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 – 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 – 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.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 11 – Beauty and the Least

After a TV-style cold open intro to Sakurasawa Sumi and her morning routine, which is the most we ever hear her talk, Kazuya meets her for their date, and he’s equally astonished by her innocent beauty and her social awkwardness. Seiyu Takahashi Rie does a great job with all of Sumi’s various flustered peeps.

What Kazuya soon learns (besides confirming the fact he really wants a real girlfriend) is that Sumi is working extremely hard to have as much fun doing things on their date as possible. It turns into a sports extravaganza, with Sumi giving her all (and mostly failing) at bowling, batting, soccer, rollerblading, etc.

Kazuya himself feels pretty useless and inept at helping Sumi with her problem, but he at least has the sack to rescue her from some leering punks, and she rewards him by holding hands and sharing her ice cream. When he comes back from a bathroom break, he’s shocked to find Mami sitting across from Sumi.

Mami spotted Kazuya with Sumi earlier in the date, and has been observing them ever since, much like Kazuya followed Mizuhara. He has to walk an extremely fine line with Mami since as far as she knows he’s with Mizuhara and this looks like two-timing, especially when Sumi clings to him as if defending her real boyfriend from a rival.

At least a partial truth would have probably sufficed: he’s helping Mizuhara’s friend, who is a rental girlfriend. But even that isn’t quite bulletproof, as it plants the idea that Mizuhara is also a rental, and if she were Kazuya’s real GF she wouldn’t have him going on dates with other girls, even for practice.

Kazuya’s date with Sumi ends well despite Mami’s interruption, and while Mami’s brother implies she’s messing around with another guy at college, she’s still fixated on Kazuya, and frustrated by that fact). Then it dawns on her: is he really dating Sumi? A quick search of Sumi’s name turns up her rental profile.

Just like that, the one person Kazuya wants to know about the truth the least has a pretty good idea anyway. He and Kuri are able to keep the secret about their respective GFs from Kibe, but with Mizuhara out on rental dates in the same place they’re hanging out, that too is a tenuous fiction.

Bottom line, something’s got to give, and with only one episode left after this one, something will! That night Kazuya gets another impromptu balcony meeting with Mizuhara, which I believe to be their best and most genuine interactions, because they don’t put on airs. She thanks him for helping Sumi, who was over the moon from their date, but also tells Kazuya she’s thinking about quitting the rental biz once her acting career picks up some momentum.

That said, she’s not in a hurry to quit yet, and will be honoring the promise she made to him to be his girlfriend a bit longer. She even has a date in the morning, and so turns in early, only to discover that her date, one “Maya”, is actually Mami! The jig is now well and truly up—unless Mizuhara insists to Mami that despite her rental job, she’s Kazuya’s real girlfriend, or something to that effect.

I for one am hoping that most if not all of the lies stop next week (if Mami fails to secure a second season, that is), no matter the consequences. Kazuya and Mizuhara have been shuffling their feet all this time, and it’s time to put up or shut up. And then there’s Ruka…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 01 (First Impressions) – This Is How It Works

I’m not usually enthusiastic about scenarios involving “fake” boyfriends and girlfriends. They can really only go two ways: the “fake” relationship gradually becomes real, or it ends with the two as good friends. That said there’s a lot of nuance between those outcomes, and Kanojo, Okarishimasu, AKA Rent-a-Girlfriend manages to tap into it.

Kinoshita Kazuya is devastated when his adorable first-ever girlfriend unceremoniously dumps him after a month—in the first thirty seconds of the episode, when he’s about to introduce her to us! I appreciated that briskness. It allows him to wallow in despair until he finds an app called DIAMOND that allows you to rent a girlfriend for 5,000 yen per hour.

He gives it a try, and to his surprise his girlfriend-for-a-day Mizuhara Chizuru is absolutely stunning, and delivers exactly what one would expect of a girlfriend-for-a-day—no more, no less. Kazuya, despite knowing full well what he bargained for, proceeds to leave a 1-star rating after hearing identical reviews.

Due in part to still being In Despair over losing his girlfriend, Mizuhara’s act is increasingly off-putting to Kazuya and makes him feel like a fool. It just feels so forced, empty, and pointless to him, and on their second date he’s not shy about voicing those opinions even though he’s receiving precisely the service he requested and paid for!

When he becomes a little too public in his protestation of the situation, Mizuhara pulls him aside, drops the act, and lets him have a piece of her mind, revealing a bit of the Real Mizuhara (though that’s obviously not her real name). She’s super pissed by his 1-star rating (she’s only ever received 5s) and worked her ass off doing research on fish for their second date.

She has every right to be, and to his credit, Kazuya realizes he is completely in the wrong. She doesn’t owe him a damn thing. Unfortunately, the opportunity to apologize and end things there is lost when he gets a call from his parents: his grandmother has collapsed. He arrives at the hospital to learn it was nothing serious, but because his mom brought Mizuhara in with Kazuya, both his parents and grandmother believe she’s his new girlfriend!

When Kazuya freezes, Mizuhara exhibits her crack on-the-fly ad-libbing skills, and confirms that she and Kazuya are indeed dating. This may be a bad move for her and Kazuya, but she’s not about to break the heart of a nice old lady who just suffered a fall, and can’t see the harm in pretending a bit for her sake; after all, she does it for a living!

Gran, for her part, is an awesome bird, not mincing words when describing Mizuhara (a hale and hearty hottie!) asking whether they’ve had sex, and giving her their blessing to do it as often as they like! Things get still more complicated when Mizuhara learns this isn’t the firs ttime Kazuya’s gran was admitted, and she’s made some friends of the other old ladies … including Mizuhara’s grandma!

One long sweaty period under a blanket with Mizuhara (and one unintentional erection) later, Mizuhara has to tell her gran that yes, indeed, she and Kazuya are a couple. This leads the two grans to immediately start conspiring in an effort to get the two youngins married post-haste so they can graduate from friends to family.

Outside the hospital, Mizuhara proposes they tell their grans that they broke up; it’s the easiest way. Then Kazuya launches into a heartfelt monologue about how her grandmother is “like a goddess” to the family, and that it’s his wish to make her happy with a girlfriend before she dies. Mizuhara smiles at his sentiments, then slaps him for being so damn corny and self-absorbed!

That said, corny is also “perfectly fine” with her, as it’s her stock and trade in the rent-a-girlfriend business and all. She understands the lonely place Kazuya is coming from (suggesting it’s something she too suffers, but simply hides better) She can’t quit her job as a rent-a-girlfriend anytime soon, but after receiving Kazuya’s apology and thanks, she tells him he’s free to call her again anytime he’s feeling lonely.

Kazuya ends up giving her a 5-star rating (with a very corny positive review), but is committed to never contacting Mizuhara or any other rent-a-girlfriend again. He wants to turn a page and try to find a real one for himself…right up until he spots his ex laughing with another guy and can’t deal. Then encounters Mizuhara—whose real family name is Ichinose—on campus, in glasses and twin braids. Looks like they attend the same college!

As I said, making me invested and excited about a fake dating scenario is not easy, but Rent-a-Girlfriend excelled with ease. That’s thanks to punchy dialogue, clever comedy, deft voice-acting, attractive character design, lush production values, and most importantly a flawed, passionate protagonist who is rarely in the right but is nevertheless likable and redeemable.

This episode also did that thing were it got through so much and was so absorbing it felt like two episodes as I was watching it, without feeling overstuffed. Mostly it was a heckuva lot of fun, so I’m in for now.

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