This Week in Anime - Is Rent-a-Girlfriend's Kazuya Bad or The Absolute Worst?

3 months ago 35

We've seen some pretty insufferable romance anime protagonists in our time. Sometimes they're offensively boring and sometimes they get their head lopped off by a spurned lover ala School Days. Then there's bumbling Kazuya of Rent-A-Girlfriend who treats every conflict like one he can lie his way out of instead of facing the music. Steve and Nick give this season's most insufferable bro the roasting he deserves.

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

Nick, it's that time of year again. The seasons are changing, the leaves are falling, and we have to take out the trash.

Please remember to leave your garbage at the marked and designated spots for pick-up. Do not just leave it sitting out in front of the vending machines.

The receptacle is RIGHT THERE too. That's such an irresponsible screenshot.

So yes, today we're capping off this summer season with RENT-A-GIRLFRIEND. I tried to throw a hail mary and get us to cover that cool Rie Matsumoto/Pokémon music video, but editorial rejected that pitch. Sorry, Garfield Pikachu. Maybe next time.

There's no justice in this world. And lest you try to lay all the blame on editorial, I do want to be clear that you're also on thin ice buddy. You got to cover RAG weekly and soften the blow over the course of 3 months. Meanwhile, I had to marathon this whole thing over the weekend so I could do this column with you. We are not the same, and I am in hell.

Hey man, those weekly reviews were some of the most fun I've had doing formal writing! Granted I did it mostly by making obtuse reference to skate punk songs, but still, for a while there I was actually enjoying my time with RAG, if only because I am jonesing for some romcom slurry to pour down my gullet.

I'm just saying, I had about two days to cram in both this and the new Made in Abyss movie, and guess which one left me feeling more emotionally exhausted. Hint: it wasn't the one with the piss machine.

Actually, our track record with trash anime doesn't make that as clear a distinction as I wanted it to be, so let me elaborate: Rent-A-Girlfriend does not have a piss machine. Yet, anyway.

You never know with Kazuya. Dude watches enough porn I'm sure there's a piss machine somewhere in his internet history.

Good point, though I'd rather not let my synapses dwell on that possibility for too long. What is certain, however, is that during one dark night of the soul, Kazuya closed his browser, opened an app, and entered a magical and wonderous world full of girlfriends for rent.

The actual premise of RAG is pretty interesting, honestly. Compared to your typical romcom/harem setup there's a lot more complexity to be mined from the idea of someone essentially paying to pretend to have a partner for a few hours. There's tons of stuff you could explore for both the workers and clients of such a setup, and I'm sure somewhere out there is a manga or novel that does that, but it's definitely not what RAG cares about.

It's funny, Werner Herzog actually put a film out recently about a fictional family rental service in Japan. I haven't seen it yet, but it sounds like the kind of subject matter he could do some interesting and sticky things with! Interrogate the human condition and economy and all that. RAG, on the other hand, sticks with what it knows, and what it knows is every harem comedy cliché in the book.

And that's not even necessarily a problem. As a connoisseur of harem trash I can absolutely eat up some nonsense if its delivered well. And RAG certainly has a polished enough production to carry a solid comedy. Unfortunately the achilles heel of this show is that nearly every person on screen sucks ass.

They suck, they don't grow or change, and we barely learn anything about them as people. It's a big freaking issue from minute one of the show. The inciting incident is Kazuya breaking up with this then-girlfriend Mami, but we're never told why they started dating in the first place, or why they broke up. In fact, we're never told! The entire impetus of this show is a black box—not done to create mystery, but ignored because the narrative just doesn't care.

Therein lies the trap that RAG sets up for itself: it posits that its story is about Kazuya being at his lowest and learning to change, but the mechanics of its own narrative require an unchanging status quo in order to a) have a story and b) constantly dunk on our hero in an attempt to make him less unpleasant.
Spoilers: it doesn't work.

Ohhhhh man, is that ever the single most frustrating thing about Rent-A-Girlfriend. It believes it can get away with anything as long as each episode lets Kazuya wallow in self-pity for a few moments. It really wants him to be a brooding male protagonist who just wants to grow up and change, AND be the inexplicable women magnet the genre asks him to be. RAG never comes close to putting in the work to make that anything close to tolerable.

Like, there's a canyon-sized gap between self-awareness and self-actualization. RAG just constantly stops at the self-awareness step, claps its hands together, and moves onto the next cleavage close-up.

