The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
sweetness & lightning

How would you rate episode 1 of
Sweetness & Lightning ?



What is this?

Kohei Inuzuka's wife died six months ago, leaving him to balance raising their daughter Tsumugi with his job as a high school teacher. He's doing his best to be a good father to the kindergartener, but cooking is the one thing beyond his grasp. He tried once and the results weren't good, so now Inuzuka relies on combini bento and frozen ingredients. Most nights, he and Tsumugi don't even eat together – she watches her favorite show Magi-Girl while he works. Tsumugi doesn't really complain until one day when he takes her out to see the sakura blooming and they run into a girl crying while eating onigiri. The girl's mother was supposed to join her, but that's not why she's crying: the onigiri are just that good. Fascinated by the idea that food can be good enough to make you cry, Tsumugi asks her father to write a letter to her late mother asking her to cook for them. In a panic, Inuzuka takes Tsumugi out to the restaurant owned by the girl from the park's family instead. While he's watching Tsumugi eat, Inuzuka promises both her that from now on, he will be the one to provide his daughter with delicious food. Sweetness & lightning is based on a manga series and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Mondays at 1:35 PM EST.


How was the first episode?

Jacob Chapman

Rating:

Just as you can't have light without darkness, the highest quality warm fuzzies usually come with the implication of big soppy sadness right around the corner. Sweetness and lightning earns its diabetes-inducing charm by keeping its pinky finger firmly pressed on the reality of life's sorrows, and this thoughtful writing combined with great direction and animation results in the strongest anime premiere of the season (with the caveat that the jaw-dropping Thunderbolt Fantasy is not technically anime).

Okay, getting an actual little girl to play the show's starring toddler was a pretty sharp choice too. For as many talented and adorable-sounding seiyu as there are doing excellent jobs in countless anime series, you can't beat the genuine article when it comes to snapping heartstrings, as 2014's Barakamon proved with its all real-toddler cast. (Hey, that show's getting a prequel this season! Nifty!) Tsumugi brings both the sweetness and the lightning to this show's conceit, equally endearing when she's being innocently adorable and when she's being more irritating and crude in that familiar toddler way.

But above all, sweetness and lightning stands out from its foodie anime brethren by not really being a foodie anime. While I'm sure we'll learn how to prepare all sorts of delicious meals as Tsumugi's dad finds his inner chef, the show is really about how love can inspire a desire to live life to its fullest even in the toughest circumstances. Kohei eats very little in general and doesn't really think of food as a transformative experience like many foodie show protagonists. He isn't learning how to cook so he can pursue greater heights of culinary accomplishment, but because he realizes that his daughter is growing up fast without the joys that good food could bring to her life. He may still be a bad cook for a while, and he may not get the rapturous enjoyment from new recipes that his friends do, but he's willing to put in the work to find new ways to express love for his daughter as a single father.

It's a painfully relatable kind of love I don't see expressed in fiction very often, something that slice-of-life anime can excel at when they embrace the bitter as firmly as the sweet. I can't recommend this unique little gem enough, and I can't wait to see what Kohei and Tsumugi cook up together.


Paul Jensen

Rating:

I feel like I didn't really start to like Sweetness and Lightning until I sat down and started writing about it. This first episode is pleasant to look at and full of subtle emotion, but it feels a little too familiar for its own good. The “overwhelmed guy takes care of adorable kid” premise is practically a genre unto itself at this point, and it's a space that's populated by some very good series. Given that level of competition, even a performance as solid as this one can be just a little underwhelming.

Inuzuka and his daughter Tsumugi make for a likable pair of main characters. Inuzuka is struggling just enough in the absence of his wife to make me want to cheer him on, and that's helped out nicely by some subtle indications that he's doing the best he can under the circumstances. Tsumugi hits all the right notes as well, dialing the cuteness level up to eleven without coming across as contrived or artificial. Both of them are reminiscent of similar characters from other titles, though that's not necessarily a bad sign. What puzzles me a little at the moment is the addition of high school girl Kotori. She seems to be there to fill in the empty space in Inuzuka's family, but I don't quite buy it at the moment. Her motivations for wanting to cook dinner with her teacher are just vague enough to raise a few eyebrows, and her personality occupies an odd middle ground between amusingly awkward and genuinely lonely. Perhaps I'm just expecting her to do more than she's meant to, with plenty of supporting characters from the opening credits yet to appear in the series itself.

