Academic article written by Crystal for her undergraduate Honors project.
Manga, the Japanese equivalent of comic books, has taken America by storm in the past decade; once neglected with only a scant presence in the biggest bookstores, manga now dominates shelves of space in chain bookstores and warrants at least a section in even the smallest of local stores. While a large portion of manga targets the traditional male audience of American comics, manga also attracts a substantial quantity of female readers, primarily teens and preteens. On any given week of the New York Times manga bestseller list, at least three of the ten volumes may be from shôjo, or girl, manga series, which is to say nothing of the girls who read shônen, or boy, manga series as well.
Shôjo manga primarily focuses on love and relationships; even if the main character magically transforms to defeat the forces of evil, she does so for her family and friends, not to save the world as a whole. The majority of shôjo manga portrays love in Disney fairy tale terms, with the young couple (sometimes still in elementary school) falling in innocent puppy love and destined to live a happy life together. Some aspects of the stories may alarm Western readers, such as the female submitting to the male, but this behavior stays in keeping with Japanese culture, and the girl ultimately retains her personality and free well. More disturbing are the series which glorify female submission and portray male dominance as a desirable trait. One such series, Vampire Knight, depicts the submission through vampires; within the United States, the series has garnered extreme popularity, and for the week of January 17-23, 2010, three volumes of the series appeared on the New York Times manga bestseller list, with the series’ seventh volume making the list for its 14th week (“Graphic Books”). A similar series, Black Bird, also frequently charts on the bestseller list, this time with a male demon instead of a vampire, though he still requires submission from the female in the form of biting her and sucking her blood. However, one need not read about vampires and demons to learn about the enticements of domination, as similar themes can be found in shôjo manga about the lives of ordinary girls, just like the many teens and preteens who consume the stories.
This essay addresses Miki Aihara’s Hot Gimmick, which follows the lives of Hatsumi Narita, an ordinary, clumsy, somewhat-stupid girl, and her three potential suitors–a fairly standard setup for the genre. The three leading men depart from the standards, however. A childhood friend has come back for revenge on Hatsumi’s father by abusing Hatsumi. Her older brother, secretly adopted, has been in love with Hatsumi for his entire life. The real kicker is, of course, the man Hatsumi ends up with: Ryoki Tachibana, the terror of her housing complex who has seemingly despised and abused her since her childhood and who promptly turns Hatsumi into his slave at the first opportunity. Ryoki does not buy Hatsumi and bind her with shackles, but he does exert his will over her and act as though he owns her mind and body without a thought toward her comfort and convenience, demonstrating his dominance and forcing her to submit completely to him. Eventually Hatsumi graduates from slave to girlfriend status and comes to love Ryoki, despite his abuse, and Ryoki possessively “loves” her back. As the series ends, the couple has agreed to get married, Hatsumi hoping for equal treatment from Ryoki, and Ryoki thinking of finally having a “legitimate” reason to dominate Hatsumi’s thoughts as her husband. Hot Gimmick’s presentation of this main pairing as desirable for Hatsumi is troubling, particularly because young readers are liable to absorb the narrative without evaluating it, imbibing the aspects of its primary relationship and accepting them as normal, acceptable, and perhaps desirable for themselves. If Hatsumi can find happiness with a “lovingly” controlling male like Ryoki, then why not any of the countless readers who are so similar to plain, ordinary Hatsumi? Hot Gimmick’s popularity strengthens concerns about the series, as it has been prominent in both Japan and America. Currently its American publisher, Viz, is re-releasing the series in an omnibus format (one of two shôjo manga to receive this treatment thus far), establishing it as a popular, lucrative, and classic manga series in America and ensuring that more youths have access to the series.
