Hot Gimmick (VIZBIG), Vol. 1
By Miki Aihara
Published by Viz Media
Hatsumi is an average girl, unnoticeable at school and mediocre in her studies, whose family lives in company housing where their conduct is under constant scrutiny by the boss’ self-important wife. When the boss’ son Ryoki, a notorious bully, finds out that Hatsumi’s promiscuous younger sister is using a pregnancy test, he blackmails Hatsumi into becoming his “slave,” whom he expects to do anything he says, up to and including providing sexual favors. Hatsumi struggles gamely to avoid being the guinea pig for Ryoki’s sexual “practice” sessions, but things get pretty hairy until she is eventually rescued by her former childhood friend, Azusa, now a famous male model, who has moved back to the housing complex and begins pursuing Hatsumi romantically. Unfortunately, Azusa is far from what he seems, and eventually Hatsumi finds herself in the unlikely position of being rescued from him by Ryoki, placing her in the middle of an uncomfortable tug-of-war between two equally unpleasant young men. Meanwhile, Hatsumi’s older brother (who is apparently not actually related to her by blood at all, unbeknownst to Hatsumi) appears to have feelings for her as well.
This manga offers a bewildering mess of contradiction for the reader. Simultaneously compelling and repulsive, it is the ultimate in guilty pleasure, with heavy emphasis on the “guilty.” With both of the story’s main love interests using Hatsumi in every conceivable sense and violating her horribly, the fact that she maintains any association with either of them by the end of the third volume is really difficult to swallow, and it’s hard to care about her when she cares so little for herself. Still, with so much intrigue obviously yet to be uncovered, it is nearly impossible not to want to know what happens next.
Of the two hideous love interests, the one most genuinely interesting is Ryoki, whose pitiful lack of social skills would make him almost sympathetic if he was even slightly less abusive. It’s obvious that he has strong feelings for Hatsumi, perhaps has had for years, yet he is utterly incapable of expressing affection or any kind of feeling at all without resorting to bullying to get what he wants. From what’s been shown of his home life so far, it’s probably safe to assume that he has never experienced genuine affection himself, so it’s understandable that he would have no means for expressing it, but that doesn’t actually excuse his constant abuse and degradation of Hatsumi. Though he may indeed grow over the course of the series, and perhaps even begin to display the beginnings of an actual human being, it is hard now to imagine being able to forgive him for his current behavior.
Asuza, on the other hand, inspires little interest or compassion at this point in the story. It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who, under any circumstances, would abuse and humiliate an innocent young girl in order to wreak vengeance on someone else, so by the time his personal sob story is being revealed, it’s too late to elicit much sympathy. His pathology is clearly visible and probably as complex as Ryoki’s, but while Ryoki’s obvious social anxiety might buy him a couple of halfhearted pats on the head, Asuza’s refined, pre-meditated cruelty is nothing but despicable.
Hatsumi’s sad self-loathing is not especially different from that of most insecure teenage girls, but it is painful to watch her allow herself to be taken advantage of by everyone around her. Even her little sister has her wrapped around her finger. Out of everyone in this series, it is Hatsumi’s growth I hope for the most, though she has a long, long way to go. So far, it is only Hatsumi’s brother who seems to care for her in any way that allows him to treat her with real affection and respect, though admittedly we have seen relatively little of him so far.
Aihara’s art is a highlight of the series. The visual storytelling flows nicely, with attractive character designs and kinetic panel layouts.
All complaints aside, Hot Gimmick is nearly impossible to put down, and Viz’s new edition of the first three volumes in its hefty VIZBIG format make that even more difficult, providing three times the temptation in one attractive package. For those new to the series, this is absolutely the way to dig in. Though I can’t recommend this series without some serious reservations, I also can’t deny its appeal. For fans of soap opera and bodice-ripper romance (with a hearty side of schadenfreude), Hot Gimmick is a no-brainer. For the rest of us, it is a potential guilty pleasure of the most extreme kind.
Review copy provided by Viz.
Michelle Smith saysApril 20, 2009 at 8:15 pm
Excellent review. I really need to bust this out of the bin one of these days. :)
Melinda Beasi saysApril 20, 2009 at 8:18 pm
This was really hard to write, because honestly, I kind of hated it. But I still want to know what happens. *sigh* Oh cruel manga.
Anyway, thank you. :)
Danielle Leigh saysApril 20, 2009 at 8:53 pm
This was my first shojo manga way back in March of 2005. No wonder I have such screwed up tastes! ;-)
You really nailed why the story offends our morals and yet still beguiles our senses. Dammit. So far Honey Hunt seems to be a definite step up since we start with a doormat heroine but she probably won’t remain one. We hope.
Melinda Beasi saysApril 20, 2009 at 9:36 pm
Yeah, I do have more hope for Honey Hunt, which I liked much more so far. Also, the guys (at least so far) are self-involved and shallow, but they at least are not abusive.
gloss saysApril 20, 2009 at 9:06 pm
…holy *crap*, having to read & review this sounds really harrowing. Tip of the hat to you.
Melinda Beasi saysApril 20, 2009 at 9:37 pm
You know, it was, but I still couldn’t put the damn thing down. I kind of want more, and hate myself for it.
Grace saysApril 20, 2009 at 9:18 pm
This is another one that’s on my list to read. I was intrigued because when I read about it, it seemed like it was acknowledged that these were bad choices and abusive relationships, rather than being written as if it was oh so romantic.
