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.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 06 – Doubling Down

Despite her strict warning that any attempt at hanky-panky and Chizuru will see him in court, Kazuya can’t sleep in the same room as her. Not sure whether she’s still awake, he starts talking about how while he’s ready to tell the truth to their grans, he likes the person he’s becoming with her, and doesn’t want to stop renting quite yet. To his surprise, she agrees but “ending the lies” must remain a top priority. If he doesn’t want to hurt his gran, he’ll need to find a real girlfriend.

Unfortunately, since Kibe is close to his gran, Kazuya and Chizuru have to maintain the lie for now. That means his friend Kuri also believes Chizuru is for real, and invites the two to a double date with his new girlfriend. While walking by himself, wondering how Kuri could score a girlfriend, he bumps into a girl who I was sure from the start was that girlfriend. Of course Kazuya accidentally gets a peek at her underwear, so her first impression of him is that he’s a perv.

The next day it’s confirmed: Kuri’s girlfriend is Sarashina Ruka. Kuri’s date involves a rock-climbing session that enables him to show off his skills—he believes manliness is key to winning a woman’s heart). The climbing also has the side-effect of having the girls in unconventional positions while wearing tight pants, something Kazuya doesn’t think was accidental on Kuri’s part.

At one point Ruka asks for Chizuru to go with her, and she comes right out and accuses Chizuru of being a rental girlfriend. Chizuru dismisses the idea, and later even demonstrates they’re a real couple by “kissing” in front of Ruka (in reality her hand kept their lips apart). But Ruka ain’t buying it, and when Kazuya later tails her in an attempt to explain matters, she’s buying it even less.

And then of course, there’s the suspicion I harbored since learning Ruka and Kuri were dating: that she is also a rental girlfriend. The question is, if she is indeed a fellow rental, why is she so determined to ascertain the truth about Chizuru and Kazuya? Does she not want Chizuru on her terf…or is she vexed by the sense the two are something more than a rental and a client?

 

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 05 – Grandma Gambit

Kazuya dives in and rescues Chizuru from drowning, which is a big deal, even if the two weren’t in a complicated relationship that has long since blown past professional detachment. They wash up on an islet, and Chizuru wakes up first and realizes what Kazuya did for her…then notices Kazuya isn’t breathing.

Chizuru administers CPR—and mouth-to-mouth—and Kazuya comes to, none the worse for wear. Both Chizuru and Kazuya appear to have difficulty separating the romantic from the practical (in the case, from a kiss of life). On the way to hospital Chizuru later recalls Kazuya’s heroism and can’t help but turn beet red.

Things are relatively simple on at least one front: Mami’s. She doesn’t take kindly to being stood up (especially after hearing how Kazuya was indisposed) and rolls up her window without speaking to him. That’s probably not all, but it suffices for now.

In a masturbation scene that goes on way too long, raunchy images of him with Mami are gradually replaced in his head by much purer images of Chizuru. He concludes that he’s fallen for her beyond the point of no return, which means their imminent “breakup” will hurt him more than he’d hoped.

Leave it to Kazuya and Chizuru’s grandmas to make sure things don’t get any easier for the kids. Kazuya joins his gran at a hot springs hotel in Gunma to celebrate her discharge from the hospital, and the moment Chizuru’s grandmother appears, it’s clear the two set things up so their grandkids would have a room all to themselves, to enjoy their youth and have sex—both old ladies lament how reserved the kids are.

After simmering in anger and frustration, Chizuru decides to let go, at least for the duration of the trip, and enjoy herself to the fullest. That means availing herself of the baths (where she and Kazuya’s gran have a nice heart-to-heart), and lowering her guard so she and Kazuya can have a pleasant meal together.

This is a new Chizuru who is neither pretending to act like his girlfriend nor the “off-duty” version of herself who openly loathes him. As a result, Kazuya gets to see and hear a genuine laugh from Chizuru. When bedtime arrives, Kazuya proactively starts to make himself scares before she asks him “what the big deal” would be if they slept in the same room.

This episode much clinches it, if it wasn’t already pretty obvious: Chizuru doesn’t dislike Kazuya, nor is she indifferent towards him. I’d go so far as to say she likes the guy, and realizes that Kibe is right that he’s not a bad guy. That may all be true, but it doesn’t mean she wants to be his real girlfriend, nor does it mean she should feel obligated to do so, grandma angle or not.

This isn’t a matter of her not being honest with her feelings or stubborn in giving into them, but a matter of her having a good thing going with her rental business and not wanting any boyfriend at the moment.

