Sweetness and Lightning Volume 1 – Review
Sweetness and Lightning:
Reviewed by: Linny
Synopsis: Kouhei Inuzuka is a high school math teacher and a recent widower trying to raise his young daughter, Tsumugi on his own. After her repeated requests for a proper meal and his failed attempts at cooking, they end up in the restaurant run by one of his students named Kotori Iida and her mother. Fate and circumstances bring Kouhei, Tsumugi and Kotori closer as they all learn to cook together and bond over food and family.
For readers who want a quick free preview, the first chapter can be read for free on the official publisher’s website here.
Review (Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
The second you see the volume cover image and read the synopises, Sweetness conjures an image of cute characters and a simple and ocassionally emotional story. It presents itself well through just a glance and most readers should be able to determine what they are in for with this series. What some might be surprised by is how laidback and slow the story is. For those who expect something rip roaring hilarious like say Barakamon or Non Non Biyori, shows that also feature kids or a kid prominently in its main cast, Sweetness doesn’t come remotely close to their level. It’s not about quality but rather the kind of humour and quantity of jokes in the story. There aren’t many laugh out loud gags and most funny incidents are limited to being more sweet and smile inducing. It’s a slice of life in the truest form, feeling like a literal telling of the daily lives of average everyday people than a fictionalized exaggerated account. Nothing happens that is extremely out of the ordinary though there are certain parts that may feel a bit more fictionalized than the rest.
For those who enjoy watching sweet father-daughter relationships, Sweetness is a great read as we get a frazzled but concerned and doting father, and his adorable little daughter. We start off the series with a glimpse at their daily life and bask in the chaos and sweetness of it all. From Kouhei’s flustered attempts to balance his professional work and his housework to his terrible attempt at cooking, it’s all rather light hearted until we get to the moment when Kouhei finally realizes that his daughter misses her mother’s cooking. It’s a scene that starts out funny but turns sad in a manner that could be a bit melodramatic to those averse to it, but makes for a touching moment given the simplicity and initial silliness of the scene. Still, this moment is also a good test for those who are unsure of what to expect from Sweetness. If you found this scene hokey, you can stop reading as the series does have similar quick emotional moments sprinkled throughout the first volume itself. The scenes aren’t exactly contrived but for those who wanted this to be a completely playful tale with only rare emotional instances, they might be displeased with the rate or nature that these kind of scenes occur.
This incident helps to bring Kotori permanently into the scene. Though we’ve met her earlier and it’s clear that she will be playing a major role (the synopsis already gave that away), it isn’t until this scene that we get to see them truly interact and start to bond in the case of Tsumugi and Kotori. What ensues is again a mix of simple sweet and funny moments and also,a cooking lesson for the cast and the reader with an ending that shocks Kouhei, most likely the ONLY person it is going to shock. For those who picked this series up with the intention of learning new recipes, each chapter has a very helpful recipe at the end detailing whatever was made in the chapter so don’t be too worried if the actual process in the chapters seem a little vague.
The rest of the volume details the establishing and beginning of the bond between our three protagonists, more cooking in every single chapter, and stories that basically explain why they end up cooking the things they cook. From that some of you might be starting to wonder if every chapter is basically a build up to a recipe but thankfully, the stories told are sweet and have the strength to stand on their own rather than being just a vehicle for a recipe. But make no mistake, there will be cooking and lots of it and a lot of times it will be a result of what happened earlier in the story. From an upset Tsumugi being cheered up by having a special meal made for her, to Tsumugi being ill and thus needing Kotori and Kouhei to cook her special meals. That should be music to the ears of cooking enthusiasts reading this review and eventually this series.
Sweetness is definitely a curious mix…the cooking theme might raise thoughts of Shokugeki no Soma thanks to its recent popularity but these two couldn’t be further away from each other. So far, this series seems focused on simple comfort and common Japanese home made meals rather than the highly experimental and complex cooking from Soma. It also emphasizes family bonding and relationships as we watch our three main characters coming together like a family, providing each other comfort and help when either needs it, especially with Kouhei filling in for Kotori’s work occupied mother, and Kotori filling in for the missing female presence in Kouhei and Tsumugi’s life.
Talking about relationships, there seems to be a lot of heavy hinting of a possible future romantic relationship between Kouhei and Kotori with Kotori seeming to be a teenager developing a crush on an older male who has been playing a growing role in her daily life. This might bother those who would disapprove of a high school student-teacher romantic relationship but for the first volume, all the infatuation seems to be on Kotori’s part only with Kouhei not even once shown as considering any such feeling towards her. He does voice his concern to his co-workers when she first asks him to start coming over and cooking with her regularly. He is worried that it might be inappropriate and give people the wrong impression but an older co-worker reassures him by saying that in the past, teachers would socialize with students after school by having dinner with them and their families. As long as the parents are aware and okay with it, there should be no harm in Kouhei simply meeting up with a student to cook meals, especially when the girl seems in need of the company and guidance. It’s nice that the manga addresses this issue in a logical and matter of fact manner as the idea of a teacher visiting a student regularly after school for non academic reasons does sound like a source of scandal but the manga makes it clear that such a thing can also be perfectly harmless and acceptable. Of course, there might be some who think the manga negates it all by hinting at romance and then actually showing Kotori getting flustered by the idea of her teacher having a crush on her, and then finally ending the volume with her running away from his house embarassed and thinking ” If only he wasn’t my teacher”. We’re free to interpret that statement any way we like for now but it’s easy to fall into assuming that she wants something romantic. For now, while it is brought up regularly, the slow pace of the story makes it likely that if there is going to be any romantic developments, it will be underplayed or it won’t properly manifest for a while so unless you are extremely averse to the idea of a student-teacher potential relationship (no guarantee either way of whether it will happen or not), there isn’t anything I would consider scandalous in the story so far.
For those who like stories with a central cute kid taking the spotlight, Tsumugi does feature heavily in the stories being as adorable as you can expect most classic cute anime kids to be. She is drawn in a cute style and her behaviour and expressions are sure to win the hearts of readers. Having read the first volume of the manga, I am sure that seeing her onscreen will only make her fans love her even more. For foodies, seeing the recipes come alive in colour and animation will be another source of delight and an appetite teaser. Keep in mind though that these recipes are all classic staples of Japanese cuisine, and may be humble in appeal, but with the right animation, they will probably look ridiculously appetizing none the less. Storywise, we should probably expect something that’s simple like its cuisine but also heartwarming and comforting like a familiar home cooked meal. It’s never completely over the top when it comes to its story, its humour, its characters or even its food. This series is highly recommended for those wishing to learn about Japanese cuisine from something other than a cookbook, or for those who like more realistic or laid back slice of life stories with the caveat that it might feel slow at times. But regardless, to all the readers, may you enjoy this series like Tsumugi enjoys her new meals.
Sweetness and Lightning is available digitally via Crunchyroll.com and Kindle. Physical volumes are also available for pre-order on Amazon.com and Rightstufanime.com. And as a reminder,the first chapter is also available for free on Kodanshacomics.com.