Extent of Male Dominance in Relationship
As a foil to her doormat main character Hatsumi, Aihara presents the reader with Ryoki Tachibana as Hot Gimmick’s leading man, a dominant, controlling, and possessive suitor intended to make her teen audience swoon. Though Ryoki attempts to control all aspects of Hatsumi’s life, even her thoughts and feelings, Hot Gimmick excuses this abusive behavior as stemming from his lonely childhood. Aihara presents it as adorably misguided and the result of Ryoki’s upbringing as the son of the highest-ranking man at the Higashigaoka company housing complex. Aihara shows Ryoki’s commanding behavior as learned in response to how everyone at the housing complex treats him; after standing up to the adults who were bullying Hatsumi, the child Ryoki tells Hatsumi he does not know why the adults bow down to him, he just knows that “[a]ll the grown-ups here are like that” (8: 156). Expressing the aggravation and alienation he feels as a result, Ryoki faces away when saying this, his eyebrows flat and his half-lidded eyes barely visible. However, rather than rejecting this behavioral trend, Ryoki immediately uses it against Hatsumi, telling her, “Hey, you too. Do whatever I tell you, you got that?” and showing the dominance over friends that eventually becomes an intrinsic part of his personality (8: 156). Yet, despite Ryoki’s controlling acts, Aihara tempers them by showing them to be the actions of a boy who does not know how else to act. After Ryoki orders Hatsumi to get him a drink in their game of “king and servant,” Aihara presents a borderless scene of a kind and happy Ryoki with blush marks, mouth upturned, his eyes looking normal and round instead of flat as previously drawn. Behind Ryoki, a row of flowers offers the quintessential shôjo manga marker for a kind-hearted person (8: 150, 151). This unframed image establishes Ryoki as compassionate in his own way, suggesting that he only knows how to act controlling and so defaults to that behavior. Establishing him as the little boy who bullies the girl he likes, this explanation of Ryoki’s dominance excuses all of his behavior to Hatsumi, leading readers to similarly forgive him for his abusive actions towards Hatsumi, as he obviously did not mean to harm her.
As a teenager, Ryoki continues to exert his dominance over Hatsumi, which the series also excuses as an expression of his deep love for Hatsumi, suggesting that his behavior is flattering and desirable instead of being mentally and emotionally abusive. After Hatsumi defends Ryoki to a young woman who spurned his advances, he comments to his friend, “I don’t know why exactly, but…she [Hatsumi] really bugs me” (1: 133). During this comment, Ryoki’s face displays stubborn irritation, with the common down-turned mouth and flat eyes, while a shadow over the majority of his head symbolizes his brooding. Ryoki follows his earlier comment with, “Now I want to push her around even more” (1: 133). Illustrating how Ryoki’s thoughts remain with Hatsumi, a picture of Hatsumi running home accompanies this statement. However, the reader should clearly see Ryoki’s comment as signifying feelings he cannot express: a stream of soft bubbles, a common effect meant to visualize warm feelings, connects Ryoki’s two speech bubbles to Hatsumi’s figure. As the scenes with the child Ryoki do, the portrait of the teenage Ryoki encourages Hatsumi and the reader to look beyond his abusive statements to see the real emotions he harbors for Hatsumi. If teenage girls apply this sentiment to real life, they may neglect to recognize abusive and controlling relationships, forgiving dominant boyfriends and looking for signs of affection behind cruel actions.
Though originally Ryoki only expresses the wish to control Hatsumi’s body, the transition from slave to girlfriend sees Ryoki desiring that Hatsumi think only of him, which Hot Gimmick again presents as an agreeable trait. When Hatsumi continually worries about her ex, even following an attempted gang rape, Ryoki forcefully grabs her arm and orders her to stop thinking about him, adding, “That goes for any guy other than me”; in exchange, Ryoki offers to let Hatsumi become his girlfriend, rather than his slave (4: 139-40). Rather than being repulsed, Aihara shows Hatsumi as flattered by Ryoki’s possessiveness and jealousy, thinking about accepting his demands. After the interaction, a flustered Hatsumi thinks, “He didn’t scare me. He made my heart throb”–the opposite of her previous reactions to any advances from Ryoki (4: 147-8). Hatsumi appears confused in the closing image of the chapter, with her eyebrows turned up in the middle and a sweatdrop running down the side of her face; however, Hatsumi is also very much under Ryoki’s spell, made evident by the shading of a blush in addition to the simple blush lines on her face (4: 148). The beginning of the following chapter continues to show the effect of Ryoki’s words on Hatsumi, with images of Hatsumi thinking and comically changing position. The sound effect of her heart beating (“da-doom”) accompanies this sequence, indicating an influx of strong feelings in Hatsumi, in this instance infatuation (4: 150-1). In this sequence Aihara presents submitting to Ryoki’s dominant behavior as normal for a young woman, providing a sense of being flattered, rather than insulted, as well as increased attraction, instead of the rejection such a situation might engender in a normal independent woman.
