by Miki Aihara; adaptation by Pookie Rolf
published by Viz; $9.99 US
The final volume of Hot Gimmick came out months ago, but I’ve put off talking about it because it was such a disappointment. This was the series that, with volume 1, got me reading manga; now, I’m not sure I can still recommend it. (I’ve also removed it from my list of suggested manga starting points.)
Originally, I loved the emotional drama. Hatsumi was shy and self-effacing, but I had great hopes that, as she learned to love and be loved, she would develop more confidence and gain experience standing up for herself. She needed to accept the validity of her own feelings.
She wasn’t the only character who needed to grow up. Spoiled smart rich boy Ryoki was another with a lot of potential. If he could learn to stop date raping and start asking instead of demanding, he’d be a great man.
None of that happened. (Spoilers from this point on, obviously.) Hatsumi’s drawn back to Ryoki because she loves him no matter what. This depth of feeling is questionable to the reader — he’s attractive, and perhaps the idea of him having personal magnetism is believable, but given the way he treats her, her succumbing to this overwhelming “love” paints her as accepting a picture of herself as a self-martyring victim. (Although, if the story’s portrayal of Japanese cultural politics is accurate, that’s considered very attractive in a teen girl.)
That attitude of Hatsumi’s, the pathological self-sacrifice, is also alluded to in flashback, where she was willing to sleep with her adoptive brother, although she didn’t love him, just to keep the family together. Then she winds up taking romantic advice from her 14-year-old sister (you remember, the one who starts the story with a pregnancy scare?).
While everyone’s telling Hatsumi how selfish and bad for her Ryoki would be (all true, based on what we’ve seen in the story itself), she keeps telling herself that she loves him and she can’t do anything about the way she feels. I get the disturbing feeling that we’re supposed to applaud her finally making a choice, seizing on something and standing firm, but since what she’s holding tight to is the idea that “there are some feelings you can’t do anything about”, it’s really just another example of her ducking out of making decisions and taking responsibility for them.
She says she’s made a choice, but it’s more that she’s acquiescing to a stronger will than hers, especially when Ryoki shows up and suddenly demands to marry her as soon as he’s of age. Her thought balloon, “Maybe if we got married, he’d finally be nice to me” sums up why this all is so disgusting. That’s followed by their first sex scene, during which Hatsumi says “no… stop…” the whole time.
Let me say again, I had very high hopes for the series, expecting all this to teach Hatsumi some important lessons and provide opportunity for character growth. She doesn’t. She’s still the same insecure, wishy-washy girl at the end of the series that she is at the beginning, still being ordered around by Ryoki, and that’s the part that’s so frustrating. What’s the point in spending three years and around 2000 pages on a series when the lead doesn’t change or grow?
Oh, and just to confirm the cheesiness of this final volume, the adoptive brother with a crush on Hatsumi decides that if he can’t have her, he’ll become a monk. No, really, he out of nowhere takes Buddhist vows. Made me wonder if someone had been reading Jane Austen in Japanese translation or something.
Even stranger, the book ends with a plug for the upcoming Hot Gimmick S, a novel version of the story that’s promoted as having a different ending in which Hatsumi chooses Shinogu (who doesn’t become a monk).