by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 4 of
My god, they actually did it. Against all odds, Rent-A-Girlfriend actually managed to fill almost an entire episode with story borne from organic character conflict instead of contrived coincidence! Granted it falls into that in the waning minutes, but after 3 episodes of stuff just happening because we need something to be going on, I'll take it. It also helps that said drama is actually pretty engaging, at least by this show's standards.
While we ended last week with Mami making her move to break up Kazuya and his not-girlfriend, this episode sees fit to show us how the pair originally met. More importantly it gives us a glimpse into the meat of their brief relationship, and it does a surprisingly sentimental job of showing us why Kazuya is just so hung up on Mami to begin with. So far all we really knew for sure was that Kazuya thinks she's really hot and he really wants to get laid, but here the picture painted by their date scenes is one of somebody awkward and insecure who found comfort by being vulnerable with another person. Putting himself out there about being a newbie to romance and being reaffirmed rather than mocked, I can totally understand why our dumpster fire of a lead would still be so fanatical, even if it's clear to the audience that Mami's less than radical.
It also makes what comes after both harder and easier to watch. Something that comes up occasionally for me is sympathy cringe, where seeing a character walk face first into a doubtlessly painful situation can makes it seriously difficult to keep watching, just because of secondhand embarrassment. That struck hard when Kazuya decided to finally bite the bullet and (sort of) wrap things up with his fake relationship with Chizuru. With his grandma due to be discharged soon and things looking good (Well, “good”) with Mami, he tries to ease his way into announcing their impending breakup, and immediately gets decked by his friend Kibe.
Kibe has been mostly comedic relief so far, dunking on Kazuya through concern over how he'll never be able to live up to a girl as hot as Chizuru, but here we see a surprisingly observant side of him. He can tell his friend is still trying to slide back into Mami's DMs – and even calls out Mami for playing into things – and is fed up to see his friend mistreat his apparent partner. In probably the best scene in the show so far, the two slug it out in an incredibly awkward fight that leaves their whole friend group awkwardly avoiding eye contact, and ends with Kazuya slinking off and beating himself up over lying his way into this whole mess. But afterwards he gets perhaps the most vital words he could from Chizuru: he did the right thing. It was awkward, unpleasant, and will require dealing with the fallout, but he's taken a step towards facing his issues instead of lying to avoid them. The whole sequence manages to address my most consistent concerns about our lead's friend group while fleshing out perhaps its most obnoxious member that makes the entire situation feel a lot more human than I would have expected.
It also leads to one of Rent-A-Girlfriend's rare moments of unguarded sentiment, where Kibe pulls Chizuru aside to apologize for what he did, and shares some of his history growing up with Kazuya. The story he tells is a simple one, but with a pretty effective moral about our lead; Kazuya can be cowardly, dim, and frustratingly irresponsible, but he has it in him to work and build towards things he really cares about, even when everyone around him thinks it's pointless, and there's something genuinely endearing about that. If Kazuya could recapture that energy and start seeing himself as something worth caring about rather than treating himself as a total bum, there's plenty of reason to think he could get his act together. It's a shockingly sincere and empathetic moment that I wouldn't have expected from this show before this episode, and it really raised my opinion of the work as a whole.
Anyway then Chizuru gets a fever and deliriously tumbles overboard on a boat and Kazuya dives in after her as a cliffhanger.
Hey, I said RaG got its shit together for most of the episode, not the whole thing, alright? But it makes sense for this show's subgenre: no matter how milquetoast and nebbish your harem protagonist, they always need to get some kind of “cool” moment to show their positive traits (and to better work as a power fantasy for the presumed male viewer) so even Kazuya was going to get some kind of heroic opportunity at some point. That it took 4 episodes to get there is a testament to how thoroughly the series has tried to make its lead an actual character rather than a cardboard standee with the face cut out. That context doesn't make this bit of drama any less contrived or eye-rolling, but if I can buy nonsense like a foreign princess who looks exactly like the series' lead girl, I can at least tolerate sickness-induced maritime accidents.
That moment aside, I came away from this episode confident that the character writing is actually going somewhere and curious what the show has in store going forward. Will Mami have any regrets about what she's been doing? Will Kazuya be able to stick to his resolution and end his bizarre arrangement with Chizuru despite disappointing his family? I have no idea if the answer to these questions will be satisfying, but for the first time I feel comfortable expecting them to be answered, and that's enough, for now.
Rent-A-Girlfriend is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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