Melinda Beasi saysApril 20, 2009 at 9:38 pm
It’s hard to say… I mean, yeah, it’s not shown as romantic at this point, but I’m horribly afraid of what’s going to happen. I have this awful feeling she’s going to end up with one of these guys in the end.
Johanna saysApril 21, 2009 at 6:04 am
Oh, yeah, Hatsumi’s brother cares for her. *snicker*
I loved this series when I read it, hoping as you did that we’d see Hatsumi learn to stand up for herself and make smarter decisions, only to reach the end and discover no growth whatsoever. But I think you knew going in that you were going to be disappointed, so I hope that’s not too much of a spoiler.
Aihara really needs to learn to write endings, not just stops.
Melinda Beasi saysApril 21, 2009 at 6:07 am
Heh, no that’s not much a surprise to hear. I don’t actually know what happens, but I’ve definitely gotten the impression I’m not going to be happy about it.
Do you have hope for Honey Hunt? I’m kind of holding on to a bit there.
Johanna saysApril 21, 2009 at 10:07 am
Yes, I do — I enjoy what I’ve seen so far, but then, that’s the way the previous two series of hers worked for me, too.
Melinda Beasi saysApril 21, 2009 at 11:14 am
I shall continue Honey Hunt with caution. Heh.
Margaret saysApril 21, 2009 at 11:40 pm
Oddly enough, the heroine in Aihara’s third Viz manga, “Tokyo Boys and Girls,” which I believe was created earlier than “Honey Hunt” or “Hot Gimmick,” is actually pretty assertive and un-doormatlike, even though she does become romantically involved with another of those good-looking jerk male leads that Aihara seems to be so fond of (although he doesn’t do anything nearly as bad as Ryoki or Azusa, as I recall). I wonder if “Tokyo Boys and Girls” was originally done for a different magazine that favored spunkier, more outgoing heroines. I think “Hot Gimmick” and “Teacher’s Pet” (another infamous—and understandably unlicensed—Aihara manga in which the teacher heroine again has two thoroughly undesirable suitors, one of them a student who initially raped her) were both done for a rather sleazy shoujo magazine called “Cheese,” which doesn’t seem to be too concerned about the potential impact fictional depictions of appallingly abusive “romances” may have on impressionable girl readers.
Melinda Beasi saysApril 22, 2009 at 6:13 am
I should look for “Tokyo Boys and Girls,” because obviously I find Aihara’s storytelling to be compelling, even if I hate myself for it, and perhaps I’ll find it more palatable with an assertive heroine. Your theory about the magazine seems pretty sound. You know, I’ve never liked “but what about the children” arguments, but it really does bother me a lot that these kinds of relationships are portrayed as romantic in stories for young girls. Girls have enough people in their lives trying to tear down their self-respect and sense of worth day-to-day. They don’t need that to be reinforced by the fiction they read.
Lianne Sentar saysApril 24, 2009 at 12:35 pm
Hot Gimmick is the manga that self-respecting women love to hate…those who can stomach it, anyway. Spot-on review. It’s like the antithesis to videos you watch in 8th grade health class about loving yourself and self-esteem. “He hits you, but he’s hot, and he likes you…so you should like him back, because God knows you’re hard to love! (P.S.—You were probably hit because you did something wrong. Apologize just in case.)”
Ryoki and Azusa can die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die for being completely unsympathetic scum and Hatsumi should be locked in a tower forever because she’s Too Stupid To Live. But I devoured every page because the soap opera is intensely addictive and watching the train wreck of their lives became horribly entertaining.
Believe Johanna – the end will make you scream. Most morally dispicable ending ever, maybe. The poison candy that is Hot Gimmick has returned for more readers…hopefully adult ones who can see the story for the delicious, sadistic bullsh*t that it is. I’m still convinced that handing this to a teenage girl who already suffers from self-esteem issues is equivalent to handing a pyromaniac a blowtorch, so I believe in distributing responsibly. SERIOUSLY.
Melinda Beasi saysApril 24, 2009 at 12:45 pm
Okay, this is the Best Comment Ever. HA. I laughed heartily throughout. You know, when I wasn’t CRYING.
“He hits you, but he’s hot, and he likes you…so you should like him back, because God knows you’re hard to love! (P.S.–You were probably hit because you did something wrong. Apologize just in case.)”
Ryoki and Azusa can die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die for being completely unsympathetic scum and Hatsumi should be locked in a tower forever because she’s Too Stupid To Live.
DIE DIE DIE OMG
Ahhhhhh, you speak so much truth. I seriously do hate myself for wanting to read more of this, but I do. Ugh. And you’re right, I would never even consider handing this to a real teenaged girl, unless she was extremely confident and together. Are there actually teenagers like that?
Ed Sizemore saysApril 24, 2009 at 1:00 pm
Lianne, I have to second Melinda. That is the best comment ever.
Ysabet saysApril 24, 2009 at 1:40 pm
I still can’t believe I bought the entire series. I borrowed vol. 1-4 from a friend and was seriously traumatized by them…and yet months later I decided to collect it. (Starting with buying 1-4 from the same friend, which means she read my copies for the rest of the series—not so easy when we live in different cities!) I wasn’t even holding out hope for the ending, since I loathed all of the characters so much.
The long-term problem is that I still own the set, because I’d like to try selling them but also don’t want to knowingly inflict the story on anyone.
Melinda Beasi saysApril 24, 2009 at 1:45 pm
I’m tempted to say that I’ll buy volumes 4-whatever from you if Viz doesn’t send me any more (I don’t know if they will or not), but I hate to commit just yet to finishing the series. Heh.