Review

by Nick Creamer,

Sweetness & Lightning Episodes 1-12 Streaming

Synopsis:
Sweetness & Lightning
Kouhei Inuzuka and his daughter Tsumugi get on well enough on their own, even if Kouhei is a little worried about his daughter's diet. But when a chance meeting with Kouhei's student Kotori leads to the three of them sharing a meal together, Kouhei will get a chance to connect with his daughter in a way he never expected. Together, the three of them will share cooking trials and tasty meals, seasoning flavor adventures with good company all along the way.
Review:

Early on in Sweetness & Lightning, the young Tsumugi is just about to sample another of her father's cooking adventures. Staring up at her dad, she shouts “watch me eat!” before happily digging in, munching through a heaping plate of hamburg steak or gyoza or donuts. That's really the essence of Sweetness & Lightning; no major conflicts, just precious time spent eating good food with people you love. The twin joys of cooking and company lie at the heart of Sweetness & Lightning's appeal.

The show quickly establishes the set of relationships that will define its format. The first episode introduces us to Kouhei and his daughter Tsumugi, who live by themselves since Kouhei's wife passed just a year ago. The two of them clearly care about each other, but they don't always get chances to show it, and the distance between them is exemplified by their impersonal, pre-cooked meals. But when Kouhei takes Tsumugi out to look at the cherry blossoms and runs into his student Kotori, he ends up establishing a strange new tradition - the three of them meet up at the restaurant owned by Kotori's mother, work to prepare some new meal, and then enjoy it together. Kotori gets to share her love of food with others and bring some company to her lonely house, Kouhei gets to connect with his daughter, and Tsumugi gets to enjoy both home-cooked meals and a new friend. And so the three of them continue in this way, dealing with Tsumugi's various problems, coming up with new recipes, and generally enjoying each other's company.

Most episodes of Sweetness & Lightning proceed in roughly the same way - Kouhei, Tsumugi, or Kotori have some minor personal problem, that personal problem ends up dictating the meal they decide on, and feelings are resolved through the satisfaction of cooking something new. One episode partially focuses on Tsumugi getting in a fight with a boy at school, while another has Kotori learning a new way to get closer to her classmates. All along the way, the core relationship between Kouhei and his daughter gives the show emotional heft and even some occasional melancholy, offering consistent reflections on the perils of parenting and the unique world of childhood.

Slice of life shows tend to be heavily dependent on the appeal of their casts, and Sweetness & Lightning has a very good one. Tsumugi is clearly the star of this show - her personality is charming without feeling cloying or totally unrealistic, as her moments of giddy happiness are matched with scenes of childish bitterness or even outright tantrums. Sweetness & Lightning works hard to respect the validity of Tsumugi's experiences; her fears and disagreements are treated with sensitivity, and Kouhei's attempts to integrate her into the cooking process are as awkward as they are endearing. Tsumugi's presence is also elevated through both her voice acting and animation; Tsumugi is voiced by actual child actress Rina Endou (she also voiced Hina in 2014's Barakamon), and her rambunctious nature comes through clearly in her energetic character acting.

The show's other cast members are also strong - Kouhei makes for a harried but deeply sympathetic father, and Kotori's combined awkwardness and love of food make her a fantastic guide for the group's cooking trials. Beyond the inherent charm of watching this group make meals together, Sweetness & Lightning is regularly carried by the humor of their misadventures. The show is very good at capturing the reality of people who are bad at cooking muddling through the process; from their fear of cutting anything to their constant amazement when dishes come out right, much of the “drama” here comes down to hoping neither Kouhei nor Kotori will set anything on fire.

Sweetness & Lightning's visuals are solidly up to the task of presenting its relatively low-key vignettes. The background art isn't particularly impressive, but the character designs are very expressive and appealing. Tsumugi in particular is ridiculously adorable - her incredibly fluffy hair looks great in basically any arrangement, and she's animated to convey that distinctively kid-like quality of never quite being in total control of her limbs. The direction is mostly just workmanly, though certain sequences stand out in purposefully conveying Tsumugi's perspective through angles and framing. One episode where Tsumugi goes on a solo adventure is a clear highlight - through a variety of distant and high-angle shots, the show strongly conveys the sensation of being a small person in a much larger world. The music, on the other hand, is almost entirely light incidental stuff, with the one bright spot being the show's infectious and perfectly themed opening song.

Sweetness & Lightning's “hook” is so mild that it may seem insufficient to carry a show, and it's true that not all its episodes are equally compelling. The show occasionally leans on its template to the detriment of its appeal - not every episode has something new to say about parenting, and not every meal evokes the same dramatic satisfaction, but on the whole, Sweetness & Lightning is excellent at providing a warm yet solidly grounded escape for twenty minutes at a stretch. If you're looking for a strongly executed slice of life or a show about parents and their children in general, Sweetness & Lightning offers a tasty take on the genre.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B-

+ The cast is absolutely charming, and the show smartly winds together its lessons on family and its cooking segments
The execution is largely just workmanlike, and not all episodes are equally engaging

Director: Tarou Iwasaki
Series Composition: Mitsutaka Hirota
Episode Director:
Katsuhiko Bizen
Tarou Iwasaki
Toshiaki Kanbara
Takehiro Nakayama
Keiya Saitō
Yusaku Saotome
Yasuro Tsuchiya
Original creator: Gido Amagakure
Character Design: Hiroki Harada
Animation Director:
Hiroki Harada
Haruka Tanaka

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