Still, the show is nothing if not pleasant. It has a gentle sense of humor that serves more to endear the characters to the audience than it does to provide big laughs. The drama is nicely understated, almost to the point of sacrificing the emotional impact of single scenes in order to make the episode work better as a whole. I think it's easier to appreciate this approach in hindsight than it is in the moment, and that may be why there wasn't a particular standout scene that really sold me on the series. If playing the long game means keeping things a little subdued in the first episode, then so be it.

Sweetness and Lightning doesn't seem to be in a big hurry to lay all its cards on the table, and it may take a couple weeks for the characters to really hit their stride as a group. For now, it's a comfortable place to visit with the potential to become something more memorable down the road. Longtime genre fans may have to fight back a feeling of “been there, done that” while this episode puts all the pieces into place, but it could certainly be worth the wait.


Nick Creamer

Rating:

Sweetness & Lightning falls into the same vague category as stories like Yotsuba or Barakamon, where the core of the narrative is the endearing relationship between a child and either their actual parent or a general parental figure. This particular show introduces us to the young Tsumugi and her father, who live together alone ever since Tsumugi's mother passed away. Tsumugi's father cares about his daughter, but he's too busy and distracted to always be there for her - and so instead of home-cooked meals, the two of them eat boxed dinners, each of them caught up in their own private worlds.

That undercurrent of sadness weaves all through this episode, lending the show a very realistic poignancy, but the biggest appeal here is just how darn charming Tsumugi is. Tsumugi is brought to life through vivid character animation and wonderfully appropriate voice acting (like in Barakamon, Tsumugi is handled by an actual child voice actress). Her motions are loose and fluffy, and her behavior seems absolutely true to a certain kind of confident child. There are constant moments of true-to-life child behavior, like how proud Tsumugi gets whenever she understands something, or how eager she is to re-explain things to her father. Tsumugi is an incredibly charming presence, and Sweetness & Lightning works hard to make sure she always feels like a fully realized person.

Tsumugi's father is no slouch, either. The bond between them feels acutely real in this episode, and the way the lonely undercurrents of their life build result in a one-episode drama that feels as fully realized as many entire shows. The idea of eating a meal together is the central thread; Tsumugi's loneliness ties directly into the idea that they no longer share meals, and her father's desperation to make her happy expresses itself through his determination to make sure she really loves what she's eating. Ultimately, the two reconnect through the help of one of her father's students, Kotori, who cooks them a simple but enchanting meal of carefully prepared rice.

I laughed and sniffled all through this episode, carried away by how well the show depicted this family and this conflict. Both Tsumugi and her father feel like real people, and their conflict was seeded gracefully even through their happier interactions. My only real concerns with this show revolve around its future - while I love Tsumugi and her dad, I could see many ways that Kotori's presence could spoil that dynamic (like if Kotori ended up being some kind of weird replacement for the absent mother). But as far as the first episode goes, this was a basically perfect premiere.


Theron Martin

Rating:

The title of this slice-of-life series is Sweetness & Lightning, but the first episode leaves me wondering where the metaphorical lightning is going to come in. Nearly every second of its content is instead devoted to the sweetness side.

And it's a pretty sweet side, too. Kohei Inuzuka may be the main protagonist, but his daughter Tsumugi is the real star here. She dominates virtually every scene she's in due to her energy and irrepressible, guileless cuteness. Most importantly, she does so by just going through the mannerisms of a normal kid, which makes the cute factor seem far less calculated and manufactured than what anime typically comes up with. Starkly contrasting her is Kohei, who is a doting, devoted father who always has a smile for his daughter, but that smile is hardly a pure one. The artistry does an excellent job of implying that it's instead tinged with sadness, which is perfectly understandable given that he's a relatively recent widower. Though Tsumugi seems to be handling that well, some scene where she says something which suggests that she doesn't fully understand that her mother can't ever come back was inevitable, and that scene ties in with the series' actual main theme: cooking.

