Summer 2016 First Impressions – Sweetness and Lightning

Sweetness and Lightning CoverMath teacher Kōhei Inuzuka is a widower with a young daughter named Tsumugi. Inuzuka isn’t adept in the kitchen but with the help of his student Kotori Iida and his daughter, he embarks on a culinary adventure. – ANN

Streaming at: Crunchyroll

Number of Episodes: TBA

Source: Manga

Summary of Episode 1: Kyouhei Inuzuka is a high school teacher, but he’s also a single father to his young daughter, Tsumugi. It’s been six months since his wife died, and he’s just trying to take each day one day at a time and make sure he can take care of Tsumugi. Unfortunately, he’s often out late and more often than not resorts to grabbing convenience store bento for dinner. While out in the park flower-viewing, they happen upon a young lady weeping over her rice balls. She’s not sad, just moved to tears over the delicious food that her busy mother prepared. It just so happens that her mother owns a restaurant, and she passes along a business card. A couple of days later, Tsumugi is really feeling sad over the lack of home-cooked meals at their house, so Kyouhei does something impulsive – he races to the restaurant, daughter in tow, in order to provide something warm and nourishing. One problem – the owner is out and the restaurant is technically closed for the day, but Kotori, the owner’s daughter and coincidentally one of Kyouhei’s students, offers to cook up something simple. That night, they enjoy hot rice together, and Kotori asks that they join forces and learn to cook with one-another.

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Kyouhei pieces together Tsumugi’s lunch using store-bought pre-prepped side dishes.

Impressions: I have a major soft spot for stories that involve parenting and genuinely cute kids. Not because I have any of my own, but likely because it’s such a unique occurrence in anime. I remain a big fan of Bunny Drop (hey, it was a really excellent 11-episode anime and an equally good 4 volume manga!), enjoyed Kotetsu’s relationship with his daughter in Tiger & Bunny, and in general am impressed when the parental relationship is depicted as being substantial rather than as some afterthought in an anime full of teenagers (I don’t really have time to get into the related issue of dead moms in anime, but that’s certainly something to note). In any case, anime series that consider the parents’ point of view and depict that trials of trying to bring up a young person in an environment which makes that difficult are some of the anime I find appealing.

So far this show has a lot going for it in that regard. Kyouhei is depicted as a genuinely good person who has his daughter’s best interests at heart. It’s the specifics of their situation, as well as perhaps some residual depression following the death of his wife, that creates a lot of challenges for him to try to overcome. For the most part, Kyouhei seems fairly on top of everyday life; he makes plans to do the laundry with Tsumugi that weekend, they get out of the house to spend time together, he gets her dressed and out the door in the morning and generally arrives in time to pick her up from daycare. In short, he’s loving and competent, and while obviously any single parent situation is difficult to manage, there’s a decent amount of realism in his ability to juggle all these things and it’s clear that Tsumugi is grateful.

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A cell phone shot of Tsumugi during her first (and only) experience with dad’s cooking.

What left an impression on me after the first episode, though, is its (and by extension, the show’s) focus on food and meals as they relate to family life. In flashback, we learn that Kyouhei’s late wife Tae was quite the experimental chef, and her meals were beloved in the household. Because of the food lifestyle I (mostly) adhere to, I’m used to hearing the refrain that “food is fuel” and that we should strive to remove the emotional aspect from it (as in, try to stop emotional eating and listen to your body’s hunger signals instead). That’s fine on a logical level, but for me in particular food and meals have always served the purpose of showing love to those I care about and bringing together friends and family around a shared table. Tsumugi is a generally happy, bubbly youngster, but her sadness at eating convenience store bento boxes while her dad catches up on his classroom work is obvious. To her, meals are something that she wants to share with family, and a home-cooked meal trumps anything from the microwave (though her dad’s early attempts at home cooking so far have left a little to be desired, judging by her reported reaction).

I think this episode does a good job of explaining (without explicitly doing so) why Kyouhei hasn’t taken up cooking, and in fact has outright avoided the task. Aside from the fact that he doesn’t have much cooking experience and his first attempt was a major bomb (seriously, that photo of Tsumugi making a disgusted face is hilarious), it becomes clear that the subject of cooking is too strong a reminder of what’s missing now that his wife is gone. Trying to do something that was so closely associated with someone who’s now gone has got to be incredibly painful; each dish, whether successful or a failure, is just another way of pointing out the empty space left behind. It wouldn’t be unusual for Kyouhei to avoid cooking out of respect for his wife’s memory and a desire to keep from feeling as though he were trying to replace her. All of this is interpreted from what’s written between the lines; unlike a lot of anime, this one so far is a little bit more “show” and a little less “tell,” which in itself is nice.

