Number of episodes: 12
After his wife dies, assistant math teacher Kouhei Inuzuka takes care of their daughter Tsumugi by himself. Though he’s a wonderful dad who only wants the best for his daughter, he’s a terrible cook and a busy worker. Meals consist of pre-packaged foods from the convenience store. Tsumugi often eats alone while watching her favorite anime.
The first meeting.
A first look at Kotori’s family restaurant.
That all changes when the two run into Kouhei’s student Kotori at the local park. Kotori absolutely loves food, eating a riceball with such pleasure that she cries. They find out her mother is a famous chef on television, and often has to cancel on her daughter due to her many TV appearances. Tsumugi takes to her immediately. The child smiles so much at the prospect of a meal that delicious that Kouhei resolves to make her food that she loves.
After a tiny incident at Kotori’s family restaurant, the trio’s cooking adventures begin. Though Kotori herself cannot cook, she enlists the aid of her mother, who, though never present, writes down the recipes for them. Following her instructions and cute illustrations, the three learn to cook by themselves, all struggling and laughing together. Each episode revolves around a new dish whose recipe—in case you’re wondering—can be found in the manga.
Story and Characters
At its core, sweetness & lightning is a coming-of-age anime, focused on how families grieve and move on after experiencing a traumatic event in their lives. There are many ways this anime could have gone, but the anime instead focuses on the sweeter aspects of life, showing the mother in nostalgic remembrances and teaching simple life lessons to Tsumugi. She learns about the importance of apologies, getting over pickiness, making compromises with her classmates, realizing that her mother won’t ever come back. She’s an amazingly sweet and adorable kid; energetic to the max; strong, even in the wake of her mother’s death; and still, like many kids, moody. Maybe she’s just too young to fully understand what’s happened, but this only adds to her charm. She smiles a lot. She also pouts a lot. I know I haven’t watched too much anime lately, but I honestly haven’t seen such a cute youngster since Yuzu in Aishiteruze Baby.
The look on every dad’s face.
Though much of the anime’s charm is Kouhei’s struggle to provide a normal life for his family even in the midst of everything that’s happened, I would argue that Tsumugi carries almost all of the anime by herself. Just Tsumugi, because she’s such a strong and memorable character. When she shines, the anime shines. If she’s reminding you of a youth long lost, then the series lightens the mood and just makes you happy after a long day at work. But if she’s too annoying, like that niece you love but can’t stand, thank you, then the episode feels like it’s dragging. That starts happening in the middle of the series, which makes the first few episodes the most enjoyable ones to watch out of all of them.
Livin’ life in a piggy cap.
”Dad, I think you need to work on your recipe a little.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that Tsumugi carries the weight of the entire series on her shoulders. Appropriate to the storyline, the dynamics between the three main characters simply work, sincere and heartwarming without evoking any sort of romantic, Onegai Teacher-esque vibe. There is no budding teacher-student romance to be found in this anime. Though she embarrasses easily and blushes almost every time you see her, Kotori doesn’t seem to have too much of a crush on Kouhei. There are hints of one, but the anime doesn’t bring it to the forefront, keeping the tone of the series respectful. Nor does Kouhei have any interest in dating Kotori, always keeping things friendly but professional even when Tsumugi gets into trouble and oversteps the bounds of privacy. Indeed, because her father is never mentioned and her mother is always away, Kotori becomes an older sister figure to Tsumugi.
This type of dynamic and story allows all three of them to develop quite nicely. The teacher and student cook side-by-side, and sometimes Tsumugi too if it’s safe, but the teacher is not the one teaching the student or vice versa. Rather, they struggle to learn together, helping each other out and filling the voids in all of their lives. It’s really a nice way of showing the importance of community through shared activity. Is a mother who’s never there the same as one who died? Do kids really understand how much their parents care about them? Does all that even matter, as long as you care for one another? The anime gives several takes on questions like these.
”I’m really trying my hardest.”
Meet Yagi, the embodiment of the wild side.
Aside from the relationship dynamic in sweetness & lightning, the characters are themselves memorable. Both Kotori and Kouhei themselves are kind but not boring. In particular, Kouhei is a great dad and doesn’t seem to have a bad bone in his body. He’s very patient and only becomes upset when the situation really calls for it. He’s complemented well by Kotori, who obviously very much loves food and gets worked up rather easily. The two other repeating characters, Yagi and Shinobu, provide other, “wild” (the anime’s words, not mine) characteristics to flesh out the anime’s world to keep it grounded.
As might be expected from a humble slice-of-life like sweetness & lightning, the animation quality is good enough but not spectacular. The style isn’t minimalistic, but there’s nothing overly fancy. Some older anime, like 2013’s Attack on Titan or (to be more fair) 2007’s Lovely Complex, have almost as good (or in the case of Attack on Titan, much better) animation quality than this one. What really differentiates the animation from other series is the uniqueness of the character designs. If you saw my review on Love Live! recently, one of my complaints was that the girls’ personalities all seem to coalesce into one dramatic, googly-eyed girl by the end of the second season This is reflected even more by the similar expressions they seem to get when something serious happens.
A typical look on Kotori’s face.
In contrast, you can immediately tell the characters’ personalities in sweetness & lightning simply by looking at their designs. Tsumugi, of course, has a wonderfully fluffy design to really augment her already fluffy personality. Kouhei has that messy hair and look of a tired dad, and Kotori has the droopy eyes of a shy girl in anime.
Even more tasty donuts.
Of course, since this is an anime about food, I must also point out that though there’s nothing special about the animation of the food, be prepared to get hungry and nibble on a few snacks after seeing every episode.
Music and Voice Acting
Much of the music in sweetness & lightning is soothing, joyous, and/or inspirational. The piano, acoustic guitar, and wind instruments make up most of the background music, which rely heavily on evoking the feeling of light dancing. I don’t quite remember too much of the music, but there’s one in particular I’m always pleased to hear. It’s the tune that sings in many variations throughout the show. If Toby Fox’s hunch about Undertale’s music was right, then yes, playing the same theme just a little differently each time does evoke a lot of nostalgia that makes the experience that much more memorable.
As for the voice acting, other than Tsumugi there’s nothing that really stands out. Most of the anime’s cast are quite seasoned and have voiced similar characters before, so most folks will sound very familiar. In contrast, you’ll be hearing something newer from the experienced, but still much-younger, 11-year-old who voices Tsumugi. She manages to evoke curiosity and wonder by varying her pitch and halting for just the right amount of time between phrases.
Community through eating.
Togetherness in a child's hand.
I am a sucker for slice-of-life series. Thinking about the anime I’ve liked over the years, I notice that a few key phrases stand out: “real,” “good character development,” “lighthearted,” “heartwarming.” Usually if I’ve said a combination of those ideas in a review, and maybe jotted something about its pacing, I most likely loved the anime, or at least those parts of that anime. So it comes as no surprise that I loved sweetness & lightning. It does have its flaws, and the first few episodes were probably the best of the series, but overall it’s one of the better slice-of-life series I’ve seen. It’s tasteful and respectful, mixed with much sweetness in between. Great for rekindling your faith in humanity and escaping from all of life’s worries.
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