In Defense of Rent-A-Girlfriend

What does it mean to hate-watch an anime? There’s complex psychology behind a willingness to consume media you don’t like, don’t think is good, and wouldn’t recommend to others. Sometimes that phenomenon is referred to as a guilty pleasure; it is that which you enjoy, but know you shouldn’t. Frankly, that’s cowardice.

It is 2022, and everything I got made fun of in school for liking is now mainstream. Your mother knows Dungeons & Dragons as ‘that game they play on Stranger Things’. Your uncle knows who Ant-Man is. Heck, Spy x Family and Attack on Titan are the biggest shows in the world. The interests of nerds and otaku are somehow finally cool, so I will declare with no trace of guilt that I like Rent-A-Girlfriend.

Not ironically, or as a hate-watch, or a guilty pleasure. I like this bad, stupid show precisely because it is bad and stupid. I’m not going to say it’s a masterpiece, or that there’s some deep hidden meaning. What Rent-A-Girlfriend has going for it is humanity’s long-running relationship with sadomasochism.

We like it because we hate the characters, the story, even the themes. I like that it is schadenfreude, distilled and purified into its most potent form. By the time I’m done here, if I don’t have you convinced, then…I guess nothing, really, your opinion is legitimate, but I’m still going to talk about Rent-A-Girlfriend a lot, okay?

There is a subgenre on anime that I can only refer to as the dumpster fire. You know the ones: Domestic Girlfriend, Scum’s Wish, and of course, Rent-A-Girlfriend. These anime are controversial, provocative, and thrive off of melodramatic or emotionally convoluted stories.

I’ve already praised Scum’s Wish for deftly handling its uncomfortable subject matter, and criticized Domestic Girlfriend for merely going for shock value, and you can read about that here. The problem is that these anime are just plain unrealistic. How many people do you know whose dad married the mother of their teacher they have a crush on, or were friends-with-benefits with a classmate while plotting to date their teachers. Cheese and rice, Japan, what is it with you and teachers?

Rent-A-Girlfriend’s strength, or rather, its weakness, is that you and I know somebody just like Kazuya Kinoshita. His brand is all too common; sleazy guys who are obsessed with getting a girlfriend, except if they have to improve themselves at all. After getting dumped by his first girlfriend, Mami, he moves on in the logical way by not trying at all and just deciding to pay a girl to date him.

Kazuya and rental girlfriend Chizuru’s relationship ought to end as soon as it began, seeing as he got mad and berated her for being an excellent rental date who has lots of good reviews with the app she works through. Before Kazuya’s own idiocy nips the plot in the bud, though, they find out that his grandmother just happens to be besties with hers. Woopsie, now their families are invested in this relationship, and we are in for the long haul.

This is only going to grow more complicated by Kazuya’s run-ins with Mami, intensely jealous now that the boy she dumped managed to rebound with an equally pretty girl. Then there’s the introduction of Ruka, who falls for Kazuya because of some weird pheromone thing where he’s the only guy who has ever made her heart race. Shakespeare, this is not, but let’s just move on.

Rent-A-Girlfriend’s story is defined by Kazuya’s complete lack of self-awareness, his pathological lies, and the women around him who are so willing to entertain someone who clearly doesn’t deserve it. It’s infuriating to watch, I can’t stand this guy. I’m going to turn the TV off…as soon as I finish the next episode.

Let’s pivot back to that sadism I mentioned before. I’m convinced that Rent-A-Girlfriend’s final chapter will reveal that Chizuru is actually in hell, and Kazuya and crew are her eternal punishment. Much like Sisyphus, who rolls the boulder up the hill in vain, she is doomed to deal with a sex pest, the girl who won’t let him move on, the girl who only likes him because of a heart condition, and Sumi, who’s actually quite nice and sweet. Good for Sumi.

I have the most fun watching Rent-A-Girlfriend where other people would tear their hair out. Oh, Kazuya lied again and now Chizuru has to pick up the pieces? That sucks, do you mind if I grab some popcorn?

Kazuya routinely agonizes over every trivial detail of every interaction he has with a woman, and considering how insufferable he is, that’s just peachy. I have no idea if mangaka Reiji Miyajima is in on the joke, but I have to assume he is.

