Sweetness and Lightning
Having lost his wife just half a year ago, Kohei Inuzuka is left taking care of their daughter, Tsumugi, by himself. This ended up meaning meals bought from a convenience store, since his wife was the one who did all of the cooking. Meanwhile, Kotori Iida, one of his students at school, is dealing with an absentee parent of her own -- both of them, in fact, since her mother is a divorcee and a star in a cooking show. Somehow, the two meet and bond over the common goal of relearning how to make household meals, with Tsumugi serving as the child mediator whom all this is centered around.
Maybe it's just me, but there seems to be a lot of shows centered around single parents lately, particularly single fathers. I don't think it necessarily started with Usagi Drop, but aside from the fact that Tsumugi is Kohei's actual biological daughter, the two shows are weirdly similar in concept if not necessarily characters.
And not to worry; Sweetness and Lightning doesn't have Kohei interact with Kotori just to pair them up romantically either. The two bond simply because Tsumugi somehow encountered Kotori's family restaurant, and since Tsumugi's father turns out to be Kotori's homeroom teacher, their eventual venture into cooking lesson territory is played up as more like a teacher-student guidance angle rather than a romantic one, and that's fine with me. It does come across as a bit odd by western values, but from what I've seen and read, that sort of thing is more common in Japan.
In Usagi Drop, Rin's situation was a bit unique, so you could excuse that she was unusually well-behaved for a child six years of age. Since Tsumugi is Kohei's actual daughter, she's given a good deal more leeway in that area, though Sweetness and Lightning does still reign her in a bit. Tsumugi is a good kid most of the time, but this show nails children's general lack of patience and restraint as well as their habit of getting easily overwhelmed by their own feelings. And while Kohei got a head start on Daikichi with his child-rearing skills, he isn't portrayed as the perfect father as much as one who has a lot of experience, but is still taken off guard by his daughter's resourcefulness from time to time.
One thing's for sure, though; I don't think I've ever seen so much hair on the head of someone, especially someone as tiny as Tsumugi. She's like a tiny Super Saiyajin Level 3 with the energy levels to match, and she's also in that difficult position where she clearly remembers her mother, but isn't old enough to really understand what death means. She does understand that her mother is gone and can't return, but only in the sense that she trusts her father when he says why it's so.
In turn, Kohei looks more like your typical mildly nerdy dad. He doesn't quite have the cool-factor of the more cynically-minded Daikichi, but he's more immediately handy to have around, as most of his parenting skills aren't ones he had to learn on the fly. The little you see of Tsumugi's mother, Tae, paints her as a very pretty and capable caretaker, which will probably make many wonder what made her marry Kohei, much less have a child with him. He seems like a capable sort, though, and the show more or less states that his lack of cooking skills doesn't stem as much from his lack of capabilities as the fact that trying to cook reminds him too much of her. Which is to say that he isn't very good at it now -- he did try, but received a very clear example of "a picture says more than a thousand words" on his cellphone -- but that's where this show comes in.
There isn't anything in particular about Kotori either. She's a fairly typical Japanese schoolgirl with a rather eccentric mom, and while she and Kohei meets up fairly regularly throughout the show, she's bonding just as much, if not more, with Tsumugi, and most of the cooking they do is for her benefit. In a weird way, her normalcy might very well be her own teenage rebellious phase against her vastly more outliér mother, who is the main star of a TV show. She seems to have some experience in dealing with children, but thankfully, Sweetness and Lightning doesn't have her overshadow Kohei just because she's a woman. (Or, more specifically, because he's a man.) Then again, there isn't a whole lot of gender politics going on here. People are allowed to be what they are and do what they like regardless of gender.