As the couple officially begins dating, Ryoki’s need to control Hatsumi’s thoughts persists and intensifies but continues to be shown positively. When Ryoki goes to Australia over a break, Hatsumi spends the time alone worrying about her brother and her ex, instead of talking to Ryoki when he calls; as a result, Ryoki slaps Hatsumi when he returns. Hatsumi, flushed and looking down, apologizes, stating, “I was thinking of you, Ryoki. I really was…,” despite her tumultuous family situation (8: 25). Ryoki counters, “…Not enough. It’s gotta be more. A lot more! All the time! With your entire bird-sized brain!” (8: 25). While these words sound outrageously possessive and controlling by themselves, the accompanying images turn Ryoki’s words into a confession of his feelings for Hatsumi, again portraying him in a positive light. During this speech, the comic hides Ryoki’s eyes, a traditional method of obscuring his emotions so that the reader must look for other cues about his feelings. The first panel of the speech highlights his stubbornness, as it contains a large image of Ryoki facing away, with the speech bubble coming from his back; the amorphous, net-like pattern that surrounds him emphasizes the uncertainty of his emotions at the time. Below a panel of Hatsumi’s reaction, the next image of Ryoki emphasizes the embarrassment he feels at expressing his feelings of affection for Hatsumi, showing only his lower face and the blush marks on his cheeks. The bottom panel on the page echoes this embarrassment by again hiding Ryoki’s eyes but showing the blush on his face. Even though Ryoki is expressing the desire to control Hatsumi’s thoughts, the portrayal of him makes his actions endearing rather than creepy, attractive rather than offensive.
Near the end of Hot Gimmick, the series portrays Ryoki’s wish to be the only one Hatsumi listens to, even above God, as flattering to Hatsumi. Hatsumi attempts to break up with Ryoki, stating, “I can’t…be with you any more. After everything that’s happened, I started feeling like… that’s what God is trying to tell me” (11: 172). While Hatsumi runs away from Ryoki, he shouts, “You’d rather listen to God than to me?!” (11: 173). A large image of Hatsumi’s head in profile displays the doubt and hesitation she feels as a result of Ryoki’s words, with her eyes open wide, her eyebrows upturned, and flush marks under her eyes, while a dark screentone covers her face, contrasting sharply to the background and emphasizing her uncertainty. Ryoki continues to ask, “So who do you listen to? God? Or me?!” (11: 173). These words cause Hatsumi to turn back and look at Ryoki, tears in her eyes; a couple of pages later, Ryoki hugs Hatsumi and says, “There’s only one answer to that, you fool!” (11: 175). Demonstrating his sincerity, Ryoki hugs Hatsumi from behind, with his head bowed down in a comforting gesture and blush marks on his cheeks. Flowers even float behind the couple, indicating the warmth of the moment. However, none of this negates Ryoki’s words, which indicate that Hatsumi should listen to him above all others, even God, or the extreme and dangerous dominance of Ryoki within their relationship.
Lack of Consent Necessary in Relationship
Many times Ryoki forces himself on Hatsumi in a manner that could be seen as intended rape; however, these instances are never taken seriously within the story. In an attempted gang rape scene, Aihara shows plainly that she considers six adult men attempting to rape Hatsumi a threat, but she portrays Ryoki forcing Hatsumi to have sex with him as a humorous instance of male ignorance. Early within the series, Hatsumi’s childhood friend and current boyfriend Azusa sets up a gang rape to exact revenge on Hatsumi’s father for ills done to his mother, which Aihara clearly intends for her audience to take seriously. When Azusa begins to remove Hatsumi’s clothing, Aihara conceals his face, utilizing a common manga technique for representing a strong negative emotion, and uses dark screentones to emphasize his threat (3: 34). Throughout the page Hatsumi’s face clearly displays the stress of the situation, with her eyebrows knit together in shock, her mouth hanging open in protest, flush marks on her cheeks, and a sweatdrop to indicate anxiety and discomfort. The final character on the page, Ryoki, displays horror at the situation, his face exhibiting flush marks like Hatsumi’s and eyes wide open without pupils or reflection spots. Aihara presents the gang rape as a serious, dramatic incident and as an obvious threat to Hatsumi and her wellbeing.