I initially assumed she had the job so she wouldn’t be a financial burden on her family. But the fact she mentions she’s a low on funds suggests she’s paying for something expensive and important to her (either that, or maintaining her girlfriend persona is an expensive business, which it most likely is).

For all the sides of Chizuru we’ve seen, there are still things we don’t know. As a new character is introduced next week, I hope we don’t lose sight of her.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 04 – Don’t Let Reality Win

As Mami and Kazuya kiss, all of his time with Mami flashes before his eyes, from the moment they meet to their first kiss. As Mami’s “lost” bracelet lies in a very intentional spot for her to pick up at will, she asks Kazuya to forgive her, as she just “couldn’t control herself anymore.”

This keeps the possibility alive in Kazuya’s head that a reunion with Mami isn’t just possible, but also what Mami wants. Even if this encounter is 100% a calculated move by Mami as part of her breakup scheme, a part of me couldn’t help but wonder if a part of Mami really does want him back.

When Kazuya gets a call from his gran telling him she’ll be out of the hospital soon, it gives him another opportunity to properly end things with Chizuru. His friends also give him an opening when they pepper Chizuru with questions about where she lives and plans to hang out.

But when he sorta-half comes clean and tells them they’ve been planning to break up, his best friend Kibe won’t let it slide. He starts beating Kazuya up, accusing him of fawning over Mami and generally being a wishy-washy, self-centered dirt bag. He tosses out this exquisite line: “Yes, your brain’s a dumpster fire, but at least make it burn for your current flame!”

Kibe also puts some of the blame at the feet of Mami, accusing her of leading on a guy she dumped despite knowing full well he’s a fool who will fall for it every time. Mami’s eyes narrow without going “empty” as they’ve done in the past, and half-heartedly pleads ignorance, but Kibe seems to have her pegged despite her attempts at subterfuge.

The issue is, Kibe doesn’t know the whole story, which is that Chizuru didn’t choose Kazuya, but the other way around. Chizuru knows this, which is why she regrets the beating Kazuya took but is proud of him for taking the first step to separating the two of them.

She calls what he did a bold move, and that he can be a man when he tries. When he apologizes for all the trouble he caused her, she rebuts that being a rental girlfriend is her job, and she had fun. When he walks off, ready to cut ties with her, there’s an unmistakable look of doubt in her face. She’s not doubting whether Kazuya will really go through with it, but whether that’s she truly wants.

Things get more complicated—again (don’t they always?) when Kibe takes Chizuru aside for a chat. He explains how he’s known Kazuya since they were little kids, and so knows full well what a dumbass he can be. He describes his friend to an absolute T that Chizuru can’t help but recognize. Then Kibe tells a story about a supposed weed that grew in Kazuya’s school planter.

He kept lovingly tending to until it bloomed into a different and more beautiful flower than everyone else’s morning glories. It was a combination of dumb luck and Kazuya’s refusal to stop dreaming and give in to reality. It’s also a touching enough story to make Chizuru a little glassy-eyed. Kibe certainly has a way with words!

Kibe basically gives Chizuru the extra opportunity her previous moments of doubt seemed to be searching for, in the form of ferry tickets. That said, she decides to use one ticket and five Kazuya the other simply because she can’t not after Kibe’s speech. The rest of their plan holds: they’re going to separate and not interact anymore.

Kazuya seems increasingly enthusiastic about putting all the fakeness aside, even as Chizuru is experiencing not second thoughts, but apparent seasickness combined with the fever that had been brewing throughout the episode. She asks Kazuya to let her be, despite that not being the best thing for her in her current state, on a boat.

Kazuya gets a call from Mami, who tells him she’ll wait as long as she has to for him to join her at the pool on the fourth floor of the hotel. She’s blushing heavily during the call despite not having to put on a physical performance for him. Is this a means of cynically ensuring he breaks up with Chizuru, a case of her genuinely desiring more romantic contact…or both? I see ambiguity, but that doesn’t mean it’s there.

What isn’t ambiguous at all is that Chizuru is not well. She stumbles to the railing for some fresh air when the ferry hits a wave, she loses her balance, and then dramatically falls overboard. Thankfully Kazuya is in the vicinity when it happens, and he dives off the boat to save her. Risking his life to save hers…so much for a clean break!

