Kazuya Kinoshita (Shun Horie) has succumbed into a deep depression. His problem? His girlfriend just dumped him after dating for one month. They weren’t even having sex, only share a single brief kiss. His friends already branded him a failure, while his sick grandma already has expectations for Kazuya’s love life.

Just like many people, he seeks his escapism on the internet. But he isn’t looking for porn, ordering food online, or getting any psychological counseling. This time, a rental girlfriend service takes his interest. Through the service’s app, he meets Chizuru Ichinose (Sora Amamiya), a girlfriend-for-hire. Chizuru will be his girlfriend for a certain period. Terms and conditions apply, of course, which include: not letting the rental girlfriend get involved with client’s personal matter.

Kazuya is depressed after his break up © Reiji Miyajima, Kodansha / “Rent-A-Girlfriend” Production Committee

Unfortunately because of a series of misunderstandings, Chizuru does get involved with Kazuya’s private life. First, Kazuya’s grandmother, Nagomi Kinoshita (Yukari Nozawa), totally buys into his lies. Even worse, Nagomi actually knows Chizuru’s grandmother, which makes it even harder to tell her the truth. Second, Kazuya’s friends accidentally see them walking together after visiting Nagomi, which creates even more lies. Among those friends is also Kazuya’ ex, Mami Nanami (Aoi Yuki). Lastly, it turns out that Chizuru and Kazuya are neighbours studying at the same university the whole time. Who could ensure that they can keep their secret if they are interacting everyday outside their professional contract regularly?

It’s quite hard to empathize with Kazuya as the main character of Rent-A-Girlfriend. That he orders a rental girlfriend itself could already inhibit some viewers’ sympathy; but the foremost reason for this is because he keeps lying to to maintain this fake relationship status. It is not the kind of white lie either. If he wants to solve his problem with Chizuru without just being honest, he could have made a lie that they break up. 

But Kazuya’s actions may not necessarily be much problem if Rent-A-Girlfriend is capable of inviting the viewers into Kazuya’s headspace. This is something that this season’s Oregairu and last season’s Sing ‘Yesterday’ For Me are good at. They are shows about selfish people, but we can understand their points of view easily. Rent-A-Girlfriend isn’t capable of that. The best viewers can get is the backstory uttered by characters or through their monologues. Even those pieces of information are rarely expressed visually. You just know, but never feel.

Kazuya and his grandma © Reiji Miyajima, Kodansha / “Rent-A-Girlfriend” Production Committee

However, that doesn’t mean Rent-A-Girlfriend is not saying something interesting. Kazuya’s antics may be unbearable, but it is also the direct result of his interactions with his social space. In a sense, Kazuya’s view of girlfriend and women is shaped by his surroundings. From his family’s overreaction to learning he has girlfriends, to his friends’ “virgin” joke after he breaks up; they show where his value lies. While those moments are treated in comedic undertones, the implications are still there. For him, having a kind, good-looking girlfriend is his source of acceptance.

Those won’t redeem Kazuya’s behaviour, of course. Kazuya would still be driven by his sense of lust. But the social construct that creates Kazuya’s state of mind is there, and can be found in our everyday life. We Indonesian even have a word for it: jomblo. It is a word that, in a negative context, is used to imply that someone is a failure for not having a relationship. This social construct is the same one that dictates Kazuya’s life. He needs to be in a relationship with a cute girl because he thinks that’s what makes him happy.

Chizuru with her “professional” smile © Reiji Miyajima, Kodansha / “Rent-A-Girlfriend” Production Committee

Kazuya’s action is definitely going to generate mixed reactions among fans. But it is actually interesting to see how Kazuya’s friends and relative react to his fake dating. Their reaction is, after all, the reason why Kazuya lies in the first place. At first, Kazuya just ordered a rental girlfriend because he is depressed. But after accidentally meeting his friends and relative, the motivation changed. Now he feels that he needs to meet his friends’ and grandma’s expectations when it comes to relationship. Even worse, when he finally tries to end his lies and breaks his relationship with Chizuru, his friends encourage him to stick with her.

Sure, his friends don’t know that the relationship is fake. His action could be perceived as kindness. However, it also raises another question: why does almost everybody in the anime think that the Kazuya will end up happier if he has a girlfriend? Deliberate or not, Rent-A-Girlfriend could become a criticism of the the social construct that dictates our need for a sexual partner. It is not that we don’t need it, but is it really something that must be attained? This is something interesting to discuss while watching this anime.

Furthermore, there is an issue of rental girlfriend business itself. It is something that actually happened in real life. However, a cautious mindset is needed when we discuss it. As Andrew Osmond wrote before, the issue seems to have been magnified out of proportion by mass media. They exist, but it probably does not mean everybody in Japan really knows about it. Rental girlfriend, or any other type of rental family, is probably one part of Japanese subculture. But without empathy and careful consideration, the discussion about this issue could be reduced into a narrow, gratuitous moral debate about right or wrong.

In current opinionated internet discourse, many people probably will only discuss Kazuya’s pathetic lust for women without rarely mentioning the underlying issue behind it. Kazuya, in a sense, is a victim of his own values, which are created by his family environment and social circle. Moreover, Rent-A-Girlfriend could provide an interesting insight into the rental girlfriend culture business in the first place. Rent-A-Girlfriend could be an interesting watch that leads to a lot of discussions, even though the main protagonist is not really that empathisable.

Facts and Figures

Alternative Title Kanojo, Okarishimasu
Source material Manga by Reiji Miyamiya
Casts Aoi Yuki as Mami Nanami
Gakuto Kajiwara as Shun Kuribayashi
Masayuki Akasaka as Yoshiaki Kibe
Nao Tōyama as Ruka Sarashina
Rie Takahashi as Sumi Sakurasawa
Shun Horie as Kazuya Kinoshita
Sora Amamiya as Chizuru Mizuhara
Yukari Nozawa as Nagomi Kinoshita
Director Kazuomi Koga (Rainy Cocoa, Welcome to Rainy Color)
Scenario Mitsutaka Hirota (Sweetness & Lightning, Yowamushi Pedal)
Character Design Reiji Miyajima
Opening Song “Centimeter” by the peggies
Ending Song “Kokuhaku Bungee Jump” by halca
Studio TMS Entertainment and Studio Comet
Official Site https://kanokari-official.com/
Twitter https://twitter.com/kanokari_anime
Broadcast Date 10 July 2020 (1700 GMT), 11 July 2020 (0000 WIT,  0200 JST)


The Indonesian Anime Times| Review by Dany Muhammad | Image source: Rent-A-Girlfriend anime twitter account | This review is made after watching the first 4 episodes of Rent-A-Girlfriend Anime

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