Ryoki’s first attempt to have sex with Hatsumi directly contrasts with the gang rape episode; while Aihara takes the threat of six men seriously, she treats Ryoki’s attempt as character-defining comedy. Ryoki’s first try occurs shortly after Hatsumi becomes his slave. The incident can easily be likened to attempted rape: at this early point in the narrative, Hatsumi still hates Ryoki and Ryoki has no feelings for Hatsumi other than irritation. Unlike the later gang rape, Aihara portrays this occurrence in a distinctly comic manner, as can be seen when Ryoki removes Hatsumi’s coat, Ryoki dead serious and Hatsumi freaking out (1: 90). Hatsumi’s response shows her to be overreacting; instead of the standard flush marks, she has the parallel forehead lines of comic depression or stress, and her face has four sweatdrops instead of one, conveying an excess of worry and panic. The following panel cements the comic nature of the interaction; the rectangular panel set on a diagonal shows an unusual circumstance, and the background of polka dots and crayon-drawn spirals highlights the alleged silliness. The effect differs greatly from that of the gang rape and continues with how the characters look within the panel. Ryoki continues to appear serious and set on his task, the “straight man” of the panel, while Aihara draws Hatsumi in an almost super-deformed style with exaggeratedly large eyes and hairs wildly sticking out of her head, the “funny man” reacting to Ryoki’s seriousness. Without the accompanying images, Hatsumi’s cries of “NO! I SAID, WAIT!!” could be taken seriously as a reasonable objection, but the comic images reduce the words to a joke about Hatsumi and how helpless she is.
When the couple experience their first kiss, what begins as consensual quickly becomes painful for Hatsumi as Ryoki ignores what she wants and takes control of the kiss himself, showing what little consent she gives to be meaningless within their relationship. Once Hatsumi has agreed to be Ryoki’s girlfriend-in-training, he kisses her and immediately notes that “she isn’t trying… to get away…,” finally coming to the conclusion that “this must be… a consensual kiss” (5: 152). Indicating the rarity and specialness of this moment of consent from Hatsumi, sparkles surround these words, while the text “AH, CONSENT! HOW SPLENDID IT IS!” floats next to a simplified drawing of the couple kissing. On the following page, however, Ryoki once again wrests control from Hatsumi’s hands, causing her to think, “Hey! Oh. Uh, umm… Ooh… Omigod! His tongue… Eeeek! His tongue just…” (5: 153). The images of Hatsumi which accompany these thoughts alternate between enjoying the kiss with her eyes closed and opening them in surprise, until Ryoki shoves her roughly to the floor. After this action, Hatsumi thinks frantically, “Woah, woah, woooah! Hold on! I just hit my head real hard on the floor! Ryoki let go of me! I’m in total pain here!!” (5: 154). While Hatsumi’s words sound serious, the drawing of Ryoki forcefully kissing Hatsumi with a “MWORGH MWORGH” is not, as the characters have been drawn in a simplified, cutesy style and Hatsumi’s legs are thrown up in the air in a sign of comic resistance. The final frame of the kiss shows Hatsumi thinking what is obvious to the readers, that “[t]his is hopeless. He’s totally oblivious…,” back in the normal style with a tear leaking from her eye (5: 155). Ryoki clearly cares little for Hatsumi’s comfort or desires, and, once she has given the slightest bit of consent, he takes advantage of her.
Even during the couple’s first time having sex, Ryoki takes Hatsumi’s consent as license to push her into doing things she feels uncomfortable with while ignoring her objections. Immediately upon her consenting to have sex, Ryoki begins to undress Hatsumi, not listening to her protests of, “B-but the lights’re still on and everyth… Hey… Wait…” (12: 95). Rather than looking aroused, Hatsumi appears to be in pain, wincing away from Ryoki with her eyes closed, eyebrows upturned, and mouth drawn down while Ryoki pulls off her shirt. On the following page, an embarrassed, flushed Hatsumi says, “Heyy… No… Stop, this is embar…,” to which Ryoki sharply responds, “Uh-uh, no way!” (12: 96). Looking distressed, with eyebrows upturned, cheeks flushed, sweating, and mouth open and downturned, Hatsumi complains, “B-but, look, the door… The door to your room, it’s open… I don’t like it… that it’s open… Hey. Ryoki… Can we close it? Heyyy. Please? Ryoki…” (12: 96). Ryoki finally agrees to close the door, but he appears upset about it, with his eyebrows drawn down and his mouth pulled down in disagreement while he grumbles, “Talk about fussy!” (12: 97). Throughout the entirety of her first sexual encounter, Hatsumi acts as if she were uncertain and in pain, objecting to Ryoki’s actions but unable to get him, or the reader, to take her objections seriously.