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 04 – Fifty Pages of Cute

When Rika maintained a practical, studious appearance, her classmates would say hateful things to her, but when she changes her look and becomes “hot” to girls and boys alike, all the attention and remarks are just as unpleasant. But when she retreats, Amagi follows her and tells her he’s falling for her. Flustered, Rika orders him to write a 50-page report on why, firmly believing he’s only been “hoodwinked” by her makeover and only likes her superficially.

Having already essentially blackmailed Yamagishi into advising the club, Hitoha confronts an inconsistency in his words and actions. If he really has “no appetite” for high school girls, why did he agree to meet one from a chatroom?

His monologue about them being “crude and unrefined,” and his assumption from her words that he was chatting with a “middle aged man,” cause Hitoha to snap. She jumps on Yamagishi, demanding to know if such conduct is “within his expectations,” but just as quickly shoves him back and flees, in part because, well…being on top of Yamagishi aroused her.

When they’re alone again, Hitoha tells Yamagishi as much. Furthermore, she grabs his hand, places it on her chest, and demands that he “teach her the reality” of the material she’s struggling to write about. Even if it’s Hitoha instigating a potential relationship, the power imbalance is clear, and the bottom line is legally she’s still a child while Yamagishi isn’t. So I can’t say I like where this is going, even if I understand it.

In other O Maidens news, Sudou Momoko actually exists as a character!! After a nice one-on-one with Sugawara (who declares Momoko and Kazusa her two best friends), she’s invited to karaoke with a mixed party, but the boys sing songs with sexually explicit lyrics.

One of the boys, Sugimoto Satoshi, can tell she’s uncomfortable, and joins her outside to talk. He reveals that for a long time he’s admired her maturity and confidence from afar, and asks if they can exchange LINE info to keep in touch. Momoko is a little relieved, a little overwhelmed, but also glad that someone out there has been thinking about her.

As she tells Kazusa, with whom she meets up to tell her about Sugimoto, Momoko says she now understands more how Kazusa must feel about Izumi…even if Kazusa hasn’t 100% figured that out.

Back to Rika, who for the second straight day is earnestly approached by Juujou, one of the class “it” gals, but refuses to have lunch with her (it is the same girl who called her names not long ago). Retreating to a thankfully unlocked rooftop, Rika is again chased down by Amagi, who presents her with his report, leaving her to read it alone.

Rika immediately starts poking holes in Amagi’s writing, using the not inconsiderable critical thinking she applies to the literature she writes. But the more she reads it, the fear it’s all skin-deep nonsense fades away when entire pages of “Rika is cute” seem to wash away the bitterness of all the bad things flung at her for so long. Amagi utilizes uses the report as a love letter, ending by asking her out. Rika has a big choice to make!

One of girls who got a lot less time this week was Niina, who as I mentioned was flattered by Momoko’s kind words about her being more than just a pretty face. She’s also the victim of some petty antagonism from Asada, who changes her tone from spiteful to innocent when Izumi shows up. Clearly she sees Niina as an impediment.

Izumi, meanwhile, continues to have cordial, friendly interactions with Niina, which, combined with his increasingly awkward (or as was the case this week, nonexistent) interactions with Kazusa, spells trouble for her. She had the least time this week, and didn’t get anywhere in patching things up.

If anything, when she spots Izumi and Niina on the train and remembers Niina’s desire to have sex before she dies, she only conceded more ground vis a vis Izumi that she simply can’t afford to lose. All the while, it’s becoming more and more impossible to escape into books.

Juuni Taisen – 04

Only a quarter into Juuni Taisen, at least four warriors had fallen (we learn Horse may still be alive; maybe Ox left his fight with him to take care of Niwatori last week). This week, we get Monkey/Sharyu’s backstory, indicating she may be next.

But she’s not…at least not this week. The four front-loaded kills so far give the show a chance to slow down and paint the picture of who the Warrior of the Monkey is, where she comes from, and why she does what she does.

Yuuki Misaki, as she is also known, was trained by a triad of monkey elders who never argue in the art of changing the state of whatever she wills. While that’s demonstrated as turning stone to sand, she uses her skills to turn war into peace.

Responsible for hundreds of ceasefires and prevented civil wars, Sharyu can honestly state she may well have saved more people than anyone else in the world. Nezumi at least knows her as this, and even believes it was Sharyu’s unblinking optimism that “weakened” Niwatori to her death.

On the flip side, having saved so many means she’s also failed to save more than anyone else alive. Things don’t always go as she plans, and the result is often bloodshed and other atrocities, in some cases more intense then had she not intervened or held negotiations.

