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Reviewby Liann Cooper, May 10th 2004
G. Novel 1
In the world of shoujo manga, the more angst you have, the better. Hot Gimmick is not only dripping with angst, but practically screams out, “My angst is bigger than yours!” Living up to that bold proclamation, Miki Aihara gives us a positively twisted storqy with enough real-life mishaps that would make even the best soap opera pale in comparison. There really isn't anything out there right now like Hot Gimmick, which could be a good thing or bad thing. Luckily for us, Hot Gimmick falls well within the positive.
The setting for this teen melodrama is a modern day world that revolves around a slightly exaggerated social hierarchy. Tobishi Trading Company Housing Complex is the home to company employees and their families, providing the reasoning behind every misfortune that befalls any of the characters. From the first couple of pages, we learn that class status is determined by what floor you live on. The top floor residents, the Tachibanas, rule over the complex, and every occurrence by the lower level residents is thoroughly scrutinized by the “Queen of the housewives,” Mrs. Tachibana. Unfortunately for our supposed heroine, her family lives on the third floor. The Naritas have a less than favorable relationship with the Tachibanas and when you live on the third floor, a less than favorable relationship is all you're going to get. In this messed up, corporate class arena, the Narita's eldest daughter is about to take one for the team.
Hatsumi Narita is a decidedly average high school girl who has just discovered that her younger sister Akane thinks she may be “preggo.” Determined to keep the pregnancy under the “Tachibana radar,” Hatsumi dons herself with lots of makeup, some seriously tacky clothing, and goes out to buy a pregnancy test for Akane. This situation has “cute boy, please come run into me and create an embarrassing mess” stamped all over it. An even better situation would be for the cute boy to be the tyrannical corporate housing queen's son. Fortunately, Aihara doesn't prolong the inevitable and cute boy #1 - Ryoki Tachibana, enters the scene right on cue. For the sake of her family, Hatsumi has no choice but to agree to the most outrageous of blackmails— become Ryoki's slave in exchange for him keeping his mouth shut.
While literally running into a cute boy while carrying a pregnancy test and having it conveniently fall out isn't the most original of concepts, the premise of having the cute boy blackmailing the girl into being his slave is. Many series wouldn't dare venture into the world of female subservience and would rather choose to go down the path of slapstick comedy to lighten up the atmosphere. However, Hot Gimmick plows forward and almost seems to feed off the awkwardness of the situation. Not only does Ryoki make Hatsumi his slave, he basically makes her his love slave and his first order of business for his love slave is to have Hatsumi let him "feel her up." An obvious victim of circumstance, Hatsumi's situation cries out for a knight in shining armor. Again, Aihara adheres to the shoujo manga checklist and arriving in the nick of time, cute boy #2 appears - Hatsumi's childhood crush turned male model, Azusa Odagiri.
The poster child of perfection, Azusa has recently moved back to the housing complex and resides on the seventh floor. Childhood acquaintance of both Ryoki and Hatsumi, Azusa's appearance in the story is somewhat awkward and it almost seems like he appeared merely to serve as the third point for Hot Gimmick's bizarre love triangle. Perfection has a way of making a character seem uncomfortably suspicious and Azusa definitely exudes suspicion. Whether it's his doting affections towards Hatsumi, or his knack for being in the right place at the right time, Azusa seems a little too perfect for Hatsumi. Blissfully unaware of any ulterior motive, Hatsumi proceeds to fall head over heels in love with Azusa and the two begin dating. Their relationship would be all flowers and butterflies if it weren't for the nagging “enslavement to Ryoki” issue.
First and foremost a slave to her master, Hatsumi is at the mercy of whatever Ryoki wants her to do. Perhaps the most evident example of Ryoki's control over Hatsumi is when he orders her to come up to his apartment. Upon her arrival, Ryoki proceeds to all but rape Hatusmi. However, observing that things are not proceeding as planned, Ryoki refers to his "step-by-step manual" to understand why Hatsumi appears to be resisting his advances. Though the situation is very serious and altogether distasteful, one can't help but almost feel sorry for Ryoki. Not only does he come across as a complete jerk, but he manages to come across as a pathetic jerk. Frustrated that his manual doesn't give an explanation for Hatsumi's resistance, Ryoki tries to force himself on Hatsumi again, but his attempts are foiled when his “tutor” walks in on them. Despite Ryoki's obvious faults, those who initially turned a cold shoulder to Ryoki in the beginning may find themselves warming up to him by the end of the novel. In fact, after “stealing” a kiss from Hatsumi, Ryoki's cold exterior melts just a bit and allows us to see that he may have some unexpressed feelings for her.
Readers would be completely overwhelmed by the Hatsumi-Ryoki-Azusa drama if it weren't for the characters Subaru, Akane, and Shinogu. Holding perhaps the most unlucky of roles is Hatsumi's best friend, Subaru Yagi. Resident “manga addicted otaku dweeb” and Gundam fanatic, Subaru is not only best friends with Hatsumi, but is also a friend of Ryoki's. Though his relationship with his Gundam model comes up more than his relationship with Ryoki and Hatsumi, one can only assume that being in the position he's in, Subaru will eventually have to make some sort of “loyalty” decision. Akane, on the other hand, could care less about being loyal to her sister. The catalyst for Hatsumi's unfortunate situation, Akane pops up from time to time to lend a hand in lightening up the moment. Whether it's humiliating her older sister, commenting on how cute Ryoki is, or picking on Subaru, Akane's small bits of dialogue are a welcome breath of fresh air amidst all the angst. Playing a small but pivotal role is Hatsumi's older brother, Shinogu. Always concerned for his sister's safety, Shinogu is the type of guy you want Hatsumi to end up with, and from what the reader can gather Shinogu wouldn't be opposed to that situation possibly happening.
With such an intricately woven story, Hot Gimmick contains seemingly empty artwork. The only depth that characters seem to possess is in their personalities, and even those don't go very far. The overly large eyes seem lifeless and alien-like, and the faces seem to possess strange, skeleton-like noses. Backgrounds are bland and almost non-existent, save for an occasional park setting or building. Miki Aihara's artwork isn't ugly, just very generic. The “extra” at the back of the book is a nice addition, though. In it are some detailed descriptions of the Narita family members as well as a small guide to the housing complex layout. Aihara also includes a "Neighborhood Tour" which showcases some of the neighborhoods she has lived in. The "tour" even informs us that the housing complex in Hot Gimmick was modeled on an actual housing complex in Setagaya.
Artwork aside, Hot Gimmick is a strong series and Viz was smart in adding this to their “Shoujo Manga” line. By combining real life situations – class struggles and attempted rape, with slightly less than believable situations – my boyfriend is a supermodel, Hot Gimmick reads like a “teens guide to life” in manga format. If you're looking for something to satisfy that angst appetite, Hot Gimmick may be just what your palate is looking for.
Overall : B+
Story : A
Art : B-
+ Storyline has more twists than a pretzel
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