Normalization of Abuse
While Ryoki frequently sexually assaults Hatsumi, he also abuses her verbally and physically almost constantly throughout Hot Gimmick, berating her for her stupidity, telling her how she should think, and punishing her when she disregards his orders. Only when Ryoki abuses Hatsumi as a child does the series show his violence as serious; the remainder of the time, it glosses over the abuse by normalizing it within the relationship and treating it as comedy or as an expression of Ryoki’s love for Hatsumi. A scene of Ryoki and Hatsumi in elementary school displays Ryoki abusing Hatsumi, showing his treatment of Hatsumi to be habitual, rather than stemming from her later position as his slave. At the top of the page, a grumpy Ryoki glowers at Hatsumi, his arms crossed, eyebrows furrowed, mouth downturned, and with lines under his eyes to emphasize his displeasure; Hatsumi looks about to cry, cheeks flushed, eyebrows upturned, and sweating in her anxiety (2: 7). Their team has just lost to another team in a weekly morning mini-drill competition, despite Ryoki’s top score. Following a small break in the page, Ryoki pushes Hatsumi against the wall with a large “THONK!,” crying, “Jeez! You dumb-bell! What’s wrong with you? Those drills are so easy! It’s only cuz you’re so stupid that our team’s never going to win!” (2: 7). Ryoki does this in front of an audience, explaining to their classmates why Hatsumi bears the responsibility for their failure, no one else. Ryoki’s words and actions visibly affect Hatsumi, as in one panel she looks down, stuttering, “S…sorry…” while flushing and sweating so profusely that sweatdrops even hang in the air next to her face; in the following panel, Hatsumi clenches her eyes shut, a tear coming out, as Ryoki berates her further (2: 7). Hot Gimmick treats this scene as traumatizing for Hatsumi; only Azusa can save her from Ryoki’s torment, but it clearly left its lasting impression, coming back to her in a dream which relates to her insecurities about herself and her ability to speak up for herself.
Verbal abuse continues to be the norm early on in the series, as Ryoki ridicules Hatsumi’s intelligence whenever he can, reinforcing her low self-esteem. When Ryoki first finds Hatsumi with her sister’s pregnancy test, she thinks, “I am SO DUMB,” showing her own view of herself and her actions (1: 38). Ryoki reiterates this idea as he immediately insults the intelligence of her and her family, telling Hatsumi that her sister Akane “must be stupid. Oh, sorry. Not ‘must be stupid’ … is stupid, like the rest of you” (1: 38-9). Ryoki states this comment without a care for Hatsumi’s feelings, walking away from the crouching Hatsumi without looking back, while her face flushes in embarrassment. Ryoki’s words obviously affect Hatsumi, as in the last image on the page a dark screentone covers Hatsumi as she looks off the page, indicating her heavy thoughts, while the word “DAZE” floats next to her, spelling out her emotions for the reader. Though Hatsumi quickly recovers and continues to ask Ryoki to forget the pregnancy test, his comment sticks in her memory, building upon all of his previous insults and reinforcing her view of herself as stupid.
Physical abuse from Ryoki has also continued until Hatsumi enters high school, but the series normalizes this behavior by presenting it in a light-hearted way, showing it not to be a real problem for Hatsumi. After Hatsumi has had her friend Subaru return Ryoki’s handkerchief, instead of doing it herself as she was ordered, Ryoki shoves Hatsumi into the ground with his foot, claiming, “Oops. Guess my foot slipped” (2: 45). The shove itself looks violent enough, with Hatsumi pushed forward with a “ZWONK” and speed lines to show the force of her movement; however, her face suggests a comic rather than a serious shock, with her eyes drawn in parallel lines widely apart, a tiny dot for her iris, and a sideways V for her mouth (2 :44). In the aftermath, Subaru cries “HATSUMI!,” but he does not take action, even though Hatsumi has been forced onto all fours on the ground (2: 45). Instead of looking actually hurt by Ryoki’s actions, Hatsumi appears only embarrassed in the following panel, looking at Ryoki with sweatdrops, flyaway hairs, and a deformed face of worry. Ryoki’s face also looks deformed and less than serious, with his eyes consisting of many simple straight lines and his mouth a sideways V, contrasting with the detail put into his hair, ear, and clothing. Aihara draws Hatsumi’s crying as broad, wavy tears, while her eyes are V’s with an extra line in them, showing her reaction to Ryoki’s torment in a comically simplified style. By drawing the characters in a simplified, deformed style instead of in a more realistic manner, Aihara portrays the overall situation as normal instead of abnormal, as mere comedy instead of a serious instance of abuse.