What does she do? Well, Misaki doesn’t seem to blame or torture herself, for one. She takes the defeats in stride, along with the victories. She retires to her perfectly normal home life with her husband, who wishes she’d just give up the fight and live a full life with him. Misaki understands, but makes it clear: he knows what he got into, and if he truly loves her, he must fight his own battle as she fights hers.

Back in the present, after scolding Nezumi to not “sell platitudes short, little boy” (he thinks she’s a naive idealist, but she thinks he’s naive, since he’s seen so much less of the world than she has), Sharyu spots a zombie bird; necromanced by Usagi along with all the other birds Niwatori killed last week. The flock chases Sharyu and Nezumi, forcing them to the surface.

Waiting there is Usagi, proving Niwatori right in her assertion he and Ox are the most dangerous warriors. Were it not for Sharyu’s quick reflexes, mobility, and speed, Zombie Snake would have sliced her in two as soon as she emerged from the manhole.

Instead, Nezumi takes on Snake while Sharyu accepts Usagi’s challenge. She may be a pacifist, but she’ll fight if she must, and she really must here. Will Usagi’s reign of terror continue? Will Sharyu and Nezumi end up as macabre additions to Usagi’s collection of zombie thralls? Or is there hope, however small, that Sharyu can end the fighting with words? If anyone pull it off, it’s her. On the other hand, Usagi’s pretty psycho…

Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 06

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This is probably my last Netoge review. It’s not unwatchable, and there’s a certain charm about it that draws you in, but it’s so safe, and formulaic, and devoid of interpersonal conflict and stakes. I’m not saying I need conflict in my rom-coms, but it does spice things up, and its absence in Netoge is impossible to overlook. Cute character designs, in this case, aren’t enough to sustain my interest.

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Netoge doesn’t do itself any favors in its latest outing, which, Ako studying and passing her exams aside, is all about one thing: Nishimura properly confessing to Ako. He spends the whole episode worried about how and when to do it, completely oblivious to the fact a girl like Ako would naturally reject an offer to be his girlfriend, because she already considers herself his wife, both on- and offline.

It would be one thing if Nishimura/Rusian actually had to lift a finger for Ako’s affections, or if Segawa or Kyou took exception to that finger-lifting because they harbored feelings for him. But he’s already got the girl. She’s presented herself nude for him, for crying out loud! All he has left to do is come to terms with the fact he has her, and in the process learn more about her…if there is anyting else to learn, that is.

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I’m sorry, but watching the interminable process of this particular lug hesitating at the finish line just doesn’t sound appealing. The other two female leads playing game matchmakers from the sidelines only serve to make things even easier for him, making it that much more frustrating that he’s not able to seal the deal. It also makes the intense love Ako has for him feel unearned; shallow, even.

Sorry Netoge, but this isn’t working, and the promise of a beach episode isn’t enough to change my mind: I’m announcing a summary divorce!

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Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 05

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Turns out Sette-san isn’t Nishimura’s sister, but his pink-haired classmate (and friend of Segawa’s), Akiyama. She teases both him and Ako by glomming on him in class, but she causes a lot more trouble than she expected, as she creates an environment Ako no longer feels comfortable in. She even suggests the club play an FPS unrelated to LA, likely to avoid Akiyama/Sette.

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Ako then recedes again from school life, vowing only to live in LA, where she knows Rusian is his wife, if nowhere else. At long last, Nishimura’s wishy-washiness and failure to clearly define his real world relationship with Ako has been laid bare, and this is the sum product: an Ako more reclusive than ever, who wishes to “reincarnate” into someone cooler.

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The club pretty easily figures out that Ako herself is caught up in a spiral of stubbornness and a desire not to lose further face, and that Nishimura is the only one who has a shot to bring her back to school. While walking home with Segawa, she relays to him how important he was to Ako, both in the game and in her life, and how she, like Ako, wouldn’t mind spending a good long time with Nishimura…gaming, of course. Just gaming. As usual, Segawa fools precisely no one but the guy she’s trying to pretend she doesn’t like.

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When he arrives at Ako’s house, Nishimura is confronted by Ako’s mom, who looks more like an equally attractive older sister and is delighted that Ako’s “future husband” has come to sort her “problem daughter” out. She then shuffles off to work, leaving him with the key to Ako’s room, of all things.

When he enters, Ako isn’t ready for him, being in her underwear and all. When she tells him she is ready and he can come in, she’s totally naked, revealing her and Nishimura’s definitions of “ready” in this instance differ greatly. She eventually gets some damn clothes on, however, and to her surprise, Nishimura isn’t there to drag her back to school; he’s just there to play LA with her.

