Hot Gimmick #1-4 (2001; English adaptation 2003-04)
by Miki Aihara

Though I am myself a bit creeped out by enjoying comics seemingly aimed at Japanese teenage girls, I figure that my awareness of Hot Gimmick can only improve my standing should I ever find myself in a roomful of Japanese teenage girls, for there is nothing sexier than someone twice your age knowing about stuff you're in to. Of course, it's probably the case that Hot Gimmick is actually aimed exactly at people like myself, dubiously haunting the manga shelves at the local comic shop to feed some vague desire to be "in touch."

Well, whatever the case, HG is, as my grandpa always says, "some crackin'-good shôjo, JoJo." It's got a similar zaniness to Blue Monday (normally as close to the manga world as I like to wander), but with a bit more of a "Summerland" soapiness – teen sexcapades with morality and heart. Will I remember what "Summerland" was a year from now, when it's long since been taken off the air? Probably not; I hardly remember it now.

At first HG seemed like a rather run-of-the-mill teen melodrama: shy and insecure high-schooler Hatsumi has all manner of neurotic thoughts going through her head, almost none of which she ever actually says out loud, so everyone sees her as incredibly passive and quiet. She contends with a more popular and outgoing younger sister (Akane), a condescending neighbor (Ryoki) who bullies her, and the pressures of living in a housing complex for employees at the company where her absent father works. The sudden return of her childhood crush (Azusa), now a semi-famous male model, gets her heart a'thumpin', all the more when it seems that he likes her!!!

Hatsumi agrees to buy a pregnancy test for her (14-year-old) sister, and is caught in the act by Ryoki, who uses the info to blackmail Hatsumi into being his personal slave. Easily intimidated Hatsumi goes along with it, even though it puts her in a sticky potential sexual situation, in addition to complicating her budding romance with Azusa.

The personal slave business gets pretty out of hand, while Azusa is simultaneously sweeping Hatsumi off her feet with fairy-tale, straight-out-of-John-Hughes romance. At which point it seems like this is going to be an interminable schoolgirl fantasy (juxtaposing the abusive rape-threatening from Ryoki with the dreamy deliciousness of Azusa), but it's here that Hot Gimmick takes a cool twist by reversing the roles of Hatsumi's two suitors. Turns out, Azusa has a devious scheme to intentionally break Hatsumi's heart, as revenge for Hatsumi's dad having an affair with Ryoki's mom, who subsequently killed herself. (I'm probably oversimplifying that, but I'm getting a little headachey trying to keep the plot straight.) Ryoki then steps in as the reluctant hero, just as Hatsumi is about to be gang-raped by Ryoki and his friends!

The darkness of this series is mostly under the surface, like Hatsumi's thoughts (expressed cleverly in different typeface from what she actually says). It takes awhile to get there, but when the story really starts to boil, it becomes quite good, and unexpectedly inventive. As Vol. 4 closes out, there's even a rather unsettling incest angle coming in involving Hatsumi's protective older brother … though undoubtedly this will take a surprising twist as well.

Way better-than-average for this kind of thing. Though I'm still kind of embarrassed to be seen reading it.

Review by JJ Cleaners