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Kotori crying while eating in the park.

Lest everyone think this is a show all about doom and gloom and death, let me mention that I found the first episode to be incredibly cute and also pretty funny. Tsumugi is at that particular age where emotions are still shared right out in the open, and social norms don’t necessarily play a large factor in everyday interactions. She says what’s on her mind and expresses her feelings without worrying what others might think, and that’s one of the things I find cutest about little kids (well, until their emotions go into overdrive and devolve into tantrums; then I’m quick to leave the area). I enjoyed how she declares her love for her dad, and also how she had no qualms about approaching Kotori (at that time a total stranger) in the park to comfort her and ask why she was crying. There’s just something really heartwarming about the earnestness of children that gives me that warmhearted feeling.

I’m guessing that any “concerns” about the direction of this show that one might have would be due to the fact that one of the three main characters is a high school student of Kyouhei’s. Maybe it’s my cynicism talking, or maybe it’s just anime’s propensity for being willing to go in distasteful directions, but I’m wary of the fact that Kotori is likely going to be spending a lot of time with Kyouhei and possibly filling part of the role that Kyouhei’s wife used to and of the fact that the Wikipedia entry references Kotori’s possible crush on her teacher. The anime seems fairly cute and innocent so far, and Kotori’s attitude seems innocent enough, but I’ve been burned in the past and just don’t want such a cute series to go down that dark road.

I’ve been feeling kind of crappy the last few days (bad allergies are keeping me medicated-up and I’m having a hard time staying awake and focusing on anything), so it was nice to take a moment to sit down with something that’s very cute and heartwarming while trying to unwind. For now, rather than worry about what direction it will take, I’m going to accept the show at face value and just appreciate the fact that anime is a medium with so much variety in story and character and that there are still series that are made to appeal to people my age. I was impressed with the first episode’s ability to demonstrate its cuteness without being overly saccharine, as well as how well I gained a window into the protagonist’s feelings. I’m calling it – “feel-good anime of the season.”

Pros: Kyouhei’s life and choices are explained well through the narrative. The episode is genuinely cute and heartwarming.

Cons: Kotori’s “crush” on Kyouhei, though mostly unexplored thus far, has me feeling wary.

Grade: B+

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This article has 6 comments

  1. It’s interesting how you noticed some stuff in this show that I didn’t pick up on. I never got that Kohei’s reluctance to cook was partly related to grief for example. I don’t think that Kotori has a crush on Kohei in particular though. I think she’s just desperately lonely, with her mother gone all the time. So she views Kohei and Tsumugi as a surrogate family. And even if it did turn out to be romantic in nature, I wouldn’t have a real problem with that, as their relationship feels natural and free of creepy power dynamics.

    Reply
    • I’m also leaning towards the “not romantic” interpretation of Kotori’s feelings. I’ve just been burned by anime and media in general enough times to be wary 🙂 This doesn’t seem like the type of show to wander towards that specific type of melodrama, though (I haven’t watched the subsequent episodes yet, but have read some others’ thoughts so far and it seems pretty safe).

      TL;DR – I love anime, but don’t always trust it 🙂

      Reply
    • Also, sorry I didn’t notice your comment right away. I used to get email notifications, but before I installed a decent spam filter I was getting 80-100 a day that I was just deleting so I think they started going straight into the trash 🙂

      Reply
      • My fault, I didn’t realize you moderated every comment personally, and just assumed it didn’t go thorugh.

        Reply
        • It was a response to some abuse I was receiving on the previous incarnation of the website. If I approve a couple of your comments, your comments will go through automatically from that point forwards.

          Reply
  2. It’s interesting how you picked up on things I didn’t. I didn’t get that grief is part of Kyouhei’s reluctance to cook. And I don’t think Kotori really has a crush on Kyouhei. I think she’s desperately lonely, and sees Kyouhei and Tsumugi as kind of a replacement family for the mother who is never there.

    Reply

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