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After a day of this, during which they were supposed to be at school, Nishimura essentially proposes mutually assured destruction: if Ako can stay home forever and never go to school or see any of their friends, so can he, and whatever fallout there is from that, so be it.

While I kinda doubt Nishimura’s parents would allow him to ruin his chances of getting into college or securing a good job, Ako is touched by Rusian’s devotion. The knowledge that he’d stay home with her forever if that’s what she eventually decided gives her the strength to tough it out at school with him.

Once she’s there, Akiyama mends fences by proclaiming to Ako’s peers that she has a dutiful boyfriend who visited her when she wasn’t feeling well. That’s a narrative Ako can get behind. Do I buy that it’s enough to mitigate all her other mental and social issues? Not really. Is Nishimura now Ako’s explicitly public boyfriend? No. Is that fundamental ambiguity a problem going forward? Certainly.

Furthermore, the last few episodes have felt like slightly-tweaked versions of the same story, beginning and ending in virtually the same space. Characters can talk about Ako “progressing”, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.

And everyone’s too…nice. This is high school, where are the “normie” antagonists? Those issues, combined with its Thursday night time slot (my movie night) and lackluster production values, are making this a hard show to stick with.

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Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 04

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There were three main story thrusts this week: Segawa’s attempts to keep her “twisted” net game-playing second life a secret; Nishimura’s insistence on drawing semantic boundaries in his relationship with an ever-increasingly enthusiastic Ako; and the introduction of Sette, who immediately threatens to rend the married couple asunder.

The first two stories are re-treads of what we’ve already seen: Segawa isn’t ready to be totally exposed for the gamer she is, even as she fails to realize all the effort and stress she’s exerting is to perpetuate a lie, and not even a necessary one.

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This doesn’t seem to be that hostile a school environment, socially speaking, and Nishimura is proof you can be openly otaku without becoming a pariah.

Segawa’s issue is that she doesn’t want to be viewed for what she really is, but rather some obscure ideal she must have consumed somewhere. The “perfect high school life” she seeks will always be a mirage as long as she’s mired in efforts to maintain a false identity.

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Also a bit of a re-tread, with little progress one way or another, is Nishimura’s careful dance with Ako. In spite of his mates having a good idea what his hobbies are, like Segawa he’s trying to have his normal life cake and eat it too; project an image of someone at least more normal than Ako.

And while he’s clearly uncomfortable with anyone mistaking Ako for his girlfriend or wife, the reality is he’s become very close to this person. I had thought they’d reached more of an understanding, but Nishimura’s discomfort and awkwardness in the fact of any advance by Ako…it’s all a bit dilatory.

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Ako doesn’t help matters by overreacting to every interaction Nishimura has with the opposite sex. It was Nekohime/his teacher last week, and Segawa’s friend Akiyama this week.

But Sette looks to be the first true threat she should actually worry about, but not because the newbie is in danger of usurping her role as Rusian’s wife, but seems more like and admiring imouto.  Heck, Sette could well be Nishimura’s real-life sister for all I know.

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Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 03

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The “Modern Communication Electronic Game Club” (too wordy IMO) has been ostensibly organized with the purpose of getting Ako to discern between the real world and the game world, but the road to that outcome is a long and perilous one, as Rusi—er—Nishimura quickly finds out.

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That being said, there is only a slight learning curve to playing in the same room together, and the party eventually gets more efficient in their first grinding session. Ako, under Nishimura’s guidance, equips herself properly. I also liked how Ako had to be reminded she doesn’t have to chat in-game; he’s right there. Force of habit!

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After the session, Ako is in a glow of happiness, a parade Nishimura really doesn’t want to rain on, because he must realize on some level it’s not the end of the world for the two of them to be mistaken for boyfriend and girlfriend, if not more.

But as the club sessions continue, Segawa points out that they seem having the opposite effect on Ako: only bringing the two worlds that should be separate closer together. Nishimura seeks guidance from Nekohime, the cross-player he previously proposed to, but Ako gets wind of it and her jealous side is revealed.

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After a pretty harsh sit-down with Ako, Nishimura tells her flat-out they’re not married in the real world, they’re just classmates and friends. The full effect of that statement doesn’t come until Ako doesn’t show up for school the next day, and in-game talks about meeting offline with a “friend” who is a guy (whom I immediately assumed was Nekohime).

Nishimura wants to stop her from meeting a random dude on her own offline, but is worried he’d be going against his code of keeping world separate if he did. Balderdash, say both Segawa and Goshouin, in a united front against Nishimura’s wishy-washiness.

