Anime Review: Sweetness & Lightning

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This is a lovely anime. Heck, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it actually does appeal to both children and adults, despite its manga counterpart being published as a seinen. It teaches us a lot about family values in a modern culture, from the perspectives of a child, a teenager, and a parent.

It’s a heart-warming series, but it’s also a lot of fun, and since a lot of folks have already raved about it, I will be talking about this series based on what I think is most important. And given that I do plan on reviewing several anime with all-girl casts in the near future, I think it’s best to talk about this series from the leading male’s perspective: Kōhei Inuzuka–

Talk about girls!

OKAY! We’ll start with the girls!

Sweetness & Lightning (Amāma to Inazuma) brings us into the daily lives of a father and daughter in present-day Japan, the Inuzukas. The father Kōhei works as a high school teacher, and his daughter Tsumugi just started Kindergarten. Having recently lost the wife and mother to their humble household, Kōhei struggles to make ends meet for them both, and the biggest challenge for him is cooking.

But one evening when they decide to go out to eat, the Inuzukas find a humble family-owned restaurant where Kōhei’s student Kotori Ida lives. Kotori’s mother has been busy doing a cooking show on national TV and she doesn’t have a father figure, so she’s been looking after the restaurant all by herself. Kotori doesn’t have confidence in her own cooking, but Tsumugi likes going to the Ida’s for dinner. And since then, Kōhei, Tsumugi, and Kotori come together for dinner and enjoy each other’s company in cooking and eating.

A lot of fans and critics have picked up on how much this story is told through the eyes of a child, and for good reason. With each episode, Tsumugi gains a lot of exposure to everything from a variety of foods to making new friends, young and old. A lot of these experiences are very new to her, so there is a sense of awe and wonder that comes with each of them.

Yagi and Shinobu

Like seriously kid, we’re just making tsukemono.

Whether she’s dancing to make clumpy dough go away or taking a stroll out to the market district, everything Tsumugi sees is like an adventure with so many things to discover. You could say that her gaze is entirely whimsical to, well, everything.

Although Tsumugi’s personality seems to be happy-go-lucky overall, Tsumugi isn’t afraid to express all of her emotions either. She can still speak her mind, criticize other people, and make all sorts of faces to express her joys and disgusts about everything that comes her way.

Tsumugi eating

“Yuck!”

Tsumugi comes off as friendly at school, but even she isn’t immune to problems that mean a lot to a child such as sharing her favorite toys, or being like her favorite anime character that everyone else thinks is weird. In one episode particularly, Tsumugi gets in a fight with a boy in her classroom for not wanting to share her clay with him, to which the boy feels like Tsumugi must share it if she’s ever going to be his friend. But Tsumugi takes ownership of the clay and refuses to share it with him, to which both she and this boy are scolded for causing a fight.

Not wanting to cause any more trouble, Kōhei decides to apologize and buy enough clay for Tsumugi to share with all her friends. But Tsumugi sees this as an invalidation of her feelings, because she felt like she was being a bad girl for not sharing. What may be a simple act of letting bygones be bygones isn’t so simple for Tsumugi, because the action emphasizes that sharing is an obligation. But not everyone is going to share, and yet there are those who will feel entitled to get stuff from other people. For Tsumugi, this wasn’t a matter of doing the right thing, but being fair, and that’s something that can be extremely important to any child!

Not to spoil how that problem is resolved, but Kōhei does assure Tsumugi that she’s a good girl. After all, who wouldn’t take one look at her and say she’s being naughty?

Cute

I stand corrected.

Although Tsumugi loves the company of her friends and family, Kotori gains a lot from having the Inuzukas around too. Under the pressure to be a good student herself while living up to her famous mother’s expectations, it seems rather intimidating to just let her teacher’s family come into her life so casually. Furthermore, Kotori is deathly afraid of knives, and therefore doesn’t have a lot of confidence in her own cooking. But even so, Kotori loves the company, as the Inuzukas and friends like Yagi and Shinobu come to make her house livelier like it used to be.

Not to mention, she just really likes food.

Kotori

Nothing stops Kotori from eating. NOTHING!

There is certainly a tone that Kotori is fulfilling the role of “mother” in this regard, as she does fill a void that her sensei and his daughter have been missing, because their family doesn’t feel complete without a third person. But awkward romances that fans might consider aside, Kotori is also gaining something from the Inuzukas too.

Being cooped up in her house by herself, Kotori needs to be around other people. Kotori doesn’t strike me to be someone so adventurous as to go out on her own, because her community is formed entirely around the house/restaurant. But given new situations, she is circumstantially on her own, and things aren’t the way they used to be. What’s more, Kotori needs to be accepted for who she is, so that she can have the chance to grow and make her home a lively place again. Kōhei and Tsumugi may have needed Kotori as a mother, but to me, Kotori also needed a father.

sweetness-kotori.png

While it’s never quite explained in detail, Kotori doesn’t have a father figure in her life. For the most part, her mother takes care of her, but her mother can only support her financially, given how busy she is as a TV personality. With only a few recipes with odd instructions, Kotori doesn’t feel particularly ready to take on the challenges of adult life, and also for good reason: she’s a teenager!

