Sweat and Soap, Vol. 1

By Kintetsu Yamada. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Morning. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Matt Treyvaud.

I will note right off the bat that the lead couple get together very fast in this manga – which makes sense, as the first chapter was written as a one-shot. It’s also a good thing, because if this had been a slow-burner I might have dropped it. There’s a weird consent thing going on at the start, where Asako, the heroine, is clearly uncomfortable with the attention of Kotaro, but also finds him immediately attractive and magnetic. He’s also doing his best to hold back while also begging her “let me smell you every day!”. Fortunately, there’s a better reason in this manga than the usual one you’d expect. Also fortunately, once the manga settles in beyond one chapter it becomes less about smelling this woman’s natural body odor and more about a shy and awkward woman navigating her first romance, with all the highs and lows that this entails. It ended up being quite a sweet read… especially as it does end up doubling back and talking about when things are appropriate and wne they aren’t. Mostly.

Asako has grown up sweating a lot, which caused her to be a bit of an outcast as a kid, and now as an adult she still has the same issues. As a result, she’s happy to be working at Liliadrop, makers of soaps, toiletries, and other bath products that help her get through her day. Then one day she runs into the chief product developer… who can smell her natural scent. And really likes it. Like, really REALLY likes it. To a somewhat inappropriate level. Of course, he’s also attracted to her as a shy, sweet girl. And so, after saving her from a subway creeper, they go back to her place and make love. Now she has to negotiate this new relationship in reverse, getting to know Kotaro and finding boundaries where he can feel free to smell her but perhaps not when it’s too embarrassing. That said, he’s very popular at the company, so she chooses to hide their relationship for now. A choice she may regret…

I really liked the two leads, which was a bit of a surprise given one of them is introduced by “I’m not going to hurt you, I just want a good sniff”. But Kotaro is merely socially inept, and when he realizes how uncomfortable he’s making Asako, he backs off… mostly. Well, somewhat. Fortunately for the reader, the artist is good at drawing embarrassment, and Asako is very cute. The best chapter is the one where they go on a date, and we see a) Kotaro trying to stop himself smelling her in public, and consequently getting more and more uncomfortable, and b) Asako thinking this means he’s having a horrible time. In the end, it’s about good communication, as always. The manga is not that explicit, but it’s worth noting that there are a couple of sex scenes here… including the morning after where we see blood on Asako’s bedsheets, something not normally seen in titles like these.

So yes, there is a bit of fetishism here for the natural body odor of a woman. But come for that, and stay for the attractive leads and their adorable if hella embarrassing romance.

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