If Uzaki-Chan was this past season’s big romantic comedy anime, Rent-A-Girlfriend would be the big romantic drama or dramady anime. It’s generally an okay show, though I could see it being a real problem in subsequent seasons, depending on how it goes on. It’s part of a nice trend of anime series based around colleges instead of being around high schoolers.
Rent-A-Girlfriend follows Kazuya Kinoshita, a college student whose first girlfriend, Mami Nanami, has just broken up with him after dating him for only a month or so. He’s now in a bad head space, so he goes to a rental girlfriend service to, basically, pay to have someone go on a date with him, to try to help him restore his confidence.
The first “date”, with a girl named Chizuru Ichinose, goes well, though he bumps into his friends from college who think that she’s his actual girlfriend (and he doesn’t do anything to dissuade him from this), but the second one goes badly. First off his spectacular lack of self-confidence causes himself to beat himself up in public in a way that makes her look bad too. Second, after this date was interrupted by this (and then Chizuru taking him aside to chew him out for being an ass), they end up being called away to the hospital, where Kazuya’s grandmother, Nagomi, has just been hospitalized.
Nagomi thinks that Chizuru is Kazuya’s actual girlfriend, and she’s thrilled to see that he’s dating such a nice girl. So thrilled that she calls in her new friend – Sayuri. Saiyuri Ichinose. Who is Chizuru’s grandmother. Chizuru’s grandmother who doesn’t know about her part time job as a Rental Girlfriend.
So, now, for the sake of their grandparents, they have to pretend to be actually dating, until they can find a time to diplomatically “break up” in a way that doesn’t upset their grandparents. And there’s a very real possibility that the two are actually falling for each other.
On top of all of this is Mami. Mami is… not a nice person. She is not happy that Kazuya has seemingly bounced back so quickly after she broke up with him, and starts actively working to break Kazuya and Chizuru up. She also comes to represent some of the problems with the show – specifically how the narrative of the series handles Kazuya.
Kazuya himself is generally an okay guy. He’s not perfect – his biggest flaw is his utter lack of self-confidence, and how that leads to him undermining his relationships either by giving him impostor syndrome, or pushing people away because he feels, in brief, that if he can’t like himself no-one else can like him either, so they must be faking.
The problem from this comes from the fact that, over the course of the first season of Rent-A-Girlfriend, Kazuya basically gets a harem. He starts with Chizuru and Mami, with then two of Chizuru’s co-workers from the same agency basically then inserting themselves into the story. Of the women in the story – only Chizuru has a character arc that isn’t related to Kazuya in some manner, at least this season. Mami has no reason for trying to interject herself into this relationship, outside of pure spite (which isn’t something I’m saying never happens, but it’s somewhat lazy writing here). Another character, Ruka, ends up pursuing Kazuya because she’s basically declared herself Chizuru’s rival, and a fourth, Sumi, enters the equation when Chizuru sets Kazuya up with one of her co-workers on a practice date due to the fourth girl’s inexperience, and he’s nice to her.
The problem is that only Chizuru and Kazuya have any sort of lives outside of each other. Chizuru is an aspiring actress, and Kazuya keeps fish – and takes a part time job at a karaoke parlor to help pay for his hobby. And that’s it. We’ve got nothing for Kazuya’s friends (not even what their majors are). We have nothing for Mami and what she does outside of sabotaging Kazuya’s relationships. We have nothing for Sumi or Ruka. That’s not great.
I mean, I enjoyed Rent-A-Girlfriend, and I’ll watch the second season, but this definitely a situation where the story, if the source material is not careful, could walk right into a field of rakes. It’s currently available for streaming on Crunchyroll, both subbed and dubbed.
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