by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 3 of
It's only episode 3, but I'm already at an impasse on how to deal with these episode reviews. Generally I try to strike a balance between story and character analyses, but that's impossible here because Rent-A-Girlfriend doesn't have a story. It has a series of contrivances and ad-hoc excuses for said contrivances, as if the universe itself is hastily trying to invent a reason why Chizuru just so happens to wind up in Kazuya's proximity every 30 seconds. My two main theories are either that Chizuru is secretly stalking him and this was a yandere anime all along, or Kazuya is some sort of cosmic singularity that sucks in the worldlines of every woman around him, like if Haruhi Suzumiya were a borderline incel. So outside of a radical twist down the line there's not much to talk about as our cast bumble from one awkward not-date to another, leaving me with little to do but dig into the characters and what the show might be doing with them.
But at the same time, I don't want to write a dozen essays amounting to Charles T. Sadboy's Intro To Toxic Post-Adolescence while picking apart just what problems are plaguing Kazuya's psyche this week. Because I could do that. Even in just these three episodes there's a plethora of ideas to examine in our protagonist's relationship to his own libido. He's deeply sexually frustrated, a fact the show reminds us of both through the constant POV shots of him ogling Mami and Chizuru, and the newly arrived ED animation which is literally centered around his masturbation fantasy, but more pressingly he's massively ashamed about being a virgin at the old and decrepit age of... 20. A recurring theme in his imagination spots is other characters—usually his friends—shaming or mocking him for not having had sex yet. This, coupled with his family's expectation for him to live up to some arbitrary standard as the “heir” suggests a lot of Kazuya's insecurities stem from not meeting up to expectations of those around him, and internalizing that as him being a failure.
I have no idea how much of this is intentional, but it seems consistent that Kazuya's biggest mistakes and poor choices are borne from trying to avoid disappointing or embarrassing himself in front of others. Honestly it seems like maybe the healthiest thing for Kazuya would be to find new friends who he doesn't have to fear mockery from for being single and kinda sad about it. Even if he's going about it in the most head-ass way imaginable, there's nothing wrong about wanting intimacy or sex, which seem to be Kazuya's most self-focused motivations for finding a partner. But so long as he believes he deserves ridicule for the crime of not having sex and feeling lonely, that's probably not going to happen.
He could certainly stand to get away from Mami, at the very least. Turns out Kazuya's very lucky to have gotten dumped by her, if only he were observant enough to realize it. Not only do we find out she lied about having a new boyfriend, now that she believes her ex has moved on she's roiling in jealousy and aiming to break them up. This isn't because she wants to get back with him, though, but rather I get the impression Mami enjoys having someone devoted and pining for her, even if it's not somebody she actually likes. And Kazuya certainly fits that role, drunkenly admitting that he liked her talking shit to him last episode if only because it meant she was talking to him. That's a toxic death spiral of a relationship waiting to happen, and it's only kept relatively lively by the delivery; Mami belligerently typing all her nastiest thoughts into a locked twitter account with 0 followers. It's a kind of delightfully petty way to go about being a jerk, and manages to make her most transparent manipulation at least a little funny. But still, Kazuya could really use a warning device to keep him from making even more mistakes.
That said I'm of two minds on this particular aspect. In the “pros” column, it's genuinely interesting and unique to see this kind of relationship play out. Anime rarely portrays any romantic relationship besides awkward pining, so seeing such a fleshed-out example of a fairly realistic unhealthy relationship is pretty intriguing. On the “cons” side, having your hero's ex be a manipulative asshole who secretly wants to ruin his relationships just because is some red pill nonsense that could easily veer into full-on misogyny. I don't get that impression from the story yet—Kazuya is yet to be portrayed as some hapless victim, for one—but it's a distinct possibility that I'd rather not have to worry about.
All of that makes this sound like the show is heavier than it really is. For as fundamentally sad as our hero's predicament is, the continued comedy of manners between he and Chizuru remains pretty funny, especially when they have to keep up the act around his friends with increasingly ridiculous lies. Chizuru is also pretty much the only really likable character right now: charitable enough to play along when necessary so as not to totally blow Kazuya's cover, but also straightforward when he mistakes her kindness for romance. She's still a little hard to get a read on, but good god if it's not refreshing for her to call him out on interpreting any generically nice gesture or kind word as evidence she's secretly in love with him. That's frankly a lesson Kazuya and many of the presumably young people watching this show could stand to internalize.
So yeah, Rent-A-Girlfriend continues to fascinate me in many ways, and I certainly can't say I'm bored with it. It exudes a certain sad but honest kind of humor to it with its portrayal of its lead and the people around him, which is both undercut and kind of buoyed by the ridiculous contrivances of its narrative mechanics. Whether others have the patience to sit it out is a harder question to answer, but I'm at least interested in seeing how this whole mess plays out.
Rent-A-Girlfriend is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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