While not the worst harem anime you can find, season two of RAG was undoubtedly in the running for the most tedious. While it managed to introduce an interesting conflict at the very last minute, the preceding 11 episodes were an exercise in wasting the viewer’s time, cycling through the various girls of the cast while Kazuya screamed inside his head about how pretty and amazing they all were. Unless you had a taste for highly watered-down romcom antics that took ages to tell a joke, you could skip most of that season and not miss a thing.
Suffice it to say expectations were low for this follow-up. Yet in contrast to how anemic its predecessor was, RAG‘s third season manages to put together a pretty compelling romantic dramedy, at last addressing the most tiresome flaws of its male lead while finding an effective narrative focus to center all its antics around. It’s not perfect, and there are more than a few times when the wheel-spinning tedium of season two rears its head. Still, if you’re a viewer generous enough to stick around hoping for all that fabled character development for Kazuya and his for-hire lady love, there’s a lot to enjoy here.
Ironically, that improvement mostly comes from the season not being a harem comedy for most of its runtime. Ruka and Sumi are present but largely play supporting roles in the plot to film Chizuru’s movie. Since that storyline has a fast-approaching deadline, there’s much less time available for episodic dates to act as glorified excuses for fanservice or flaccid attempts to stretch out character arcs far past their expiration date. There are still a couple of those, and they’re notably the most boring episodes of the season, but they represent far less of the show by volume. Despite being set up as an antagonist last season, Mami is completely absent – though she makes a surprise appearance at the very end that’s almost enough to make one hope for a season four all on its own. While that lack of an anti-Kazuya force was a major disappointment last season, here, her absence is for the best.
Instead, we focus on Kazuya and Chizuru’s relationship, watching them grow closer as Kazuya finally steps up to act like a reliable friend/partner while Chizuru slowly learns to lower her guard and accept help from the people who care about her. It’s mortifying that it took over two seasons to get to this point, but on the whole, their story through this season is solid, even emotionally affecting at times. Instead of obsessing over how perfect his crush is and how much he thinks he sucks, Kazuya takes an active role in their relationship, offering support and comfort when Chizuru needs it most. He even finds the emotional wherewithal to see through her unshakable facade when things are at their darkest, and it allows for easily the most sincere and downright romantic moment in this whole show. While they don’t get together by the end of the season, for the first time, it feels like these two could be a couple worth watching rather than just a romantic fantasy for anyone projecting themselves onto Kazuya.
Of course, not all of RAG‘s bad habits have disappeared. Between all of the compelling drama is the usual routine of Kazuya screaming internally about how supernaturally beautiful Chizuru is or being sad about his dick, and in some ways, it only gets worse thanks to the season’s new addition. Mini Yaemori would already be annoying enough from her design and personality, descending upon the show as a malignant mass of obnoxious personality traits and gaudy design. Still, she gets that extra bit worse when she assigns herself as Kazuya’s personal wing-woman. Not only is nearly all of her romantic advice terrible – yet taken seriously by both the story and cast – but she constantly talks about the other characters like they’re, well, characters, using terms like “MC” and “route flag” and countless other jargon that we, in the real world, use to generalize fiction. That kind of humor can work if used properly, but it only makes Yaemori feel like the show is patting itself on the back. When she’s proclaiming Kazuya a wonderful MC or praising how perfect Chizuru is as a girlfriend, all I can hear is the sound of the show jerking itself off by inserting a RAG super-fan into its cast.
Production-wise, this is business as usual. The overall animation is of pretty identical quality to season two, meaning there’s not much to impress, but everything moves in a serviceable manner. The focus is still on maintaining character appeal for the girls, and that continues to be RAG‘s greatest strength. One might get tired of hearing Kazuya wax poetic about it, but Chizuru and the other girls always look their best, displaying a wide berth of appealing and unique fashion that characterizes each of them well while effectively selling them as the “ideal girlfriend” fantasy. Whatever flaws the writing and pacing might have, this series has always known how to make its heroines look good, and that hasn’t stopped here.
It’s still imperfect, but this season delivers the best material Rent-A-Girlfriend has offered in ages. It manages to address some of the most belabored and frustrating issues with its cast while delivering a sincerely compelling dramatic storyline, and that all is enough to elevate it out of the miserable doldrums of last season.