Perhaps the strongest indication of the normalization of Ryoki’s abuse occurs when Hatsumi perceives its lack as indicative of Ryoki’s deeper feelings for her. After Hatsumi has asked Ryoki out on a date, she proceeds to worry about her brother the whole time, and, when they run into him, Ryoki gets so upset that he drags Hatsumi away by her hand. When he drops it, Hatsumi cowers on instinct, thinking, “Oh no! He’s gonna hit me” (5: 114). Showing the silliness of her normal reaction, a comical thought bubble of Ryoki hitting Hatsumi accompanies an image of her drawn in a simplified style with large dots in the background. Instead of hitting Hatsumi, though, Ryoki walks away, an outcome so surprising that Hatsumi can only stare blankly, eyes wide open, irises without color, and mouth a wide, downturned rectangle, saying, “EHHH?” (5: 115). On the following page, Hatsumi reads into Ryoki’s feelings through his actions, thinking, “…But Hey… I don’t know. He seems kinda… down. (He didn’t even smack me)” (5: 116). Tilted to show the severity of his feelings, an image of Ryoki walking away dominates the lower half of the page and crosses three panels to show how heavily he weighs in Hatsumi’s thoughts. The episode ends with Hatsumi running after Ryoki and thinking, “I can’t just ditch him and go back… When I see him walking away like that” (5: 117). Through Ryoki’s abnormal behavior of not abusing her, Hatsumi has gained insight into his feelings, showing his abuse to be both normal and a sign of his affection for her.
Once Hatsumi has become Ryoki’s girlfriend-in-training, she continues to read his abuse as coded messages about his feelings for her, showing his abuse as a typical form of communication within their relationship. After Ryoki slaps Hatsumi upon his return from Australia, Hot Gimmick immediately assigns fault to Hatsumi, not Ryoki. Following the cliffhanger ending of the slap, the next volume opens with Ryoki explaining events from his point-of-view and thinking, “This is all her fault” (8: 9). Once Ryoki has walked off in anger, his mother tells Hatsumi, “I’m sure..you must have done something to upset my Ryoki like that” (8: 14). Though her brother defends Hatsumi, she agrees, saying, “That was my fault…,” and thinking to herself, “Usually… …At times like that, I think Ryoki’s really scary. But now, even though he hit me… He didn’t scare me at all” (8: 17, 17-8). Accompanying these words, images of Hatsumi show her as forlorn. The first picture of Hatsumi suggests depression, as she looks downward, eyebrows turned up in the middle, and touches her bruise while a dark screentone covers her. The second drawing further shows her thoughts to be with Ryoki, emphasized by her hand still touching her bruise with her eyes closed in thought (8: 17, 18). Later, Hatsumi takes all the blame and apologizes to Ryoki for not understanding his feelings; Ryoki acts as if he were in the right and does not apologize, merely stating “…I won’t slap you across the face anymore…” (8: 28). The chapter closes with the insinuation of Hatsumi kissing Ryoki, as in two panels she takes off his glasses, followed by an image of the lower legs of the couple close together, with Hatsumi standing on tip-toe, presumably to reach his lips (8: 30). During this scene, Hatsumi’s thoughts read, “I think I might be ready… To be his girlfriend for real” (8: 30). Rather than being driven to break up with Ryoki based on his abuse of her, Hatsumi views it as normal and as a way of gaining insight into his feelings. This presents an extremely dangerous example for young readers who may read into a slap by their boyfriends in much the same manner and so accept their promises never to do it again and continue on with an unhealthy relationship.
