Each chapter would have focused on two horny junior high girls in a bathhouse.

Right up until last Friday, things seemed to be going pretty well for manga Act-Age and its fans. After debuting in 2018 in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump, the series had built up a respectably sized fanbase, with no more than three months passing between the release of collected volumes, the 12th of which just came out in July. Casting was underway for a live-action stage play, and with that much interest being shown in the series, an anime adaptation announcement in near future wasn’t an unreasonable hope either.

Then came the shocking news that Act-Age author Tatsuya Matsumoto (also known by his pen name, Tatsuya Matsuki) had been arrested for two separate ride-by gropings that occurred on the same evening in Tokyo, grabbing a pair of junior high school girls before escaping into the night on his bicycle. Along with the brazen nature of the crimes, the incident was made extra shocking by nature of Act-Age, a story about an aspiring teen actress, didn’t have a reputation as a risqué, fan service-laden series.

However, a look back at a series of tweets from Matsuki from back before Act-Age even got started has been raising eyebrows in light of his arrest. The thread, from January of 2017, begins with:

“Manga and movies about sento [public baths] are popular these days, so I thought of an idea for a new sento manga. In each chapter, a group of junior high boys will introduce methods you can use for peeping at actual sent that exist in reality. What do you think? It’d cause a commotion, wouldn’t it?”

Though sento have been having a bit of a revival in popularity in recent years, it’s a stretch to make a blanket statement that sento manga/movies were “popular” when Matsuki posted the tweet. However, there’s no shortage of bathhouse episodes and peeping shenanigans played for comedy in anime and manga, but Matsuki’s concept of setting the series in real-world sento, with peeping techniques to match, is where things get concerning, and his next tweet didn’t alleviate that.

“Research and verification [of the peeping methods] would be important, so it would be necessary for me to try them out for myself ahead of time…”

After giving it some more thought, though, Matsuki decides that the concept isn’t very good, but not because he feels it’s in bad taste. Instead, the problem has to do with real-world sento user demographics. Public baths (as opposed to natural hot spring resorts) are primarily popular with older Japanese people, so Matsuki’s initial concept would have ended up with junior high boys trying to peek at elderly, or at least not particularly young, women every week.

“Now that I think about the ages of people at sento, though, I just don’t feel all that motivated, so instead I’ll make it about two junior high school girls who want to look at naked men! Wow, now that sounds really fun…”

But wait, it’s not just female sento users who tend to be older, but male ones too. So by adjusting his story concept, Matsuki is swapping old women for old men, right? Yes, but there’s one other factor that he thought would make it worthwhile.

“Every episode would end with them failing to see any naked guys, getting heat exhausted from the bath, and taking a long drink of milk [a popular after-bath beverage in Japan]. But the readers would get to see scenes of the two girls in the bath, so it’d be OK. The 460-yen [US$4.30] sento admission cost is kind of a lot for junior high students to have to part with, and portraying that is probably something guys who have a thing for young girls would find stimulating. Yeeeah, I’d want to read that manga!”

Again, the idea of racy comedy set in a public bathing facility isn’t a remotely new scenario for anime/manga, and Matsuki could have just been making an attempt at edgy comedy and/or spitballing ideas he hadn’t really thought out. And perhaps most importantly of all, he never did produce such a series, either because he never formally pitched it to publishers or because they shot the idea down. But Matsuki’s desire to write the story being galvanized as he realizes it’ll be an opportunity to show junior high girls taking baths and feeling uncomfortable about having to spend a large chunk of their savings is particularly unsettling following his arrest for groping two actual girls of that age.

Source: Twitter/@machi8mura via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
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