Both of our two main adult leads also have friends; Kohei in Yuusuke Yagi, a young man who work in a restaurant and is a childhood friend of Tae, and Kotori in Shinobu Kojika, a twin-tailed girl that had me worried she'd turn into some kind of verbally abusive foil to Kohei. As it turned out, however, Shinobu showed herself to be a very responsible girl, and while she wasn't afraid to speak her mind, she didn't really stand out as being particularly mean-spirited either. I actually don't remember if she was suspicious of Kohei at first, but she accepted the explanation of why the two were spending time learning to cook in Kotori's family restaurant without any fuss, and in fact turned out to be a better cook than both Kotori and Kohei put together. She even showed a little bit of interest in Yuusuke, though the depth of that interest remains somewhat unspecified for now. Since she's the same age as Kotori, more or less, and Yuusuke is about the same age as Kohei, that is probably for the best.
From those standpoints, Sweetness and Lightning makes for some compelling drama about family. All of this is centered around Tsumugi, seeing as most of the things Kohei do is for her benefit, most of all the cooking -- the main dish of this show, so to speak. If there is a downside to be found in this show, then that would have to be it. I hesitate to think of it as a downside, though, because honestly, more shows could benefit from being as forthright about their content. It only means that with Sweetness and Lightning, you do need some interest in cooking, Japanese cooking in particular, to get maximum enjoyment out of it, because when you're a kid, meals are especially important, both for nutritional values and as a chance for some quality family time, something that becomes quite clear when you see what happens when the center of that particular activity is taken away. Sweetness and Lightning spends a lot of time talking about it, and I hope you're eager to get on that train. Otherwise, you might find yourself staring at the clock from time to time.
It's good, then, that Tsumugi is so ridiculously adorable, even at her most difficult phases. As the show gets its most technical, she's usually underfoot, bringing a little color to the cooking lessons or whatever other situations she gets herself into. The highlight is easily the episode where Kohei develops a fever, and Tsumugi sets out on a journey to find some help, which turns into a magical journey where her imagination is brought to life on the screen, and marks the one episode where Kohei actually loses his temper with her. Just a little bit. Normally, though, he has ample opportunities to showcase his diplomatic skills or, failing that, just wait it out when it becomes clear that her patience and desire to cooperate has run out.
I commented on her super saiyajin hair earlier (albeit a very soft and fluffy-looking version), but Sweetness and Lightning's art style is solely seinen material, which tends to look more realistic compared to shoujo's exaggerated lankiness, particularly with the men, and shounen's overexaggerated physics. It's generally quite well animated, though the characters seems to have gotten the best deal here, seeing as the backgrounds, while decent enough, is hardly the most impressive I've seen. Perspective and depth seems to have suffered the most, with buildings and even cities looking weirdly flat. It's not a scenery-porn type of show, though, so it's not a big deal. Some CG is used, but nothing too intrusive.
As good as this show is, I find myself for the first time in the weird position of not buying into it completely. I loved Encouragement of Climb because it did a really good job selling the appeal of going on hikes, and sealed the deal with some absolutely wonderful scenery. Sweetness and Lightning does the same with two things: parenthood and cooking, and while this show aces the first just as deftly as Usagi Drop once did, in a way that feels both natural and uplifting for even a non-parent, when it comes to the second aspect, the cooking, I have to admit I was turning a bit impatient from time to time. This is food porn, albeit fairly casual -- the first episode culminated in a rice-cooking event, which kickstarts the idea of Kohei, Tsumugi and Kotori making their home cooking into a regular event that mostly involves fairly typical Japanese home meals, except with lots of heart put into it. That said, I'm sure people who are as into cooking as I am into hiking are going to get the full package from Sweetness and Lightning in the same way that Encouragement of Climb wormed its way into my heart. And even if you aren't, it's still worth watching overall.
A very endearing and heartfelt show with a topic that might not interest everyone. If you have an interest in cooking, though, you may freely add that fifth star. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: The only thing about this show that might make it unsuitable for children is the fact that Kyouhei and Tsumugi has recently experienced the loss of a family member, with Tsumugi too young to fully understand the situation. This gives it a slightly mature edge that is the only thing that might pull it out of the hands of children. It's a seinen, whose main demographics are adults, despite the fact that -- family death aside -- Tsumugi's antics might otherwise have entertained any childrens who might be watching. Other than that potentially awkward topic, there is absolutely nothing objectionable about this show.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Sweetness and Lightning ©
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