Summer 2020 introduced a lot of great anime that I cannot wait to talk about in the next couple months. Sadly, ‘Rent-A-Girlfriend’ was not one of them. Despite being loaded with great female characters, the show had a rather disappointing, and often annoying, protagonist.
Based on the manga of the same name by Reiji Miyajima, Rent-A-Girlfriend follows college student Kazuya Kinsohita who recently was dumped by his girlfriend Mami Nanami. To help recover from the breakup, Kazuya pays for a date with Chizuru Ichinose, a rental girlfriend. However, upon realizing that she acted the same with him as she would with any other client (because it’s her job), he pays for another date with her to voice his concerns. While on this date, Kazuya receives a call from his grandmother and Chizuru tags along to visit her in the hospital. While there, Kazuya introduces Chizuru as his actual girlfriend, only to realize that Chizuru’s grandmother is in the same hospital and is friends with Kazuya’s grandmother. To not disappoint his grandmother, Kazuya chooses to keep up the charade and pays for more dates with Chizuru. Because of this, Kazuya begins to actually fall in love with her despite their relationship supposedly being purely business-related.
As mentioned in the introduction, the show’s female characters are written surprisingly well. Chizuru is incredibly down to earth and compassionate towards Kazuya despite the terrible situation he has placed the two of them in. Her consideration for Kazuya’s feelings is likely why Kazuya falls for her in the first place. Chizuru actively goes out of her way to help Kazuya even when she isn’t being paid to, showing that deep down, she does actually care about his feelings.
Similarly, Ruka Sakurasawa, the other romantic interest for Kazuya, acts as the opposite of Chizuru. Due to Kazuya’s care for Chizuru despite it supposedly being a rental relationship, Ruka believes that Kazuya would treat his actual girlfriend even better. Because of this and Kazuya being the only guy to ever make her heart pound, Ruka falls in love with Kazuya, asking him to be her boyfriend, even if it is just temporary.
The closest thing Rent-A-Girlfriend has to an antagonist is Mami Nanami, Kazuya’s ex-girlfriend. Mami broke up with him due to the lack of care that he seemed to show for their relationship, leaving his room dirty whenever she came over and not paying her as much attention as she would have liked. Despite this, she still holds feelings for him and becomes jealous when she sees him and Chizuru together. Because of her jealousy, she actively tries to destroy their relationship, only to slowly realize that what she really wants is Kazuya. Honestly, Mami is great and does not deserve the amount of hate she has received from the fanbase.
The true weakness of the writing is that all of these characters seem to have one similar purpose, to help Kazuya grow as a person. This is not inherently bad, but the issue is that their growth seems to be stunted when they are around him. Kazuya is also insufferable at times, especially after Ruka is introduced, showing a surprising lack of care for her feelings. Ruka may be overbearing, but she loves him and Kazuya should respect her feelings enough to not give her half-baked excuses when it comes to his feeling for Chizuru.
The art style adapted from the manga is very colorful and poppy, making each character stand out with their own unique design despite wearing common clothes. The animation is quite consistent, hardly ever cutting corners with still shots to show the passage of time. TMS Entertainment (ReLife, Fruits Basket (2019)) did a pretty good job adapting the manga, although I feel like the show could have benefited from having a split-cour season.
My only complaint about the execution of the anime is the score. As Replay Value mentioned in their video about Rent-A-Girlfriend‘s score, it is often inconsistent and can break the tension of the scenes it is featured in. This only happens a couple of times, but when it does it is jarring.
Due to the pandemic, all of the English dubs for recent anime have been recorded from home. Because of this, it took slightly longer than usual for Crunchyroll to release their dub for the show, as they wanted to make sure it would air without breaks between episodes (something Funimation and Bang Zoom! had some trouble with over the summer).
The English dub is quite good, often making me forget how poor some of the writing is. ADR director Wendee Lee (A Lull in the Sea, March Comes in Like a Lion) did a brilliant job directing the cast. There was not a single weak link of the cast. It blows my mind that Aleks Le voices both Kazuya and Anos in The Misfit of Demon King Academy (can’t wait to talk about that soon) and he manages to deliver a relatable performance as Kazuya. All four of the English voices for the main girls, Lizzie Freeman as Chizuru, Laura Stahl as Mami, Sarah Anne Williams as Ruka and Suzie Yueng as Sumi, do a fantastic job bringing their characters to life.
Overall Rent-A-Girlfriend is a light-hearted anime with some well-rounded female characters that feel tied down by the protagonist. Hopefully this issue is fixed in the next season, but for now it is a glaring issue I cannot ignore. If you are looking for an anime that will make you laugh while also filling you with anger for the protagonist, this is the anime for you.