I mean, the man created four of the best waifu in living memory, and made them compete for the human equivalent of the flakes of turd clinging to the fur on my cat’s sphincter. This is all a 200+ chapter therapeutic exercise to work out some deep, dark sadistic tendencies, but I’m not a psychologist, so rather than judge, I’ll just watch Kazuya line up the rake and step on it for the fiftieth time.

And that wouldn’t be possible if Rent-A-Girlfriend fans had their way. For whatever reason, there are people who identify with and root for Kazuya, and take any opposition to him quite personally. This has led to the most hated character in anime since Rachel from Tower of God. I’ve already made my opinion on this character known, but you can’t understand what works about Rent-A-Girlfriend until you realize the truth…Mami Nanami is best girl.

The greatest characters in fiction have layers. The harmless student and amateur detective is as important to Light Yagami as the psychotic Kira persona. Shigeo ‘Mob’ Kageyama is a cinnamon roll of a kid with the psychic powers of a god. Guido Mista doesn’t like the number four, which may be all the characterization he gets, but I love him anyway.

Mami Nanami has many such layers. As the girl who dumped Kazuya, she is a plot device, the catalyst of the entire story. In that same vein, she is the antagonist, forcing Kazuya and Chizuru to maintain their fake relationship in front of friends as well as family.

Mami is the yin to Kazuya’s yang. She is the natural, equalizing agent that prevents this dirty napkin of a man from becoming too powerful. Without her, the harem protagonist would be left unfettered and happy, and I hate this man too much to allow this to happen.

That’s why everyone hates Mami. She isn’t just the girl who rejected the character I’m self-inserting as; like gravity, she is a fundamental interaction of the universe. She is the equal and opposite reaction to the action of Kazuya daring to be happy, which, to be clear, he doesn’t deserve. But she’s more than even that, something even more dangerous; Mami is the mean girl you went to high school with.

Anyone who identifies with Kazuya already has a victim complex. As a person, he’s unwilling to admit he made a mistake, or is unwilling to take responsibility for them. In both cases, the result is the same. Mami is perhaps the only character who doesn’t just see Kazuya as the loser he is, but also as manipulative and self-serving.

Is Mami terrible? Yeah. Before ever knowing that Kazuya is lying, she wants to break him and Chizuru up. Even after finding out that their relationship is a sham, she maintains a friendly pretense with him where she feigns concern that he’s being taken advantage of. However, her maliciousness as a person is of less concern to me than her primary role as a plot device.

If Kazuya tries to be happy, Mami’s spider-sense will activate and she’ll take him down a peg. If it turns out that this story is Kazuya’s personal hell, then Mami is the demon waifu here to torture him specifically. As someone so invested in Kazuya’s suffering, I understand her role, but even if you like Rent-A-Girlfriend and Kazuya, you ought to appreciate Mami. If not for her, there is no conflict for him to overcome. Not that he would overcome it, but he would flail aimlessly while Chizuru fixes everything, but you know what I mean.

Rent-A-Girlfriend is actually pretty fun if you take it for what it is, and Mami is the key to that.

This may be the first time anyone has ever tried to compare Fruits Basket to Rent-A-Girlfriend, but if the bloggers won’t be brave and take a stand, who will? In my essay, which you can read here (two plugs in one post? I’m reaching new levels of self-shilling), I talked about how we have to engage with a series for what it is trying to accomplish.

I rate my reviews on two axes, Boring to Entertaining, and Egregious to Fantastic, because you can’t just appraise quality, but also intention. When I say boring, I’m talking slow pacing, trying to make you think…or it just means boring sometimes, but I make the rules on the fly, so don’t worry about it. What I’m saying is that if you don’t approach a story on its own terms, you will always walk away disappointed.

Rent-A-Girlfriend is not the greatest rom-com ever made because Horimiya already exists. Even if it didn’t, Kaguya-sama would still be around, so that puts The Misadventures of Kazuya and the Girls Who Somehow Fell For Him at a respectable #377. However, the series is still a wonderful time for the sadist who lives in all of us, and I have to assume it was deliberate. Until Reiji Miyajima confesses that he got this far on accident, I believe the man is a genius.

So, let me know if I’ve changed your opinion on Rent-A-Girlfriend even a little, or convinced you to give it a try. I’m not saying it will better you as a person; in fact, it may significantly worsen your life, but I can’t be held responsible for that. So, don’t send your court summons by following me on WordPress to get notified every time a new post goes live, or on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku, where I’m always talking about the anime I’m watching. Until next time, thanks for reading.

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