie drinks with a calm dignity. Alas, when her friends get sufficiently boiled they’re not above fondling her boobs or snatching her glasses.

It’s here where anime magic must hold sway, because tipsy or not these people would surely know Mizuhara Chizuru and Ichinose Chizuru are one and the same. That said, those bamboo shoot rounds are brutal. Not wanting Chizuru to get sick on her first night of legal drinking, he loses on purpose again and again.

The end result is that he leaves the bar with an acute case of the bad spins. If Chizuru despised him she’d just leave him to the night, but he’s a neighbor, and while she’d like to deny it, he’s more than just an acquaintance or client too. So she helps him home and unlocks his door so he can go inside and pass out.

Even then, she’s not about to leave him alone in this state, especially since she knows all too well he lost the drinking game on purpose. While praying to the porcelain god he mutters something about always causing trouble for Mizuhara, so he at least wanted to look out for Ichinose.

This moves Chizuru to the point she rubs his back to help him vomit more efficiently. And while Kazuya is a bad role model for basically binge drinking, he did it with noble intentions., and seeing the two of them in such a messy, human, vulnerable, relatable domestic scene, was very wholesome and satisfying. They really have each other’s backs.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 12 (Fin) – The One He Wants

We’ve finally arrived at the end of one of the most frustrating, problematic rom-coms I’ve experienced in quite some time, and it ends pretty much how I expected: by not ending. But despite how hard it was to watch at times, I could never quite look away.

On not one but two occasions this week Kazuya shows signs of not only knowing what he must do but stepping up and doing or saying it, only to abandon the effort a half-step short of the finish line. First he does this with Ruka, realizing how lucky he is to have her and how unreasonable he is for feeling like she’s not enough.

He is right in the middle of telling her he’s ready to move past the “trial” period of their relationship and declare them “official”—only to be distracted by the arrival of Mizuhara and Mami at the karaoke parlor. It’s the first of two “showdown” scenes between the two women, and in this first one Mami has all the power and relishes wielding it.

Mami tells Mizuhara she didn’t book her to rag on her profession, but now that she knows she’s a rental, she couldn’t stay quiet. She doesn’t like the fact Mizuhara and Kazuya have had a fake relationship this long, and aside from deeming it bad for Kazuya, just watching it in practice pisses her off “a teensy bit.” None of her words are that harsh or cruel, but Yuuki Aoi’s expert delivery and Mami’s odd expressions make them feel like icy daggers.

Because this is a show where Everything is About Kazuya, Kazuya feels it’s his duty to not only eavesdrop on Mizuhara and Mami’s date, but pretend to be sick and excuse himself from work to follow them. Mizuhara rewarded him last time he did this, so why wouldn’t he do it again? He has an excuse ready to go: he doesn’t want Mizuhara to bear the brunt of Mami’s hate.

Meanwhile Ruka is left holding the bag, wondering if Kazuya was serious about making them official. Kazuya finds Mizuhara and Mami on a bridge about to wrap up the date, but not before a “rematch” of sorts, only this time with Mizuhara having a slight rhetorical edge.

Mizuhara asks Mami straight up how she feels about Kazuya, as she’s sure Mami still occupies a special place in the guy’s heart. Mami doesn’t take the bait, but tosses the question back to Mizuhara, suspicious that in a year of fake-dating, she’s fallen for Kazuya for real. Mizuhara simply states “He’s my boyfriend”, not adding the “rental” part because at this point, until the end of their contract, whether it’s a rental or not is irrelevant.

Mami considers that a dodging of the question and turns to leave, but Mizuhara grabs her hand and tells her they’re not done. As scenes of Kazuya crying about Mami flash by, Mizuhara tells Mami how being a rental girlfriend helped her realize the importance and difficulty of falling in love. She asks if Mami ever faced Kazuya’s feelings head on, in good faith, seriously engaged with his love, or considered that he may be the one to make her “happy for life”.

Mami tells her to buzz off under her breath, and states that all of that is between her and Kazuya. Fair enough, but Mizuhara wins this round. She knows Mami wouldn’t have bothered with this date if she didn’t care one way or another about Kazuya. Of the three lead women, Mami is the one most unready, unwilling, and unable to reckon with her feelings, preferring her cool, aloof, gives-no-fucks, bored-with-everything…facade.

That night, Kazuya is waiting by Mizuhara’s door when she comes home, confessing he saw and heart what she said to Mami, thanking her for having his back once again, and apologizing for not being able to do those things himself. Mizuhara then shocks Kazuya by apologizing in turn, for not being able to secure him a real girlfriend (apparently Ruka doesn’t count!).

As she’s suggesting he consider asking Mami out again, for closure if nothing else, Kazuya steps up to the plate, as he did with Ruka, and says something he should have said long ago: “You’re the one I want. It’s gotta be you.” At last, some progress! Only no, he immediately recants, saying he wants her “as a rental girlfriend”, before rushing into his apartment with a curt good night.

Yet another disappointing, immensely frustrating moment of failure for Kazuya, who comes away from the incident thinking it’s a sure thing that Mizuhara isn’t into him. Meanwhile, next door, a blushing Mizuhara wonders WTF just happened. I have no doubt if Kazuya had made it clear he truly did want her as a real girlfriend, it would have been better for both of them, whether Mizuhara accepted or rejected him.

Instead, as a closing montage indicates, it’s still very much anyone’s game when it comes to winning the Kazuya Sweepstakes. Sumi’s out there doing her job with renewed confidence, Ruka smiles at the phone background of her and Kazuya, Mami is utterly bored to death by her latest rich old dude, and Mizuhara is still showing up early for dates with Kazuya.

They’re still rental dates, and she’s still a rental girlfriend. I get it; that’s the name of the show. And the point of the show wasn’t really about Kazuya to end up with one girl over the others, but to explore the different ways in which we fall in love, now made more complex and at times strange via new technologies.

Kazuya was almost always abysmally hard to watch, but that was kind of the point too. What kept me coming back were Ruka, Mizuhara, Mami and Sumi—in that order—as much care was put into their voices, character designs, clothing, and personalities. They were the stars, while Kazuya was an unfortunate but necessary variable in the equation. If RaG were to return for a sequel, they’d be the ones who’d bring me back.

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