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.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 28 – (Almost) Shot Through the Heart

Sakura has already demonstrated that she’s a decent cook (though Touya teases otherwise), but one thing she has yet to master is deep-frying croquettes; specifically the exact manner of slipping them into the hot oil without splatter. It’s almost a phobia, like her aversion to ghost stories.

Her friend Naoko has a similar issue with the box jump, which happens to be what’s featured for P.E. class. But she has a secret weapon: an “enchanted card” called Jump that she bought from Maki’s plushie store Twin Bells. After buying the card Naoko aces the jump along with Sakura and Meiling.

When Sakura inspects her friends cards, she confirms they look a lot like Clow Cards with gaudier colors. That said, they’re not real Clow Cards, merely talismans that, combined with the hard work of the user, help bolster their confidence in any number of disciplines, from piano to cooking.

Upon visiting Maki’s shop, however, Sakura actually does sense the presence of a Clow Card, but cannot locate it. She and Tomoyo fly around town and track down both Naoko and Chiharu, but neither bought the Clow Card, leaving only one other customer that day: Meiling.

Meiling, you see, is on a particularly strong possessiveness kick, loudly proclaiming Syaoran to be her fiancee in front of Yukito and Touya during lunch and also insisting on feeding him her homemade bento. She also does a poor job throughout the episode of hiding the fact she’s purchased a card from Maki’s shop that she hopes will help with her romance.

The only problem is, instead of the non-Clow Love card, she accidentally ends up with a real and very dangerous Clow Card called Shot, believing she’ll shoot an arrow of love through Syaoran’s heart. In reality, Shot thinks she’s trying to shoot Syaoran to death. Its aim is initially lousy, but improves as the dodging Syaoran tires.

Meiling can only watch in horror as her fiancee is mercilessly hounded by Shot. Sakura keeps him safe for a time with Shield, but ends up using Mirror to reflect the Card’s shot back onto itself, stunning it long enough for her to seal it. And while Meiling considers Sakura a rival, that rival still helps Syaoran carry her when she’s weakened by the ordeal.

Sakura ends up finally mastering croquettes under her pops’ supervision, and the next day Meiling offers the Cook card as an olive branch. I do hope there aren’t too many more episodes in which Meiling’s love almost kills someone, but while it’s hardly a classic, this outing had its moments and charm in spades—as all CCS episodes tend to do.

Fruits Basket – 26 (S2 01) – The Hideous One

First of all, let me say how good it feels to have Fruits Basket back in my life. It’s truly a salve for the heart! Those who haven’t watched the first season probably wouldn’t agree. It should go without saying: make sure you watch those 25 episodes before getting anywhere near this episode. That said, holy crap, what a return to greatness!

A gorgeous new OP, followed by an episode centered squarely on … Minagawa Motoko! In which she recognizes Tooru’s positive effect on Yuki. And stops living in a world of fantasy. And acknowledges her flaws. And commits to pursuing Yuki the right way. In other words, Motoko changes…and in doing so becomes yet another character I love and can’t wait to see again. And lest we forget, she’s brilliantly voiced by MAO!

Tooru shows up to put an iron uncomfortably close to the faces of Kyou and Yuki, but otherwise this is basically The Minagawa Motoko Show from start to finish (with a sprinkling of Yuki). It’s a ballsy move to make Tooru’s arrogant, one-dimensional, self-deluded love “rival” the protagonist-of-the-week, especially as the first episode back.

But Fruits Basket has already demonstrated time and again that none of its cast is really shallow; it’s just a matter of how much we know them, and this was the time to really hunker down and get to know Motoko, beyond the scheming president of Prince Yuki—someone nearly bowled over by Arisa’s eager new delinquent minions (a great potential pairing for a future episode, by the way).

Motoko puts her war with Tooru aside to deal with a more pressing matter: the identity of the new StuCo board members. Specifically, she wants to make sure none of them are hussies that will steal her man (who, let it be said, has already been all but stolen by Tooru!) But former StuCo prez Takei can sense Motoko’s intent and isn’t spilling the beans.

Meanwhile, it’s new StuCo prez Yuki who meets the new board members in question, in a very bizarrely staged scene. When he enters, he hears a girl seemingly weeping in the dark in a giant mess of files. Yet after recoiling from his touch, she adopts a stoic demeanor and goes about cleaning up. This is the new StuCo treasurer, Kuragi Machi.

Then he meets the new veep, the brash and grigarious Manabe Kakeru, who had been napping in the next room and reminds Yuki of his repellent brother Ayamu. He has a particularly weird exchange with Manabe later, leading him to wonder if there’s something Zodiac-y or Zodiac-adjacent about these new members…or if they’re just a bit eccentric.

That night, we end up in Motoko’s very rich-girly room as she waxes poetic about Yuki and curses those who would stand between her and him, only to be rudely interrupted by her no-nonsense mom in curls. Turns out Motoko puts on Kongou Mitsuko rich girl airs at school, but is actually from a working-class family who lives above their shop. I’m already more fascinated with her!

The next day, Motoko decides to bypass Takei entirely, enlisting the aid of third-year and fellow Prince Yuki member Aida Rika, to pick the lock of the StuCo office. Turns out the office unlocked, and Motoko and Rika are in luck: the only person in there is their beloved Yuki. Quietly cheered on by Rika, Motoko gets off to a rough start by asking Yuki…about what he ate for breakfast.

