By Naruo Kusugawa. Released originally in Japan by Akita Shoten, serialized in the magazine Young Champion. Rights now owned by (and reprint put out by) Enterbrain. Not available in North America.
Content warning: this review will be discussing explicit sex, which appears throughout these two volumes. If you aren't of age to read about it, don't.
It has to be said, there are certain things that are very popular in Japan that, with the odd exception, just haven't sold here, for all sorts of reasons. Sports manga is one of the most obvious, as is the huge amount of series involving 'delinquents' or youth gangs. And then there's sex comedies. No, not the sort you get in typical shonen magazines (though those also don't seem to sell well lately, unless there's a supernatural element. Strange as Ranma, Love Hina, and Oh My Goddess were the big thing in the mid-late 1990s.). No, I'm talking actual comedies, written for adult guys, with lots of actual sex. We've only really seen this attempted here with Tokyopop's aborted attempt to release Futari Ecchi (aka Manga Sutra), which bombed partly due to the economy but more due to the dullness of its leads.
It may come as a surprise to hear that there are a lot of these. They aren't quite as common as they were back in the late 80s-early 90s (the era of the title I will eventually be talking about), But they're still definitely there, in the pages of Big Comic Spirits, or Manga Action, or virtually anything with the word 'Young' in its name. A lot of them are essentially the same shonen harem comedies only written for grownups, with the heroines all now being a lot more successful in their efforts to get into the heroes' pants. I have a certain fondness for seeking out these titles... not for the sex itself, necessarily, but simply as they tend to be very, very STRANGE. Titles like Kobayashi Makoto's Chichonmanchi, with its virgin's hell of flying penises and various grotesqueries. And even current fare like Ecce S, a Spirits title by Taku Kitazaki about a man who has a hypnotic magical tattoo on his ass that makes any woman who sees it want to have sex with him. Titles that make you stare for a bit and then say "Oh, Japan. (sigh)"
Luckily, Soap Girl Moko is far more of a normal, typical sex comedy. For those unaware, a 'soap girl' is a prostitute. Officially, the places where the girls work offer public baths to men who may want to relax after a long day. In reality, the girls offer varieties of sexual acts, though do also give baths, mostly as prostitution is technically illegal in Japan. There's tons of Soapland places, though. Our heroine, Moko, starts the first volume as a neophyte soap girl, still learning on the job. We learn she started after rescuing a man from committing suicide (several times), and leading him to a Soapland, where his morale (among other things) is raised by the head girl there. Moko is inspired by this, and decides to become a soap girl so that she can help people.
No, really, she does. There is no question at all, throughout any of this series, that it is written solely for adult guys as a typical guy fantasy. This isn't reality, nor do you want it to be. The girls are all varying degrees of nice, though most of them have more of a realistic bent than Moko, who's your standard fluffhead with a heart of gold. The owner of the Soapland is your typical frustrated young manager who get aggravated by Moko's clumsiness and slipups. Her regular clients we see more than once tend to all be nice guys. It is, for a manga that usually features an explicit sex scene every 3-4 pages, very clean. But you have to wrap your head around the basic plot of the manga, which is that sex can help solve most of life's problems.
There's a tiny bit of character development as the series goes on. Moko starts off as a complete ditz, and towards the start of the series I actually Tweeted "Worst. Hooker. Ever." She's clumsy, she's awkward, she accidentally bites her clients right where you never want to be bitten... it's sad. Luckily the author knows that this sort of characterization would not be feasible for a long running series, and has Moko learn from experience fairly quickly. Her girl next door looks and sweet personality make her one of the place's more popular girls (in fact, there's a story discussing how her rocket in popularity is completely exhausting her), along with her seemingly genuine desire to get to know most of her clients. She also really comes to like sex, which lends itself very well to using her body to help her clients, her neighbors, her friends, guys who accidentally hit her with her car...
The plots for these sound like they were taken from "Bob's Big Book of 70s Porn", they're so cliched. There's guys dealing with impotence, cheating guys who Moko reunites with their estranged spouse, bitter old vice-presidents who quickly soften (well... really the opposite) after getting to know Moko, kids trying to lose their virginity who fake being 18 so they can get in, clients who get so enamored of the girl they like that they try to propose... you name it, it's in here. That said, it's rather refreshing what isn't in here. Because the plot is about a certain whitewashed form of prostitution, all the sex here is completely consensual. Rape is mostly absent (one attempt leads to Moko successfully fighting the guy off), and the one bit of disturbing sadism (Moko's overenthusiastic client gives her welts on her back from whipping her) has the other soap girls uniting to teach him a bit of his own medicine. No women here are meek little wallflowers - not even Moko.
I've been describing this as explicit, which it is - we see lots of sex, and Moko is nude a great deal of the time. That said, this still ran in a mainstream Japanese magazine from 1990-1994, so there is some self-censorship. There are no bodily fluids on display. Moko has visible nipples, but her nether regions are just suggested. The men's privates are either whited out or shown in sillhouette - even the intersex women, who comes to Moko to help with her self-identity crisis. This, by the way, leads to Moko dressing up in a Western suit and hat with a little mustache, possibly the funniest panel in the entire book (and she still looks really sexy, too.) The art style of the characters themselves is very mid-late 80s, and seems influenced by both Hojo's City Hunter and Takahashi's Ranma. We see giant heads when characters are mad, for example, and sweatdrops are abundant.
The Western World is likely more familiar with this than they think. In 1994, after the manga was winding down, an anime was made of the series, also called Soap Girl Moko. This was then bought by Kitty Media in North America, who put it out on VHS (and later DVD) as My Fair Masseuse. It was a popular adult title for people who avoided adult titles, likely for the same reasons I liked this manga - it was refreshing to see a hentai anime that didn't feature rape and showed sex actually being enjoyable to men and women. That said, don't get this expecting anything other than what it is - sanitized porn for young college guys. It's just well-told, fun sanitized porn for young college guys.
I said this was a license request, more due to habit when discussing a Japanese title not out in English than anything else. (It's not even scanlated! Gasp!) But honestly, in this market? I can't see this selling. As has been mentioned before, women buy while men download, and this is very much a title for men. It's likely too explicit for the mainstream publishers, but at the same time it's not hardcore enough for Icarus, I suspect. So if you're interested, you might want to track down the original Japanese. Enterbrain bought the rights to the series about 2 years ago, and re-released it in 4 'bunkoban' volumes of about 325 pages each, which sell for about 830 yen. Do it for Moko, won't you?