Reviewby Casey Brienza, May 5th 2009
Hot Gimmick -VIZBIG Edition-
High school girl Hatsumi Narita and her large family live in a company-owned apartment complex. Ms. Tachibana, the wife of one of the company's top employees, rules the roost there, and her son Ryoki is, equally, a tyrant in waiting. When Hatsumi's little sister Akane's period is late and Akane fears she might be pregnant, Hatsumi is the one who heads out to buy the pregnancy test—only to get caught by Ryoki. He demands that she become his slave in payment for his silence, and Hatsumi, terrified of his mother's reaction should she find out, reluctantly acquiesces. Luckily for her, her childhood friend Azusa, now a popular model, has just returned and seems eager to defend her. Then there is her protective elder brother Shinogu, who for reasons of his own takes quite an interest in Hatsumi…
Hot Gimmick was one of Viz Media's most successful shoujo manga series in the early 2000s, and it, along with the legendary Fûshigi Yûgi, is one of two shoujo titles to received the “VIZBIG” reprint omnibus treatment. Arguably even more fascinating than the mere fact of its apparent popularity is what virtually every devoted reader—male and especially female—who bought the series entire original 12-volume run has to say about it: They are horribly embarrassed to admit to anyone, even other fellow manga fans, that they totally adored it.
So why the embarrassment? After all, fans of other controversial genres, from moé to yaoi, are usually proud, even defensive, of their tastes. What seems to make Hot Gimmick such a simultaneous source of pleasure and shame? Well, different strokes for different folks, as they say, and different people have different airchair theories, naturally. But perhaps, if I may be so bold, it has something to do with the perverse pleasure of seeing such handsome young people behave so very badly—all the while hoping against hope that things will not turn out as badly for them as you (would be most right to) suspect that they will. Of course, veteran shoujo manga creator Miki Aihara just loves to tease.
Take the heroine, for example. Hatsumi Narita is literally the Girl Next Door…and her neighbors include Ryoki Tachibana, the beloved son of a gloriously wealthy corporate family, and Azusa Odagiri, childhood friend cum hot magazine model. She also has a handsome older brother named Shinogu, loyal, protective, and diligently working countless part-time jobs for reasons he keeps very private. She is, as the characters themselves observe, a very nice person. She buys the pregnancy test for little sister Akane when she needs it and takes the lumps when Ryoki finds out about it. Yet, as the series progresses, it is awfully hard not to come to the conclusion that, again as the other characters themselves observe, that she is really, really dumb. She trusts people that she should not. She does not trust the people that she should trust. And even when during moments where she has nothing left to fear, she does some super idiotic stuff. You will find yourself reading Hot Gimmick compulsively, if only to see that dearly wished day when Hatsumi wises up.
Likewise, some readers undoubtedly remain faithful to this manga because they would like to see the jerks that Hatsumi associates with either 1) reform themselves or 2) get what they deserve. As early as volume two, Aihara's nuanced illustrations suggest that Azusa is hiding something important—and quite possibly sinister—from Hatsumi, despite his benevolent exterior. And similarly, while Ryoki may be treating her like his personal sex slave and disposable object, on occasion the tenor of his facial expressions suggests that he might actually have a conscience! Though it is perhaps not too much of a spoiler to admit that those who would like to think the best of these male supporting characters are likely to be disappointed, this narrative tension emanates wholly from Aihara's skillful drawing and pristine lines. Her characters are always fresh, emotive, and appealing; artwork is one of Hot Gimmick's central appeals.
The Viz Media edition also boasts an extensive rewrite courtesy of Pookie Rolf. It is quite lyrical and filled with hip teenage slang, but this may also make the adaptation feel forced and artificial to some readers. Moreover, the slang does not seem to be American in origin; there are several British-isms that recur more than once, such as “woah.” (That would be “whoa” in American, by the way.) Veteran manga fans probably would have preferred a less intensively adapted translation, but on the plus side it does make this manga very accessible to newcomers to the medium.
The 3-in-1 VIZBIG omnibus edition, priced at $17.99 retail, is an economical way to get the first three volumes of Hot Gimmick. The high quality paper, french flaps, and larger trim size should appeal to collectors as well, and for completists some of the original color illustrations (but not all, sadly) have been reproduced here in full color. Unfortunately, the high quality also makes the book very heavy and difficult to curl up with comfortably. As with many of these omnibuses manga publishers are putting out these days, there is give and take. But be assured, at least, that you are getting a good shoujo title chock full of masochistic fun.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ An addictive storyline that fast becomes a guilty pleasure, paired with clean, handsome artwork.
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