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Sweat and Soap Vol. 1
Author: Ross Liversidge

Ross founded the UK Anime Network waaay back in 1995 and works in and around the anime world in his spare time.

Sweat and Soap Vol. 1

Kodansha Comics
Kintetsu Yamada

Asako works for a famous toiletries company called Liliadrop. Something of a wallflower with a perspiration problem, she keeps to herself in the finance department. One fateful meeting with the company's perfumery superstar, Natori, changes her romantic trajectory, as he seems overly excited and enamoured by her natural scent. Will her love life be My Chemical Romance or Fifty Shades of Spray?

As an older manga reader, I was delighted to see a more mature love story at play here. Thanks to the author's original intent of creating a one-shot story, the first chapter moves at a cracking and exciting pace, with both of our leads accepting each other's eccentricities and becoming a credible and endearing couple. The last time I saw a Japanese romantic comedy get the initial pairing out of the way this fast was the sublime Kare Kano (His and Her Circumstances).

Subsequent chapters deal with Asakao's lack of self confidence and Natori's obsession with smelling his partner. It's clear that the author realised he needed to round out his cast, as other employees are quickly dropped into the story to complicate proceedings. Reika Tsubaki, Natori's no-nonsense boss looks to be an interesting thorn in the side of our love-birds, and stammering Ichonose, his co-worker, drops an interesting cliff-hanger at the end of the first volume.

Artwork on the book is fantastic - Asako's plain-Jane persona is very much in the vein of Anastasia Steele (without the daft name obviously) and Kintetsu Yamada's art perfectly captures her nervous energy. Likewise, Natori is handsome but odd, and his serious stare is always amusing. He's sensitive to Asoka's insecurity and does his best to mitigate it in as thoughtful a manner he knows how. There are scenes of sex throughout the book, and unusually for manga, initiated by the male lead - not for Yamada the nervous virgin loser in awe of some flirtatious babe, a trope that populates so many other books. The art here is tasteful, it's certainly no Saki the Succubus, just two adults in a natural setting making love in a romantic and passionate manner. Refreshing.

Because of this maturity, I was far more invested in the book than I had expected to be (it's been sat on the shelf for a month waiting to be discovered). Once I started reading, I made it through the first volume and immediately jumped on Amazon to order the next two. That's a pretty rare occurrence and indicative of just how much I enjoyed this initial offering.

Kodansha have a habit of releasing interesting, non-Shonen titles, and I think there's plenty for fans of comedy and romance in here. Natori may be a boss with a weird fetish chasing a wallflower, but he's far more relatable and charming than Christian Gray (the film version at least - I suppose being forced to watch them gave me context for this review at least. Um, thanks Bryony. I guess...)

Engaging leads, great art and a unique premise, this book's nothing to sniff at.
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