Sunday, April 5, 2020

REVIEW: Sweat and Soap (manga, vol. 1) by Kintetsu Yamada, translated by Matt Treyvaud

Sweat and Soap is a romantic comedy manga. It's licensed by Kodansha Comics.


When she was a child, Asako was bullied for the way she sweated, and she's been painfully self-conscious about her body odor ever since. She now works in the Finance Department of her favorite toiletries and cosmetics company, Liliadrop, and although the company's soaps and other products give her happiness, she still worries so much about her body odor that it pretty much dictates her whole life. She keeps quiet and still so she won't work up a sweat, and she spends her work breaks reapplying deodorant.

Then one day a man comes up to her at work, sniffs her, and declares that she smells amazing and that, for the good of the company, he must sniff her every day. Natori is a planner in Liliadrop's production development. He's supposed to come up with ideas for the company's Winter soap lineup, but he's been drawing a blank. Asako's scent inspires him and, although the idea of being sniffed makes her anxious, Asako wants to help the man behind the soaps she loves so much. But what if there's more than just soap inspiration brewing between them?

Before reading the review that inspired me to buy this, I'd seen this work around multiple times and always scrolled past it without even bothering to look at its product page. I honestly didn't even know how it was tagged or what age range it was aimed at - I saw the cover art and automatically assumed it was rapey porn aimed at guys with a particular interest in on-page bodily fluids.

In reality, it's a quirky workplace romance that includes some steamy moments and a couple non-explicit sex scenes. There's more on-page nudity on her part than on his, but it's of the Barbie doll variety, with nipple-less breasts. The focus is more on Asako and Natori and their developing relationship than on sex.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this. I've actually read it three times now and am very much looking forward to the next volume. Natori wasn't the alpha jerk the cover art had me assuming he'd be. He was confident about his sense of smell and abilities as a soap creator, but more awkward when it came to his and Asako's romantic relationship, even though he didn't have Asako's pile of insecurities. Asako had spent so much of her life being small and quiet that it carried over into their relationship - she'd avoid talking about things that worried or upset her because she didn't want to upset or bother Natori. This caused some minor problems, but I was pleasantly surprised at a conversation they had at the end of the volume, and I'm crossing my fingers that jealousy (on her part) won't become volume 2's big issue.

In some ways, Asako and Natori's relationship made me think of Kimi no Todoke's Sawako and Kazehaya. Natori was the popular guy, always surrounded by people and generally comfortable in his own skin, while Asako, like Sawako, was more reserved and painfully aware of the negative effect she might be having on others (although in Asako's case it was more in her head - there was zero indication that anyone in her adult life thought she smelled bad or sweated more than other people).

The beginning of this volume, in particular, may throw some people off. Natori's Asako-sniffing sessions tended to look like quick workplace trysts, and there was one bit where he got a little too into it and started to cross a line, freaking Asako out. While I liked that he realized he'd done something inappropriate and apologized, I wished Asako hadn't felt the need to say that she was the one who should apologize. During my rereads, though, I realized that it fit her character - she was smoothing things over and avoiding conflict as best she could.

I wish I'd discovered this series after a few more volumes had been released - I'd love it if I could immediately read more. I'm looking forward to seeing where the author goes with this. Here's hoping the next few volumes are as enjoyable as this one.


A two-page manga-style afterword by the author, plus a two-page bonus comic about Asako's bra shopping trip after her first night at Natori's place. One thing the afterword revealed that I hadn't realized: the manga's first chapter was originally a one-shot.

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