Kohei has so far been managing his and Tsumugi's meals mostly on bento and microwavable food because he doesn't really know how to cook, but there's only so far that can go before it gets tiring. Hence his big episode-ending resolution is to learn how to cook properly. The inspiration for that is Kotori, a girl he first encounters at a cherry blossom viewing whom he initially fails to recognize as one of his students. Though her mother runs one of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants that are ubiquitous in Japan, she apparently hasn't learned much about cooking, either, and yet she still invites Kohei over for dinner despite her mother not being around. This behavior and her insistence on learning to cook alongside Kohei both strongly suggests that she may be sweet on him, which definitely adds a whole additional dimension to the story. I am curious to see how far the story will go with that, especially given the line of impropriety that would be crossed. Yes, it's hardly the first time that an anime has shown a teenage girl being interested in a fully adult widower (See Tiger & Bunny), but a potential student/teacher relationship elevates that to a different level.

However that may turn out, the artistic effort is competent and the animation surprisingly good. The musical score also gets the tone exactly right, so this is a well-made intro overall. If you're looking for a low-key slice-of-life title this season, this series should work just fine.


Rebecca Silverman

Rating:

I don't know what it is about these single dad stories, but there's just something sweet and charming about them – from the manga Only Serious About You to the first four volumes and the anime of Bunny Drop and now sweetness and lightening, tales about good-natured dads doing their best are almost guaranteed to be adorable. This particular iteration of what I've come to realize is an actual genre is an interesting combination of sweet and sad, with more emotions showing on faces and in body language than are vocalized. I feel like a really understand where protagonist Kohei Inuzuka is coming from, even though he hasn't actually said anything about how he feels. The same goes for Tsumugi and Kotori, the high school student who looks like she'll be a major character as well, and that may be the single thing I most enjoyed an appreciated about this first episode.

Inuzuka's wife, we find out partway through, died six months ago, so he's a relatively new widower. It seems like Tsumugi hasn't quite grasped what happened, because at one point she asks him to write her mother a letter. (Either that or she divorced him six months ago; I'm assuming died because of the picture of her we see and the way his female co-worker treats him.) When we first meet him, he's fallen asleep at his desk with Tsumugi asleep in the bed – the alarm clock wakes her rather than him, a mark of how exhausted he is. Nevertheless he makes her lunch, takes her to school cleans the house, remembers to record her favorite program…basically he's running himself ragged trying to be both parents at once as well as the breadwinner, and we can see on his face that he's wearing out. Despite this, it's equally apparent that he'll do anything for Tsumugi; one of the best details is when we see them at the park for cherry blossom viewing and he's got her fluffy pink stuffed animal around his neck. He can also sing the Magi-Girl theme song, so we know he's really paying attention to what she's up to and into.

Tsumugi herself is the kind of adorable child you wish all kids could be. She's cheery and sweet, and Rina Endo does a fabulous job with her voice, making her sound cute but not cloying. Her hair probably a parent's nightmare, more a mane than anything, and judging from its state, Inuzuka's plan appears to be to leave it alone. As with her father, you can read her emotions on her face and in her body language, with lots of jumping and hopping around as if she can barely contain her energy within her body. She stands in interesting contrast to Kotori, a student of Inuzuka's they meet in the park during their cherry blossom excursion, who is stuffing her face with onigiri. Kotori gives the impression of holding herself together, like there's something going on behind the scenes that she's trying not to let get to her. She recognizes Inuzuka right off, but she has to tell him that she's his student, and she's clearly got some worries about letting people down – when Inuzuka comes to her mother's restaurant, she tries her damnedest to get a meal made for he and Tsugumi even though the cook's not there and the restaurant is closed. The fact that she then sits down to eat with the Inuzukas, coupled with her lonesome picnic before, implies that she's lonely. I'm hoping that she seems her teacher and his daughter as a viable substitute family rather than Inuzuka as boyfriend material, but either way, she's clearly hunting for someone to fill a gap in her life.

Along with all of these unspoken messages, the muted colors and the overall energy of the show make this easy to slip into. The story is charming thus far, yes, and the characters are interesting, but more than that there's just a comfortable pace to the story that moves things along without throwing too much at you or dragging like other slice-of-life shows can. As of right now this is my favorite of the season, and I'm hoping it maintains its sweetness and humanity going forward.


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