Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Sweat and Soap
Asako has always been hyper aware of her own body odor – she sweats a lot and suffered for most of her school years with the nickname “Astinko,” which left her permanently anxious. She's thrilled to work for Liliadrop, a cosmetics company that produces some of her favorite scented soaps, but when a man charges out of nowhere at work demanding to sniff her, she's freaked out – even when he reveals that he's the developer whose work she loves! Kotaro Natori won't be put off by her leeriness, however, and before long Asako's finding that she doesn't mind being smelled by him in this off-beat romance.
Technically speaking, Kintetsu Yamada's Sweat and Soap is a seinen romance rather than a josei, but fans of either demographic can very easily find plenty to enjoy in its pages. It's the rare romance story that doesn't really feel designed for any one gender, spending time in both the hero and the heroine's heads without either of them feeling like they were written by someone who views men and women as totally different species, and that goes a long way to balancing out some of the odder aspects of the story. Natori and Asako are an easy couple to root for, and for many readers, that can cancel out almost any other plot problems.
The main issue here isn't one of the typical ones, either – there's no abusive relationship, no especially weird fetishes or artistic flourishes (like drool or other goopy fluids) that might turn someone off, and both characters act like actual adult people. Rather the main conceit is one that just might feel too odd to some readers in a vaguely uncomfortable way: Natori really, really likes the way that Asako smells. Since this doesn't extend to him shoving his face in her illustratively sweaty armpit or licking her sweat, it mostly just functions as an excuse for him to be physically close to her whenever they're together. And since he's a scent developer for a cosmetics company, smell being his fixation does actually make some sense, something that even the uncomfortable Asako has to acknowledge.
The reason why Asako is uncomfortable doesn't entirely stem from the fact that Natori keeps sniffing her. Her issues believably stem from her childhood, when she was teased by other kids with their finely honed child instincts for honing in on the one thing she was nervous about: her tendency to sweat more than other people. It's worth noting that Asako never says that she smelled worse than other kids before the “Astinko” nickname was bestowed upon her; she simply says that she sweats a lot. The idea that this means she's stinky came entirely from the nickname, which in turn likely came from what the other kids had observed about sweaty adults, whose hormones had kicked in and made sweat equal stink. For Asako, however, this became something she internalized and it came to affect her adult life – she's afraid to get close to people or be in a relationship because she's positive she smells awful, and she hides in the bathroom several times a day to wipe down and apply more deodorant. She's essentially afraid of her own body, and that's got her trapped in a terrible cycle of unneeded self-recrimination.
None of this magically goes away when she meets Natori. She's still nervous and inclined to assume the worst about herself, even as she accepts that he, for whatever reason, finds her attractive. That's a major draw here, since there's no suggestion of Natori “fixing” her or Asako even needing to be needing to be “fixed.” Natori never says or implies that either; her smell may have attracted him initially, but the more time he spends with Asako, the more he likes her as an entire person. They do get together quickly, the result of the series initially being a one-shot, but again this doesn't detract from their relationship or make it run too smoothly, and Yamada is able to throw in organic obstacles for them to overcome without bogging things down in melodrama, although a sort-of potential rival does show up in the final chapter. As an even better bonus, they actually talk to each other, even if there's some dancing around beforehand.
The art is a definite draw here, especially in terms of how it's used to show people's characters. Natori is the clear winner on this front; he has a particular facial expression of surprised disbelief that shows up whenever he's very happy, especially if it's based on something Asako has said or done that really drives home how crazy he is about her and surprised he is that she seems to like him too. Meanwhile Asako's body language is all hunching and hiding, trying to make herself take up as little space as possible around people (who mostly aren't Natori), and that also gives us a good idea of the level of anxiety she's living with without having to spell it out in every chapter. While there are a decent amount of sex scenes, they aren't explicit and we never see Asako's nipples, which is always a little weird, but certainly does keep the rating down.
Sweat and Soap is a story about two bona fide adults with their own issues and oddities finding each other and making a relationship grow and work. While the sniffing thing may be uncomfortable or off-putting for some readers, it's worth giving this a chance anyway – it's easy to get behind Asako and Natori and in romance, that's often the most important thing.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ Characters are likable and easy to root for, some good details in the art. Eschews a lot of the usual genre drama.
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