I will admit, manga isn’t something I dabble too often in. Well, not as much as I used to. When I was younger, I would watch anime and read manga, but as time went on, things naturally changed. Until December rolled around. There was something within me that wanted to read a manga. I didn’t know what type of manga I wanted to read, but I felt the itch to dive right in.
*Quick disclaimer: I still regularly read manga (check out my list to see which ones). However, during this month alone, I’ve read so many different manga that today, I wanted to talk about one that I fell in love with, and that’s Ase to Sekken or Sweat and Soap.*
At Liliadrop, a high-class manufacturer of women’s cosmetics, employees are just as outstanding and glamorous as the variety of their products. In contrast stands Asako Yaeshima, a worker formerly nicknamed “Aseko”—”ase” meaning sweat—due to her unusual problem of excessive perspiration.
To deal with her crisis, Asako develops a morning routine: she mixes different scents of Liliadrop soaps and unscented deodorants to mask her body odor. But her effort does not fool Koutarou Natori, a genius fragrance developer at the company with a sensitive and infallible sense of smell.
Koutarou, astounded by Asako’s natural smell combined with the soap, insists on sniffing her every day for a week to save their company’s reputation by creating new Asako-inspired fragrances. With such an important reason at stake, Asako consents but never imagines how close she and Koutarou would soon become.
Now you may be thinking to yourself, “Man, this is one weird manga,” and you know what? The synopsis really does make it seem strange. But, to me, that was what appealed to me the most. I love quirky manga. I also especially love ones that fall into my favourite categories: Comedy, Romance, and Slice of Life.
It was only natural for me to pick up this manga. But how did I stumble across Ase to Sekken? The explore page on my Instagram is majority anime-related content, with the latter being related to Korean culture. Part of the anime-related content I see are pages from different manga, and Ase to Sekken happened to be one of the manga I saw on my explore tab. Curious, I immediately googled it, saw it hit the categories I love, and I knew right then and there that I wanted to read the manga.
I kid you not. I googled Ase to Sekken in the afternoon. I then read the manga that day and into the early morning of that day. Then a few days later, I decided to buy all the physical copies.
If you do want to give Ase to Sekken, I will say right off the bat that this manga does contain mature subject matter and is not suitable for all audiences (I’ve always wanted to say that), but it is true. Our characters, Koutarou Natori and Asako Yaeshima, meet in one of the most unusual ways possible.
Imagine if someone sniffing you is your first encounter with them. Who would then demand that they smell you every day because it brings inspiration. Personally, I think that’s pretty weird, but you know what? In the manga, it works, and I’ll roll with it. That being said, it isn’t always about smelling. I think there are only a handful of chapters where Natori and Asako go on their smelling adventures (Coincidently enough, whenever they started sniffing each other, you knew a little spice was going to happen). It’s just crazy for me to believe that from this one encounter, we see a relationship grow into something that I’ve really come to love.
We have two polar opposites, Asako Yaeshima, who is your introvert. She is self-conscious of her body because she sweats more than the average person. In short, Asako is also someone with very low self-esteem. Then you have Koutarou Natori, who is the complete opposite. He is considered the primary contributor to Lilia Drop’s success in the manga. When you pair someone who comes off as very popular, highly regarded and who is mainly responsible for the company’s success with someone who is none of those things. You get a relationship where there is a lot of growing and compromises to be had, especially when you have two characters that live in almost different worlds.
That’s what appealed to me the most: we had individuals so different from one another co-exist. But then again, maybe that’s why people say to look for a significant other than compliments you. We go from a relationship that consisted of smelling Asako’s body odour for inspiration to one that has grown deeper and a lot more loving. If we were to think about best couples or matches that are in every shape imaginable as close to perfect as it gets, Asako and Natori are on that list. Of course, not everything about their relationship has gone to plan (which is something I appreciate). There are plenty of growing pains that they endure, either alone or together. However, something that always warmed my heart was that they leaned on each other for support regardless of what was on their mind.
In this case, Asako is the more fragile and timid character, so her growth as a character was something I loved. Slowly over the course of each chapter, she grows to be more appreciative. With the help of Natori, Asako is gradually breaking free and is shaking off the burdens and insecurities she had about herself. In each chapter, you see the admiration and affection Asako and Natori deepen, but more importantly, we see Asako start to love herself more and more, and that’s what I really love.
Asako and Natori were made for each other, and their story together has been something I’ve enjoyed immensely. It’s a simple relationship. It’s a relationship where character development is at an all-time high, and if you’re into character development, then I suggest reading the manga. Even though we have two main characters, it’s made abundantly clear that Ase to Sekken was a story about Asako. In my opinion, Natori’s sole purpose is to support Asako as she slowly becomes more comfortable in her own skin. There is no better way to help her do so than by being the only man who will smell and sniff the heck out of Asako’s body odour and like it.
Is Ase to Sekken (Sweat and Soap) a somewhat kinky manga? Yeah, I guess it is. However, the story the manga tells is something I think is very beautiful and beautifully told.