It’s clear he likes real-life Ako too, and so there’s no way he’d stand by and let her do something imprudent at best and potentially dangerous at worst. I like how the other two girls in the club are supportive of what Nishimura and Ako have, and quick to show him the proper path.

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In a nice twist, we don’t get the heartfelt reunion between Nishimura and Ako I thought was coming. Instead, the cross-playing Nekohime turns out to not only be a woman, but Nishimura’s teacher, Saitou-sensei. Which means that yes, he once unknowingly proposed to his teacher.

Now, this is an awkward situation for all parties involved—save Ako, who has come prepared to punish whoever the real Nekohime turned out to be, teacher or no, for breaking her beloved Rusian’s pure heart.

For a second, I thought like Nishimura and Saitou that she was about to pull some kind of serious weapon. Thankfully, it’s just a toy mage staff; but Saitou still instinctively defends herself, taking Ako out.

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That puts Saitou in the pefect position—from the club’s perspective—to fill a role the club needed to ensure its survival: a faculty advisor. As someone who not only understands the club’s purpose but also plays LA, she’s the perfect person to advise the club (whether it’s under duress or not).

As for the purpose of the club, well, it seems to have taught Nishimura more of a lesson than Ako. While she considers the two worlds too similar, he’s kept them too separate, putting his actions an his manner with real-life Ako at odds with his actual feelings for her.

Yes, Ako still needs work in the real world, but that’s accomplished here too when Saitou makes her agree to come to school as much as she can. Another fine Netoge that highlights a rarity in these kinds of shows: a club in which all the members are likable characters that still have their own personalities and quirks. Rusian and Ako are also a lovely, fun-to-watch couple, even if Rusian has trouble seeing them as such.

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Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 02

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This second episode of NetoYome didn’t cover quite as much ground as the first, and seemed to lag at times, but didn’t do any harm to my impression that this is one of the better school comedies airing this Spring. There’s an inscrutable exhilaration from watching Nishimura suddenly find himself among the real-world equivalents of his game comrades.

They seem just as exhilarated…even Segawa. As for Ako, she barely acts any differently in real life, professing her steadfast love for Rusian, and being elated to hear he chose her irregardless of what age or gender she was in the real world.

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It’s interesting, then, that throughout the scenes in which Nishimura is gaming, his mind’s eye no longer sees Apricot and Schwein as exclusively men, which he assumed they were. That makes Apricot’s garb suddenly extremely racy, but he can’t help it. He’s met the real Apricot, Schwein, and Ako, and there’s no going back.

What’s interesting is that both Nishimura and Segawa are determined to go back to their normal high school lives after the real-world meetup, and they have no reason to suspect they couldn’t. Segawa doesn’t help matters by greeting Nishimura, something I doubt she did before they met.

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But the most doom befalls the two when Ako enters the classroom, refers to them by their game names and calls Rusian her husband in front of the entire class. The class is more bemused than anything else, but Segawa in particular finds this whole situation a serious breach of what she considers a sacrosanct barrier between the game and reality.

But here’s the thing: Ako knows of no such barrier, which is why she floats right over it. Rusian is Rusian, even when Rusian is named Nishimura Hideki. Same with Schew-chan. This ‘condition’ of not being able to discern between their real and in-game personalities troubles both Segawa and Nishimura…but I wasn’t as quick to condemn her.

Initially, I thought, people fall in love sight unseen all the time, and I was backed up by Ako asserting that her and Nishimura’s hearts connected through their in-game chatting. The difference is, Nishimura and Segawa were attempting to affect personas distinct from who they really are, while Ako was doing everything she could to be herself.

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Ako is firm in her belief that that doesn’t matter. I think the answer is in the middle, and Ako’s very different mindset from Segawa and Nishimura makes for an enticing character dynamic going forward, not just as a matter of debating these matters, but the fact Nishimura is closer to Segawa on this issue, despite Ako being his waifu.

One thing I’ll say is that while Ako is usually all over Nishimura, neither Segawa or the Prez seem intent on rocking that boat, at least not for the moment. As to Goshouin, she sets up a club where their game and real selves will be in the same place at the same time, which, if Real Nishimura’s as good a person as Ako already believes, is a gesture not so much tailored to ‘curing’ her of her inability to separate games from reality, as much as it could only confirm to Ako that she’s right.

No matter wha airs the others put on in the game, they remain essentially who they are, and those are the people Ako wants to be friends with in both worlds.

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