On the one hand, it's kind of an astonishingly accurate portrayal of a shitty dude in his early 20's. Like I have absolutely known some Kazuyas in my life, who could recognize their problems and why they were unsuccessful with dating, but still fell into the same mistakes out of either panic or stubbornness. Problem is I stopped hanging out with those guys around the time they started talking about a certain cherry-colored oral supplement. RAG never quite approaches that particular insufferableness, but reminding you of the worst people you knew in college isn't exactly "haha" funny.

Yeah, like, I get it. Breaking up with your first girlfriend sucks. I'm not saying I handled it swimmingly either (and actually I was around Kazuya's age then), but I also didn't channel that into a whole bitter manga/anime.

Eh, I don't think RAG ever comes off as bitter, per se. Clueless, and harboring some unexamined unhealthy ideas about romantic love sure, but when I think bitter, revenge-against-an-ex girlfriend anime, I think Shield Hero and its ilk. Doesn't stop the people watching it from treating Mami (and her voice actress) like any/every girl they harbor anger against. Which I don't get, because Mami's the best character in this thing.

Oh undoubtedly. She's my fave, and the only character I have any sympathy for, because, like me, her only coping mechanism is subtweets.

You gotta appreciate the attention to detail that she Night Mode. Just some fantastic, subtle character building that brings it all together.

She's fantastic, but it doesn't change the fact that the narrative treats her like some kind of unknowable chaotic force whose sole obsession is messing with the protagonist. That's not great!

It's not, and unfortunately RAG's vision of the "good" kind of girlfriend is uh...shall we say troubling.

You heard her, girls! It's your responsibility to be a band-aid to every sad and misguided boy you come across. And given the slice of that population I've seen online, you've got your work cut out for you. Good luck!!

Listen, there's nothing wrong with wanting intimacy and support from a romantic partner. But the entire way it's framed is Kazuya (and every other dude in this show, basically) pining for that perfect, whimsical partner who will put up with all his shit and alchemy him into a version of himself he actually likes. Which, trust me dude, that's not gonna work.

It'd be one thing if that weren't a narrative that had already saturated the romance genre, but it is, and RAG doesn't do enough on top of that to differentiate itself. Not even in an enjoyable terrible way.

Also just as like, a romance? I have no fucking clue why Chizuru would ever fall for this guy. Kazuya's entire relationship with her is to constantly push her boundaries and infringe on her patience.

The only explanation we're offered is that she's just that irreparably charmed by his...whatever his personality is. I mean, this is a show that had him stalk her for an entire episode, and in the end, after he was found out, she gave him a present.

Don't worry, she was very cross with him for all of 20 seconds!

My theory is the wires for "pity" and "unconditional affection" got crossed in her brain that one time she almost drowned. Because on top of not being very well considered RAG also throws story cliches at the wall like it's trying to win Luck Up Materia.

Lol I think this was the point at which I had to take a break and do something else. Just a staggering combination of Sudden Onset Anime Sickness and falling off a boat in the world's most improbable fashion.
I also think we need to address the story's real villain:

Ah yes, the axis powers.

So there's a serious (and completely unexamined by the show, naturally) reason the the grandma is the villain (blah blah older generations forcing outdated values and standards on younger generations blah blah). However, the not-so-serious one is arguably more heinous: she's why the show changes from "rental girlfriend romcom" to "whoops we have to pretend we're dating for real! hope we don't fall in love or anything haha" romcom. And that's the lamest thing.

One day I'll get you to read Nisekoi and you'll open your eyes to the fact that Fake Dating is the greatest trope in all of fiction. But also yes the whole "gotta pretend to date so my grandma doesn't shit down my back" part is kind of troubling when you think about it.

I'm fine with fake dating, but why would you do fake dating when you have a perfectly good rental girlfriend setup that's also literally the title of your show? Like, do something interesting with that! Anything. Please.

OK, well how about a SECOND rental girlfriend?

That do anything for ya?

Depends, is she going to inexplicably fall in love with Kazuya and immediately negate the rental girlfriend thing yet again?

Well there's just no pleasing you.

Hey, I do like her ribbon.

Well boy if do I have another Nao Tōyama voiced character with a ribbon for YOU.

Nick, please stop teasing me with better romcoms we could have watched, or else I'm going to tell on you to Lynzee.