But because Yuki is such a nice guy, he dutifully tells her what he ate, and she discovers they like the same kind of natto. Then, unbidden, Yuki asks Motoko if she normally speaks so formally, commenting that it’s “kind of cute.” Motoko would normally be happy beyond words by being called cute by Yuki, but when she sees his warm easy smile that accompanies the words of praise, she sees a Yuki she doesn’t recognize.

The adoring distance she’s kept from Yuki means the Yuki she saw was rarely the Yuki he really was underneath a much cooler, at times forced smile. She realizes how far that distance remains when Yuki could change so much without her knowing, and with the help of someone else … someone not her by his side. It’s suddenly too much to bear, so she runs off.

As she flips on a faucet to wash her suddenly tear-filled face, Motoko professes her hatred of all women who “dare get near Yuki”, but hates none of them more than herself, the “hideous one” who thinks those kinds of thoughts as she’s reflected in her mirror. It’s the kind of honest self-reflection I was hoping from Motoko after her fateful visit to the Hanajima residence (a veritable bastion of Keeping It Realness).

Motoko shouldn’t just thank Tooru’s influence for giving her a Yuki who can smile, but one who didn’t let things sit where they were. He goes after her to make sure she’s alright, and in doing so, confides in her that despite looking so “unruffled”, he’s barely keeping his cool. Motoko can relate, as she just lost her cool back in the office!

Heartened by Yuki’s smile, Motoko vows not to give up the fight. He may have changed, and Tooru may have changed him, but she still adores him and wants him to be hers. Now that she’s actually exchanged more than just polite pleasantries, but shared a moment of mutual vulnerability, that affection has gained intensity and legitimacy.

As I sat staggered at how well they fleshed out Motoko and made her someone I half want to root for in just an episode, Yuki returns home and washes dishes with Tooru, and mentions the almost Zodiac-like strangeness of his new council-mates. He also confesses that he was happy when Manabe said he was “more interesting than [he] thought.”

Earlier, Kyou called Yuki lame, and privately, Yuki acknowledges that yeah, he is lame. It’s why Kyou’s barb is so painful; he believes it. But Tooru assures him that even if tough times are coming, either in the StuCo (maybe) or the Souma family (most assuredly) there will be fun times to cherish as well. Life is a never-ending string of getting hurt and healed by words and actions big and small.

After Tooru delivers those wise-beyond-her-years words, the episode closes perfectly on its heroine Minagawa Motoko, positively angelic in her frilly nightgown and glorious pink palace above a workaday store, gazing at the stars in quiet, hopeful, healing prayer.

DanMachi – 07

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With her new animal transformation and unbuckled and Unbuttoned miniskirt, Lili is now officially Bell’s assistant, but she feels guilty about being forgiven so easily for all the crap she put Bell through.

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In order to officially officially be Bell’s supporter, however, she has to meet with Hestia and meet with her approval. Hessie believes Lili when she says she’ll never betray Bell again, but warns her to keep her grubby mitts off her man, making no bones about the fact that she sees Bell as a romantic target.

But being possessive only presents a challenge to Lili that she resolves to meet, the typical “I won’t lose to you” attitude. She later shows what a good team they make by providing long range support with a rapid-fire crossbow against some goblins and trolls.

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Both are at a disadvantage, because the girl Bell likes the most is Ais (or Aiz, depending on who’s subbing your anime). Only he’s deathly afraid of contact with her should he say or do the wrong thing and get rejected.

Up to this point he’s been able to believe he has a shot at her because he hasn’t had much contact with her. But she’s the one who initiates contact, and wants to apologize for causing him trouble. He in turn apologizes for making trouble for her. They’re like two peas in a pod, these two!

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For now, though, Aiz agrees to train Bell, who is still not that confident in his fighting skills, despite the fact he’s gotten to the tenth floor. Every day, and some nights, Bell spars with Aiz, and gets beaten up by Aiz, who doesn’t go easy on him, and acknowledges his skills are lacking in her stoic  way.

I like how much dignity Aiz carries at all times; not letting Bell embarrass her as he embarrasses himself, not being able to resist trying to kiss her as she takes a catnap, before backing off. She also tells Bell that being a coward isn’t always bad thing: cowardice breeds survival, after all. It’s an extention of fear being necessary in any kind of combat or life-and-death situation. Those entirely without fear have a huge blind spot against opponents who have a healthy amount of it.

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Naturally, when Hestia (working another part-time job to pay of Heph) spots Bell at the market with Aiz, she wigs out, making it as clear to Aiz as she did to Lili that Bell is hers, even if Bell doesn’t see her that way, and probably never will. Bell seems content in seeing Hestia as family; as sister—not a girlfriend or lover.

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Interspersed with the Bell and Aiz training and the Hestia jealousy and territory-marking, we see a very large and powerful man beating an even larger minotaur into submission, and starts to train it to use a more powerful sword. His training of the minotaur mirrors Aiz’s training of Bell, and in both cases, the training pays off, with the minotaur being able to withstand a magical weapon attack from an adventurer.

It would seem muscular guy has recruited the minotaur as his supporter…or maybe he has darker plans. In any case, I can’t imagine these two won’t be crossing paths with Bell at some point.

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