The Summer 2020 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
Kazuya thought he had ended his girlfriendless existence when he started dating cute, bubbly Mami…only for her to dump him a month later and even go so far as to block him on her social media accounts. Bereft and honestly not sure what he did wrong, Kazuya impulsively downloads a rental girlfriend app – an app for a service that provides a fake girlfriend for a set fee and a set number of hours. Kazuya at first thinks he's really hitting it off with Chizuru, but later realizes that everything she did was part of a performance, and so in anger he leaves her a bad review. Then he arranges another date with her just to call her out, only to have the tables turned on him when she gets mad at him for his own bad behavior. Before things can get too heated, Kazuya is called to the hospital where his grandmother has collapsed, and Chizuru tags along with him. Now their grandmothers (friends at the hospital) are thrilled that their grandkids are “dating,” Kazuya and Chizuru have to figure out how to get out of it, and to make matters worse…she's a student at the same university. The price for renting a girlfriend may turn out to be more than Kazuya can afford.
How was the first episode?
This series is one that I was mildly anticipating because of the concept. However, it is likely not going to be making my seasonal viewing list. I found it uncomfortable to watch at points (and not in a good way) and the first half in particular was a chore to sit through. I also suspect that most of my objections to the content are more personal ones than any problem with the content, so I won't be surprised if I am rating this lower than most.
The concept of a rental girlfriend is far from a stretch for Japanese society. After all, this is a country with a long tradition of geishas and (more recently) host/hostess clubs, which are not far from being the same thing, and a country which at one point had services that would rent out family members and professional grievers for funerals. (These services may still exist, but I have not heard anything about them lately.) A more direct comparison might be the practice of compensated dating, though this looks like a less seedy version, as sex appears to be contractually off-limits. Whatever form it comes in, the practice still delivers the illusion of a genuine romantic relationship for a price, and so at heart it is a very crass enterprise. A big part of the job for the girl is to make the customer forget about that for a while, so both she and the customer are conspirators in the deception involved. The series might actually be interesting if it focused on that, but it does not look like it will.
Partly because of a recent break-up, Kazuya just cannot accept that, and that's where things fall apart. With the attitude he had, he never should have asked for the second date, because things were not going to go well. He had hang-ups over playing the game, and I have to give Chizuru some credit for putting up with his crap for as long as she did. I don't buy his “wanting to have a girlfriend to reassure his grandmother before she dies” lament later on as a good excuse, either. Frankly, I find him pathetic in a not-entertaining way. Hopefully he will experience significant character growth as a result of continuing to deal with Chizuru and the other girls shown in the closer, as he would be a chore to watch going forward as he is right now. We have not seen enough yet of the “real” Chizuru to make a judgment call about her, but she is a much more appreciable character. Exploring her rationalizations for what she's doing would be more interesting.
Technical and artistic merits for the first episode are about average; nothing to recommend the series on, but nothing that would be a detriment, either. Basically, a lot of my problem with the episode comes down to intensely disliking Kazuya, so those not bothered as much by him may like this more.
I will admit that I have never personally understood the appeal of paying people, usually women, to spend time with you and basically pretend to be interested in you, so when it became apparent that Rent-A-Girlfriend was going to take its premise at least somewhat seriously, I was interested to see how it handled the subject matter. Another point in the show's favor: The main characters are all college- aged! Sure, the differences between Kazuya Kinoshita and all of the other anime high schoolers that basically act like twenty-somethings anyway are mostly incidental, but the episode's forays into dumber sex-comedy territory play a lot better when all of the parties involved are grown-ass adults.
Rent-A-Girlfriend isn't out to break the mold or anything, since it taking a premise that has been popular romantic comedy since forever — characters enter a fake relationship for contrived reasons and end up falling for each other — and examines it through the unique cultural lens of Gig Economy Dating. Kazuya is the exact same socially awkward and vaguely douchey guy that comes part and parcel with the sub- genre, and Chizuru is the impossibly pretty and perfect fake-girlfriend who is actually pretty smarmy and blunt when the façade is turned off. Chizuru will doubtless teach Kazuya invaluable lessons about life and love, and they'll probably end up as a real couple, and based on the ED animation, we'll meet lots of other Rent-a-Girlfriends who'll also probably crush on Kazuya, because, you know, this is an anime.
So, as far as the script goes, Rent-A-Girlfriend didn't blow my mind, but the production values and breezy tone of the show kept me entertained and engaged. TMS does a great job of crafting a colorful and friendly vibe that makes the show hard to dislike; compared to some anime comedies that seem hellbent on being as obnoxious, being charming goes a long way. Anyone that wants a good-looking and lively romantic comedy this season that isn't a sequel would do well to give Rent-A-Girlfriend a shot.
Rent-A-Girlfriend's first episode is kind of uncomfortable without overtly doing anything wrong. Kazuya, the protagonist, makes a series of pretty bad decisions that he's largely unaware of…but the one time he tries to make the right one, he's stopped by Chizuru, one of what looks to be several potential love interests, stops him so that SHE can make the poor choice. It looks like the kind of story where the forward motion could be carried by the characters' own maturation, and there's definitely potential in that, which is roughly how I felt about the first volume of the manga. That said, I'm a bit leery of the extra girls the theme song (presumably the opening, just at the end this week) throws in, because for this to really work, I'd like to see Kazuya and Chizuru work out their issues together.
What's interesting is how the two of them interact and what they're bringing to the table. Kazuya, heartbroken over his breakup with Mami and convinced that she's now having sex with a guy who isn't him, treads dangerously close to incel territory, and we can see from his brief interaction with his male friends at the end of the episode that he's probably been internalizing some really bad advice from them and the media he consumes. He was definitely pressuring Mami into being more physical than she was comfortable with from the glimpses of what he tried while they were going out, and from his pouty teen behavior when he decides to be mad at Chizuru from doing exactly what he hired her to do we can read his general immaturity. Of course, Chizuru isn't as knowledgeable as she likes to think, either, and when she's not putting on her “girlfriend” act, the two are more or less oil and water because they can't figure out what to do with the reality as opposed to the fiction of who they are.
I do give the episode credit for not having Kazuya unable to recognize Chizuru with glasses and braids at the end there – seriously, take this from someone who's worn glasses almost her entire life, all that happens when I take them off is that I can't see – in part because it's a defiance of a tired old trope, but also because it shows that he can see her regardless of how she changes. (Which does embrace the trope, but in a more positive way.) It's also abundantly clear that Kazuya loves his grandmother but feels that his family's perception of him isn't great, which is possibly at least a little behind his “need” to have a girlfriend. I could be giving this show way to much credit, but if I'm not, that means that there's a chance that it could become something more than it currently appears, and that would be a very nice thing indeed.
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