Problematic Alternative Ending
For those who love Hot Gimmick but loathe Ryoki, a short novel entitled Hot Gimmick S explores the possibility of Hatsumi choosing her adopted brother Shinogu over Ryoki in the penultimate volume. While an alternate ending written by Megumi Nishizaki, Hot Gimmick S received Aihara’s full support, as she provided illustrations for the novel, a short comic, and even helped Nishizaki “at the stage of drafting the story line” (149). Aihara states in her afterword, “I’m not averse to the idea of a story having different endings depending on the choices the characters make along the way” (151). She continues on to fully endorse the ending, suggesting that “Ryoki fans could just ignore this as a parallel story…while Shinogu fans can regard this as having the true ending,” allowing Hot Gimmick S to potentially outweigh her own original ending (151). However, while Hot Gimmick S allows Shinogu supporters to hope that Hatsumi can eventually end up with him, the novel still contains the problematic portrayal of relationships which plagued the original manga series.
Unlike the manga, Hot Gimmick S attempts to portray Ryoki’s abuse of Hatsumi as a deal-breaker in their relationship, but Hatsumi’s constant justification of her actions undercuts their seeming veracity. The first chapter, entitled “I Fell for Someone I Shouldn’t Have,” summarizes the contents of Hot Gimmick while stressing how Hatsumi’s feelings for Ryoki were involuntary with frequent thoughts such as, “I really don’t want to fall in love with him. I really don’t…” (17). Finally, the defeated Hatsumi decides that while she “tried so hard to make it work” with Ryoki, “[i]t was time to give up on it” (28). Later, instead of resolutely sticking with her decision to leave an unhealthy relationship, Hatsumi wavers, narrating, “I told myself that everything was over between Ryoki and me,” even though she “was in the depths of despair because of the breakup” (29). The following day, Hatsumi still attempts to argue to herself why she should give up Ryoki, reasoning, “He was kind, like, one percent of the time–and the rest of the time he was domineering and selfish. There was no way I could put up with that” (31). However, Hatsumi obviously still has feelings for Ryoki. She goes to his apartment but “just ha[s] to run away” when she catches Ryoki kissing another girl. She berates herself, “I am such a fool. A complete idiot. Why on earth did I go there?” (32, 34). Though Hot Gimmick S tries to depict Ryoki’s treatment of Hatsumi in a negative light, Hatsumi’s forgiving behavior and strong feelings undercut its effectiveness, continuing the apologetic portrayal of Ryoki begun by Aihara within Hot Gimmick proper.
Deepening the problems of Hot Gimmick S, Hatsumi struggles to convince herself that her brother Shinogu may be the best option for her romantically. At the beginning of the novel, Hatsumi throws herself at Shinogu, thinking, “If I was with Shinogu, I’d never be hurt again” (34). Shinogu, however, recognizes Hatsumi’s insincerity and tells her, “You don’t have to do this in order to force yourself to forget Ryoki,” showing that Hatsumi is running to Shinogu out of desperation, not out of true romantic feelings (35). Later, Hatsumi continues to think of Shinogu as a brother despite their increased closeness, narrating, “If I asked myself now, however, if I could throw myself into his arms, not in desperation, but for real…I didn’t think I could” (99). Even towards the end of the novel, Hatsumi comes to realize her true love for Shinogu and acknowledges “that he’s the one [she] love[s] best,” but she “still can’t say what type of love it is,” undoing the seeming progress she has made (134). The novel ends with Hatsumi convincing herself that she will come to love Shinogu romantically, thinking, “I’m sure…some time soon… Yes…it won’t be long… […] I’ll stop viewing him as my brother. I’m certain of it” (146). Hatsumi’s final thoughts show that coming to view one’s brother romantically, whether biological or adopted, is not an easy or a plausible task, as she has to convince herself that it is a natural continuation of her feelings for Shinogu.
