Anime has long waged war against one of life’s most precious comforts. It has shown no mercy in this war, taking no hostages and leaving no stone unturned in it’s effort for global domination. There is no country without victim; anything goes in this conflict. You could say that this is a war on life and pleasure itself. I am, of course, talking about the war on food. Sweetness & Lightning (Amaama to Inazuma; 甘々と稲妻) is the latest documentary I have watched about this war on food, and I am here to tell you, it’s a massacre. Spoilers ahead.
Obviously, that first paragraph was written with a touch of sarcasm, but only a touch. I’m constantly amazed at anime’s ability to take even the most ordinary food (like rice or a plain donut) and create something that looks so delicious, that it makes my mouth ooze with drool and my desire for what I have in my kitchen disappear entirely. So it makes sense that Sweetness and Lightning, an anime that focuses primarily on food preparation, would be no exception. The food is the true star of the show.
This particular anime doesn’t spend a lot of time setting up the premise. High School Teacher Kouhei Inuzuka’s wife, Tae, has recently died, leaving him alone with their only daughter, Tsumugi (who I think is somewhere around age 5). Tae was an amazing cook (at least compared to Kouhei), and a lot of Tsumugi’s greatest memory connections to Tae come from the food she would make. Kouhei does his best to provide delicious and nutritional meals for Tsumugi, but his skills range from bad to worse. As it turns out, one of the students in his class, Kotori Iida, is the daughter of a celebrity chef (though she also can only cook very basic recipes). Kotori, with the permission of her mother (who is always away on business), offers to help teach Kouhei how to cook in her family restaurant (with the bonus of being able to practice more for herself).
Each of the twelve episodes revolves around the creation of a different food. They cook everything from gyoza to donuts to dry curry. It usually begins with a conversation at school between Kouhei and Kotori, where they decide on what they should make; the choice of food is usually to satisfy the desires of Tsumugi. Kotori then relays that decision to her chef mother, who writes down the recipe in an easy to follow fashion (even going so far as to include little illustrations).
Because each show really is just a showcase for the food dish of the week, there isn’t a ton of character depth or development. The strongest moments are usually seen when dishes that Tae used to make are recreated for Tsumugi, who then is struck by a flurry of emotions at the reminder of her mother.
The character of a single father working hard to provide both physically and emotionally for his daughter are usually as deep as the story goes. Honestly, while half-baked (hehe) character backgrounds would normally be a recipe (somebody stop me) for a really boring premise, for this anime, it works (most of the time, at least). It boils down (last one, I promise) to how well the characters interact with each other, and the author was able to give them a lot of chemistry. For various reasons, they all need each other in that moment of their lives, and it’s nice to see it slowly pan out (turns out I had one more in me) for them.
There’s also a nice bonus if you read the manga (I know, one of those suggestions, but hear me out). Besides the added benefit of getting to see their lives continue beyond the anime, the recipes that they cook are at the end of each chapter, all translated to English, so that you can try it out for yourself if you’re feeling adventurous.
I won’t pretend this is an anime for everyone. As I said before, if you prefer shows with deep character backgrounds and lots of painfully earned growth, this won’t satisfy what you’re looking for. But, it does a great job at being what it is: a show about lovable characters who form good friendships through cooking delicious meals. It’s a lot of fluff and eye candy, but done in a very tasteful (I had to say it) fashion. I’d go so far as to classify it as one of those comfy shows that you watch when you want to feel better, even if only for a little while. For that reason, I can recommend it.