Spending time with the Inuzukas when her mother isn’t around is joyous because she misses having a family around, not to mention that she has a lot of responsibilities to take care of herself, too. So for that, Kotori welcomes Kōhei and Tsumugi into her home as they come together for one meal each day, to make things a little easier for all of them.

Sweetness & Lightning gives the perspective of a child and teenager really well. But to me, the most interesting part of the story comes from the perspective of a parent.

Kohei Inuzuka

oh geez. I remember doing this when I cut an onion for the first time.

Tsumugi’s world may be whimsical, Kotori’s world lonely. But Kōhei comes from a world filled with responsibilities and providing for his family. And for any parent like him, it’s tough to fulfill the role of two parents when you are just one.

Kōhei wants what’s best for Tsumugi, but as a young father, he isn’t always the best judge for what that will be. He knows that he will never be anything like his late wife, but he learns as best he can to become a good father for Tsumugi. There are times when I’m sure he makes mistakes, and yet upon making tough decisions, Kōhei does do a lot of parenting right.

sweetness-making-up.png

I felt this side of Kōhei strongest in a lot of fans’ favorite moment, when Tsumugi goes out by herself. Like I said before, the episode taps into the whimsical aspects of a child’s imagination, with lots of fun. But what hit me the most was the aftermath of Tsumugi’s adventure, when Kōhei finds her.

In this scene, Kōhei is both angry and worried, and doesn’t hesitate to scold and yell at Tsumugi for going out by himself. At this point, Tsumugi felt that her father was genuinely mad at her for the first time, and it didn’t seem like they would ever be able to make up. But at the end of the day, Kōhei explains to her with full honesty of just how scared he was of losing her, that he never meant to take it out on her. To me, I think parents and children getting angry at each other is a natural thing, and the very idea of denying that anger can actually be more damaging. But despite how much emotions can get the better of us, Kōhei also expresses his humility towards the situation, and had the courage to apologize to his kid because of it.

Acknowledging emotions like anger and fear are a lot harder than one can imagine, and for that I do think that Kōhei and Tsumugi handled the situation well. But if there is any one scene where I felt there are no simple answers, it’s the curry episode.

sweetness-curry

Tsumugi is a bundle of joy to Sweetness & Lightning, but she can also be very picky. And one thing she’s very picky about is having Mom’s curry: the best curry in the world. The problem is, Kōhei could never make his wife’s curry right, even with a recipe; and Tsumugi doesn’t quite understand that her mother died.

Having perfected the curry recipe with the Ida family’s help, Tsumugi is satisfied with a curry that tastes just like her mom’s, but then asks her father when her mom was going to come back. My descriptions alone can’t describe what happens next, but needless to say, Tsumugi doesn’t take this news very well.

Tsumugi may know that her mother died, but it’s hard for her to understand a concept like death at her age. For this reason, Kōhei has to take careful measures to explain to her what it is, and ultimately, why it would be impossible for Mom to ever come back. I personally feel like there is no easy way to explain this to anyone, let alone a child, so letting emotions exert themselves is the only real way to understand one’s own grief when it happens. For that reason, I can’t say that Kōhei did the right thing as a father, but he did the only thing that he could do.

Parents

Kōhei gives me two unique perspectives that I rarely see come together: my father’s and my self. On the one hand, I don’t really know what it’s like to be a parent. But he is also a teacher, acting as a mentor for both his daughter and student. That, and I hate to admit it, I’m not exactly the best cook either, although I have been getting better at it with practice. I understand how worried he gets about making ends meet, all in the care of his (oh, let’s face it) extended family: a community that was built around the Ida house.

But Kōhei also reminds me of my father: someone who has trouble communicating exactly how much he cares for his child, and for them to understand it that way. But one thing that Kōhei does do differently is acknowledge when he makes mistakes, and is very up front about it with Tsumugi. Rather than get extremely defensive about his intentions, Kōhei exposes his vulnerabilities for what they are. He can be a very nice father, but he also doesn’t hesitate to be more firm with his child, and all of it comes with complete honesty.

On a final note, they say it takes a village to raise a child. But when we raise that child, we are also raising ourselves. Our family. Kōhei and Tsumugi may have lost an irreplaceable wife and mother, but through the support of loving friends, family, and a good meal that they all help to make, they still have much more to gain.

Party

So if you are looking for a heart-warming anime that brings together the whole family over a good meal, check out Sweetness & Lightning!

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One thought on “Anime Review: Sweetness & Lightning

  1. This is probably one of my favorite slice-of-life anime, and I’ve seen a lot. Just seeing the simple and funny lifestyle of Kouhei and Tsumugi, and their great father-daughter relationship, oh man, I loved watching them have fun together. Also, the cooking aspect was a nice touch, with Kouhei trying really hard to make great food for his daughter, instead of feeding her convenience store meals. Nice review!

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