This post is part of the 30 Day Manga Challenge series. Day 8: A Manga You Disliked Enough to Stop Reading
⚠️ This article contains information about sexual violence which may be upsetting to some readers. Discretion is advised.
As a fan of Miki Aihara’s other works, I really wanted to like Hot Gimmick. When I first picked up the series back in high school, I only made it through Volume 2 before calling it quits. I decided to give it another go now that I’m older, but hooo boy was it bad. Like, really bad.
Just a heads up, there’s content here that may be sensitive for some readers, so proceed with caution. There are also major plot spoilers!
Our main character, Hatsumi Narita, is a timid sixteen-year-old girl living in a housing complex owned by her father’s employers. Families who reside in the building try not to make waves, as any rumors of bad behavior at home spread like wildfire among the tenants, which can impact an employee’s status at work. So it’s a big deal when Akane, Hatsumi’s younger sister, has a pregnancy scare.
As Hatsumi tries to inconspicuously buy a pregnancy test, she’s caught by Ryoki Tachibana, the resident bully and spoiled son of the company’s vice president. When they were kids, Ryoki pushed Hatsumi down a staircase out of spite, leaving her afraid of him ever since. Knowing her situation, the manipulative Ryoki offers Hatsumi an ultimatum: she’ll become his personal slave, or he’ll share her sister’s little secret. Not wanting to disgrace her family, Hatsumi accepts his terms.
Things get complicated when Azusa Odagiri, popular model and Hatsumi’s childhood crush, transfers to her class. Like Hatsumi, Azusa used to live at the company complex but was forced to move when his parents got a divorce. The other girls in their class fawn over Azusa, but it seems like he only has eyes for Hatsumi.
Ryoki orders Hatsumi up to his apartment after school, where he proceeds to forcibly kiss her, saying that as his “slave,” Hatsumi has to do what he says. And therein begins my personal gripe with this series: its handling of sexual harassment. There’s definitely a cultural disconnect here, as Western readers (such as myself) have differing views compared to Japanese audiences on what constitutes sexual harassment. For instance, in Chapter 2, Aihara tries to pass off Ryoki’s inexperience with women (read: “he’s a virgin so it’s okay”) as the reasoning for his aggressive actions, a joke that fell flat for me.
A little note: As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I do read—and enjoy—a lot of manga that explores many, many controversial themes, including that of sexual harassment and assault. I believe it’s important to consider several factors when evaluating questionable content, including overarching plot points, intended audience, original publication, and genre.
That being said, Hot Gimmick, in my mind, sets a dangerous example for the teen girls that make up its target readership, especially those reading the series here in the US. In the beginning, Hatsumi’s twisted relationship with Ryoki is often romanticized, with her even defending his abusive actions in Chapter 3. In some places, Aihara’s treatment of Hatsumi almost comes off as victim-blaming; Hatsumi constantly rationalizes every moment of abuse in her head, convincing herself that it’s her fault for being treated that way.
As the series progresses, things don’t get much better. Ryoki continues to terrorize Hatsumi sexually, claiming it’s “practice.” Azusa ends up being an equally manipulative asshole, going so far as attempting to gang-rape Hatsumi as some form of revenge. Oh, and Hatsumi eventually falls in love with Ryoki, despite everything he did to her. How inspiring.
I can see why this manga appeals to some people. Convoluted romances and dangerous relationships can be entertaining—when handled well. But Hot Gimmick just wasn’t for me. Maybe someday, I’ll give it another go. But for now, I think I’ll pass.