Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Hatsumi's tale of woe comes to a close. Will she finally find the happiness she so desperately desires? Will she finally be able to be together with her Prince (Not-So) Charming? Will the suffocating social order of company housing ever move closer to good-willed egalitarianism? The answers lie within, as well as a bonus Gimmick story that is 100% Subaru and Akane, and an unrelated short tale of unexpected love. Overall it promises to be a sweet end to a bitter tale. Maybe.
On the off chance that anyone has held off buying this series on the possibility that the manga never concludes properly, let me say this: Yes, it does end.
And to those looking forward to this volume, a warning: the actual conclusion of the series only occupies the first half of this book.
For those who have read up through volume 11, this volume contains no twists or surprises. It is simply a continuation of that volume's final scenes. This isn't to say that there is no definitive closure. This volume settles the primary relationships with satisfying finality, while leaving enough loose ends fluttering about to lend the characters' lives a solid sense of continuity; rather than a self-contained story, it feels like a brief passage from a selection of continuing lives. Which is fitting for a series that has distinguished itself largely on the basis of its psychological realism.
Even with only a half-volume devoted to the main story-line, one can't help but marvel at the acuity with which the characters' psychology is fabricated. It's in the way that Ryoki's arrogant, dominating nature, shallow conception of Human Relations, and devotion to monogamy become entirely understandable once his parents personalities and their relationship are fully revealed, and in how Hatsumi's attraction to Ryoki is traceable to her passivity and a deep-seated need for someone to protect and make decisions for her. It's almost frightening how believable each character's psychology is, even down to supporting characters like Subaru and Akane. No matter how self-centered, domineering, egotistical, weak-willed, cowardly, shallow, or downright sociopathic the characters are, they are constructed and exposed with such care that, on top of understanding them, one can't help but wish for their happiness.
Everything else that has made this series such a propulsive read is present here. The eye-leading ease with which Miki Aihara constructs her complex page layouts. Her deft ability to weave relationships and developments that—independent of their realism or lack thereof—absorb so completely that each volume demands to be read in a single sitting. The uncanny skill with which she communicates the emotions of her characters, forcing the audience to sympathize even with those developments and characters that they might not otherwise wish to.
However, the strain of drawing things to a conclusion does show in this volume. Hot Gimmick's appeal has always been that its bitter layers of deception, betrayal, sex, and psychological cruelty are wrapped around a gooey center of sweet, pure, unsullied sentimentality. In bringing closure to the relationships, this core is stretched thin over the surface of the unpleasantness, as if to disguise its pessimism with a "happy ending" veneer. And it doesn't help that Shinogu's fate oozes enough cheese to keep a legion of starving Frenchmen marching for a week.
Luckily Ryoki, unstoppable bastard that he is, is on hand (along with the fundamental unhealthiness of his codependent relationship with Hatsumi) to lend all of the sweetness an appealing tartness.
The other half of the volume is comprised of a Hot Gimmick side-story that furthers the impossibly cute relationship (if you have not read past volume 6, avert thine eyes) between Akane and her otaku boyfriend, and a short mismatched couple story called Ten Days that tries (and succeeds spectacularly at) cultivating a well-nigh terminal case of the warm fuzzies.
Aside from looking appropriately shoujo-ish, Miki Aihara's art also contains a crucial element of personal style; from her round, deceptively simple eyes to her de-emphasis on foreheads, her art is recognizably hers. She also has a thorough understanding of the importance of human faces and expressions, rendering them with a subtlety and detail that belies their simplicity. Appropriate use of blank and black space regulates the pace, while frequent close-ups emphasize emotion over action. But most noteworthy is Aihara's mastery of a fragmented, cinematic approach to intimate personal contact that communicates its immediacy and tenderness without making the reader feel like a dirty voyeur.
Viz's presentation is solid: attractive cover, good paper and art reproduction, and, best of all, nice wide gutters that obscure none of the artwork. Other than the Extra Gimmick bonus section, there are no extra goodies this volume (unless you count the Ten Days short story). Sound effects are entirely replaced with their English equivalents, as is Viz's usual practice.
As Hot Gimmick comes to a close, it proves to be just as engrossing in its last volume as it was in its first (and every volume in between). It has always had more psychological depth than any dozen of its high-school-romance brethren, and this volume, for all its occasional cheesiness, is no exception. Hell, the extra stories alone are almost worth the cost of the book.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ Excellent psychological depth, solid conclusion, great extra stories.
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