We’re well into 2017 now, with great shows coming out left right and centre. 2016 was also a pretty great year for the world of anime, and that means we have barely had time to watch everything on our lists. So here we are, catching up again. We ease ourselves back into things with a cute little slice of life show called Sweetness and Lightning.
There’s something heart-warming about dads bonding with their kids, but we rarely – if ever – see it in anime. Tomoya and Ushio from Clannad come to mind when we think of father-daughter relationships being the forefront of a show, but Sweetness and Lightning takes a very different perspective.
Teacher Kouhei Inuzuka’s wife has recently passed away, leaving him to care for their five year old daughter Tsumugi on his own. He struggles to balance work and his daughter, but the biggest problem he faces is food. He just can’t cook the way his wife used to, and he feels guilty about not being able to cook for Tsumugi. Along comes Kotori, one of his students. By using her mum’s restaurant kitchen, Kotori teaches Kouhei to cook for Tsumugi, and a close bond is formed between the three of them in the process.
That sounds more like the plot to a drama show, right? A recently deceased wife, an over-worked dad, and a confused child, but Sweetness and Lightning uses this sad backstory with expertise.
Each episode focuses on the creation of one dish, with another little side-plot happening with Tsumugi’s school or friends. Just from Kouhei’s face, the way he is animated, you can tell he’s constantly exhausted. The characterisation is solid, especially for a slice-of-life show – the genre itself is a plotless story. He develops a little after every single interaction with his daughter. Kouhei, as a main character, is so believable. He’s barely holding himself together and the only joy he finds is in cooking and spending time with Tsumugi and Kotori. And Tsumugi herself – anyone who watches this show will agree – is absolutely adorable. Even if you don’t like kids, you’ll like her. She acts very realistically for a five year-old. Tantrums, fighting with school friends, the works. As well as a very cute face.
So Kouhei is obviously tired and Tsumugi is a typical but cute child. Our love for the characters is greatly helped by the quality animation going on here. It shows. It doesn’t tell. The brainchild of TMS Entertainment and manga artist Gido Amagakure. It was made with a pleasing pastel-coloured palette and subtle little details. Details like the lines under Kouhei’s eyes or the constant blush on Kotori’s face whenever she thinks about her teacher.
We can’t talk much about the plot, because there isn’t one. What we do get is a delightfully episodic structure where you get a solid conclusion at the end of each episode. The show paces itself very nicely. It focuses on the right things at the right time. We have long, upbeat scenes with a constant undercurrent of the mum’s death running throughout the series. It’s hard to achieve that without delving into the ‘drama’ genre. They manage to keep it pleasant to watch and interesting and believable. Others have called the show slow or boring because the plot is virtually the same in every episode: they decide to cook something, and they cook it. But, you know, that’s the point. If you like slice-of-life, you’ll like this. If you don’t, it’ll bore you to death.
Basing a show around food can go a couple of ways. You can make it weird and perverted (but also entertaining) like in Food Wars. Or, you can use the food to send out some kind of message. Each episode teaches the viewer (and Kouhei) something about family, memories, and love. In the end, it’s just about a dad trying his best to make his little girl smile.