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Hot Gimmick Omnibus Vol. #01 Manga Review

6 min read

Teenager Hatsumi Narita finds herself entangled in a dangerous love-hate triangle that may shatter her illusions of true love.

Creative Staff
Story/Art: Miki Aihara
Translation/Adaptation: Pookie Rolf

What They Say
A Collection of Volumes 1 – 3! Unlike most shojo, Hot Gimmick isn’t all sweet boys and rose petals. It’s much more real and complex and sometimes even chilling! The artwork is top-notch, the drama is high-tension, and I couldn’t help but keep on rooting for the hapless heroine, Hatsumi, as she deals with real-life problems: family ties, blackmail, awkward first kisses, and a very disapproving landlady. What’s not to love?

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
It’s uncommon for me to watch or read something that makes me feel quite as conflicted as this massive compilation of the first three volumes of Hot Gimmick has. Viz’s own description of the series uses words like “salacious” and “funny” to outline the manga’s uneasy balance of light and darkness, but I find myself personally more prone to label it “cruel,” “cynical,” and “gut-wrenching.” It’s a shoujo story that strays far away from the more common tropes of love and romance, and deals wholeheartedly in the currency of manipulation and victimization. It’s difficult to read and yet, past a certain point, it becomes impossible to stop turning to the next page. The characters alternate between being terrible and pitiful human beings. It’s a manga that’s truly unlike any that I’ve read within recent memory.

When Hatsumi’s middle-school-aged sister Akane discovers that she might be pregnant, Hatsumi gets roped into buying a pregnancy test for her. On her way home from the drug store, she runs into the last person on Earth she wants to see – Ryoki Tachibana, a guy who’s had it out for her since they were both kids. He promises not to tell his mother, the dorm mistress of the corporate housing complex in which they all live, about this scandalous discovery, on one condition – Hatsumi must become his slave so that Ryoki can gain the sexual experience he wants. Hatsumi doesn’t see a choice in the matter, and falls victim to Ryoki’s blackmail. Her otherwise average life suddenly becomes a living hell.

Things go from bad to worse when Azusa Odagiri, another childhood acquaintance and now-famous fashion model, moves back into the housing complex and attempts to strike up a romance with Hatsumi. Ryoki does his darndest to throw a wrench into the relationship, and Hatsumi is constantly on her toes attempting to keep her family’s secret intact while denying to Azusa that she has any reason to be in a relationship with Ryoki. As it turns out, it’s not only Ryoki who seems hell-bent on messing up Hatsumi’s life; Azusa makes background plans to use Hatsumi as a tool of revenge, and her savior turns out to be an unlikely individual.

I’ve seen this manga described elsewhere as being more “realistic” than other shoujo manga. Granted, the very limited conflict and overall cheery, lovable mood that permeates a “pure love” story such as Kimi ni Todoke is far from realistic, yet what’s compelling in that case is the fondness we have towards the characters and the perhaps wistful longing we have for a high school experience that wasn’t quite so messy as our own. Realistically, though, adolescence is messy and awkward, and young love so rarely uncomplicated. That said, adolescence is rarely so complicated that it includes things like attempted sexual slavery, attempted rape, molestation, attempted gang-rape, and even a little bit of possible incest to top it off. While these are all certainly things that exist in the world, it seems disingenuous to the reality of these issues to introduce all of them as plot elements in a teenage soap opera without also delving into the real, raw emotional consequences that go along with them.

Truth be told, Hatsumi gets the raw deal in just about every piece of the story. She seems constructed primarily to be a victim in the very disturbing tug-of-war between Azusa and Ryoki, and while she’s the character from whose point-of-view the story is told, her sexual agency and mental health appear to be bits and pieces of her character that found their way to the cutting room floor. There’s something incredibly disturbing about the way in which other characters behave towards Hatsumi when they find her interacting with the various boys in her life. Her own father, who should, as a parent, be primarily concerned with his daughter’s safety, scolds Hatsumi for “allowing herself” to be cornered by Ryoki instead of attempting to provide some sort of aid or acting as someone who has a responsibility to love his daughter and believe the things she’s trying to tell him. When she’s about to be gang-raped, Hatsumi shows more concern for the instigator of the attack and his feelings, rather than the fact that she’s in an extremely unsafe and quickly-escalating situation. There appears to be a concerted effort by the majority of the primary male cast members to instill in Hatsumi, through both their dialog and actions, the idea that her feelings don’t matter, that she’s not intelligent enough to make her own choices, and that no one will listen to her anyway. On the other hand, it’s the sad emotional pasts of both Ryoki and Azusa that are framed as important. It’s no wonder that Hatsumi’s lack of consent in almost every situation is seen as such a minor roadblock to almost everyone who attempts to have sex with her. Ryoki’s initial interactions with her are drawn straight from the sort of “pickup artist” sex guide that could easily be termed a “rape manual” without being inaccurate. It’s one of the purest, most vile examples of rape culture that I’ve seen lately.

There’s a fundamental cynicism that runs through this story so far that I find very bothersome. It’s the cynical voice that claims things like “guys are terrible and they can’t help but force themselves on girls” and “all people have ulterior motives, so it’s not worth your while to trust anyone.” The fact that Azusa’s outward kindness is nothing but an act, and that Ryoki has to hide his developing feelings behind a mask of non-consensual actions speaks of a very dismal worldview that expects the worst by default from every human being. It’s also fairly telling that the one character out of the bunch who seems genuinely nice (Subaru, the class nerd), is also mistreated and picked-on. Nice guys finish last, indeed.

Despite all its other problems, the artwork in this manga is generally very good. There’s a minor issue in that the two primary male characters have very similar hairstyles; the two are distinguishable by their other features, but this in particular seemed a bit lazy to me. There are, however, a lot of variations in the character facial expressions that help emphasize the emotional content of the scenes. Hatsumi has a range of more cartoonish expressions, but in more serious moments it’s very clear what sort of emotions she’s having (for better or worse, I suppose). The only really bothersome element of the artwork is the frequent use of crappy stock-image screen-toned backgrounds that, while portrayed in a more realistic manner, actually seem more unrealistic or out-of-character considering the visual context.

In Summary
There are probably a lot of people who would call this type of manga “trashy fun.” It’s truly the type of story I’d call a page-turner, and I plowed-through the entire 550 page omnibus volume in one sitting. This, however, isn’t necessarily a comment on in the inherent quality of the story itself, but more a testament to my concern for the fate of the main character, who continues to undergo a variety of torments and trials that seem willfully abusive on the part of the author. There are probably plenty of readers out there who can distance this story from reality and accept that the ways in which the characters behave aren’t meant to be an acceptance of their actions. To me, though, the multiple instances during which the main character’s feelings, actions and sense of agency are undermined, only to be used as a source of humor or cheap melodrama, has too many inherent problems to be entertaining.

Content Grade: D
Art Grade: B
Text/Translation Grade: B

Age Rating: 16+
Released By: VizManga.com
Release Date: March 17, 2009 (Print)
MSRP: $8.99 (Digital)/$17.99 (Print)

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