by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 11 of
One of the universal challenges of adaptive anime projects is taking an ongoing narrative designed to run weekly/monthly in perpetuity, and chop it up into a chunk with at least a semblance of story progression and conclusion. There are rare series that can run seasonally or weekly for years and eventually adapt everything, but 95% of the time you get twelve episodes to work with, and that's your lot. Some shows can handle that better than others, but generally even the most painfully inconclusive series manage to build some tension going into the last couple of episodes, which makes Rent-A-Girlfriend stand out as a show with almost negative amounts of propulsion as we approach our finale.
For one thing, we've now got to handle introducing Sumi, the fourth girl in this tangled pseudo-harem, and Chizuru's kohai in the rental girlfriend business. Sumi herself is actually pretty charming, even if the too-shy-to-talk brand of moe has never been my favorite. She's nervous and unsure of herself, as timid as a newborn deer and just as coordinated, but tries her hardest to still be an entertaining and involved partner on her mock-date with Kazuya. She's not hilarious or anything, but her dynamic with Kazuya actually manages to bring out his better side (when he's not drooling over her because Kazuya's brain is pickled in a pool of his own jizz at this point) and I could see her making for a solid addition to the show's overall cast if she ever meets any of the other characters. Which just makes it all the more baffling why we waited until the show's nearly over to bring her in, especially when her own introduction primarily serves as the in for Mami's re-entry.
Yep, Mami's back, after just kind of disappearing for five episodes once Ruka showed up. Back when I was still giving RAG the benefit of the doubt, I anticipated learning more about just why Mami is the way she is, and I'm still kind of hoping that happens now that the show's remembered she exists. We get the barest of glimpses into her home life, and while it's hard to make out anything specific there seems to be some kind of tension there, that will presumably (maybe?) be explored next episode now that she's figured out Chizuru's a rental girlfriend and called her out. I certainly would like it to, since after a full season of begging for sympathy for Kazuya, it'd be nice for RAG to offer at least a little nuance to its most stereotypical meangirl character, like "hey, why is she so hung on a guy she doesn't even want to be with?" What made her pick “the most convenient” option when she said yes in the first place? These are questions with potentially interesting answers to make Mami more than just a hollow pastiche of a nasty ex, and it sure would be nice if RAG could give her that much, if only so “fans” will maybe feel less encouraged to harass her English voice actress for the crime of association.
We also have the last-minute reveal that Chizuru's considering quitting the Rental Girlfriend gig. She's lined up the leading role in a play, and seems to finally have her foot in the door to get work as an actress. And honestly, good for her. But of course the tension comes from this marking the necessary end of her and Kazuya's fake girlfriend shtick. In typical fashion, I'm sure the finale will contrive some reason for them to continue anyway – it wouldn't be Rent-A-Girlfriend if he's not, you know, renting a girlfriend – and outside of one or both confessing their love to somebody else I don't imagine much will actually change.
In a more meaningful rom-com that might not be a problem. Lord knows how Nisekoi held onto the status quo for four years. But the key to making that lack of progression work is to exemplify some internal shift in the characters, developing them beyond what they were when we first met them in a way that makes you want to come back for more. Despite the premise of this whole back-half being about Kazuya growing and finding a genuine partner, very little has actually changed in the last two months, and as we trip face-forward into the finale, I can't say I have much hope anything will be different next week.
Rent-A-Girlfriend is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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