Rent-a-Girlfriend – Ep. 1 (First Impressions)

In Japan, there actually exists a service where you can hire people to act as your friend or family member for the amount of time you pay. I’m not kidding, look it up. So to be honest, Rent-a-Girlfriend‘s premise of a young man paying a woman to be his girlfriend via an app on his phone doesn’t sound too outlandish to me as it may for others. If anything, by changing re-contextualizing the concept around dating, this rental service sounds ripe for a romantic comedy. I’m surprised something like didn’t exist before.

Rent-a-Girlfriend begins with college student Kazuya Kinoshita (Jun Fukushima) immediately getting dumped by his girlfriend Mami Nanami after just one month of dating. Depressed by this, he turns to an online app and rents Chizuru Mizuhara (Sora Amamiya) to be his girlfriend for a day. On the date, he finds Chizuru too good to be true and later learns that she’s technically acting for the job, causing him to deliberately leave a bad review for her. Naturally, Chizuru takes issue to this, revealing a truer, much meaner side to her as a result.

Even though I sympathize with Kazuya’s post-breakout blues, I find his character to be rather unlikable during the first couple of minutes of the episode. The fact that he did not realize that Chizuru is acting is frankly on him. He’s paying someone to act like she’s interested in him, any amount of insincerity ought to be a given. And if he is looking for a genuine relationship…why not just use a dating app? There’s also a moment where he wonders why girls date people they’re not interesting, essentially grouping Chizuru and his ex together and forming a general, bitter attitude towards women. While it doesn’t seem like he’s completely thinking straight here, it nevertheless rubs me the wrong way. That all said, I get the impression that this is just how Kazuya starts off. There’s clearly meant to be a lot of naivete on his part and that can work fine so long as he grows from there.

Conversely, you have Chizuru who is actually far more likable. She’s definitely meaner than she initially lets on though it hasn’t gotten to the point where that makes her intolerable. If anything, the reveal as well as her continuing to alternate between personalities works to comedic effect (especially with Sora Amamiya voicing her). One trait that is very appealing is how she seems to take her job very seriously After Kazuya takes her to the aquarium, she researches oceanic wildlife in case Kazuya hires her again. Despite the one-star review, she nevertheless commits to playing the girlfriend part, only breaking out of character when Kazuya lashes out at her. It’s a surprisingly admirable trait of hers and it also makes it even funnier when she does break out of character.

There is also some intrigue surrounding Chizuru. While she seems to have never been in a genuine relationship, she has greater insight on romance than her co-star does. This is evidenced in the ending when she encourages Kazuya to feel better about himself, reasoning that it’s something everyone feels lonely at some point (and there’s some truth to that). That makes for an interesting contrast to Kazuya who has been in a real relationship but is arguably more naive to the matter. Later, it’s revealed that Chizuru’s family doesn’t know about this job and she has her reasons regarding why. That could very well just be her feeling embarrassed though I’m nevertheless curious what the exact deal is.

As with a lot of comedies, the question I have to ask is how its premise can last for a whole season. The premiere does provide a couple of hints. The first arises when Kazuya visits his grandmother in the hospital, Chizuru tagging along in the process. That there is an ailing grandma and the fact that Chizuru is present feels a bit much and contrived respectively but there is a key development in that that our two leads are forced to commit to the couple act when asked by Kazuya’s family and later by Chizuru’s own grandmother who happens to be friends with Kazuya’s. The two manage to sell the act and Kazuya assumes it’s over but considering how open ended this development is, I suspect this will show up again in future episodes.

The ending nevertheless confirms that Kazuya and Chizuru will be running into each other some more. As college resumes, Kazuya bumps into a girl who looks all too familiar. As it turns out, Chizuru attends the same school as him. Also worth noteworthy is Chizuru’s appearance. She notably sports different clothes, a different hairstyle, and a pair of glasses, further adding to her perfect girlfriend act being just that, an act.

I didn’t go into this premiere expecting to dislike it but regardless, I am surprised that I’m enjoying Rent-a-Girlfriend quite a bit. It’s by no means a romcom that’ll rock the boat but it seems to be a solidly executed and entertaining one. Dare I say, I think this is my favorite premiere I’ve seen so far this season (though I imagine this wouldn’t rank so high in a more normal, less COVID-impacted season). I’m curious to see where Kazuya and Chizuru’s relationship will go so I guess I’ll continue watching this for now.

Thanks for reading!

Watch Rent-a-Girlfriend on Crunchyroll

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