A new anime called Rent-A-Girlfriend is debuting this summer, but before that, Kodansha Comics has published the manga on which it’s based stateside. Let’s give this first volume a look and see what anime fans have to look forward to.
According to the official description provided by Kodansha Comics:
You can rent a girlfriend, but can you buy love? Reeling from a bad breakup, Kazuya rents the beautiful, polite Chizuru for a date. But rock bottom might be so much lower than he thought! Chizuru is much more than the pretty face and sweet demeanor he thought he’d bargained for…
The Initial Reaction
When first hearing about the manga, I thought it could be a fairly fun rom-com; a series about a guy renting a girlfriend after a bad breakup and slowly falling in love with her or getting into wacky situations with family and friends. It seems like an odd idea, but depending on the execution, it could turn out to be a funny read.
After reading the first volume, however, I was left with a rather uncomfortable, unpleasant experience. Rent-A-Girlfriend is a series that shows potential in its idea, with a rather strong female lead and brief glimpses of fun. However, the repetitive humor, the underlying themes that crop up in certain attitudes, and the main male lead himself left me never wanting to continue further with it.
Rent-A-Girlfriend starts with an editor’s note, a first for me when reading manga. It explains the concept of renting companionship in Japan, where people can rent others to be not only girlfriends, but also family members like a grandparent or sibling. It’s all a chaste service with rules and ideas of what people might expect. It’s a good way of educating people on the concept and to the manga’s credit, it never looks down on the profession or depicts it in a negative light.
From a writing perspective, the series’ first volume isn’t mechanically bad. Sure, there are a lot of coincidences that feel very blatant in order to get the characters to certain points where the story can play out. However, the ludicrous, silly nature of this being a rom-com allows for some leeway. The pacing is very quick, keeping the plot moving constantly without ever dragging its feet. In a lesser series, the plot of the manga could’ve easily been stretched over another volume or so, but not here. The plot is always moving forward and progressing.
However, none of this makes up for some glaring, rather ugly issues. The majority of the manga’s problems come from the male lead, Kazuya. The manga often tries to paint him in a positive light, or at least in a way for the readers to understand why he is the way he is. The overreaction to his first-ever breakup, the pressure and attitudes of his friends, the rather conservative views his family has toward him and love, and his connection to and his understanding of his grandmother — there’s a lot here that paints him as a guy who is just not getting the best advice or guidance to help him better understand on how tackle romance or dating. Even he is aware of it and vows several times to try to change himself. That’s fine, but here’s the thing…
…the manga often undercuts all of that and makes Kazuya into an extremely unlikable character. For instance, before his first “date”, he questions being there and being too irrational, planning on just telling Chizuru what’s up and to just leave. However, he also tries to reassure himself it’ll be easy because she’ll be ugly and probably just a bitch anyways. That’s just within the first ten pages of the book, and this behavior continues throughout.
Kazuya is a continuous assh*le and self-absorbed idiot. He constantly gets mad about Chizuru faking her feelings even though he fully acknowledges she is literally putting on an act. He constantly blames her for his own problems because he can’t spit out the truth to his family or friends, dragging her further down with him. He literally blackmails her into going on another date with him, otherwise he’ll reveal her job to the school. He holds having a beautiful “girlfriend” over his friends, viewing himself as superior to them. There’s a scene that gets incredibly uncomfortable with him on top of her while hiding that sounds very possessive and creepy. Plus, his constant pity parties and looking down on himself for his failings and Chizuru while never improving himself get tiresome. He is awful.
The majority of the characters are the same way. Kazuya’s parents and grandmother bemoan him for a lack of love and romance, constantly demeaning him and thinking he’s a failure for it. His friends are jerks with very bro-ish attitudes that would feel right at home on a 4chan or Reddit forum. The ex-girlfriend isn’t particularly pleasant either in the brief bits with her, though it’s hard to really tell what’s in her mind with how the series has played out so far.
The only character who really works is Chizuru, who is not only the best character, but the best thing about the series as well. She is another student who attends the same college as Kazuya. While she puts on an incredible performance as a girlfriend to whoever hires her, she’s really a tough gal who doesn’t put up with crap. She chewed out Kazuya over his negative review and poor attitude on the second date, even slapping him for his self-absorption. Her attitude is absolutely refreshing and her loving her job makes for a fairly confident individual that’s a breath of fresh air in the book. There seems to be hints of other things going on with her as well, adding to her allure as a character. Her only real negative trait is constantly rescuing Kazuya when she should really just cut him loose.
Lastly, I’d like to bring up the humor in the book. Comedy is subjective to be sure, but the manga just wasn’t particularly funny in my experience. The series constantly uses the same joke about Kazuya being a loser over and over again between his friends, family, and Chizuru, to where it just loses steam and any impact. Kazuya’s attitude and the attitude throughout the manga makes a lot of the sillier bits not particularly amusing either, due to awkwardness or uncomfortableness. The only time the humor really works is when it gets into the absurdity of a situation, like the grandma leaving a team of grandmas to hunt for her grandkid throughout a hospital. Otherwise, I rarely found myself chuckling or even smiling.
Fortunately, the artwork is pretty solid. There are no issues in the layouts or in how the story moves from panel to panel, ensuring an easy read that’s never hard to follow. Character designs are decent, and the manga is quite capable of bringing out the right amount of emotion and mood from their characters through their expressions and body language. The few times the comedy works it’s aided by the art, able to capture the frantic nature or silliness of a moment quite well. The only time the art doesn’t work is during the hospital scene where the two characters are under the blanket, since it comes off more iffy than it should. Otherwise, there’s no real issue with the art. It does the job and nothing more.
Rent-A-Girlfriend Vol. 1 is a rather bad, and at times, unpleasant manga. While its female lead is great, the rest of the cast is subpar and the male lead is almost completely awful. Most of the humor doesn’t land due to overuse of the same punchline and the writing’s themes are not great. There are much better romantic comedy mangas out there to even consider before giving this a try.