Rent-a-Girlfriend Review

Here in the West, we’re pretty familiar with renting a car or a movie; however, in recent years, Japan has expanded the concept of renting something to well… everything. Over there, it’s become the case that people can rent themselves out to people who don’t have anyone to support them in certain situations and pretend to be someone close to them, for example a friend, sibling, or yes, even a romantic partner. Rent-a-Girlfriend takes this concept and wraps it in the bow of a romantic comedy.

The series follows down-on-his-luck university student Kazuya Kinoshita, who has just been dumped by his first ever girlfriend. Feeling lonely and unable to cope with losing her, Kazuya finds a girlfriend rental service online and hires out the agency’s Number 1 star, Chizuru Mizuhara. While Chizuru puts on her best performance, Kazuya is unimpressed by the fake nature of it, his feelings jaded by the way his previous relationship ended. After taking her out again to complain, the pair begin to argue, but they are interrupted when Kazuya gets a call that his grandmother has ended up in hospital. Despite him trying to cut the date short, Chizuru follows him there in anger as she still wants to give him a piece of her mind. However, she creates a massive misunderstanding when they show up together. Instead of telling his family the embarrassing truth, Kazuya passes Chizuru off as his actual girlfriend which creates even more problems when he finds out that Chizuru’s own grandmother is in the same hospital as well! Wrapped in a web of lies, Kazuya now has no choice but to keep renting Chizuru out as their grandmothers now believe them to be in an actual relationship, and it would be too cruel to tell them otherwise for it might break their hearts.

This is a series that often comes off as a surprise, as it has the feeling of a typical low-brow cheesy romantic comedy, but it has a lot more to say than you would expect. It’s a very cringe-inducing and unapologetic look at how its flawed characters navigate messy relationships, but it takes the cringe in its stride to make things entertaining, while showing enough introspection on its characters to make them feel real.

However, it takes some time to show its true face, and I did find it difficult to get into at the beginning. This is largely down to how the show paints Kazuya as a pretty unlikable main character, and how quickly you have to become comfortable with him making you feel uncomfortable. While the pining for his lost love is easy to understand, it’s still hard to sympathise with him because of how immature he is, where his toxic behaviour quickly turns you against him. It’s difficult to watch as he gets himself off and imagines the girls that he is interested in having sex with other people, as he just comes off as too horny for his own good.

However, he’s not completely irredeemable, as despite his absurd levels of horniness, we gradually get to see his good parts as the plot moves along. He’s actually a pretty nice guy at heart and is fine with putting himself in danger or taking a fall for those he cares about, whether that be Chizuru herself, or his friends and relatives. Episode 3 is a particular highlight, where he attempts to save Chizuru from drowning, although it is keen to show his recklessness despite this moment of heroics.

Apart from Kazuya’s friends, who are his bad parts amplified, the rest of the cast are strong, and there has been a lot of attention placed on the main girls as you would expect for a series like this. Chizuru and Mami feel the most put-together and developed and are presented as opposite sides of the same coin, the former trying to do her best as a struggling young actress, while the other self-destructs in (what is arguably self-inflicted) jealousy and malice.

These two and their interactions with Kazuya drive a lot of the drama in a ‘good versus evil’-style battle played out on his heartstrings as he tries to figure out his true feelings for them both. We don’t really know what Mami’s motivations are, but she is one snide and manipulative young woman, eager to make Kazuya’s life hell, and that really spills over onto Chizuru’s plate as she tries to hide the fact that she’s a rental girlfriend from everyone she knows. It’s pretty fascinating to watch and is definitely one of the series’ major hooks.

I must say though that it’s Chizuru and Kazuya’s grandmothers that really steal the show. They are both absolutely comedy gold and such a charm in how invested they get in their grandchildren’s “relationship”, and it’s clear why the pair have to keep their charade going, for I sure don’t want these two amazing women to cry.

Meanwhile, the middle of the series turns its attention turns to Ruka, the second rental girlfriend, who mixes things up nicely and prevents the series from becoming stale. That said, her entire deal is a bit weird and requires heavy suspension of disbelief to get into – she has an abnormally low heart rate and is on the hunt for a guy who can help put that into normal range, and of course that person is Kazuya. She does end up genuinely liking him, but it’s kind of sad when you realise that this relationship will never get anywhere as Kazuya becomes increasingly fixated on Chizuru. This becomes one of the main focuses of the second half of the series and is an overall interesting look at how things like incompatibility and lack of interest can wear a couple out. Ruka is very intense in her pursuit of him yet it’s obvious that Kazuya only has eyes for Chizuru. There are some interesting turns here but no revelations just yet as the series is only just getting started.

We also get a third rental girlfriend introduced at the end here, the painfully shy Sumi who is looking for help in being more confident. The date with Kazuya here is cute, but she doesn’t serve much of a purpose yet – the episode ends up being more concerned with bringing Mami back into play after a leave of absence, and oh my, does that explode in the final episode.

The series is animated by TMS Entertainment, and I have to say it doesn’t look too bad – it’s bright, colourful, and charming, although backgrounds are often pretty low on detail and have an odd crayon-like effect to them if you look closely. Its strength however really comes from the character designs which are all very distinctive.  There’s particularly strong attention to detail regarding fashion, with the girls getting some really nice outfits, and unlike in a lot of shows where the characters wear the same clothes, there’s a lot of variety on display here, even in Kazuya’s t-shirts (although the one with the Dreamcast logo look-a-like on it is perhaps his most iconic).

The score is composed by Hyadain (who you may recognise from Nichijou) and matches the series’ slightly cheesy outlook with lots of upbeat tunes and bright tones, before going a bit crazy to play up the melodrama. It won’t have you racing to buy the soundtrack CD, but it works well enough for the show. It’s instead the opening and ending themes that stand out here, with the peggies’ “Centimeter” being a fantastic sounding opener, and halca’s “Kokuhaku Bungee Jump” being perfectly paired with an innuendo-filled ending animation.

Rent-a-Girlfriend is brought to us via Anime Limited and contains all 12 episodes of the series with both Japanese and English audio. The Japanese cast do an excellent job here and you’ll recognise a lot of big names if you follow the Japanese voice acting world. Aoi Yuki continues to show off her range as she takes on a villainous voice here with Mami, while Sora Amamiya puts across a cheerful but mature tone of voice for Chizuru. The English dub is pretty decent too, with a good performance by Aleks Le in the role of Kazuya, however I think some of the main girls are a little better in Japanese, particularly for Mami in the way the character switches from sugary sweet to poison apple.

Physically the series is available in both collector’s and standard editions, with the collector’s edition coming in a box with some stunning artwork of Chizuru, packaged together with art cards of the main girls in the series and a 36-page booklet. The bundled Blu-ray case offers different artwork here from the standard edition, which I personally didn’t like which made me opt for the standard edition instead. Thankfully the standard edition has a reversible cover (please shout this out more Anime Limited!) which uses the same art as on the collector’s box, so you do have the option to choose between Mami and Chizuru.

Overall, Rent-a-Girlfriend is a competent if somewhat cheesy romantic comedy that has a unique twist that grabs you and pulls you along for the ride. It does at times feel like a guilty pleasure (and one that I definitely wouldn’t show the parents!) but it’s a show that I did end up enjoying after those first couple of awkward episodes.  If you can stomach Kazuya’s immaturity, then this is worth following to see how these train wreck relationships end up.

7 / 10


With a chant of "Ai-katsu!", Matthew Tinn spends their days filled with idol music and J-Pop. A somewhat frequent-ish visitor to Japan, they love writing and talking about anime, Japanese music and video games.

More posts from Onosume...