Rather than allowing Hatsumi to look for better alternatives, Hot Gimmick S exchanges Hatsumi’s unhealthy, abusive relationship with Ryoki for an unhealthy, incestuous relationship with her brother. The text itself presents the incestuous idea as taboo, with a devilish Hatsumi probing about her feelings, telling her, “Don’t forget. Shinogu is a guy,” while the angel Hatsumi cries, “Don’t be ridiculous!,” representing how Hatsumi’s morals argue against the idea (123). Shinogu may be a nice guy, but that does not mean that Hatsumi should force herself to fall in love with him as she seems to throughout the novel. Moreover, why must Hatsumi pick from the three main men of Hot Gimmick when none of them presents the possibility for a healthy relationship? Rather than restricting Hatsumi to pick the one nice guy of the series, a better ending might have her going to college and finding a better guy than Ryoki, Shinogu, or Azusa. Hot Gimmick S may show that Hatsumi does not have to stay in her abusive relationship with Ryoki, but it provides an alternative just as objectionable, perhaps influencing its readers to pick from the unhealthy choices surrounding them, instead of encouraging young girls to wait it out and look for a better relationship in the future.
Though Hot Gimmick may not be the newest or most popular shôjo manga to come out of Japan, it reflects a major trend among popular shôjo manga in the United States, where plain, ordinary girls find themselves playing the submissive role in relationships and giving in to the dominant tendencies of their love interests. This trend crosses many series, ranging from subtle appearances to more severe instances. The classic Fruits Basket, proclaimed “[t]he #1 selling shojo manga in America!” on the covers, presents the shy, polite, and submissive Tohru Honda and her aggressive, but well-meaning, love interest Kyo Sohma. More recently, the bestselling Vampire Knight portrays the life of Yuki Cross, a normal girl with vampires for love interests, both of whom frequently bite her, indicating her complete submission to their desires. More obvious than Fruits Basket and less abstract than Vampire Knight, Hot Gimmick takes the issues of female submission and male dominance to an extreme and as such becomes representative of the trend in general among shôjo manga in America.
Interestingly, this trend among popular shôjo manga in America differs from popular series in Japan, showing this trend to be mainly American in origin. Though Japanese culture supports the submission of women to their husbands and their families, often subordinating everything else in their lives, the most popular shôjo manga in Japan portray the opposite, often with female leads who seek to pursue their careers over love or who take on dominant roles in their relationships. In the best-selling shôjo series of 2009, NANA, Nana Osaki gives up her romance in order to realize her dream of becoming a rock star; later on, when her roommate Nana Komatsu falls into an abusive relationship, the series presents this as having a negative impact on Nana Komatsu as an individual and on her relationship with Nana Osaki (“2009 Japanese Comic Ranking, #1-25”). The next shôjo manga on the list, Nodame Cantabile, follows Megumi Noda as she comes to seek a life as a world-renowned pianist, rather than as a humble wife who gives piano lessons. Certainly, series like Fruits Basket, Vampire Knight, and Hot Gimmick proved popular enough in Japan to warrant licensing in America, but in Japan they play second fiddle to series with more confident and aggressive female leads, women who are not afraid to state what they want and to take charge of a situation. This preference in Japan could be seen as indicative of shôjo manga’s use as an escape by young women, who want to imagine a world where they remain free to take charge of their own futures and lives, rather than being forced by society to subordinate themselves to the needs of their husbands.
One could argue that, as a product of Japanese society and popular culture, shôjo manga deserves little scrutiny within American culture, as the two cultures possess very different values and norms regarding the behavior of women. However, as shôjo manga has fairly bloomed in importance for teenage girls in America, these series can fairly be studied within an American context, as the series influence their young readership, regardless of their country of origin. Series such as Hot Gimmick, which convey ideas vastly differing from the cultural norm and which may influence their young readership, necessitate discussion of these ideas. As such, the purpose of this paper is not to lead to censorship, removal, or banning of series like Hot Gimmick but rather to raise awareness of issues within the series and to promote critical reading of popular shôjo manga series. While we may celebrate the popularity of a different kind of comic within America and the increased female audience of manga, we need to remember to look beyond the form to question the content and whether or not it raises concerns with the messages it presents.
“2009 Japanese Comic Ranking, #1-25.” Anime News Network. Anime News Network, 3 Dec. 2009. Web. 7 Mar. 2010.
Aihara, Miki. Hot Gimmick. Trans. Pookie Rolf. 12 vols. San Francisco: Viz Media, 2003-6. Print.
“Graphic Books.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 Jan. 2010. Web. 2 Feb. 2010.
Nishizaki, Megumi. Hot Gimmick S. Trans. Sawaka Kawashima and John Werry. San Francisco: Viz Media, 2007. Print.