Random House defines a gimmick as an ingenious or novel device, scheme, or stratagem, esp. one designed to attract attention or increase appeal. Perhaps that was the idea behind the naming of Miki Aihara's manga novel, Hot Gimmick – a title designed to catch our attention, and appeal to us to find out what lies inside. Sixteen year old Hatsumi Narita and her family – her parents, younger sister Akane, older brother Shinogu and younger brother Hikaru – live in a company housing complex, which is virtually under the control of the tyrannical Mrs. Tachnibana, wife of the vice-president of the company. In Japan there is a closer relationship to be found between a company and its employees and their families, one that seems rather controlling to those raised in the relative laxity of the States. The wives are always anxious to stay on Mrs. Tachibana's good side, which also means kowtowing to her only child – a boy Hatsumi's age named Ryouki. Hatsumi has been frightened of Ryouki for years, ever since a childhood incident. Pure bad luck causes him to discover a secret she would rather not have known – her purchase of a pregnancy test on behalf of Akane (who is luckily not pregnant). Ryouki demands that in return for his silence, Hatsumi become his slave and do whatever he asks. Thus begins Miki Aihara's Hot Gimmick.
An old childhood friend of Hatsumi's has come back into her life. Azusa Odagiri is now a well-known model that all the girls drool over, but he singles Hatsumi out for his attentions, flustering the poor girl. And infuriating Ryouki in the process. He leads her on, but ends up setting her up to be gangraped by some associates – a fate which is averted, with Ryouki's help – and we learn that Azusa is seeking vengeance against her and her family for a longstanding slight supposedly perpetrated by Hatsumi's father against his mother years before. And still, the naive Hatsumi only wishes to be his friend, helping him when he tries to throw his career away, despite everything he has done to her. Shinogu talks to Azusa, and makes him see that perhaps his father was not the guilty party but simply a fall guy, and so the two boys decide to delve into the matter further. As Volume 7 of Hot Gimmick begins, it is New Year's Eve, and Ryouki has strongarmed Hatsumi into going away with him for an overnight trip, in order that they can "do it". Terrified, Hatsumi obeys, but once they check into the family suite at the hotel he takes her to, she has second thoughts and stalls him, saying she wishes to explore the hotel. When she finally returns to the room, she finds him asleep in a chair. Unable to wake him, she sleeps on the couch, which results in a very irate teen-age boy the next day, who ditches her there. Luckily she is able to get a ride from her brother and his friend who, unbeknownst to her, were working there. Shinogu realizes that Hatsumi must have been there with Ryoki, although he says nothing to her about it. Meanwhile, Akane is making her moves on Hatsumi's best friend, Subaru – a shy otaku who has zero experience with girls, whereas Akane has a lot of it with boys.
Hot Gimmick, while ostensibly the story of the relationship between Hatsumi and Ryouki Tachibana, actually contains deeper themes which may be beyond the ken of younger audiences, thereby eliciting a rating of T+ from Viz. On the surface, Ryouki appears to be abusive to Hatsumi at times – he hits, he pulls, he yells, he demands, and she accepts, as is so often the case in an abusive relationship. The Tachibana family maid, Mariko (who has been in love with Ryoki's father Shuichiro for a long time) often upbraids him for his behaviour toward her, and she also tries to help Hatsumi see that what Hatsumi mistakes for simple petty tyranny is Ryoki's loneliness and jealousy. Hatsumi is a very giving girl, and she is too nice to object to the things he demands of her; she tries to please everyone, often at her own expense. As the series progresses, so do Hatsumi's feelings for Ryouki, as she finds herself falling in love with him – a thought which terrifies her at times, and bewilders her because of her fears regarding him. And yet she finds her heart unexpectedly beating louder whenever he is near, and she begins to turn to him more and more for help with the crises in her life. Akane, despite having experience with men, as she is pretty and popular, is insecure about herself, and finds herself in new territory when it comes to Subaru – wishing that she could turn back time and have him be the first, almost viewing herself as used goods. Subaru, on the other hand, thinks she is out of his league and is surprised when she wishes him to be her boyfriend. Akane buys him valentine chocolate but ends up eating it herself, thinking that he doesn't want her – until he surprises her with a very sweet gesture to prove his feelings for her. Shinogu has a secret of his own, which Hatsumi discovers accidentally – that he is adopted, and not even her blood brother, a situation which he is trying to annul, because his feelings for her are not those of a brother, he has fallen quite in love with her! And Azusa clings bitterly to the idea of revenge, to the point where he might destroy his own future.
The relationships in Hot Gimmick are variegated and complex. Nothing is as it seems, and nothing comes easily. Hatsume is at an age where her feelings are easily jumbled, as evidenced by her changing allegiances between Azusa and Ryoki, unsure of just how she should feel toward either of them. And despite Ryoki's tough exterior, we catch glimpses of the caring boy beneath the surface – how long can he hold onto this tough shell, formed by the seeming indifference of his family? His mother complicates matters with her tyrannical attitudes. When her son makes it clear that he and Hatsumi are dating and that she is not to interfere, Mrs. Tachibana calls upon a girl at Ryoki's own prestigious school, who is more his intellectual equal than Hatsumi, to attempt to steal him away, without regard for her son's feelings. Azusa puts on a facade of being the boy who made good, but underneath, he is simply biding his time to get the revenge for his mother he feels she so amply deserves, even at the cost of harrassing and vilifying an innocent man. Shinogu's own feelings toward Hatsumi are complex, and some may be put off by the appearance of incest, but such is not the case, as he is not a blood relation, although it may be argued that they have been brought up as siblings, so it is more of a mindset thing rather than an actual broken taboo. And Akane is a pretty girl to whom boys have always been attracted, using herself to please them, who has yet to discover that her body is not the way to a boy's true heart.
One of the things that impressed me about the artwork in Hot Gimmick is that the main characters actually have an Asian appearance, much more so than a lot of mangas. There are some very lovely color illustrations in this Vizbig edition, which features three volumes of the series in one handy, economical form at a good price. There are also bonus stories, one of which shows us the young Hatsumi when she and her family first move into the housing complex, and her original encounter with Ryoki. It will make a great addition to your manga library, and a thoughtful Christmas gift for the manga reader in your house.
Comicsonline gives Hot Gimmick 4.5 out of 5 rare bears.