Sweet Poolside review – an early manga from Shuzo Oshimi.

Sweet Poolside – another classic gem from fan-favourite manga creator Shuzo Oshimi’s back catalogue – makes its English language debut this month. Two middle school swimming club students have problems on opposite ends of the spectrum: Toshihiko Ota is troubled by hairlessness and bullied by his peers, while Ayako Goto garners attention for being too hairy. One day Ayako approaches Toshihiko with a crazy request… will he shave her body hair for her?!

As the Vertical imprint continues to release some of Oshimi’s earliest works, we get a title that is a bit of a departure from what readers would expect. Like other titles in his back catalogue, this one has a premise that in other hands could seem rather off putting. But Oshimi has long had a skill at weaving unconventional scenarios into highly compelling manga series. That being said, this is definitely on the sweeter side of things which is unusual for Oshimi. The majority of his works deal with the ugly side of the world and delving into a person’s dark side. Sweet Poolside falls into neither category.

There are some themes that do crossover with what readers would come to expect in his later works, with teen angst and a refusal to hold back with confronting difficult topics being at the forefront. But Oshimi’s approach here is generally a lot more light-hearted and even dabbles in comedic elements. Once the initial shock of the focus being on body hair has worn off, you actually have a manga that examines adolescence and body image issues in quite a touching manner. Both Toshihiko and Ayako are in situations that many a person could relate to, and their mutual troubles with body hair leads to an unlikely friendship forming.

As with the themes, Oshimi’s art style is recognisable even at this stage of his career. But it is a bit more gentle in its approach than his later projects which are never afraid to play with the readers emotions. These are generally more positive characters than you’d expect from Oshimi which is reflected in how he approaches the art.

Oshimi has a well-defined approach to art and storytelling nowadays, so it is fascinating to see a different style of story from him. Fans of his work should definitely give this one a look to see how he has evolved as a creator.

Sweet Poolside is out 21 February from Vertical (9781647291907, p/b, £12.99)

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