Editor's Note: After mulling over Steve's report, Nick has to watch Eiken for a future TWIA column.

Hey now, I bring up Nisekoi for entirely pertinent reasons! Uh...see Ruka falls for Kazuya because of some baggage of her unexplained heart condition, right? Well you know who also wrote a love story about a girl with a heart condition? Boom.
So anyway here's my list of top 10 reason Chitoge is best girl, and a copy of that list in case the Marika stans try to destroy it.

Buddy, you've got a big storm coming.

Honestly though, Ruka and Kazuya deserve each other. If dude was capable of more than the most basic of self-deprecation he might realize why somebody imposing on his privacy and patience in the hopes that he'll be worn down into dating them feels so familiar.

On the other hand, though, he really should like her tweets. That's the least he can do.

There's such a beautifully sad irony to Kazuya finally getting a willing girlfriend he doesn't have to pay, only to be miserable about it because she treats him the way he treats any woman in his life. It'd be brilliant if it wasn't totally by accident.

Oh yeah, speaking of bragging rights, another very uncomfortable thing about RAG is the sheer volume of scenes with strangers ogling him and his gf-of-the-day together. There's a ton of unexamined exhibitionism going on there. A better story might have turned that into a commentary on Kazuya's pathological need for external validation based on archaic and patriarchal ideals, but, well, y'know.

Oh the absolute weirdest thing about this show is the constant, out-loud commentary from every rando on the street about every couple in this show.

"Hey Dave, see those two people in moderate proximity to each other? You think they've licked each other's assholes? Anyway did you catch the Chiefs game last night, Mahomes was on fire."

It's bizarre and gross, especially because it centers the "hapless" dude as the object of harassment. That's, uh, not how things shake out in reality.

It's the other half of RAG's frankly adolescent idea of relationships. Having a girlfriend is cool because other guys will think you're cool, and the prettier the girl the cooler you are. Finding somebody you actually have things in common with, or forming a connection? Nah man get you that arm candy.

And because RAG is RAG, it shows a modicum of awareness regarding this, before continuing to ignore it.

Now at this point it may seem like we're just jabbing at this show's myriad faults without really engaging with its plot, and we are! Because this show's plot doesn't exist. What takes its place are a series of increasingly contrived excuses for things to just happen. Like hey, running short on conflict late into the season? Let's add a 4th girl for like ten minutes.

To be fair, despite not saying much, she still gets stronger characterization than the majority of the cast.

That is, I know things about her that do not relate to Kazuya.

Please give me a full episode of Sumi's morning routine.

Give me a full series! A show about a student stumbling through the rental girlfriend business despite being a weirdo Precure-loving shut-in? That legit sounds great!

Well time's up and she's leaving now. Maybe we'll see her for another split second in season 2.

Godspeed and giddy-up, Sumi. I do actually want to say one nice thing about Rent-A-Girlfriend: it has a pretty darn good eye for fashion.

Yes that means the pink crocs too.

Listen, I know about as much about fashion as Kazuya does about the female orgasm, but if you think I'll believe crocs are in-style now then you can rent yourself a different cohost pal.

Look, my taste in fashion is just like Mami's taste in music: impeccable.

And people say Mami's irredeemable. Thought "Centimeter" isn't as much of a bop as "Kiminosei" or "Stand By Me" it is still the best part of this whole mess. Though I think we also have to mention the ED for how...daring and artistic it is, let's say.

The show definitely has some spunk to it, I'll say that.

Let's just say the acronym RAG is very fitting.

ANYWAY, I kinda hated Rent-A-Girlfriend, which I hope comes as no surprise if you've made it this far. I would not recommend it, and I would especially not recommend watching all of it over a single weekend. No amount of masturbation jokes can salvage this one.

I gave this show plenty of rope across the season and it only managed to lash itself to a dumpster in the process. If you're really hankering for romcoms you're probably best served watching or reading anything else. Hell last month I finally took the time to read Rosario + Vampire and even that was more fulfilling than waiting for this show to find a point. When you've got me endorsing a monster girl series over something, you know you fucked up.

Circumstances are dire, and RAG didn't even have the decency to end. At least, for now, the suffering is temporarily attenuated.

Anyway see you back here for Season 2 next year, Steve! No escape.

Excuse me, I've got some very important tweets to make.

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